Val Thorens, c.2005

Val Thorens, c.2005 – the days before helmets…

My parents first took our family up to Cairngorm to learn to ski when I was about 8.  The wind howled, the clouds covered the resort in a thick blanket of white, visibility was poor and I kept falling. I cried, complained, said I didn’t like skiing and I was never going to like skiing.  I am thankful that my dad and mum persevered – I learnt to ski.

Aged 11, oldest brother John was old enough to drive the rest of us brothers up to Glenshee or Cairngorm, which were 2-3 hours away, and so we discovered the Alpine start.  I remember the stinging in the face at the end of the day, from hail and horizontal rain, as “a pain you earned”, the feeling of having done something superior in essence to sitting in front of a TV or an Amiga.  We managed to ski one or two days most (but not all) years until I was 18.

There were a lot of bad season in the late 1990′s and early 2000′s.  There were only 2 weeks of decent snow on the hills in 2001, the week before and after my 18th birthday.  I had flu for both weeks.  By then I’d skied about 13 or 14 days in total in my life.  I took the chance to go on a 3rd year University exchange to Canada, and it turned out that powder was quite a lot more forgiving than what I was used to.  We skied more days that winter than my life entire to that point, and discovered the joy of hitch-hiking.

Tactical friendships followed, and when I got back to Europe, I made friends with an Austrian, thinking of Austria as one big ski resort.  Unfortunately, his home is quite far from great skiing, but his family are great, so we came back often, and he showed me round the Alps for a week in spring, and opened my eyes to the breadth, depth and variety of skiing in even just his small corner of the Eastern Alps.

I took a job near the French Alps, teaching English for 12-16h/wk, with the intention to ski a lot, learn French and live like a local as well as a skier.  Great colleagues, lots of snow, 19 resorts, something like 40+ days.  Again, more days skiing than my entire life up to that point.  I got to know a Viking with whom I’ve skied most seasons ever since, and together we discovered that a great day in the right small resort can be every bit as good as a great day in a big one.

Glasgow for a couple of years; skied Glencoe for the first time (just brilliant); skied the Kelvingrove park; played with filming for the first time.

Luxembourg isn’t close to the Alps, but it’s a lot closer than Glasgow, and with the right crew we got a lot done.  Best run at it was skiing 9 out of 11 consecutive weekends.  I qualified as a CA out there, improved my French and German, and made friends for life; but the problem I saw was that it’s hard to be involved in community, both just friendships/housemates and (especially) faith-community, when you’re always going somewhere else for the weekend.

After a couple of months of staying with friends and skiing the Alps, plus a wee trip to Mexico, again meeting up with the Viking, I moved to the heart of the British mountains – Inverness, the Highland capital.  The first year back, I was fortunate on two fronts: I met local ski legend Gav MacKay, who showed me that I wasn’t that technically great a skier! (I’m still not, btw), and it was the snowiest winter the Highlands have seen for about 20 years.  Watching Gav dropping Jacob’s Ladder in pretty marginal conditions was awful and inspiring at the same time; seeing what they were up to made me realise that there is indeed world-class steep-skiing in Scotland, and hearing of what he’d skied made me wonder how it was possible, and how far I could take it…

Winter 11-12 saw Scotland’s first ever freeride ski comp, the Coe Cup (now a Freeride World Tour Qualifier), and despite not placing that highly in the individual-line rankings, they put my name on the Cup, for line-choice, ambition, helping to prep the face whilst others were practising, and for playing the guitar and singing with the Glencoe Lifties / Ski Patrollers in the bar on Saturday night (great crack).

In Autumn 2013, I made a film called Five Months, which was eventually shown at the Edinburgh Mountain Film Festival 2014, documenting descents of (amongst others) Crotched Gully & Hell’s Lum, as well as the British ski-mountaineering superlative, the Tower Double (climbing Tower Ridge & skiing Tower Gully) on Ben Nevis.

Supported by Whitedot Skis, Craigdon Mountain Sports, Dirty Dog Eyewear, Buff and Bern Helmets, I find myself trying to walk the narrow line of chasing my passion and being a normal guy.  I love to share what’s possible out there, and I love to turn the sport into art – it was others’ stories that inspired me, so why should the deep emotions, the invigoration, the excitement and the glory of what we know up there be kept to ourselves, just because we’re afraid to come across as proud?
… and so I’m sorry if I come across as arrogant or self-absorbed.  If you meet me, I hope you’ll find that it’s not the case.  There are many skiers much better than me, this is just my small part of getting out in the right conditions, with the right crew and on the right kit, to get intimate with Creation, and to feel the mountain in all of its ferocity, glory and wonder.  He gave us many small mirrors which show us glimpses of the Creator – this is just one of them.  But if you’ve come this far, I hope you’ll enjoy what adventures we can share; and I look forward to hearing about yours too.

Thanks for joining us.


4 Responses

  1. Allan Brown
    Allan Brown at ·


    We would be interested in showing Five Months at the Dundee Mountain Film Festival in November. I did not get to the session at EMFF, so missed it I’m afraid. Is it possible to see/get a copy of the complete film?



  2. John Agnew
    John Agnew at ·

    Hi Theph,

    I’m getting in touch because we are planning a mini local mountain film night here at the National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge Estate. We are keen to show your film because there are loads of ski-ers here due to our proximity to Glen Shee. What would be the cost for us showing this?



  3. Jonathan Agnew
    Jonathan Agnew at ·

    Hi Theph.

    We are keen to show your film at a film night we are having soon. Would this be possible?


    John Agnew
    Seasonal Ecologist
    Mar Lodge Estate

  4. NYK Media
    NYK Media at ·

    We met you guys on the summit of Ben Nevis during our fundraising walk and watched you go off the Tower Ridge. (You certainly didn’t come across as arrogant or self-absorbed.) I appreciated your taking the time to answer questions and have the photos taken. :)

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