What Would A ‘Yes’ Vote Today Mean For Snow Sports in the UK?

When we realised an 'indy ref' wasn't a new type of grab, we got right on the case...

Danny McCormick hits the big kicker at Cairngorm Mountain. Photo: Ed Blomfield

Whichever way the vote goes tomorrow, the impact of the Scottish referendum is sure to be felt for years to come.

While Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling have been having it out over currency and health care though, we’ve been asking the question on everyone’s lips – how would a yes vote effect snowsports in the UK?

“Everyone in Park & Pipe closely collaborates, and I’d hope political divisions wouldn’t end that spirit”

How would Scotland’s resorts – the only “proper” ski resorts in the UK – fare if the country split? And what of the Olympians who rode for Team GB in Sochi? Will they have to wear kilts instead of salopettes come Pyeongchang?

Once we worked out that the ‘indy-ref’ wasn’t a new type of grab, we got right on the case.

An Olympic Decision

“The nuts and bolts of what would happen in the event of a Yes vote haven’t been sorted out yet,” says Lesley McKenna, a three-time Olympian herself who competed in halfpipe in Salt Lake City, Turin and Vancouver. Lesley is now program manager of the freestyle “Park & Pipe” program at BSS, British Snowsports’ governing body.

Lesley McKenna. Photo: Euan Baxter

“Regardless of what happens tomorrow,” she says, “everybody working in sport is keen to make sure that the athletes are supported. No rugs will be pulled out from under anyone.

“But what’s looking likely is that athletes who are eligible to ride for Scotland [like Ben Kilner and Murray Buchan] would be given a choice while Scotland is applying for IOC recognition.

“We already share training space and notes with the Americans, so of course we’d share with our closest friends and neighbours”

“In the short term though, I don’t see anything changing.” She believes the prospective timescale for independence is probably too short to affect preparations for Pyeongchang.

“Hypothetically, assuming there are ‘Scottish’ athletes recognised by the time Pyeongchang comes, there could be a split in the team,” but even if there is, “in reality everyone in Park & Pipe collaborates closely, and I’d hope political divisions wouldn’t end that spirit. It’s an essential part of freestyle culture.

“UK Sport funding is granted in four year Olympic cycles, so after Pyeongchang UK Sport could stop funding Scottish athletes. I’d like to imagine, though, that any future Scottish team and future UK team would train alongside each other.”

Scottish rider Ben Kilner in Team GB kit at Sochi. Could he be riding in blue and white come Pyeongchang? Photo: Nick Atkins

Would training alongside Olympic rivals work, though? Or would the Anglo-Scottish fires reignite and riders end up snaking each other at every turn?

“We already share training space and notes with the American team, so of course we’d share with our closest friends and neighbours,” she continued.

“The reality of park and pipe culture, even in competitions, is that everyone is riding against themselves. Everyone is stoked when someone lands a run, whatever country they come from.

“I can’t speak for what will happen in other sports, but I’d like to think that the spirit of collaboration we enjoy in skiing and snowboarding is something that could eventually spread to society as a whole. Though reading some of the papers at the minute that seems like it might be unlikely,” she laughs.

Lesley enjoying some Scottish pow at Cairngorm. Photo: Euan Baxter

Lesley is “leaning yes” because she believes it will create a better future for her young daughter, but she believes that whatever happens, the “culture of collaboration” in freestyle will continue.

This is good news, because we don’t want British snow sports stars turning into those ultra-competitive athlete types you find in F1. Or worse still, Shaun White…

It’s Snow Big Deal For The Day to Day

Mckenna’s positive feeling around the topic is shared by Lauren McCallum too, a Development Officer with Snowsport Scotland.“Whatever the decision, the coaches and the people involved will do the best thing for the sport” 

“In snow sports, the day to day won’t be hugely impacted,” Lauren admits. “It might be different in other aspects, but knowing a lot of the coaches – whatever the decision, the coaches and the people involved will do the best thing for the sport.”

Interestingly, Lauren also believes the economic changes a Yes vote would bring might encourage more people to get more involved in local sports clubs.

She continued: “What’s been really interesting for me in the whole debate is realising how our whole low wage economy effects participation in society. If we have quite a low paid society then the last thing you’re going to worry about is your local snowsports club.

Markku Koski makes the most of a dump at Glencoe resort. Photo: Dan Milner

“You just don’t have the wage and the lifestyle that supports you to give back. That’s been quite an interesting thing which applies to our development – looking at how we can change that in our current situation.”

Of course there are massively differing claims about how Scotland’s economy would be affected by independence. If Better Together are to be believed, the Irn-Bros will be knocking on 10 Downing Street in a matter of years, more battered up than a deep fried mars bar, with less general wealth and tourism going to shit.

But Could Glencoe-ing Solo Be Good For Business?

However Andy Meldrum, owner at Glencoe Mountain and one of the only resort chiefs willing to speak about the matter, does not believe that this will be the case.

“I’m very much pro independence,” he said. “I don’t have any huge issues with it and I think it would be good for our business.

“The Scottish government has been pretty supportive of the skiing industry and the ski centres”

“As a tourism business in Glencoe, we rely on the local area and on Scotland as an identity. Anything that strengthens that is only going to be good for a business like us. I certainly don’t think it would do us any harm.

“The Scottish government has been pretty supportive of the skiing industry and the ski centres, and I don’t see that changing with independence. It might improve, but it certainly won’t get any worse.”

Southampton’s Billy Morgan is best mates with Aberdeen’s Ben Kilner. Might they become future Olympic rivals? Photo: Nick Atkins

The operation at Glencoe has been growing over the past few years, with more full-time trail maintenance staff and additional trails being constructed and improved. Meldrum believes a “Yes” would only help them further this progress.

“We’ve been doing a lot of work on the trails this year, and we’ve put in a new trekking route as well,” he said.

“I’m heartened by the fact that there’s been talk about reducing corporation tax if we become independent. Purely from our point of view, paying less tax means we could invest more in new bike tracks and stuff at the centre.”

“paying less tax means we could invest more in new bike tracks and stuff at the centre.”

The questions over taxation and monetary issues will inevitably continue far past the vote, but from a Scottish snow sports perspective, it looks like there will be little impact felt on the scene for some years yet.

Olympians may continue to prosper and independence may well add to tourism and an already strong national brand. Or, according to the Better Together campaign’s darling Alistair, the exact opposite of that could happen.

Either way, if it’s an ‘aye’ or a ‘nah’ come tomorrow, opinion is unanimous in the industry that snow sports people will continue to help the scene thrive. And that’s quite enough for us.

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