Whilst showcasing at the iF3 Freeski Film Festival in London last month, we took some time out to catch up with a few athletes for our new interview series, getting the pros to take us back to their starting days, and the journey that brought them from first time to where they stand today.
First up in the series, Sheffield’s own Paddy Graham; ringleader of Red Bull’s immensely successful Legs of Steel freeski collective, currently touring with the release of their new film, Passenger…
Hyera: How’s it going Paddy! So obviously, Legs of Steel are killing it these days; the Passenger première tour is going off – and rightly so, because it looks amazing – but we want to take it back a few years, to where you started off. As a Brit skier who’s now rocking it with some of the very top talent in the sport; how did you get into it? What’s your background?
Paddy: For me skiing started in Great Britain; Sheffield Ski Village is where I first learnt to go skiing. Unfortunately now it doesn’t exist, the facility’s closed, and it’s really sad…but I only started skiing when I was 12 years old. I learnt to ski on a dry slope, went on a school trip, and then – I don’t know – it was some sort of addiction, some sort of passion!
As soon as I went skiing I don’t know if I knew that’s what I wanted to do, but I just fell in love with the sport…and it was so much fun; not just to do it, but to have fun with the people around you…and it’s not very competitive either – there is a competitive side of it, but at the same time it’s all about people having fun together, and just progressing off each other.
Hyera: Awesome. So you were one of the riders back at Sheffield Ski Village; how often were you going there when you realised that this is was going to be ‘your’ sport?
Paddy: So I remember taking my first steps on skis on a dry slope…I just sidestepped up this tiny little nursery slope and I went down the first time and it was like ‘Wow..that’s good! These things make me go fast!’ …it was just so much fun! Second time I went down, tried to do a hockey stop like on ice skates…and fell over.
I think it takes a few crashes and knocks and stuff just to realise how much you love it though…and 15 years later, I’ve had a lot of injuries from skiing but I still do it and it’s so much fun! It’s something that people don’t really think is that accessible in the UK because we don’t have snow; but there are so many facilities – dry slopes, indoor domes – that you can go to.
Quite a lot of people think it’s quite an elitist sport, but it’s not; anyone can do it. Anyone can go and have a good time, and it’s…it’s just awesome, I love it!
Hyera: With no skiing background, what fuelled you to take those first steps on a dry slope?
Paddy: First time I went skiing I was 11 or 12. It was the first year of high school, and I wanted to go skiing for some reason, I don’t know why. My parents said before I went on the school trip, I had to go and try it at least once, y’know? So we went to the dry slope in Sheffield and I just went by myself and just had a go and it’s brought me to where I am today…and now it’s…I earn a living off it…and I didn’t start skiing to make a career or a job out of it…all of a sudden it happened one day, and I’ve not looked back because it’s so much fun!
Hyera: How old were you first thought this might be more than just a bit of fun, that there might be a future for you in the sport?
Paddy: Well I continued school until I was 16, and I did my GCSEs, and then after that my buddy asked me to go for a season on snow and I thought ‘ahh I dunno, I don’t think my parents will let me go’…so he called them up and said “yeah it’s gonna be great, I’m gonna take care of him, blah blah blah blah”…and then literally two weeks later there was a television company who contacted us wanting make a TV show about me! I was thinking ‘awesome…but why do you wanna make a TV show about me?’
As far as they were concerned, I was a guy from England who lived for skiing which seemed so unreasonable! But they were so stoked, and after I did that I was just like ‘This is just awesome!’ I couldn’t say no!
And I never went back to school after my GCSEs, but all my teachers were really supportive of that; they said “if you’ve got an opportunity in front of you to do something that you really love then why not do it…you can always return to school after if it doesn’t work out.” It was just a good time, and I was really glad for that support.
Hyera: It’s always so good to hear these stories about Brit skiers. Sheffield Ski Village is gone these days, which was tragic for British skiing, but we’ve got indoor slopes now which change the game quite a bit; what would be your advice to any kids who have seen what’s on the screen, have been inspired? What are the steps you’d recommend for them to get to where you guys are today?
Paddy: I’d say to any young, ambitious skiers from the UK right now, all you have to do is go for it 100%. Don’t think that you’re disadvantaged coming from the UK, because you’re not! If you’ve got as much passion as every person who goes on that dry slope every single weekend to go skiing then you’re gonna make it if you want to…because who wants to go on a dry slope every day when everywhere else in the world they go skiing on snow!?
Everyone else who goes skiing; pretty much as soon as they can walk they can ski, and they’re on snow every day…and here in the UK we don’t have that luxury of just getting up and going skiing, so if your heart’s there and you know you wanna make something of it you can! Whether you’re gonna be an athlete or you wanna go and work out in the mountains…it’s so beautiful, everything…it’s just really awesome – with that UK start you’ll achieve anything you want.
Hyera: Definitely; we just caught (Line Skis pro athlete) Will Wesson saying how amusing it is that in the UK we all go into these fridges (indoor snowdomes) and ski all day long, that the passion and commitment we have is at the next level, and that you find die-hards here in a way you just don’t in other countries because of that commitment you need to stay there every week.
Obviously you’re an extremely good skier these days, but there must be other sports you like doing in your downtime, what do you get up to when you’re not on the planks?
Paddy: In my downtime I really like to go downhill mountain biking…I like to go hiking, and climbing…and out near where I live in the Alps now you can do a lot of canyoning…that’s pretty fun; like abseiling, going down waterfalls, jumping off cliffs, just having a good time…
It’s like…I come from Sheffield – there are no mountains in Sheffield – but now I get to live in the mountains out in Austria and it’s just unbelievable, it’s a dream come true.
Hyera: Final question, if there was one other sport you’re not doing currently that you’d like to give a go what would it be?
Paddy: Erm…I’ve been a couple of times – and I’m really really bad – but I really wanna get better at surfing…so I can go and hang out on the beach!
Hyera: Thanks for your time Paddy, good luck with the rest of the season ahead, and we’ll see you around!
Paddy: Thank you very much!
You can watch Paddy doing his thing in Legs of Steel’s new film, Passenger, available to stream here.