Dave joined the Mountain Tracks team at the beginning of the 2012/2013 season and heads up our Performance courses, travelling extensively between European resorts throughout the winter. He holds the coveted (and highest) level 4 ski instructor qualification.
How many seasons have you been working in the Alps? This will be my 14th consecutive season in the Alps. Throw in a few more in Scotland and New Zealand, and that makes it 19… Crikey, time flies! I grew up on the west coast of Scotland and while I rarely get back I still call it home.
You have skied a lot in the Western Alps, which are your 3 favourite resorts?
I have skied mainly in Italy, Switzerland and France, so here’s 1 from each. In Italy, it has to be Monte Rosa, a freeride Mecca and the ‘3 Valleys’ of Italia. Courmayeur comes a close second, skiing in the shadow of Mont Blanc. The Italians also get the finer things in life spot on - and decent coffee to kick off, hot chocolate you can stand your spoon up in, and a grappa to end the day. Zinal is becoming my second home. The best-kept secret of the Swiss Alps, this miniature resort is crammed with perfect off-piste teaching terrain for all levels. I haven’t skied anywhere else where you can lap around a chair all day and only ever see your own tracks. And of course in France, the 3 Valleys, my home resort for the last 7 seasons. The largest ski area in the world, it is known for crowds, but that’s only really true at half term and even then if you know where to go, you can always avoid them. With all the uplift, access to off-piste is a doddle.
Photo: Enjoying Zinal's fine off-piste
In an off-piste context: Please give a foundation skier just 1 ski tip, what would it be?
If at first you don’t succeed….! Well, off-piste skiing can be tricky, particularly if conditions are not perfect. Persevere through a few knocks and you will get that first perfect powder turn. After that, all you have to do is repeat! Apart from getting instruction, ensure that you use an all-mountain or freeride ski that is designed for the off-piste environment.
In an off-piste context: Please give an advanced skier just 1 ski tip, what would it be?
Learn to be adaptable. Ski different pitches in all snow types. In the end, a perfect run is made up of turns that require a broad range of techniques. A good place to start this journey of discovery is to focus on pressure distribution between your feet. So what’s that about? Play around with putting all of the pressure on the outside foot moving right down to equal pressure (often referred to as 50/50) and try everything in between. You can do this on a single run, varying from turn to turn as well as playing with it on different gradients and snow types.
Photo: Dave teams up with another powder hound!
How do Mountain Tracks group differ from other groups?
Over the years, I have coached skiing using just about every variation in group size and duration available. Without a shadow of a doubt, it is the formula that we have developed for the Mountain Tracks courses that I see the greatest improvement amongst clients.
I think this comes firstly from the fact that the group generally stays together in a chalet environment over the week and individuals really get to bond. This creates a great, relaxed camaraderie that translates into a fun learning environment on the hill where you can trust your teammates, and your instructor. The group learns how best to work together to get the most out of every day.
A full day with an instructor or guide allows for plenty of time for input as well as structured practice time on appropriate terrain. Too often I see clients make a breakthrough in a short clinic only to loose the feel just a few days later when they have not had the feedback to make it engrained in their performance.
We operate a policy of a maximum of 6 in a group. Beyond this, and the amount of time the instructor can give to each client diminishes exponentially as more time is given over to waiting, dealing with the inevitable wipe-out or 2 and re-forming the group. Keeping to this benchmark allows the instructor to do just that, instruct.
To round off, we focus on safety - our top priority. To make off piste skiing as safe as possible, a lot of decision-making takes place. We ensure that our clients are involved in this process as much as possible and learn to appreciate the mountain environment along with the technical skills of using avalanche safety equipment.
If God gave you perfect weather and snow but only 1 day left to ski, where would you go?
The back bowl of Nevis Range, Fort William where I first skied a perfect powder line. Well, that or an Alaskan fluting.
I studied marine biology at Uni and later qualified as a PADI diving instructor. I love diving, that feeling of weightlessness and exploring the underwater world. Drift diving, the underwater equivalent to flying across an endless coral reef, is a mesmeric experience. I am travelling to Burma this November to do just that.
During the summer, I work as a freelance expedition leader, mainly for school and young adult groups. This allows me to travel all over the world, exploring stunning places and cultures, and meeting incredible people. Expeditions like these create a unique and natural learning environment for the participants, and is generally life changing for everyone involved. It’s a very rewarding way to spend time whilst waiting for the next winter.
Photo: Dave leading a group on a Nicaraguan expedition
In which countries have you lead expeditions, and which trip sticks in your mind?
Bolivia and Peru (5 times!), Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Borneo, Tobago and the Indian Himalayas. A recent trip to Nicaragua particularly sticks in my mind. I was fortunate to lead a brilliant group of young adults on a 21-day trek from Miraflor in the north (close to the border with Honduras) to the Maribios volcano chain in the South. For much of the trek we passed through remote communities that can only be reached on foot or horse. The welcome that we had everywhere we went was incredibly warm and genuine and the scenery is some of the most stunning that I have ever seen. The journey was a really uplifting and unforgettable experience for the whole group – good times!!!
interview by Matt Dickinson
IFMGA / UIAGM / IVBV
The IFMGA / UIAGM / IVBV symbol is the logo of the International Federation of Mountain Guides Association.
Nick, Olly and Matt are all fully-qualified UIAGM Mountain Guides and members of the British Mountain Guides Association.
The International Ski Instructors Association is the world body for professional ski instructors.
The ISIA was formed in 1971 and there are currently 39 member nations representing the very best in ski instruction around the world.