Appearing in the early 90’s, Steve Bailey changed British snowboarding forever. Steve made his mark in an international pro scene which was dominated by riders from countries with mountains, at a time when EU counterparts would laugh at the mere suggestion that an Englishman could become a professional snowboarder. He not only set the benchmark for other UK pros but threw down tricks for the first time on British soil and over a 10 year period and dominated pretty much every event going in the process.
You were one of the first riders to appear on Rossendale in 1990. The scene was almost non-existent at that time. Were there any kickers and rails built in the early years or did you effectively create a scene from scratch?
It was totally non-existent. Myself and Mr. Moran had to partition the local government just to let us ride, as for ramps and stuff that took time but eventually we got a scene together that produced many British champions.
Rossendale almost instantly got a reputation for producing some of the countries best riders. You were the first to do a 9 on dryslope way back in 95. Looking back that’s almost more impressive than it was at the time. Did you realise how significant that 9 would be when you landed it?
I’d been doing 9s on snow the winter beforehand so I knew it could be done, to get it on film was what made it impressive on the scene. I could do 1080s also but just not as consistently as 9s. I won many a contest with that trick. I never realised the ramifications at the time until I turned up late to a contest at Sheffield one year and a friend cursed me and then said he’ll have to settle for 2nd. I hadn’t even clipped in. It wasn’t just the 9 though, I had 7s every way, forward, switch and misty flips both 7 and 5, all on lock and just pushing the limits.
You spent your first season on snow in Chamonix for the 93-4 season at 19 years old and were already British Champion. It seemed that once you got on snow that your riding excelled and you blew everyone else out of the water. Did the tricks come naturally to you or did you have to work hard to learn them all?
I generally just had a go and usually nailed the tricks within 1 or 2 attempts but obviously some would take more work. I would then hone each one till it felt good and could do them 9 outta 10 times. I think my consistency with the tricks and boning is what set me apart from everyone else. When I took it on snow everything became easier because you had more hang time, I had more skin on my elbows and the board actually did what I wanted it too.
In 96 you were carried some 1.5km’s in an avalanche in which the rescue team said you were lucky to be alive. What were the events that lead to this avalanche?
I was at a point in my career where I became a bit bored with snowboarding. I found it harder and harder to get the adrenaline buzz back. The only way to get some feeling was by going bigger, dropping larger cliffs and basically being quite unsafe and reckless until I got the buzz. Then the avalanche brought me back to earth with a bang, it was the biggest adrenaline buzz ever, never to be repeated and I was lucky to be alive.
You were left with a dislocated ankle, spiral fracture of the left leg, two separate breaks of the leg, all the tendons ripped from your left foot and severe facial swelling and concussion. It must have been a horrific time and even more so as your riding was at the top of it’s game. Did you imagine that you would ever ride again?
I didn’t dwell on it to tell you the truth, it was outta my control and there was nothing I could do. I was just glad to be alive. It wasn’t till I got back too the UK 3 months after that I got told that I wouldn’t snowboard again proper or walk without a limp. It upset me for about 30 seconds then I thought this doctor doesn’t know me very well. I got a bike, joined a gym and rolled around skating every waking hour. My first time snowboarding was at Board X 7 months later. I did ok really.
Many people thought that would be a career changing event but you put in an amazing amount of work and effectively re-learnt how to snowboard after doctors had doubted if you would ever ride at that same level. You incredibly came 12th at the following years British champs pipe and the following Autumn you placed 4th and the highest placed Brit at Board X. How was riding at that time? Were you still in constant pain and battling through it?
Board X was a quarter that year which was lucky for me cause I could handle tranny to tranny. No way could I have done a kicker, I still couldn’t walk properly, 4th bring it on. I went to Austria on my own that winter so I wouldn’t get too pressured too soon. Good job really because I had to start from scratch, every bump caused my ankle to cave in and there no airs unless there was 2ft of fresh to land in. Luckily that was one of the best seasons for snow, so I did manage to get my spring back. I did the shits,my 1st time in a pipe in over a year. I probably could have done better if I hadn’t of been pissed but that’s where I realised that I was still way off where I had been and that everyone else had upped the ante, especially Danny Wheeler who was amazing.
In 1999, it seemed that you weren’t just back to your usual level but in fact riding better than you were prior to the injury. You not only gathered heaps of coverage with Nick Hamilton shooting but also won the Brits in Mayrhofen. Would you say that result was your greatest considering you worked so hard to get back to that level?
Yeah deffo my favourite result to date. I didn’t expect it, which made it even sweeter. It was similar too my first ever win only a little more fulfilling because of the effort put in. No practice on the kicker just my runs. Amazing really, I should write a book on it. Good time to retire.
Talking of the Brits, it used to be the prized event in the Uk’s snowboarding calendar and could really make a riders career. Nowaday’s it seems to have lost that appeal, with many of the better-known riders not competing. What do you think changed there and do we need to encourage riders to compete?
I’ve not been since so I’m not the best person to talk on this point. Maybe it’s become too corporate and lost its friendly, don’t expect too much charm, just have a laugh and enjoy yourself attitude. Things were starting to change in my final years with world cup points on offer and more at stake, with big money sponsors and more prize money on offer. Things change I guess, the shits don’t appeal to the big guns now. Not the right incentive for them, back then it was just fun with your mates.
You set the bar of riding so high in the UK, it’s almost as if you created a movement that has meant UK riders punch above their weight in Europe. What do you make of riders such as Jamie, Aimee and Billy, do you see any resemblances to yourself in them?
I’m truly amazed at the standards of the new generation. We’ve always been able to hold our own on kickers and rails which led to the UK excelling in slopestyle. The last Olympics were a brilliant showcase of British talent and most impressive. They all did their country proud. It’s insane the level they’re at, I feel that my generation helped it to this stage by opening the door but they’ve knuckled down and made the whole nation and me proud. The future’s bright.
What is the secret behind your pop, how do you go so much bigger than anyone else?
It’s my boing toes, I have extra long toes that give me that extra pop!
You are still active in the scene and now work at TSA in Chester. How many days do you get to ride on average and do you still closely follow the ins and outs of the industry?
I’ve become a dad, learned to drive (badly) and bought a house since retiring. I work part-time at TSA who have been brilliant to me over the years, not only for employment but still getting me on snow every year and supporting me for most of my life. I get to go on their catalogue shoot every winter, which isn’t a jolly, it’s actually really hard and challenging work no matter what anybody thinks. They also took me to spring break, which is different to how I remember the old board tests but still lots of fun. I probably get about 2 weeks a year riding now, same as most people in the UK, so now I love snowboarding again and ride every minute I can. I don’t get picky with the conditions, I’m just thankful to get the opportunity. I still follow the scene loosely and I’m more interested in the different technologies and how equipment has changed over the years and why. I’d say I’m more involved in the industry more than the scene.
I’d like too take this opportunity to thank everyone who have helped me over the years, family, friends and employers, you guys know who you are. A massive TA to TSA, Jez your a superstar.
This interview wouldn’t have happened without a few good people donating their time. A huge thanks to Chris Moran, Nick Hamilton, Jamie Johnston, Russ Shea, Ed Blomfield, Mike Weyerhaeuser, George Blomfield, Tom Copsey, Adrien Willmott, Henry Jackson, Jeremy Sladen and all the people who chipped in on the UK’s Snowboard History Page on Facebook. Thank you all.
Index Photo: Russ Shea/ dopeshots.com