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Wimbledon Clinics

Off piste and personal… with Mark Seaton, mountain guide

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How did you get into mountain guiding?

As a teenager I went on ski trips with the school and with family – but it was really in my mid-Twenties that I began focusing on becoming a mountain guide. There was a big realisation that if I was going to live in the Alps, then I needed to learn to ski properly. And the best way to earn a living would be as a mountain guide in the winter, when the season is that much longer.

What does your job entail?

I’m qualified as a mountain guide, which all ski guides in Europe need to be first and foremost. The majority come from mountaineering backgrounds. My main responsibility is not teaching clients how to ski – there’s an assumption that you can already do this. My first job is to keep you alive. My second, is to find you some good snow to ski. In the winter I’m primarily skiing off piste, then in spring I’m ski touring, from mountain hut to mountain hut. Using mountaineering skills and judgments is crucial for both. Skiing on piste, there’s an abdication of responsibility; you assume that the resort has made everything safe for you already. Once you step outside of this, you need to be with someone who knows what they are doing.

What is an average day for you?

I don’t have many clients; I just have the same clients: they come to ski with me because I know what they want – which is not just how to look after them, but also finding them different places to ski. Some of them have skied with me for 20-25 years – their families and their children too. It makes it easier in any walk of life when you’re dealing with people you know and like in your job – it’s far easier than dealing with ones that you don’t!

What happens when snow is scarce?

You’re in trouble. Snow this winter was initially sparse, but higher up the weather was beautiful. If you have a list of places that you can pull out of your hat, you can always something to ski. Where I live in Chamonix is a hub – you can get to so many different resorts in 60-90 minutes. I wouldn’t think twice about driving over to Zermatt to ski the glacier.

Favourite resort?

Klosters – it’s considerably better than anywhere else for off-piste. I’ve spent the last 17 years skiing there, each January, for ten days, and it is consistently sensational. 

What’s your most trusty piece of equipment?

My radio! Though I’ve never used it on the mountain. The only time I tend to take it out of my pocket is to test it, which is every week, with test calls to the police. I don’t see myself as someone who takes risks. “Pleasing people can get you killed,” is my motto. If someone is pushing you to do something that you’re not comfortable with, trust your instincts and don’t do it.

Most memorable ascent?

I’ve done some fairly out of the ordinary climbs in the summer – places like the North Face of the Eiger – it’s the most famous climb in the world. It’s very big and it’s very serious. Once you’ve set off, turning back is impossible. You can’t retreat from it.

What inspires you?

Exploring different places that I’ve not skied before – you wouldn’t expect it, but there’s plenty of them left! I’d love to visit the Antarctic and go ski touring there, although I’m pretty satisfied with where I am in my life at the moment. I also don’t like being away for long periods of time now. A week here and there is fine, but otherwise I want to be with my family.

How does one best prepare for the ski season?

If you’re coming from the UK, the best possible thing you can do is cycling. It gives you strong legs and it gets your cardiovascular fitness up. The people who make the most progress in their skiing tend to be strong cyclists.

What’s new in ski touring?

There’s always this move to go faster and lighter. In certain parts of the Alps, like Chamonix, you can find more people going up the piste early in the morning on mountaineering skis than you see coming down the piste. Mountaineering skis are becoming lighter, but the difference now is the binding – lots of people now have a conventional ski with a mountaineering binding so that they can access good off-piste.

What do you do when you’re not ski touring?

Sleep! Otherwise, I tend to concentrate on staying healthy. It’s important to make sure that some of your muscles don’t become stronger than others.

Top safety tip?

Don’t go off-piste by yourself. Don’t follow tracks or assume anything – as the saying goes, “when you assume, you make an ass out of you and me!”.


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