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Lunch with a legend

Legend and legendary are pretty overused words. But how else do you describe Ali Ross? The man is unique.

The smile was as broad as ever, the twinkle in his eye was there and he gave me a powerful shake of the hand as I met up with him in his remote Scottish home buried deep in country side to the north of Inverness and west of Dingwall. "Hi James, how are you doing? It's great to see you again," was his cheery welcome.

I was meeting up with him for the research I'm doing for the book I've been commissioned to write about the history of the British Association of Snowsports Instructors, BASI. It comes out in 2012 when the organisation celebrates its first 50 years.

Ali is now 68-years old and he is still teaching out in Tignes, France.He hasn't sold the business, franchised out his name, hired in loads of other instructors or just makes a cameo appearance on his courses. He is out there in all conditions doing what he does best; teaching people how to improve their ski technique. "All I ever wanted to do was be a ski instructor.  I never wanted to be a racer or run a large ski school, I just want to be out on the hill helping people to get better and that still motivates me every day."

This wasn't salespeak; it was just a fact.

Ali has been teaching skiing since the early 1960's. He started off in Cairngorm under the watchful eye of Frith Finlayson, who died earlier this year. Ali spoke at his funeral service.

He soon became a BASI trainer, coaching other people to become instructors. He took the first ever course abroad in Gotzens in Austria in 1971 and was in the team of 3 who were selected to represent BASI at the first Interski Congress in Austria in that same year. British skiing was judged by his performance.

He soon developed his own view of teaching that was way ahead of everyone else as he taught a more natural and relaxed style, less dogmatic and rigid than the authoritarian Austrian style that was at the heart of the BASI style in those days.He taught people to use their skis and the design of the equipment. It later became known as carving and everyone tries to do it today.

He was though ahead of his time and his innovative approach soon led to clashes as he refused to compromise and he pretty much went his own way.  Teaching in Switzerland and Tignes.

He became a TV celebrity before the phrase had been invented as he starred in his series on Channel 4 that was watched by millions. His books on teaching sold out.  He teamed up with Harold Evans and Andrew Neil from The Sunday Times to critical acclaim and commercial success. He was known in the press as "Britain's No 1 ski instructor."

As we chatted about the old days he was remarkably frank and remembered every detail. He recalled the rows and how he fell out with his former friends in BASI after they refused to give him a special license to teach in France even though he was one of the most established teachers in the organisation.

He wasn't bitter about how he was eventually treated by BASI even though he didn't speak to some of them for decades after he was stitched up. For him it is water under the bridge and he is still a member of the organisation, albeit an honorary member that BASI awarded him a few years ago. Some advised him not to take it, but he doesn't carry grudges.

He recalled being arrested on the slopes by the gendarme. He recalled being asked to do a speed test to get his French license. He recalled many of his clients by name.

He spoke of the future. About his plans for next winter; new courses to run and his past clients to work with. 60% off his customers have been on one of his courses before; not a bad repeat business rate.

Once our formal interview was over he insisted I stay for a BBQ and we idly chatted about every topic under the sun.

Time slipped away.  He told me about the first slope he ever skied on.  It was the field just behind us above his current house when he was a young boy. For although he lives in a newly constructed house he was born in an older building on the same plot of land.

The man is a legend.

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