Recently I was lucky enough to snowboard and conduct an interview with Zoe Gillings-Brier – Britain’s most successful winter sport athlete in terms of world cup podiums. We met at the Striding Edge snowboard launch at the Hemel Snowdome, and not only is she phenomenal snowboarder she’s also incredibly nice and an inspiring business person.
Interview with Zoe Gillings-Brier
How did a girl from the Isle of Man get into snowboarding?
My parents have a house in Albertville, in the middle of the French Alps. So I went out there for family holidays of six to eight weeks every winter since I was four. I learnt to ski right away then switched to snowboarding when I was ten.
How did that interest become a focus on Boardercross?
I used to do all the events: half pipe, big air, slopestyle, giant slalom, boardercross, everything. I always found boardercross the most fun as it had the speed element along with the big jumps, and it was the one I was best at. So, when it came to a time when I needed to specialise in one, it was a pretty easy decision.
What would your advice be to young aspiring snowboard athletes?
1. Get on snow as much as you can. Be it in a snowdome or out on the mountains, getting time on snow is the biggest obstacle for British youngsters.
2. Try everything. Experiment with the different disciplines within snowboarding. You never know, you might find something you really like that you didn’t expect to.
3. Bend you knees, you always want a low centre of gravity.
You have been on the boardercross world cup circuit for twelve years, how have you seen the sport change?
The courses have got a lot more technical and the jumps have got bigger. You used to have about 30% of the field using giant slalom boards as you could get through the corners quicker, and if you were good enough you could do the jumps on them too. Now there is no one using giant slalom boards. It’s become more specialised, virtually everyone just competes in boardercross and not in any of the other events.
With its inclusion in the Olympics, more of the general population know about the sport as well. In my experience, if you describe boardercross to ten people about eight will say something like ‘Oh. That’s the one I saw when watching the Olympics, that was brilliant to watch. You guys are crazy!”
You have set aside 2015 as a ‘regeneration season’, please explain what that means?
It means I’ll be coming away from competitions, just doing a few through the season, and concentrating on training and working on the areas where I am weakest.
You competed in Turin 2006, Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014 – how did they all compare for you personally and as venues?
Venue wise Vancouver was my favourite. The snowboarders stayed in the main village, so we had the best facilities and were in the centre of the action. Also I just I love Vancouver as a city. Sochi was the best injury wise. I was involved in two crashes with people in Turin and tore the cartilage in my knee in Vancouver. Turin was fantastic because it was my first games and the first time I had experienced the great atmosphere and all the special things which come with the Olympics.
What has been your three snowboarding career highlights to date?
Winning the World Cup in Chile. Achieving seven World Cup podiums, which is more than any other British snowboarder or skier. And getting within 20cm of the Olympic final in Sochi.
Your UK Sport funding has been withdrawn. How does the funding work and why as British #1 was yours not renewed?
It’s pretty complicated but in essence you have to get a top three, top eight or top twelve at the World Champs or Olympics to get UK Sport funding. You can get lower levels if there’s other athletes in your discipline getting those kind of results. Then you get set targets you have to reach. I had to get into the final in Sochi for UK Sport to continue my funding and I didn’t. It’s pretty disappointing obviously, as I was so close. But that’s what they told me well beforehand and I didn’t do it so I can’t complain now.
How do you plan to fund your goal to reach the Olympics in Korea in 2018?
I’ve already got quite a bit of interest from sponsors. I’ve just created partnerships with Ski Team 4, DJI, Soloshot, Nutrition X and am finalising a very exciting brand ambassadorial role with a car company. I’ve also launched a business which is going really well too.
Please tell us about this latest business venture, the PoundShaveClub.com?
The PoundShaveClub.com is a business I set up this summer. I’d seen the business model working well in other countries while I was away at competitions but discovered no one had really done it in the UK yet. Simply put, we offer great quality razors, delivered to your door hassle free at a fair price (at least 60% cheaper than on the high street).
When you join our club we send you four fresh heads every month so you always have a sharp blade to shave with. You can cancel anytime with one click through your online account, so there’s no commitment. It’s been really exciting setting it up, we’ve got interest from private investors and had loads of people including Simon Pegg and Calum Best tweeting all their friends about it. It’s different from snowboarding but a great challenge and it’s going really well.
Congratulations on your recent wedding. What have you been doing on your honeymoon in Thailand?
The main thing we’ve been doing is scuba diving. We’ve been diving all over the place and we’ve just passed our PADI Advanced Open Water certification. I’ve got to keep my fitness up while over here so I’ve been to the local gym. We’ve also been out running a few times. It’s beautiful scenery around here so that makes it more interesting than running around Leeds, but it is so hot.
So, I hope you enjoyed reading this interview with Zoe Gillings-Brier? I certainly enjoyed meeting her and of course getting to snowboard with a professional. Here’s wishing Zoe all the best for the coming regeneration season, and the road to Korea 2018. Lets hope we see Zoe on the podium again before too long.