Rachael Oakes-Ash chews the fat…
All photos by Terro Repo
Where did it all begin Mr Smoothy?
I grew up skiing in my parents backpack when I was a toddler so I have spent most of my life on snow. First time I was on my own sticks, it had snowed in Wanaka lakewanaka.co.nz and I was shunted downhill on the road to the badminton courts, and obviously I stomped it! I learned much of my trade at Treble Cone treblecone.co.nz , with two mates an Aussie Nick Kingston and local Nicola Campbell.
Nick and I were once offered a pie for the entry into an old school freestyle aerial comp at a pretty early age. Which meant shutting my eyes, cranking a mean as spread eagle before impact and tumbling to a glorious halt.
I grew into skiing as a professional as the years went on and I entered local competitions. Of course I did the usual racer kid thing, growing up skiing the gates. I don’t think I ever really wanted to be something, like a fireman or James Dean when I was little, instead I just picked up bits along the way of what I didn’t want to be like. I made it up as I went along, still doing that now and will do til I grow up I guess.
I spent my first solo northern season in Keystone in Colorado working as a ski instructor and fresh out of high school. I had an odd knack for losing the children I was supposed to be teaching. Let’s just say management were less than impressed when I lost my client on a one on one private lesson.
I spent part of two winters in Tahoe , which was amazing. There is just so much skiing history there, I mean they have a guide book to all the lines and cliffs to huck, and it’s so sweet ticking them off. It is also the home of many pro skiers and I got to know a few of them by serving up pizza and pouring pitchers of beer for them at Le Chamois, a local joint.
You have got to be there for quite a while to be a local and get accepted there, but I had some help from Kiwi mafia don, Sam Hall. Getting myself lost in the woods on the famous backcountry lake run in Truckee probably didn’t help though.
How did you find sponsors to support you?
When I quit ski racing I jumped straight into the early freeski comps in NZ, hitting up any sponsor I could think of and K2 bravely took me on. I won the National junior title a few times, I think that made people happy as I picked up more sponsors then, getting a third in the NZ Open big mountain at 17 helped my case. It took me a couple more years to win the title though, and I picked up a 2nd at the Nokia Extreme in the same year.
In Europe this year I was super focused on stepping up and making some serious noise on the scene there and ended up having my best season ever. I competed on the Freeride World Qualifier Series , taking a 12th at Freeride de Chamonix and two 5ths to drop my Freeride World Ranking down to 30th.
I also competed in the invite only Engadin Snow , and was amped as I claimed my first podium with a third. So now I’m back on the hunt again, looking to make it onto European teams for the next winter there, so look out for that.
When did you realise you had ‘ski pro’ in your blood?
I don’t think there was a defining moment when I thought ‘gee I want to be a ski pro” but two years ago I realised it was do or die, all or nothing time and it’s been my main focus ever since. It’s why I moved to Europe to spend the winter at Verbier , why I’m still here immersing myself in the summer culture.
Who do you look up to in the industry?
I really admire those in the industry who strive for something unique and different while keeping a down to earth, chill manner about them. I would say two of my favourites would be Pep Fujas for his take on trickery in snow sliding and Shane McConkey for showing us a new direction while being this brilliantly goofy, super nice family guy.
What’s a Sam Smoothy big ski day out?
The token atypical question! I really love two pretty different types of a good day out. One is a pretty simple equation, ripping pals+big mountain terrain+action recording type people+a cold bluebird=equals a banging day. The other is trickier to pin down.
Kind of just a fun, loose spring day with my buddies back home at Treble Cone in spring time, doing trains off jumps, mini flips, fooling around in the tussock, maybe some fancy dress and beers too and just a silly day out in the hills.
I love to get involved in the club field scene up in Canterbury. The terrain there is amazing but its more the vibe, it’s still got this feeling of adventure and exploration, plus there’s the whole hike up through the native bush, staying in the huts and pitching in with all the chores and getting to know all the locals, good peoples!
Overseas I have been stoked on Verbier, Switzerland. Its got these huge, super intimidating mountains and the level of riding is so high with heaps of high profile photographers that when its on its ‘full noise, try not to die not today, oh my god who left those insane tracks I gotta step up type of scene’. And that’s just the nightlife!
Can you imagine a life without skiing?
That would be someone else’s life then.
Impress us with your famous folk
I’ve met a few people mainly through Wanaka or Tahoe and have shredded around with people like Tanner Hall, Jossi Wells, Russ Henshaw, JT Holmes, CR Johnson and Shane McConkey. The most impressive person on skis for me would have to be the late Shane McConkey. He was so involved in where skiing has gone over the years, pushing the sport so hard while being super nice.
If you had to choose only one place to ski for the rest of your life where would it be?
Would be the clubfields at home, the biggest downside of what I do would be all the time away from mates an loved ones so it would have to be home for sure.
Massive thank you to everyone who has helped me and continue to do so. To all my sponsors, friends like Hamish Acland and Simon Knight and especially my family, whose support has been huge and greatly appreciated, hope I’m still doing you proud. Peace