There’s no business like snow business

By | August 16, 2019

Want to live your life chasing the snow around the world? Here’s how three people made it happen.

The snow blogger

For someone whose glamorous career is that of the globe-tripping ski blogger, Rachael Oakes-Ash has to work hard at finding time to enjoy it.

Behind all the envy-dripping pictures of first ski tracks on empty, pristine powder snow and glamorous people having the time of their lives on mountains across the world is some genuine story-hunting “hard yards”.

Regularly reaching social media audiences of hundreds of thousands of people makes her a genuine influencer, too. But just don’t call her that.

Kerry Lee Dodd in the powder on the signature backcountry tours at Falls Creek with Rachael Oakes-Ash. Photo: Chris Hocking

Kerry Lee Dodd in the powder on the signature backcountry tours at Falls Creek with Rachael Oakes-Ash. Photo: Chris Hocking

“I hate the term; I’m a journalist who wants to get good stuff out there people want to see and read,” she says.

“In my experience, social media influencers usually focus more on themselves and much less on the content.

“And you know what? People like it like that, particularly my Australian audience. Social media should be all about producing great content, not vanity.”

Long before she became Miss Snowitall, Australia’s top-ranked ski and snowboard blogger and writer with tens of thousands of followers on her Snowsbest page, Ms Oakes-Ash was a journalist, working in radio, as a freelance writer and in “lifestyle” PR.

She appears to live the kind of life of which every avid skier or snowboard dreams: getting paid to leapfrog from one resort to another, wined and dined, often hanging out with the beautiful people…

Now, through a few twists of fate, a strong work ethic and fierce determination, she appears to live the kind of life of which every avid skier or snowboard dreams: getting paid to leapfrog from one resort to another, wined and dined, often hanging out with the beautiful people and, best of all, having access to the world’s best quality powder snow.

She was a late adopter to skiing but now spends the northern winter in the US and the southern in either New Zealand or Australia.

Snow blogger Rachael Oakes-Ash in New Zealand. Picture: Tarn Pilkington.

Snow blogger Rachael Oakes-Ash in New Zealand. Picture: Tarn Pilkington.

Park City, Utah, which was the site for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, was her northern base for the past three winters and for someone who lives months of her life out of a suitcase, the reasons were quite logical: it’s not far from the airport.

“I rented a place about 30 minutes from the airport so if there’s an event or big snowfall at Whistler or Wyoming, I can jump on the plane and be there,” she says.

For the southern snow season, she usually rents a cottage at Arrowtown, just outside Queenstown, New Zealand.

With over 47,000 Facebook followers, 20,000 on Instagram and 100,000 people reading her blogs, there’s constant pressure to generate up-to-date content, work on a new promotion and come up with fresh ideas and images.

“The social media business is 24/7 and it’s all about the strength of your engagement and reaching people; on a good week we can be reaching up to 700,000 people,” she says.

The Stomping Grounds course at Saas Fee, near Zermatt. Picture Stomping Grounds

The Stomping Grounds course at Saas Fee, near Zermatt. Picture Stomping Grounds

“And being a journalist, I like to be first with the snow news about what’s happening, particularly in our part of the world so that creates its own pressures.”

However, it isn’t a completely endless winter for Rachael Oakes-Ash. On recent return journeys home from her northern sojourn, she has been making a stop-over in the Cook Islands for a healthy dose of sun-giving vitamin D.

The terrain park builder

As a young surfer growing up in Forster, on the NSW far North Coast, Charles Beckinsale could never have expected that his adult life would be shaped by snow.

But at 13 when his mother moved to Jindabyne, the transition from surfing to snowboarding was relatively easy and within a few years, young Beckinsale was a sponsored star of his new-found sport.

“I left school at 16 to pursue a career as a professional snowboarder and for a young bloke, it was a pretty exciting thing to do, going on fully sponsored trips to North America with a decent travel budget and stuff like that,” he says.

Terrain park builder Charles Beckinsale behind the controls of a snowcat in Switzerland. Picture: Stomping Grounds

Terrain park builder Charles Beckinsale behind the controls of a snowcat in Switzerland. Picture: Stomping Grounds

Specialised terrain parks, where skiers and boarders use rails, boxes, jumps and berms to perform spectacular tricks were the new booming area of the sport. But getting the snow shaped just right for progressive, usable jumps was, at least on the Australian snowfields, still a unexplored skill.

“At 17 I was on the shovel and rake at Thredbo, helping to build a terrain park by hand and explaining to the snowcat drivers where to push the snow, how high to make it, and how to form the basic snow structures that we finished off by hand,” he says.

As an accomplished snowboarder who had worked with film-makers and photographers overseas and knew the type of images they wanted, Beckinsale knew good parks attracted the best riders and the publicity trail which followed them.

A snowcat at work building a terrain park in Switzerland

A snowcat at work building a terrain park in Switzerland

His first big break came when a friend recommended him for a start as a groomer in a snowcat at the Squaw Valley skifield in California.

“It was a strange, unregulated industry back then. I just needed to get into driving a cat because I knew what I wanted to build and using machinery makes it so much quicker and would save myself and the crew hours of handwork shaping,” he says.

Once he got his break, Beckinsale never looked back. He started grooming ski slopes first and mastered the complex controls. Fast forward four years and he was creating some of the top terrain parks in North America.

“The snowboard industry was a bit smaller then and word always got around pretty fast about a great park because that’s where the sponsored riders and teams want to ride so they can get the best training, shots and images,” he says.

“I was a bit of a unusual commodity because I was a known rider who could also build. And the more parks I built, the better I got at it.”

Beckinsale describes snow as a “fascinating and unusual medium” to manipulate but it took some trial and error to learn what it can and can’t do.

From building and running the terrain parks at Thredbo, he was then head-hunted to do the same at Perisher.

“I loved the variety of the work I did in that role. Everything from designing the park, welding the steel rails, running the crew, jumping in a cat to execute the builds with the team and marketing the parks and pipes at Perisher, no two days would ever be the same.”

As a park designer and builder for hire, swapping between northern and southern winters, Beckinsale began to specialise further.

Four years ago he created a company called Stomping Grounds Projects. A key focus of its activity occurs on a glacier high in the Swiss mountains near Zermatt, at a place called Saas-Fee where Charles and his team build a competition size slopestyle course and halfpipe venue.

For six months of the northern hemisphere winter that follows, his company custom-builds specialised features, such as half-pipes and jumps of various sizes. His customers range from global sports backers like Red Bull, Nike and Monster, to national snowboard teams looking for a discreet training location, World Cup event organisers for large scale competition venues and ski resorts just looking to offer a great terrain park to public guests.

“The northern winter is so busy now that I can afford to take time off during the southern winter in Jindabyne to spend time with my wife and son.

“The two of them join me for two of the longer trips away each year and I get home for a few weeks here and there throughout my work schedule but the 3-4 months of time off with them at home is worth the time away,” he said.

The ski instructor

If not for her love of the snow, Renata Hercock could be wearing a sharp suit and sitting in a courtroom somewhere, arguing a case. Originally from the Central Coast of NSW, she had finished her law degree and was wondering what to do next when she headed to the snow for a “bit of a break” and applied for an non-certified instructor position at Perisher.

She started work at Smiggins Holes, which is possibly the most modest instructor role at the resort, but fell in love with the snow life and getting paid to teach children how to ski.

Renata Hercock loving her working life on the roof of Australia

Renata Hercock loving her working life on the roof of Australia

“I actually dislike summer and I never really enjoyed it,” she says.

After just one season, the potential employment reach that Perisher has across the world as a member of the US-based Vail Resorts group opened up other opportunities for her.

“I then travelled overseas to another Vail resort, Beaver Creek, in Colorado and worked there. It made sense to do back-to-back winters seeing as I didn’t want to do anything else after my first season,” she said.

Now she has joined the hundreds of instructors who follow the snow season across the world. It’s a globe-tripping work and lifestyle opportunity which is the envy of us who sit at our desks each day, flipping through Instagram shots of snow-covered mountains in far-off lands.

Renata Hercock loving her working life on the roof of Australia. Picture: Perisher

Renata Hercock loving her working life on the roof of Australia. Picture: Perisher

As the melt begins here in Australia and the crowds head home, she takes off the skis and pulls beers behind the bar at the Banjo Paterson Inn in Jindabyne.

“In late November I’ll head to my parents’ house on the Central Coast of NSW and spend a few days with them before I fly out to Park City, Utah in early December,” she says. “Some years I head over the USA a little earlier and do some travelling during the period I have off. I work as an instructor and a trainer out of the Canyons base at Park City Resort from early December to early April each year. I then fly home, spend some time with Mum and Dad again and then head home to Jindabyne where it all starts again!”

Spending so long away from home, she admits to missing her parents and friends. But the fresh mountain air and the laughter of the young kids finding their first ski legs on Perisher’s Front Valley provides a daily tonic.

“I’ve managed to build myself a fulfilling career in this industry and intend to move into management positions with more experience. So in short, I plan to keep it going for the rest of my working life,” she says.

The Star – The Star Life