Professional Skier Ross Hewitt Shares His Best Ski Tips For Beginners and Experts

Skier Ross Hewitt
Photo by Dave Searle

My name is Ross Hewitt and I’m a professional skier, aspirant mountain guide, and mountain bike addict. I’m originally from Aberdeen, UK and moved to Chamonix about 20 years ago for the skiing and never left. I guess, I have a very addictive personality – I like to be good at the things I do and will invest a lot of time and effort to get to where I want to be. That said I’m not completely obsessed and still like to socialize and have a beer with my friends.

How and why did you get into skiing and climbing?

My parents moved from London to Scotland when I was 7 and we still had some old wooden skis with wire bindings in the shed from when my Dad and eldest sister started skiing. I inherited my sister’s pair of skis and with Scotland experiencing some of the best winters ever, I’d started skiing with my Dad at the Lecht. Years later when at university I was getting into ski mountaineering and going up Lochnagar to ski the gullies and at the same time started racing slalom. At that point, I’d been racing bikes downhill and xc for many years at podium level in Scotland so I was used to getting mentally and physically prepared for racing. Moving on I gained a background in Alpine climbing, which taught me just how big the mountains are and to be able to sustain effort for 24 hour during which there will be ups and downs but you don’t have the choice to sit down and stop!

Skiing hard lines have taken myself and my ski partners to some incredible spots on the planet and created some diamond studded memories that will last a life time, but skiing has it dangers and unfortunately the ski community has seen many friends lost forever. That’s hard to deal with and often you question everything but inevitably I still love to ski and it’s what makes me me.

Being involved in endurance orientated sports means you run the risk of overuse injuries but these should be mitigated by building up your training in a progressive manner, staying hydrated, eating healthily and making sure your body is getting what it needs and sleeping enough to recover. The number of days I spend in the mountains at altitude puts significant stress on the body and staying hydrated in the dry air is a major challenge. Also, warming up and stretching will promote flexibility and help avoid muscle and tendon injuries. My sports all have consequences from a technical mistake and subsequent fall so it’s important to try and get in the mental flow state where your mind and body are centred so that you fully commit to a certain section. I find this is harder to achieve first thing in the morning and would argue that I’m more likely to make a mistake and get injured. Of course, the big mountains have objective hazards (avalanche, rockfall, crevasses) but it’s something that requires a constant risk assessment process to reduce these risks as much as possible. You can’t expect longevity in the mountains if you take big risks every day!

Skier Ross Hewitt
Geitgaljen in Lofoten

How do you finance your sport?

Initially, I worked as an engineer through the summer months to fund my skiing, occasionally being able to work remotely and earn some money during the winter. 3 or 4 pairs of skis, lift pass, some climbing equipment and a place to stay would cost about 10K. At the outset I was a typical ski bum in Chamonix and would spend all winter in the same place as that was the most cost effective way to ski.

Over time, the sponsorship deals came along and that enabled me to spend more time skiing and use the money I spent on gear to travelling around the world exploratory skiing. What I mean by exploratory skiing is going somewhere like Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic and seeking out places and lines no one has ever touched. Often there are grant funding bodies that help out with exploration and that helped me to ski around 200 days in both 2015 and 2016.

Skier Ross Hewitt
North Face Droites, Colton Brooks Route

How do you eat and sleep?

Nutrition is so important to staying healthy and when I say healthy it’s important to distinguish that elite or ultra fitness may have a negative impact on health. Everyone has heard the saying, ‘everything in moderation’ as even a good thing such as exercise can be bad at the extreme ends of the scale. I don’t follow a particular diet, mainly because I don’t know what I will actually feel like eating tomorrow night and also because I’m too free spirited to sign up to a regime. With age I make a conscious effort to eat healthily and have a balanced diet with a conscious effort to take on fruit, vegetables, nuts, grains, cereals supplemented with glucosoamine and cod liver oil. Some of my work staying in mountain huts means a distinct lack of fresh fruit and vegetables and on expeditions we often eat freeze dried meals so when I am back at home or down in the valleys I try to make up for it. On some trips, I’ve averaged 6000 Kcal/day, which is a challenge in itself to take on board and the balance of protein to carbohydrate becomes so important to stop muscle loss. Hydration in the mountains is really tough as I will have a litre or less for a day and have to make a conscious effort to catch up in the evening and get the toxins out of my system. My biggest vice is good coffee and I certainly drink way too much of it adding to the hydration problem.

Sleep is super important for recovery and it’s when your body produces human growth hormone to trigger those gains. I’m slightly introverted and was never good at napping so I have to have nothing bothering me and no one around to sleep after training in the afternoons so typically I only sleep at night. I try to go to bed quite early around 10 or 11 pm and get 8 hours sleep. In the mountains, our day may start at 1 am so I have to catch up later in the week. Travelling can really throw your routine, especially if it involves time changes but for me it’s best to minimise alcohol and caffeine and stay up during daylight hours and only try to sleep at night to avoid prolonging the jetlag for days on end.

Injury wise, I’ve have been really lucky over my 35 years of skiing. In that time Ive had one minor knee op when I was 14 and then every 2 or 3 years I’d put my back out and it would go into spasm due to muscle imbalance for a few days. Right now I’m dealing with a herniated disc in my back caused by slipping while out walking of all things. It’s affecting the strength of certain leg muscles and also sensation in my foot and I’ve pulled out of an expedition to New Zealand’s Alps to steep ski. It’s probably the first time I’ve missed something through injury and while I’m gutted I have to refocus on rehab and getting back to full strength. Over my career, I’ve learnt that it’s important to get expect advice and treatment straight away from an osteo/physio as that will promote a fast recovery and help avoid re-occurrence. If you do have a soft tissue injury remember to ice it regularly over the first few days and follow the Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation method. I rarely compete break from training as the blood flow aids recovery and avoids loss of muscle conditioning. Your osteo/physio can recommend what you can still do and at what level. Right now I’m still riding my bike for a couple of hours a day with but bear in mind that’s about 25% of my usual training load. Coming back from injury deserves respect and the time to do it right. It’s so easy to get over excited to be doing your sport again and then set yourself back. At the same time, you mentally hold back trying to protect the injury and then at some point you realise it’s healed and can commit fully without doubt. That’s a nice point to reach.

Ross Hewitt

How do you balance normal life with training?

I spent 7 years dedicated to racing bikes. The year would unfold with longer rides over the winter to maintain a base fitness and then as races approach include interval/HIT sessions. I have a wiry physique so it was important to work on my weakness to do some weights and improve my maximal strength. While I was racing every weekend the weekdays were spent with a recovery ride, fast race length ride, rest day, interval training, rest day and back to racing at the weekend. I didn’t develop a stronger core until I got into climbing and I’d recommend people do that sooner to avoid problems later. It was relatively easy to manage this training program with studying or working as an engineer but as time became more precious I hated all wasted days resting before a race and that’s when I went into adventure sports in the mountains as I could do something everyday. As I got more involved in the mountains it became harder to manage this with a conventional desk career and I took long spells of unpaid leave and eventually went down the route of becoming a mountain guide which enables me to maintain a high base level of fitness, acclimatization and keep in touch with conditions for my day’s off.

My year now revolves around conditions in the Alps and normally I start skiing in September and continue through to the last snows in mid June, often with a trip mid winter and a big expedition every other year in the spring. Rest before any big line is really important and I might do some meditation to calm the mind and nerves with some yoga/stretching to centre me perform starting out. Different sports require different techniques and I used to do a lot of visualization practice before a downhill race or trying to ‘redpoint’ a rock climb (one where the moves have already been practiced).

Skier Ross Hewitt
Dawn on Col De La Fourche

How do you bring your gear with you?

If I’m going on expedition, I typically have a ski bag, a waterproof duffle bag and a backpack that will go in the cabin. My cameras, solar panels and delicate items go in the backpack. It’s usually a nightmare trying to meet weight restrictions and avoid paying too much excess baggage charges so reading the airlines small print sometime pays off. Some airlines fly skis for free so our ropes, crampons, axes and heavy items all get packed in the ski bag. Some don’t and we have flown back with 120 m of ropes in our carry-on bags. Some airlines allow a bag and ski boots to be carried on. Check in is always stressful as we play the game trying to redistribute weight in our bags and inevitably it all goes on board! Once there I can leave a duffle bag outside a tent on a glacier for example and just take my backpack skiing.

I usually have North Face duffle bags in 100 litre and 150 litre sizes. They are waterproof, rugged and have shoulder straps so you can carry them like a backpack. Any damage is easily sealed with duck tape.

I use a couple of different backpacks for skiing. On expedition or when I need a bit more space the 37 litre Cilao Moov is light and has some really good design features. The split shoulder straps make it much more forgiving on the shoulders when carrying loads and the floating waste belt allows it to follow the lateral angulation of the body skiing. The ice axe carrying system means I can pull my axe off the pack without removing it which can be handy if its unexpectedly needed. Skis can be carried as an A Frame or diagonally and it’s ultra well-made. For days hits, I have a Black Crows Dorsa 27 pack, which is light and minimalist.

For ski bags, I have a Dynastar double ski bag, which has some built in binding protection. It’s as light as possible so it doesn’t eat into my baggage allowance while the extra size enables me to stuff as much kit in as possible!

Skier Ross Hewitt
Matterhorn East Face

How do your bags and gear hold up?

Duffle bags tend to hold up to abuse quite well with minor abrasion that can be fixed with duct tape. Ski bags on the other hand are badly abused with all the extra weigh stuffed into them often causing handles to rip off. When it comes to flying, it’s always a balance between weight and functionality but having a lightweight ski bag with wheels would definitely be helpful when moving around the airport with 60 kg of gear. When it comes to ski backpacks, I feel a lot of the stuff on the market has too many features and straps. Every zip majorly adds to the cost of a back. I just need in to be as light as possible, carry skis in an A frame, and have a 3 compartment: 1 for my avalanche kit, 1 for goggles and 1 main compartment with hydration pac sleeve. Ski packs never last too long with the sharp edges of skis digging in but 100$ a year is easier to swallow than a 200$ pack with loads of unwanted features.

Skier Ross Hewitt
Steep skiing in Argentiere Basin

What has been your best sport purchase below $100?

There isn’t much ski kit for under $100 but I have a pair of Quechua jeans for rock climbing. They cost about 40$, are stretchy, comfy and look so much cooler than a lot of the expensive alpine pants out there.

Ski wise, I love the Julbo Aerospace goggles, which has a lens that pops forward to stop them steaming up. Brilliant for getting into the gondola, short uphills or when it’s just too hot! My Black Crows Navis skis have been with me round the World and helped me pull of First Descents in Baffin, New Zealand and Norway and ski some of the biggest lines in the Alps. After 200 days, they are still going strong, so many good times on those. I’ve also fallen in love with my Scarpa Maestrale RS2 touring boot, a perfect balance of weight for the uphill struggle and downhill performance, again its the sensations and experience they give me.

Baffin Island, Gibbs Fiord
Baffin Island, Gibbs Fiord

What kind of photos do you prefer to shoot?

I love to shoot skiing action, which captures the background and setting and landscape. It’s difficult to pick one but I have a shot of my team mate climbing to Col de la Forche just as the first rays of dawn hit us and cast away the oppressiveness and doubt of the darkness – it brings back a lot of emotions from that day. My favourite landscape shot is looking down Gibb’s Fiord on Baffin Island with the low sun casting a milky warmth that is only seen in the far north. That shot enticed me to organize a second expedition to Baffin.

Skier Ross Hewitt
Hooker Valley, New Zealand

What is your best advice for new and experienced skiers?

Start by building good technique in resort as those skills will enable you to ski better and more efficiently in the mountains. It’s easy to do 20 times the vertical in resort over a days touring so progression is must faster. I see a lot of people jumping straight into touring and struggling with the different snow and the weight in the backpack.

Some times it can be hard to motivate yourself to go out if the weathers bad or conditions are sub-optimal but you always find something that makes it worthwhile, it can be just one turn that felt so good that does it. Do a little every day if possible.

For those who have been doing it for years, keep doing it, look after your body with some stretching or yoga and hopefully you will be able to do it at a very old age. Black Crows Skis oldest ambassador is 92.

Skier Ross Hewitt

What will the future bring?

It’s all about being on form mentally and physically and being in the right place at the right time for conditions. I always wanted to see how many of the North Face routes on Aiguille du Midi I could ski in a day. In contrast, I’d love to go back to Japan to ski in their epic powder and also do an expedition to the Antarctic Peninsula.

My girlfriend Michelle Blaydon is really into kite surfing and I’d like to take that up so I can follow her on trips to cool places like Tiree.

Visit Ross Hewitt on his website and follow him on Instagram


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