I had the privilege of interviewing Australian snow blogger and journalist Rachael Oakes-Ash, a.k.a. Miss Snow It All (how awesome is that name?), this week. Mick and I have been following Rachael for some time now, and her blog Snows Best is our main source of information and entertainment for all things snow.
We wanted to know about the creator behind Miss Snow It All, the person who is usually doing the the interviewing! What we learnt was totally surprising and inspiring. We had assumed that Rachael had been skiing since she was able to walk. Instead we find out about her journey of learning to ski as an adult, why you should say yes more and how combining career with passion isn't always foolproof.
Q. We see that you’re as addicted to ‘chasing the snow’ as we are. Tell us about how you got into skiing and then the addiction that came after that.
I didn't take up real skiing until I was an adult. I had dabbled as a teenager and in my twenties before but never had a great experience. As a journalist I was invited to Queenstown to experience the Winter Festival and they generously gave me my own ski instructor for three days.
I thought I was king shit after that and agreed to ski with the NZ Prime Minister at the opening of a chairlift at Cardrona. Only trouble was I couldn't make it down the cat track to get to the chairlift to ski with her! By the time I made it down she had gone up the lift, skied down and got into her helicopter to leave.
I vowed that day to come back the same season and ski every marked run at Cardrona.
You could say it was public humiliation that created my addiction to snow. I went back to Thredbo, got lessons for a week, skied some more, did some improvement courses then returned that winter to Cardrona. I made it down most of the runs, not very well, but I made it down.
I was hooked and thus began my ski journalism career as I realised that in order to write about skiing I needed to be able to ski everything on every mountain if required, and then some.
250 ++ hours of private instruction later and here I am.
Q. What do you love most about skiing?
The feeling of freedom in powder. There is nothing better. Nothing.
Q. Where is your favourite place to ski and why?
Oh god, oh god, oh god. What a question!
If there is powder and a pitch then I am happy. So long as I have people I connect with who also love to ski too. I have had some fantastic experiences in so many ski towns and some bad ones too. You know, those days where it rains for days on end.
I do like an uncrowded resort, more off the beaten track. Castle Mountain in Alberta is one, Whitewater, Red Mountain, Whitefish, NZ Club fields. But I love a ski town too. Ketchum in Sun Valley, Verbier in Switzerland, Aspen town, Jackson, Telluride.
I would be stupid not to say a heli ski lodge in the middle of nowhere! I've been lucky to experience a few of these with CMH.
Q. What advice would you give to a first time skier or snowboarder?
Don't listen to your friends, get a lesson. Your friends will only pass on their bad habits.
Q. HAHA, WE TOTALLY AGREE WITH THAT. Every time we see all the cool stuff that you get up to, our bucket list grows longer and longer. You seem to have done it all! What’s left on your bucket list in terms of skiing?
So many things.
I would love to hit up Lyngen Lodge in Norway for some backcountry skinning. Heli skiing in Iceland and Greenland are definite bucket lists. I am always looking to improve so any ski improvement camp that can keep me on top of steep skiing, moguls and backcountry pow.
Q. You’re currently in Colorado where you have been for the snow season. We’ve just spent the last 5 months here and have fallen in love with it. Why did you choose Colorado to base yourself?
My mother chose it for me.
She died 18 months ago and I came to Colorado to ski Telluride, Aspen and Vail in March 2015. The first time I had been skiing o/s in 2 seasons due to her illness. When I was here I got a series of signs from 'the other side' (or maybe I was just looking for a catalyst for change) that said Rachael, go to Colorado, move here, write a book.
So I packed everything up, sold everything I own and headed to Colorado with my first month in Vail then three months in Aspen and six in Telluride. I'm back to Denver soon then off to Chamonix for a writers program for June before returning to the USA to get this darn book finished!
Q. And why Telluride? We didn’t make it there this time but we’ll be back!
Part of my ethos when hitting Colorado on this journey was to say 'yes' and go where it 'flows'.
I fought against Vail for August but everything just kept coming back to me to make Vail so much easier for August than anywhere else. I think that was my mum, I still am trying to figure out why. I learnt a lot while there for that month but not sure I have practiced what I learnt yet!
A friend had offered me an awesome deal on her downtown apartment in Aspen for the off season so that was a no brainer. While there I hit up Telluride for the Film Festival and the Blues and Brews Festival. I met an Aussie gal during the Film Festival who asked me where I was spending winter. I had yet to decide but Telluride is known for it's housing crisis so I figured it wouldn't be there! But she knew someone whose tenant had just reneged for winter and they hadn't advertised the condo yet. So I met them the next day, saw their condo with amazing views on Town Park for a reasonable price (cheaper than Sydney rents!) and signed the lease there and then for winter.
I have spent most of this winter travelling from here though. Hit up Wyoming, California, Canada and other ski places but it's been great having a place to come 'home' to.
Q. You have done some impressive things in your career. I can’t even begin to list them all but in addition to being an author, writer, speaker, radio host, TV producer, presenter and publicist, you’re also the creator of independent snow blog, SnowsBest. How did that come about?
I love writing for Fairfax and this year is our tenth year with the weekly Snow It All column/blog but the blog only runs from May to September so I launched SnowsBest.com so I could keep writing, sharing ski news and more.
Not many people know that Australians are the #1 international inbound market for so many ski towns in Colorado including Aspen. We're top 2 to Jackson Hole, top 3 for most Vail Resorts (if not #1), we pretty much infest Canadian resorts and Japan, well Australians are everywhere there.
We're big skiers and boarders and we love to travel.
No one was providing an independent travel blog for those skiers and boarders.
Q. WOW, us aussies SURE DO GET AROUND! It seems like you’re living the dream! Combining career with passion. What do you love most about what you do?
To be honest I loved what I did for a number of years and then went through a two year funk. I didn't have the passion anymore. I have re-ignited that passion in the past 12 months and for that I am grateful. My real passion is my new book though.
Travel writing and ski writing is fantastic and I know for many it is a dream job but it can also be so self serving and vacuous as you pursue self gratification through travel. If you fall into that trap then you'll lose your passion because it's not authentic and you're not giving back which I think is so important in this world.
I have found a love for skiing again these past two o/s seasons and one southern.
I love people, that's what I love most about what I do. Meeting and connecting with new people, not surface connection, real connection fuelled by shared laughter, shared life goals, shared values.
Q. GREAT WORDS OF WISDOM THERE. I’m sure there are challenges too?
The truth as a travel writer is you cannot complain or talk about your challenges with anyone other than fellow travel writers. Everyone else just thinks you're whingeing.
Q. HAHA, TRUE THAT. You’re also the resident snow blogger for the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and traveller.com.au in Australia. In between heli trips, hut trips, and all the amazing ski adventures you have, how do you find the time to write for these publications as well as your own blogs? Do you sleep at all?
I have been a journalist for a long time. Over twenty years. Freelance writing is what I do, you always find the time because you have to pay your bills and if you're dedicated then you want to expand your list of bylines internationally. The beauty of freelancing is you choose your own schedule but it can mean you work seven days or nights.
Q. What do you do when you’re not skiing or working?
I sleep. Ha!
Actually I binge watch television series.
I am an introvert extravert (or the other way round). I get energised by human interaction but I also need serious time out after big trips, time on my own. Nature helps, hiking in Colorado has saved my soul on numerous occasions.
Q. Now that the snow season is over in Colorado, where are you heading to next? And what are you working on now?
I'm off to Chamonix for June but I'll be back in the USA after that. I have a book to write.
It is also coming into the southern winter which means back to the ski writing grind stone. I'm excited for the season ahead and may hit up South America and even a trip home for some turns among the gum trees.
Jen spends most of her time following Mick around the mountain, often unintentionally off jumps and cliff drops. Currently on a mission to prove that you’re never too old to try freestyle. Aside from snowboarding, a little obsessed about tattoos, CrossFit, saving animals, learning to play the guitar and clean eating. Web designer and digital marketing nerd.