Snow melts - Dirt Doesn't
An unusual sport is giving British farmers the opportunity to create an alternative enterprise to attract adventurous young visitors to their farms.
Mountainboarding is a cross between snowboarding and skateboarding and its terrain can vary from a beginners’ slope to serious downhill challenges.
The sport was developed in Colorado by a group of snow boarders who were frustrated that they couldn’t ride when the snow had melted and the first board was created by adding four pneumatic tyres and suspension to a conventional snowboard.
One of the earliest centres set up by a West Midlands farmer was at Court Farm, near Hereford. Roy Powell and his family have owned the 330 acre mixed farm for over 60 years and for the past 28 years they have grown 40 acres of PYO. They have gradually introduced a farm trail, carp fishing, a tea-room and farm shop, and the mountainboarding centre seemed to be a logical progression for the business.
“Nowadays you have to aim more for tourism than farming,” Roy explains.
Three years ago Roy discovered a company called Maxtrack, a Gloucestershire based business that sets up mountainboard centres across the country and focuses on the opportunities that this type of venture can offer farmers. He is delighted with the success of the centre. The final round of the British Mountainboard Championships was recently held at Court Farm and the business has seen a 20%-30% growth in visitor numbers each year.
Owner of Maxtrack, Ian Mitchell-Innes, introduced mountain boarding to the UK and has seen the popularity of the sport gradually spreading.
“I realised we needed to set up centres where you could go along and hire a board and try it out with all the safety equipment – helmet, pads and leashes (to stop the board disappearing down the hillside) and with someone there who could give some basic instruction,” he says.
“We offer farmers a complete franchise package. We provide everything from boards and equipment to site development advice and marketing support. There are various alternative packages available where capital investment can cost anywhere from £3000 upwards, depending on the number of boards required and the design and development work needed.”
Setting up a mountain board centre is not as simple as buying some boards, opening the gates and waiting for the crowds to flood in. There are a number of areas that must be considered and Maxtrack offer their expertise.
Ian explains: “Financial projections indicate that for an average farm with an outlay of 10 MBS boards hired out at £5 per hour for 30 hours per week, income would be £1500 per week. With running costs around £390 per week, £1110 per week is profit. A season of 13 weeks should therefore produce just under £15000 from a total of £3750. Additional income could include sales of boards and refreshments.
“At the moment we have about 30 farms around the country and we’re looking to double that, but we want centres that are going to be really successful. We’re looking for people who have got the location – it needs to be within 10 miles of a major population centre for maximum throughput.”
Chris Hill of Much Wenlock in Shropshire was in an ideal position to establish a thriving centre. With the help of able staff his father runs a 2000 acre mixed farm, predominately arable with a fattening beef herd and breeding ewes, but with falling agricultural prices the family needed to explore different avenues. Chris wanted to set up his own profit-making side of the business. He improved the existing campsite and bunk-house barn which sleeps up to 40 people and in the last couple of years he has established 10 new stables which are let out to a horseracing yard. A year ago he heard about Maxtrack and as he enjoyed sporting activities, a mountainboarding centre seemed an ideal business venture. Chris launched ‘The Edge’ and uses the internet to promote the business.
“Maxtrack offered me the overall expertise that I needed to get started. I spoke to Ian about equipment and marketing and he came out and gave advice about the slope we needed. “I learned how to become an instructor and as I enjoy skiing and snowboarding, this was a sport that came quite naturally. I sometimes think I need to spend more time specialising in it because there’s plenty of potential there.”
When it came to giving advice to other farmers Chris says: “You’ve got to have an interest in the sport. It’s going to take up an enormous amount of your summer, particularly if you’re an arable farmer. You have to have reliable staff that are first-aid qualified. And most importantly you must be prepared to develop the venture and spend time with it.
“It’s not something that’s going to run itself, you need to market it - you need to be there. Seek advice and get involved with the spirit of the actual culture of the sport. They’re your network and from them you’ll learn a lot more than you could learn in any other way.”