Now in its 25th year the BRITS festival showcases the very best in British skiing and snowboarding talent. This March will see the BRITS taking place in Tignes where Winter Olympic hopefuls such as James Woods and Jenny Jones will battle for numerous championship titles.
Onthesnow tracked down the man in charge of putting on this epic show: Spencer Claridge
OTS: Firstly, how did the BRITS begin? And how did you come to work on it?
I was a pro rider of sorts quite some time ago and when it all came to its natural conclusion I wanted to get involved with events and so started a company with a couple of friends including Ski Sunday presenter Ed Leigh. Following a couple of years of near bankruptcy, Ed pursued his TV career and I joined forces with Stuart Brass at Soulsports where we collectively pitched to handle The British Snowboard Championships. We were relatively well known and respected in the industry which undoubtedly secured us the rights and enabled us to convince a lot of the leading brands to get behind the event. Contacts and credentials were crucial.
OTS: You’ve been running the festival for 10 years. Has it become bigger and better and is there a lot of pressure to make it bigger/better/different?
Well I'm bound to say yes it's become much better, but we are always looking to progress the event on all fronts. When we took the reins the British Snowboard Champs was in the doldrums a little; it was purely a snowboard competition back then with no festival element. In the second year we secured large corporate sponsorship, brought in freeskiing, ramped up the music and turned it officially into The BRITS Snow & Music Festival. There's always a pressure to keep developing but so there should be.
OTS: Tell us about the planning. How long does it normally take?
Straight after the event we start planning for the following year. It starts with sponsors and partnerships and then runs year-long as we also run the British Indoor Championships and a BRITS invitational event at the London Ski & Snowboard Show, so it’s always on-going.
OTS: What's your mission when you're planning the festival? For instance, is it to create an unforgettable experience for the revellers or is your aim to showcase the best talent and further promote the sport?
Definitely both in equal measure. As the British Championship element is of paramount importance to us we've always looked to take the event to leading freestyle resorts. This year we are moving to Tignes, France which has indisputable credentials and crucially a large concentration of British Seasonaires in surrounding resorts. Similarly, the music and entertainment is vital and a lot of work goes into curating the week’s schedule and it’s not just a case of throwing money at critically acclaimed artists; invariably, the best nights at The BRITS have been the themed nights with lesser known artists. Creativity is important.
OTS: How important is it to match the music to the sport in order to create the right vibe?
It’s key, but more a case of catering for your audience than the sport. Thankfully there’s a huge range of music that marries the sport and so as an organiser you have the ability to curate a festival which has its own personality rather than just billing a predictable line-up.
OTS: It seems like a pretty sweet gig – would you describe it as the best job in the world?
It’s certainly not the worst job in the world. It is however a lot of hard work and very stressful onsite and the idea that you get to spend a lot of time on snow is an absolute fallacy – it is purely a mode of transport at the event.
OTS: Will you get to enjoy the festival or is it hectic behind the scenes?
It’s mental at the event – we run 2 British Championship disciplines each day (one snowboard, one freeski), then straight into some Apres Activity (Whitelines Rail Jam, Sledgercross, Reggae BBQ etc), followed by a dedicated Club Night. In addition to satisfying the hundreds of competitors and even more holiday makers, we have a pretty substantial media presence at the event (TV, broadsheets, magazines, online) and need to ensure that all elements are being captured adequately by our production crew and photographers to feed these outlets. You need a good team.
OTS: Some of our readers might be interested in following a similar line of work. What advice can you give to them?
We get so many enquiries regarding events specifically (we do PR and athletes also), it seems to be very in vogue. I do think people have an idealistic misconception about the working in events as it is extremely stressful – you get one shot to pull it off. Conversely it can be really satisfying. As with any prospecting, just get your CV out there, but events will always be looking for volunteers, so that’s an ideal place to start. It shows you are keen and will get you on the radar and give you an opportunity to gauge whether it is the game for you.
OTS: What's been your most memorable BRITS experience?
It has to be the floodlit Airtime event that we ran in 2007 – we asked riders to jump out of an ever-raising crane platform into a huge quarterpipe. Everyone had seen this structure taking shape in the centre of town during the week and people were speculating just how high riders were going to push things, the anticipation was palpable. On the night, it resulted in James Thorne (our now MC) blowing away the competition and reaching 10m above the quarterpipe – an insane 19m above the flat bottom! I’d been up in the crane that day to get the perspective should anyone reach the fabled 10m mark and quite frankly it made me feel ill. I was petrified James was going to nail himself in front of thousands of people and we were going to be facing a lawsuit. He leapt too far the first time and dropped about 14m, it was terrifying but he just ran straight back up into the crane. We took his standing heart rate as 210 bpm which says it all. The feeling of relief when he landed in the sweet spot on his second attempt will stay with me forever. The crowd went absolutely ballistic and rushed off to a headline night with American Hip-Hop legends Ugly Duckling – it was one of the most memorable nights of my life.
OTS: What do you most look forward to and what are you looking forward to this year?
Watching the British competitors reach new heights, seeing large groups of happy people, watching the Club Nights go off … just seeing it all come together, but most of all waving the last person out of resort following a successful event and breathing a huge sigh of satisfaction and relief in equal measure.
OTS: What are the essential elements for a successful ski/board festival?
There’s no formula really. The BRITS concentrates on taking people to the best resorts (not just the cheapest with the largest margins although our package price is one of the cheapest out there). We cater for people that are as serious about their skiing and snowboarding as they are about their nightlife and we don’t take ourselves too seriously. With package prices the same as a normal week’s holiday, why wouldn’t you choose a festival that offers you World-Class sporting events, top apres and big club nights.
OTS: Finally, do you have any favourite skiers or riders that you're backing this year?
I don’t have favourites, but there are some world-class performers that are travelling with Team GB to all of the World Cup Olympic Qualifying events this season and we have genuine medal potential in both the freestyle skiing and snowboarding disciplines with the likes of James Woods (ski SS), Billy Morgan (snb SS), Jenny Jones (snb SS), Zoe Gillings (snbX), Jamie Nichols (snb SS), Ben Kilner (snb HP) and a few others. There are also some really talented juniors coming through so it’s looking good.
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