Home>Sport>Chasing mountains with Manx Snowboarder, Brandon Cain

Chasing mountains with Manx Snowboarder, Brandon Cain

Wednesday 3 November in Sport

Three… two… one…go! The countdown to the winter season has begun and for sporting athletes craving the ‘white stuff’ it’s the ultimate adventure. Anyone who has ever dared to try a snowsport of some calibre will know this time of year provides a rare window of opportunity that only glides along for a short amount of time but goes hand in hand with a setting that summons adrenaline-charged excitement.

Stretching from November to late April, ski resorts across Europe’s mountain ranges will be welcoming the first snowfall of the year, to pave the white path for skiers and snowboarders alike. Over the last twenty years, the ski industry has grown ever more popular with more and more people trying the sport. Yet, for some, it’s second nature, especially for the likes of Manx snowboard crosser, Brandon Cain. The 23-year-old ex-QEII pupil has wrestled more injuries than most, along with the pitfalls that come with such an extreme sport.

Islandlife’s Tia Welsh, who also happens to have a passion for the mountain air, caught up with Brandon from his training zone in Austria, ahead of the winter season.

The word ‘snowboarder’ may not ring a bell for many Manxies, but mention Island Olympian ‘Zoe Gillings’ and the penny drops. Though small in name, the sport itself lands a hard impact having cut through the horizon of winter Snowsports for many years. BBC Programme Ski Sunday and the Winter Olympics of 2018 certainly served the appetite for big air, big tricks and big flicks.

“Zoe has paved a nice pathway for me in terms of boarder cross,” he says. “I trained with her and Dan Bryers’ team up until last year when I made the switch to full GB snowsports, so I’ve grown close to Zoe for a good few years.”

Though a skier in his earlier days, Cain caught a taste for ‘riding’ when he was twelve years old, after annual family ski holidays to Banscow in Bulgaria. “I started skiing at a young age , but I was terrible.” he laughs. “Even though I had lessons I never improved, not one bit. When my parents gave me the opportunity to try snowboarding I took the chance. It took me a day or two to learn but, after a week of lessons, I was hooked and I’ve not looked back since!”

In the eyes of many skiers, this cross to the ‘dark side’ inevitably unlocked the doors for Cain’s future sporting career. When an opportunity for British Team Snowboard cross trials came knocking back in 2015/16, he decided to bite the bullet. “I thought I might as well just give it a go and see what happens – the worst thing they can say is no, and the worst thing I can get out of it is having a good holiday,” he recounts. “I had just finished my college diploma when I found out, and before I knew it I went straight to the mountains.”

The shift wasn’t so hard for Cain, given his previous snowboarding background, but even for the most advanced snowboarder, the boarder cross style can be challenging.

“It’s completely different to normal snowboarding,” he admits. “It feels like you’re riding a door when compared to the normal snowboard.”

Before being selected, Cain had never touched a cross board or course in his life. The first season allowed him to learn the ropes and, like any athlete, he gave the sport his full undivided attention. An experienced adrenaline junkie, the snowboarder has no fear when it comes to a hobby he lives and breathes. Though like many athletes who dabble in extreme sports, Cain wears the battle scars of his training with pride. In the last three years, Cain has churned up an impressive CV of injuries, casually admitting “I almost died a couple of times.”

In a short space of time he has suffered a punctured lung, broken shoulder and a ruptured stomach lining. Though, these may not paint the crystal clear picture of the sport, they somehow fuel Cain’s ambition.“Injuries are just a common part of my sport – nothing I bat an eyelid about. Some suck more than others, but you just have to deal with them.”

With three World Cups under his belt and a vast knowledge of the European ski area, Cain is far from under-qualified, and has his eye on the 2026 Winter Olympics and a further number of world events. His life goal was to compete in a World Cup, and that has certainly been achieved. “Even if I had a life-changing injury tomorrow, I would happily retire knowing I’ve completed a world cup, and got into the top 1% of the sport. We have fewer competitions and less funding for events because the sport doesn’t have a main sponsor,” Cain explains. “It’s unfair… but that’s just how it is. It’s really sad to see, because snowboard cross is one of the most enjoyable sports to watch and the great thing about it is everyone can relate to it in some way.”

Despite all this, Cain’s love for the sport is blended into his soul. “Snowboarding is addictive. I’ve never found anything else in my life that could replicate that feeling of euphoria. It’s the best night’s sleep you’ve had over and over again, but you’re awake.”

When asked about the future, Cain admits: “I just want to be doing something I enjoy– that’s the key to any sport,” he says simply. “It’s probably going to be snowboard related because I can’t stay away from the mountains.”

For anyone seeking to pick up the sport, Cain has some sharp bits of advice. “There’s only one way in and that’s through trying. If you haven’t already tried it, find a way to try it later if you’re still interested. Don’t give up.”

Arguably, the Isle of Man’s association with winter sports is minimal, given its lack of mountains, indoor snow domes and powder, yet its Snowsports talent has bagged recognition on national level – Brandon Cain and Zoe Gillings are living proof.

As the world tries to stand up from the backlash of the coronavirus pandemic, the future remains bright and blazing for this gutsy athlete looking to carve fresh lines for Team GB.

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