Warren Smith has received an overwhelmingly positive response since launching his online skiing lessons
One of the UK’s leading ski schools is encouraging skiers to keep their dreams of the slopes alive despite the devastating impact Covid-19 has had on the world of travel.
The Warren Smith Ski Academy has seen an overwhelming response to its series of online ski lessons, which it launched in the wake of the pandemic.
“It’s gone way further than we expected, it’s the biggest thing we’ve ever done. After 25 years of being in the ski industry and 20 years of running the Academy, we have never ever had anything like it,” said the Academy’s founder and presenter of the live lessons Warren Smith.
It’s been a rough few months for snow-sport fans. The ski season was cut short, winter travel companies now fear for their future and resorts could be forced to alter how they operate under restrictions.
Yet despite all this skiers and snowboarders have come together as a community during lockdown. The Academy’s eight live episodes so far have been watched over 130,000 times, reaching over 200,000 viewers around the world, as far as Canada, Hollywood and Sweden.
Following the premature end to the ski season the Academy was forced to cancel all its remaining courses for the winter as its staff, including Smith, went into lockdown in the Swiss resort of Verbier, its base in the Alps.
“When all the initial chaos settled down, a lot of the people, who were missing their skiing in March and April, got in touch to say they wanted something to do with their time in lockdown,” said Smith.
“We’d seen the likes of Joe Wicks do their thing and we knew we already had a programme that could work online, off the snow and over video. The first one was a suck it and see experience, to see if it would work.”
Since setting up the company 20 years ago, founder Smith, who is also ski technique editor for The Telegraph, says he has never seen such strong engagement or desire to get back on the slopes as he has recently.
“We were expecting hundreds of views, not thousands – this made us realise there are so many more skiers out there. There was a huge wave of people that came out of the woodwork, people who previously may not have thought about ski technique exercises or courses – they were getting involved because it was something for them to do that linked them to their love for skiing.”
Hosted on the Academy’s Facebook page the weekly sessions are designed to give skiers exercises and tips on how they can improve their ski technique from home, and ultimately prepare for next winter. But Smith says it has provided much more than just home schooling for the viewers, with many thanking the Academy for keeping their passion for the slopes burning.
“It’s been a lifeline to some people. A lot of people have been feeling really down. Not only have they missed their ski holiday, which is massive even under normal circumstances, they’ve had to adapt to this new normal – they’ve needed something to keep their spirit and motivation going.”
“What we’ve done is mimic the experience of being on skis. It’s a rehearsal of the exact feeling and movements you need on the slopes. It has put a smile on peoples’ faces, they’ve got a sweat on and they’ve done something to do with skiing and that’s enough to keep that enjoyment alive,” said Smith.
Many have also been using the excuse to upgrade their ski equipment too, as it plays an important role in Smith’s coaching. The Academy has been inundated with requests from viewers about their sizing and fitting, some have even taken to wearing their boots during the sessions.
“This has taught a lot of recreational skiers that athletes and professionals do all this, training and equipment preparation, during the summer anyway and how it’s important to keep up with the muscle memory and keep familiarised with your ski kit,” said Smith.
The free live sessions are set to continue every Friday morning at 10am on Facebook. “They’ve been such a positive thing we almost can’t stop doing them now. It does feel like it has become something people have come to expect. The further we go down the line with it the more we’ll be able to do and demonstrate, as restrictions are eased.”
In Switzerland people are now allowed to meet in groups of five, meaning this week Smith will introduce other members of the Academy team to viewers and demonstrate how to do the exercises together, from a social distance.
“It’s not just positive for the viewers but personally it’s kept me motivated and it’s also kept the team engaged – knowing there will be a light at the end of the tunnel, which is a real positive we weren’t expecting,” said Smith.
Elsewhere in the snow-sports community and charity Snow-Camp raised over £24,000 during a virtual apres-ski evening hosted by Ski Sunday presenters Graham Bell, Ed Leigh and Chemmy Alcott.
Smith is a patron of the charity and attended the event virtually, which was hosted on Zoom, along with hundreds of British snow-sport fans. On the evening the Academy donated five places on one of its courses, which were auctioned off for £5,000 – the success of the fundraising effort has inspired Smith to go further in the future.
He hopes to combine the good-will of the community and the therapeutic traits of skiing to reward those working on the front line during the pandemic. “Next season we’re going to try to find some passionate NHS nurses or workers that ski and try to get all the costs covered so we can get them out to the mountains. We hope we might be able to offer free courses to these NHS workers, to get their head out of the madness they’ve had to deal with and say thank you,” he said.
The question of when will we next be able to ski is at the forefront of many skiers minds. As talks continue around the future possibilities of international travel for the British public there could be chance yet that viewers of Smith’s online lessons will be able to put their homework into practice.
“I think the chances of skiing this summer are really high. We haven’t taken our summer ski bookings off sale and have still had some interest, which we weren’t expecting. People want something to look forward to in July and August and skiing in the Alps could be it.”
“It looks like when Zermatt opens in the first half of June it won’t be long until Cervinia can open too, later in the month. There’s a really strong chance that the resort could be back on track for business as usual.”