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THE SNOWORKS WAY - Jane Peel, Tignes
Monday December 17, 2018 - Email this article to a friend

The coaching is different but the skiers who return time after time can't all be wrong. PlanetSKI joins them.





Forget everything you've ever been told about how to ski.

The chances are the very specific techniques instructors have drummed into you are holding you back.

Hips forward, shoulders down the hill, upper body more upright, feet close together off-piste, bounce up and down to make turns in powder.

Forget it all.

If you want to ski the whole mountain - and not simply blast around the well-groomed blues and reds - you need to adopt an ‘open' approach to skiing.

‘Go Open' is the Snoworks philosophy, of which more later.

Snoworks off piste groupSnoworks boss Phil Smith helping us to ski 'open'















I've reported for PlanetSKI on my experience of Snoworks in the past.

It's fair to say I struggled with the concept:

Now, I've been invited back by Snoworks Founder and Director, Phil Smith, to join him and his clients on a pre-Christmas trip to Tignes in France.

Phil Smith & Jane PeelPhil Smith & PlanetSKI's Jane Peel
















There are three different types of courses running in the week I'm there: all-terrain, off piste and off piste mountain safety.

The latter was introduced for the first time last year to help regular off-piste skiers assess the risks of going off the marked runs and learn how to test the stability of the snowpack.

Each course gives five half-days of coaching, though you can double up and book to ski the whole day - if you have the energy to last for six hours, that is.

I am sampling all the courses though focusing on the off piste under Phil's close guidance:


All the courses are for skiers who are competent on at least red runs.

Most who sign up are relatively advanced on the piste.

Some, with the exception on those on the safety course, have considerably less experience off piste.

Snoworks' aim is to give these skiers the tools to feel confident, comfortable and in control wherever they are on the mountain.

With several instructors in the Snoworks stable - all British and all infectiously enthusiastic - it's a simple task for them to ensure skiers are allocated to groups where they'll be with those of similar ability.

Snoworks coachesSome of the Snoworks team of coaches
















Phil Smith has lived in the Alps for 40 years and started off teaching the way every instructor did - trying to get their pupils to ski in a very specific way.

That may work in the relatively ‘closed' environment of a well-groomed piste, he says, but not in the ‘open' environment off the main runs.

"If people have been taught a very specific pattern, it doesn't fit when you hit lumps, bumps, ice, etcetera," he says.

"People ask us ‘what's the technique for skiing moguls, what's the technique for skiing off-piste?

"There isn't one - just ski!"

Phil Smith at a Snoworks briefingPhil Smith explains his philosophy at a course briefing















It's all about connecting with the mountain, and we do that with our feet, the base of our skis and their edges.

The focus, Phil says, must always be down at snow level rather than what's happening with the rest of our body.

Phil Smith of SnoworksPhil Smith explains his philosophy on snow

















And it's not about how we look, but what we achieve.

"We want everybody to ski differently. We're humans, not robots," he says.

"We want people to have their own way of skiing but to have the skills to control their descent.... it's about getting down the mountain.

"Is that person going where they want to go? Can they control their speed? Are they managing in the environment they're in?"

I spoke to Phil to find out more about the Snoworks philosophy:

I am keen to find out who the Snoworks clients are and why so many of them keep coming back.

Andrew Chalmers, a GP from Newcastle has been on about 12 Snoworks courses over the past decade.

He generally books on an off-piste course in December and another in March.

Andrew ChalmersAndrew Chalmers
















"It can be quite intensive. It's maybe not for someone who's looking for a relaxing holiday," he tells me.

"But for someone who's looking to improve it's the best I have come across.

"English is their first language and they can go into much greater detail.

"I've skied with a lot of very good French instructors and guides but they tend to do it all in soundbites: ‘bend-ze-knees, edge, get your hips forward', but Snoworks say to focus on the results - if you are controlling your speed then you are probably doing it right."

Andrew ChalmersAndrew Chalmers enjoying the snow
















Andrew says he was stuck at the classic intermediate plateau before experiencing Snoworks, able to ski reds and easy blacks.

Now he can go wherever he wants.

If Andrew is a Snoworks fan, then Rob Edwards must be a super fan.

Rob EdwardsRob Edwards

















A 67-year-old New Zealander living in London, he's been in Tignes for seven weeks when I meet him.

He's been skiing with Snoworks for most of that time, including on their autumn training camps on the glacier.

This week he's doing an off-piste course.

He's planning another four weeks with them this season though says he would usually ‘only' book 4-5 weeks a season.

"Once you've done a few courses you meet people and it's great coming back and seeing familiar faces," he tells me.

"Having similar abilities on the courses is really important. You don't feel like you are holding people back or jumping at the bit because others are too slow."

But what does someone experiencing Snoworks for the first time make of it?

Adrian Rowlands from Solihull is on his first holiday focusing on off piste skiing.

Adrian RowlandsAdrian Rowlands in the powder
















He was recommended to Snoworks by a friend.

"He said it was a completely different approach to learning and therefore I was expecting something different, which it was," Adrian tells me at the end of the week.

"It's challenging in two ways. The philosophy of the open approach challenges the way you have previously been taught and it's challenging physically.

"I've never been on such a physically challenging week. They don't take prisoners.

"I have learnt a lot from this week."

So would he return to Snoworks?

"Yes, I think I would."

And what do I make of it all?

In the powder in TignesWhat's my verdict?
















Well, as someone who was a sceptic and always sought out technical instruction, I genuinely did not think I'd be saying this...

I do believe I'm turning into a Snoworks convert.


  • In 2018-19 Snoworks is running courses in the French resorts of Tignes, Val d'Isere, Sainte Foy, Paradiski and Les3Vallees, as well as in Austria, Italy, Japan, Norway, Spain, Turkey, Kyrgyzstan and Iceland.
  • For some trips you can book the course only or the course with accommodation and travel.
  • For full details, availability and prices go to the Snoworks website.
  • Snoworks has a close relationship with the tour operator Mark Warner ( which provides catered accommodation and travel for clients at several resorts in which Snoworks operates.
  • PlanetSKI stayed at the Mark Warner Chalet Hotel, Aiguille Percee in Tignes.
  • Transfers between Geneva and Tignes were provided by Snowlinx Transfers (

See here for the main PlanetSKI news page with all the latest stories from the mountains.

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