SKIERS – Warren Smith and His Verbier-based Ski Academy is all about steeps and freeride terrain

August 6th, 2009

Warren Smith aka Woz, Wozzatron or The Ginger Prince

All roads in Verbier, Switzerland lead back to king of the hill, Warren Smith. His ski academy trains over 1100 students a year, he’s a household name in ski houses of Britain and he counts Lawrence Dallaglio, James Blunt and Claudia Schiffer as private clients. Not that it’s gone to his head, you’ll find him nursing a pint amongst friends nightly at the Farinet Lounge off the Place Central during the winter so drop in and say ‘oy’, that’s Woz speak for ‘g’day’.

Rachael Oakes-Ash talks to the Ginger Prince for
All photos by Melody Sky

Where did it all begin?
My first ever ski memory was at Hemel Hempstead dry ski slope in 1985 when I was 13. I only went on it with some mates for a bit of a laugh. Got thrown off for being dangerous but I did love it. I used to BMX at a skateboard park two years previous on the same spot that the ski slope was on and found the balance with skiing really similar to biking.

I reckon skiing saved me actually, took me in a direction I wouldn’t have gone if I hadn’t discovered it. I was a larrikin kid, borderline dangerous, but skiing gave me a passion and a focus I could channel my recklessness into. Sure beats basket weaving in prison – ha ha. Skiing has really helped me evolve as a person. I’ve dealt with many challenging things through the sport and have been tested. It’s also introduced me to many amazing people who have also helped me developed my life into what it is now

I kept going back to the Hemel Dry Ski Slope for several weeks and then someone suggested a school trip to Austria. My parents were broke so I went out and cleaned cars locally for a few weeks to raise the cash and went for a week of skiing with mates from school. It was my first experience of real mountains.
I got hooked onto skiing pretty much after arriving in Austria and waking up on the first day to see proper mountains for the first time. Was just insane and actually knew from that moment that I had to somehow be in the mountains. After skiing on the first day I was blown away. Was hard to come down from the buzz!! I still feel the same buzz today and every day I ski.

Since then I’ve skied in Switzerland, Austria, France, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Japan, Germany, Argentina, New Zealand, Lebanon, Andorra, Scotland but my favourite ski place has to be Verbier where we run our Warren Smith Ski Academy and I have my home. Though the main reason I’m in Verbier is the freeskiing, not so much for the teaching aspect. It just turned out to be my home and that is where most of my winter skiing is done. For the Academy a lot takes place there but we also use Japan, France and New Zealand for courses.

And then?

I knew I wanted to teach when I was about 15 as I could see it would be a pathway to getting myself into the mountains full time. Didn’t know where it would take me then, just wanted to get into it so I became a ski instructor down the line.

The Academy came about in 1998/99. Ski tuition just seemed to always breed the same issues with so many skiers I had come across over the previous years. Typically skiers through most ski school tuition would end up with a technique that would carry them around the pistes but struggled in getting them down moguls, steeps and freeride terrain.

I did a lot of looking and researching to come up with something to add to standard ski tuition to give it an extra couple of bolt on bits to give people the right foundation so they wouldn’t struggle when it came to those terrains and types of skiing. I guess in a nutshell I combined Ski Technique / Ski Physiology / Ski Biomechanics as a formula that works for athletes, instructors, recreational skiers and early intermediates.

I think the success of the academy is due to a lot of feedback over the years from people and the fact that the formula is not set in stone. It evolves a little bit each year, sometime a lot. I’m always adding to it. Guess it’s no different to other sports and how they evolved, like motor racing for example. Other reasons for the success is word of mouth, the press and journalists out there who I owe a lot to for writing about it, my Academy team coaches who give out 101% each time they teach and everybody who keeps the cogs turning with Snowsport Synergy, the company that runs the Warren Smith Ski Academy.

Freeski or old school?

Off piste is what I have a passion for. Freeskiing is what I love to do and I ride as a freeskier for Volkl and Oakley. We set up the British Freeski Camps in 2000 and started coaching athletes and up and coming rippers for big mountain, moguls and general off piste. The camps also cater for freestyle though that is not my strong point.

I’m with him..

I simply can’t imagine a life without skiing. I know I would have always done something in sport but since the trip to Austria it had to be skiing. I was into boxing before, I boxed for three years and basketball. I don’t do either now but I do cycle and we raise money for charity with mammoth cycle tours. I’ve skied with many people over the years that I guess are well known. Damon Hill, Lawrence Dallaglio, James Blunt, Ronan Keating, Claudia Schiffer, Matthew Vaughn, Carl Fogarty. There’s a been a few more than that but these guys stand out.

I think skiing with Lawrence Dallaglio down the backside of Mont Fort was impressive. Obviously Lawrence is a well known and hugely successful sporting personality but to see him deal with a 45 degree slope after only 4 weeks of skiing was impressive. The guy had guts and really shone through that day.

Which reminds me…thanks to all the people who supported me last year on the Pyrenees Cycle Challenge that I did with Lawrence Dallaglio for the Bliss Charity. We raised over £435,000 collectively as a group of 30 riders and many of my long term and new Academy clients and friends donated very generously.