An Interview with Halfpipe Skier James Machon
25 year old James Machon is a self- professed ‘monster on the halfpipe’. He’s been on skis since the age of six, and took to the halfpipe at just fifteen. Having won just about every domestic halfpipe related medal there was, he went on to compete in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, just 12 months after a ruptured ligament led to a life threatening infection and eight months off the slopes. In the last event he fractured his thumb, and went on to place 23rd with his thumb in a cast.
We were lucky enough to get the chance to chat to James. For those new to the world of the halfpipe, we spoke about what halfpipe skiing is, how you can get into it, and his top tips for giving the sport a go.
For those who don’t know, can you tell us a bit about what halfpipe skiing is?
Halfpipe skiing is a relatively new action sport. It’s been around for a couple of decades. The halfpipes today are usually 180 metres in length (world cup specification). It is machine cut using lasers and usually costs resorts millions to build, so they’re hard to come by. The best halfpipe in the world is in Laax, Switzerland.
The aim is to use the walls to build speed and generate height out of the halfpipe, while performing a series of tricks. The tricks are judged on execution, difficulty, amplitude, variety and progression (AFP judging criteria). You’re then given a score out of 100 points. It was introduced as a Winter Olympic discipline in Sochi 2014, where it had over 10 million viewers on the BBC alone.
How did you get into skiing halfpipe?
I was lucky enough to be born and raised in Sheffield, where there was a dry slope halfpipe which I would go to a couple of times a week. Unfortunately it’s no longer open so now I use the indoor snow domes at Xscape, Castleford.
Why did you choose the halfpipe over other skiing disciplines?
I chose the halfpipe because it was naturally my best discipline. I do like jumps and rails too, but I really enjoy the sensation of the halfpipe. There’s a lot of gforce and there are times, when you’re at the apex of your trick, when there are no forces acting on your body and you experience moments of weightlessness.
What's your signature trick?
What do you do off the slopes to prepare for the halfpipe?
The most important preparation is trampolining, backed up with strength training. The injury rates in the sport are high, so it’s crucial to have strength in the legs for landing, core stability and a solid upper body when you take a fall.
How do you combat nerves before trying a new trick?
Make sure your equipment is set up for halfpipe. By this I mean skis which have the boundings mounted in the centre of the ski. I use the Volkl Walls 177cm with a Marker Jester Pro binding. If you can skateboard or inline skate on a mini ramp then you already have an advantage.
I visualise how the trick is going to feel first, from the take off to landing the trick successfully. When you drop in you’re on autopilot and there’s not much time to think, when you’re in the air your brain can only process one trigger word. For the takeoff phase this might be ‘pop’, or ‘wait’ to set you for a good take-off. When you’re ready, get the tunes on and just go for it!
And finally, any advice for beginners who are thinking of giving the halfpipe a go?
Visualisation. I only try tricks I know I’m going to land, I have a good idea if I’m going to land it by the amount of preparation I have done. For the big tricks I’ve learned, I do them first on a trampoline, then a jump, then lastly on the halfpipe. The first time trying a trick on snow can be intimidating, you have to have a very positive mindset.
When you first go on snow, ski down the side of the halfpipe and drop in the top of the wall to gain some confidence. Keep an aggressive stance at all times, keep your weight pressed against the front of your boots. If you ever feel your calves touching the back of your boots your body position needs adjusting, so push your arms forward and get back in that dynamic stance.
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