Leader of the British freeski invasion

Vanessa Sharples

Coach Pat Sharples with James Woods, who took third in Slopestyle at Winter X Europe.

Pat Sharples suffered a few broken thumbs when he was a kid, a typical injury for an English skier in the early 1990s. Sharples grew up in Manchester, and moguls covered in Dendix -- a surface of hexagonal brush bristles -- were the only way to chase his dream of competing in the Olympics. That dream went unrealized, but it set Sharples on a path to become coach and mentor to a generation of British freeskiers who are proving mountains and snow are not a requirement to compete with the world's best. Sharples -- known as "Uncle Sharpy" -- coaches James Woods, who took third in slopestyle at Winter X Europe, and Euro X rookie Katie Summerhayes. He's trained countless others at the Salomon Grom Freeski Camps, and he's the UK team manager for Salomon and Oakley. He spoke to ESPN Freeskiing about how he became the coach behind the British invasion.

I tried to go for the Olympics [for mogul skiing] in 1998 and I blew my ACL in a qualifying event in La Plagne. It was my second ACL I'd done and I just decided then -- I made the move from moguls to newschool.

To me, it was moving into a totally different sport. It was fresh, it was exciting. It just never stops progressing and it's great to see. I never get bored doing what I'm doing.

When newschool came in, it was such a big success all around the world and in the UK every kid wanted a pair of twin tip skis. I was one of the [Salomon] athletes at the time, getting into my older years, and they said we'd really like you to take on the job of team manager.

There's actually over 70 artificial ski and snowboard centers in Great Britain now. It's crazy.

A few years ago, everybody thought it was a rich person's game, but now you can do it at your local dry slope. When the kids get to 16, 17, they branch out and go away, but they can still be skiing all the time, all year round, and it keeps people enthusiastic.

Vanessa Sharples

Sharples and Katie Summerhayes at 2011 Winter X Europe.

With halfpipe being picked into the Olympics, we're trying to come up with ideas how we can build quarterpipes into airbags and use all the facilities back in the UK to train our athletes back there when we're not in the mountains.

The first thing that really clued me into Woodsy was his personality. He was at the British Championships, he'd never done a competition on snow before, and he came and asked me for some advice. He was actually going to do the skier cross and he didn't know how to get out of the start gates.

Katie Summerhayes was nine years old when she came over to the camps. Anything you taught her she would just pick it up straight away. She was intimidating the boys twice her age.

I've sort of committed and told people I will lead the British Freeski Team toward the 2014 Olympics. I'm pretty pleased with how far we've got without any support except our sponsors. I think if slopestyle is in the Olympics we do have a shot where we can break into the top five or three.

It's just about the athletes, getting them there and being there for them. I'm quite happy to sit in the back seat and not be noticed. I'll definitely put in every bit of energy I've got to make sure they get there and they do their best.

Related Content