PlanetSki interview with Martin Bell
The most succesful racer that Britain has produced now lives in the USA and his daughter is following in his footsteps.
Martin Bell competed in 4 Winter Olympics and has the most Top 10 finishes of any British skier.
He had a racing career spanning over 10 years during the 1980's and 90's.
This included competing in 4 winter Olympic Games where he placed 8th in Calgary and 5 world championships, as well as many world cup ski races during his professional career.
Now living in Big Sky, Montana, Bell is involved in a number of ski related roles and has a teenage daughter who competes in slalom events at a junior national level.
I caught up with him just after a week testing skis in the resort of Kuhtai, Austria, where his role as Equipment Editor for The Telegraph Ski & Snowboard Magazine takes him back to one of his favourite countries.
I wanted to know what Martin was now doing in Montana.
'I divide my time between working as an instructor with the resort ski school and coaching the race team here' he said and went on to say, 'the team is run by the Big Sky Ski Education Foundation (BSSEF), which is a non-profit organisation.
'With the ski school, I teach at all levels where required, but usually get the faster skiers' said Bell.
He gained his PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America) licence whilst working in Vail, where he was involved in marketing the resort to British skiers.
After that he moved to Big Sky.
'We heard all about Big Sky from some friends and decided to move up here' said Bell. 'It's wonderful here, there's a population of around 2,000 people but it's an eclectic mix and very tolerant. 'Most of Montana is very rural, but like most ski resorts, we have a very international mix of residents'.
I asked Martin a question that all ski instructors get asked, all of the time which is what happens in the summer?
'Putting the ski test results together', he said. 'This takes time. There's a big stack of testing data from 16 people and I've got to sort through all the comments and write everything up'.
'I also head over to Mt Hood in Oregon', he explained. 'They have snow throughout the summer up there on a big volcano and it's a huge training centre for Alpine and Freestyle skiing. '100's of kids a week go through summer programs there'.
'They will have about 30 giant slalom courses set up and apply salt to the snow which keeps it hard throughout the day'.
But what about the current state of British Alpine ski racing and the funding situation compared to North America where you're a certified racing coach? I asked.
'It goes in cycles and that's always the case', he said.
'Funding follows results and top 10's will get funded well. Alain Baxter was probably the last Alpine skier to get really good funding and now the BSS seem to be concentrating on some of the newer events'.
I asked what he thought of the newer events and if the impact of Athletes winning medals in these disciplines would have the same impact of an alpine skier winning one.
'I'm really happy for Jenny', (Jones, bronze medal winner, Snowboard Slopestyle, Sochi) said Bell. 'I think this does have the same impact as Alpine skiing but people realise it's tougher to win at Alpine. 'There's more strength in depth and thousands of registered FIS racers - the people who understand know it's tougher, but with the public it probably does have the same impact.
'But neglecting Alpine ski racing is a short term view. People relate to Alpine skiing, it's simple! It's the purest form of skiing and very relevant to the general skiing public. Most people who move into freestyle start in a racing club'.
Martin pointed out that there were other challenges when it comes to Alpine ski racing and a pathway to Olympic medal success.
'If you're not world class by the age of 13 or 14 you have no chance', he said.
'But right now there's lots of racers showing promise. 'In the US, the national ski team gets no public money at all, but they have a very aggressive fund raising team with lots of money.
'Lower levels are not well supported here - if you're in the US C-Team, you need around $30,000 a year to fund yourself'.
Martin's younger daughter Reece, who has dual British/US citizenship, has enthusiastically taken up ski racing and at 12 years of age, is starting to get good results in regional and inter-regional competitions.
I was intrigued to know if she'd race for the United States or Great Britain.
'We don't have to make that decision until she's 15 years old' said Bell. 'That's when the cut-off point is for deciding who you will compete for'.
So what about some advice for younger ski racers in this country then?
Martin went to school in Edinburgh and had the chance to ski on snow from a young age.
'Find some way to get snow time', he stated. 'Kids up to 14 years old can get a long way on plastic or indoor snow slopes and you can also get a long way racing in Scotland! 'Other ways like combining your schooling in the Alps with organisations like The British Ski Academy are great, but of course they cost money'.
'Reece is really fortunate to have two generous equipment sponsors, Atomic UK and POC UK - we are very grateful to them'.
So how can that money be found if you haven't already got deep pockets, I asked?
'It's a tough process, but look for support in the local community first and get fit! There's no excuses for not being strong and fit because you live in the UK, we have plenty of those facilities'.
I then asked Martin about tools you can use to train with and he's recently been using the SkiA Sweetspot Ski Trainer for himself and his race team.
'It's a good thing to use when you're off the snow', he said. 'It's a very ski specific balance exercise tool which is very useful and good for training balance on - for skiers it's the best and easiest way'. 'I'll take some with me this summer when I go to the camps at Mt Hood and my daughter will be using one too'.
We also do a lot of roller blading in summer and would recommend it along with ice skating.
We started to talk about snow safety and helmet use and I wanted to know from Martin, as an ex ski racer who would have worn helmets before other skiers even considered them, what he thought about the huge increase in their use.
'Yes, I didn't wear a helmet when I wasn't racing in a speed event until the late 1990's when I stared wearing one off-piste'. 'I think anyone who doesn't accept it increases your chances of staying safer are in denial,' he said.
But does it make you ski faster or increase your sense of security, I asked.
'Plenty of people ski fast wearing a hat, he responded. 'You're an idiot if you think it makes you ski faster and it's irresponsible not to wear one'.
'Off-piste it's essential and ski surfaces on-piste are getting harder because of snow making and grooming improvements. The next step will be back protectors, it's common sense - but I don't think it will ever be compulsory to wear one, unless the insurance companies really drive it'.
I finished the interview with Martin with a few more general questions.
What's your favourite place to ski?
'Big Sky. There's a great mix of terrain, not many skiers, great tree skiing, great snow, excellent grooming. It's not as large as some of the European resorts and there's a different atmosphere, but I love skiing here and it would be a difficult choice between here and Austria. I love going back there and St Anton is a favourite. It's changed a lot but there's great off-piste skiing, good snow record and it's one of the world's great party resorts!'
What's your favourite place to ski race?
'Val Gardena. The scenery, the food - when you're on the road those things are important. The culture in the South Tyrol region and history is a lot of fun too'.
And your favourite ski run?
'Race wise....Whistler, '86 when I crashed during a world cup downhill run. I was in a good position and I always think what might have been.'
Favourite ski racer?
I love to watch men's downhill but Michaller Shifferen is a special talent.
And what's next?
Taking Reece on her ski race tours and summer training on Mt Hood.
Photos of Martin Bell skiing c/o Adrian Myers.
NEWS UPDATE 24th May:
Reece is the U-14 winner at the Golden Rose Classic, America's oldest ski race.