By Chris Moran/ACMIn the United Kingdom, there are pretty much only two ways you can start snowboarding. One option is to go on vacation, either to the Alps or to Scotland, but this normally involves the kind of cash that twelve-year-old kids don’t have access to. The other option is to go to the local Dryslope, of which there are about 300 in the UK.

What’s a dryslope, you say? Basically it’s a mini ski hill, usually with a rope tow, a T-bar, or possibly a chairlift, and instead of snow to ride on, you’ve got stuff called Dendex, which other nations might know as that upside-down brush-type material you sometimes stand on before being whisked off on a high-speed quad. At first you might be mistaken for thinking that these 600-foot-long plastic mats stuck to the side of hills are the devil’s work. However, dryslope riding is a very cool way for British kids to learn how to snowboard. Obviously, the real thing would be much better, but like I’ve already said, these are city kids who have no way of getting to the mountains and slashing windlips every day after school. By heading up to the local slope, they can practice ’til their fingers bleed (which normally happens after five minutes), and get that jib “fix” they’ve been craving for all day at school.

So what’s the progression like? Well, surprisingly it’s been pretty mental. Throughout the 90s, most of the UK’s top riders learned their craft on Dendex, and as far back as ’95 tricks such as Cab 540s and 900s were being thrown down by some riders. Recently, a new plastic has evolved. Snowflex, as its name suggests, is less harsh on the riders due to the flex of its cushioned underlay. Since its emergence in ’97, a whole new breed of riders have been getting inverted, raising the standards at the National Point Series (oh yes! there are competitions on this stuff) to suicidal levels, and comp winners now need to be able to throw backside rodeos and every cork spin to place in the top ten. As you can imagine, when these kids get to the real stuff, their skill level usually goes through the roof. “It’s like training for the 100 meters with weights on your feet, and then getting to snow to find that the real 100 meters is like running on air,” says current British Big-Air Champion Steve Bailey, a snow rider with a plastic background.

Danny Wheeler, another dryslope-reared rider who’s widely regarded as one of England’s best snowboarders, says that dryslope riding, “Is really a test to see how much you love snowboarding. If you’re going up there every week, then you know you’ve got the dedication.” He also points out that it’s a very friendly scene on the plastic hills: “It’s more like a skate ramp or something. You can talk to everyone all the time, and when the sessions get going, it’s definitely more like a skate vibe with everyone getting whipped up if someone does a good trick.”

It’s the dryslope scene that Wheeler was brought up on, and this year he’s competing in the Air and Style in Austria. Not bad for a lad brought up in the North of England where his prospects should’ve been more akin to working in a textile factory.

Like the rest of the world, the UK’s explosion of interest in snowboarding has been reflected in it’s facilities, so much so that it now boasts two full-time dryslope snowparks with rails, boxes, quarterpipes, et cetera. There’s a plastic halfpipe in Sheffield, a gap jump in Kendal, and most unbelievably, there’s even a plastic cornice drop that mellows out into a run-in where the successful rider can then air into water. This just sounds fun by any snowboarder’s standards, doesn’t it?

So the next time it’s minus twenty on the hill and you’re huddled up on the chairlift daring your riding buddy to lick the safety bar, don’t think of complaining about the cold or the fact that you can’t see much in the whiteout. Because rest assured, there are kids in the UK who at that very moment are probably in the driving rain, dislocating their fingers andd riding plastic slopes because of their love for snowboarding. I’m sure they’d happily swap places any day. And don’t think plastic riding isn’t real snowboarding either, because last year’s King Of The Hill winner Axel PauportÇ learned everything he knew on, you guessed it, plastic slopes in Belgium.

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There are kids in the UK who at that very moment are probably in the driving rain, dislocating their fingers, and riding plastic slopes because of their love for snowboarding.