Ski spotlight: Rob Freeman, author of the Snowfinder guidebook on Austria

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Rob Freeman – the UK’s leading authority on skiing in Austria and author of the Snowfinder guidebook on Austria – talks life on the slopes

Why do you love to ski? 
Skiing is addictive and once hooked, you’re in a relationship with it that is never likely to end. It combines the thrill of speed with the satisfaction of technique, and all carried out in the most mind-blowingly beautiful setting that it’s possible to imagine.
There’s always something more to discover, an improvement in style and ability, an element of fear, a new run to enjoy – against a mountain backdrop of pure splendour. No other sport or recreation can rival this unique and heady combination of excitement and sublime locations.

Rob Freeman on the early season snow high above Ischgl (Picture: Rob Freeman)

Rob Freeman on the early season snow high above Ischgl

Where did you last ski?
In the Tirolean resort of Ischgl, Austria. It was the season-opening weekend, when the resort always stages a huge concert to mark the beginning of the winter. This time the star was James Blunt, who entertained a crowd of nearly 20,000 outdoors in the centre of the village. James is a skier himself – he raced successfully when he was in the Army – so was fully in tune with the crowd. Others who have starred at Ischgl include Elton John, Sting, Tina Turner, Lionel Richie, The Killers, Bob Dylan and Katy Perry. Blunt didn’t have time to ski – which was a shame because the runs at high level were in great shape, under blue skies. Ischgl has cross-border skiing with Samnaun in Switzerland, and a lofty top station at 2,872-metres – which means a long season stretching into May.

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James Blunt on the snow in Ischgl (Picture: Rob Freeman)

Do you know which ski destinations you will be heading to in 2015?
I have a few lined up – starting in January with Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy, beautifully situated in the gorgeous Dolomites. The town is surrounded by some great skiing – and a further reason to head there is the fabulous choice of mountain restaurants serving the best of Italian cuisine. They’re so good, most with sunny terraces, that it’s hard to drag yourself back on to the slopes after lunch. Plus Cortina is so fashionable that many visitors spend more time promenading on the chic streets than they do skiing – so that means the slopes are uncrowded and lift queues non-existent.
Next, it’s off to British Columbia on the West Coast of Canada, to visit two of my favourite North American resorts, Whistler and Sun Peaks. Whistler is to my mind one of North America’s best ski destinations, combining a huge range of runs – including glacier skiing – with a proper village base area with some decent apres-ski. The village is purpose-built but still has lots of character – with some of the best bars and restaurants (such as the Bearfoot Bistro, Araxi and Rimrock Cafe) you’ll find at any ski resort. Sun Peaks is a great family-orientated resort with an ever-expanding ski area that is now one of Canada’s largest – and one of the sunniest to be found, as the name implies.
Also on my list are the smaller though lovely resorts in the Montafon area, in Austria’s westernmost province of Vorarlberg, including Schruns, Gargellen and Gaschurn.

Of all the ski destinations you’ve experienced, which was your favourite and why?
Ischgl never disappoints, but the resort I’ve spent most time exploring and have come to love is St Anton am Arlberg, also in Tirol. It links with Stuben, St Christoph, Zurs and Lech (which itself is now connected with Warth-Shrocken) to form one of the most exciting and extensive ski areas in the world. The first ski school was founded in the Arlberg by the legendary Hannes Schneider, and St Anton is a resort that  lives, sleeps and breathes skiing. On any winter morning there is a palpable air of excitement and expectancy in the air as skiers and boarders make their way to the lifts.
The resort attracts the best skiers from all over the world, drawn by the huge amount of fabulous off-piste, as well as an array of challenging piste skiing. It also has some of the most challenging apres-ski. The Krazy Kangaruh has been a major name for decades, and the Mooserwirt has carved out an infamous reputation for piste-side apres – but one of my favourites is Underground on the Piste, where the atmosphere is a little more mellow with some excellent live music including jazz.

Sculpted snow above St Anton

Sculpted snow above St Anton (Picture: Josef Mallaun)

Which ski destination do you wish to travel to, but haven’t yet been?
There are still quite a few on the list – I haven’t yet skied the Himalayas, or Australia. South America has some good skiing and I know the Chile resorts quite well – but Bariloche and Las Lenas in Argentina have yet to be ticked off. And I haven’t yet got to Ski Apache, on the slopes of Sierra Blanca in New Mexico, owned and operated since 1963 by the Mescalero Apache tribe. It’s also the only ski resort in New Mexico with a gondola lift.

How do you plan your ski trip?
I ski and work with with many of the major ski tour operators, particularly Inghams, Crystal and Erna Low. I also use (and write or work with) websites such as Snow Carbon, welove2ski and Secret Earth. Where to Ski and Snowboard, published annually and constantly updated by its authors Chris Gill and Dave Watts, is an invaluable aid in planning ski trips and magazines such as The Skier and Snowboarder has some great destination and ski equipment and innovation articles. I’ve also written my own guidebook, Snowfinder Austria.

(Picture: Rob Freeman)

Climbing Spanky’s Ladder in search of more off-piste powder in Whistler
(Picture: Rob Freeman)

How often do you go skiing?
I’m lucky enough to get away on about 10ski trips a year or more – sometimes lasting just a few days, or much longer if they are long haul, such as to North America or Japan. They are usually work related in one way or another: I’m either working for the resort I’m visiting, going there as a ski journalist to write about it, or guiding a group. Yes, it’s nice work!

Who do you ski with?
I find myself skiing a lot with people who have been strangers at the beginning of the trip, but soon become friends. That’s one of the great things about skiing – it’s a very sociable sport and you often strike up lasting friendships with people you meet on the slopes. There’s a good crossover between work and leisure here. But it’s wonderful to get away for a real holiday on the slopes sometimes just with family and close friends. Skiing with your family is one of life’s great pleasures. My son is an instructor in Whistler and we try to get out there as a family as often as we can. And I’ve had the good fortune to follow in the ski tracks of some of the world’s best skiers, including Olympic hero Franz Klammer and powder guru Josef Mallaun, as well as Britain’s highest achieving ski racer Konrad Bartelski. I’ve learned a huge amount about skiing from them – but chiefly, to savour every moment I spend in the mountains.


Some amazing wind-blown snow sculptures among the trees at Sun Peaks,
British Columbia (Picture: Rob Freeman)


Rob Freeman is a qualified ski instructor and was for many years years a senior journalist on the Daily Mail. He still writes frequently for The Mail’s travel website. Now he travels more frequently than ever from his Buckinghamshire home to the ski slopes. His main dilemma is juggling his love for skiing with that for football – their seasons so inconveniently clash. Rob is the UK’s leading authority on skiing in Austria and has written the Snowfinder guidebook on Austrian resorts.



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