Alumni Interview: Matt Gillespie
We recently caught up with Matt Gillespie one of our EA Alumni from Lake Louise, Canada back in 2015/16.
Watch the full interview where we discuss everything from what socks to bring on a season, love stories and how to avoid being caught hungover at work!
Having carved out a career in Finance in Brisbane for 5 years, Matt happened upon EA Ski & Snowboard while scrolling through FB, looking for 6 months break from his 'rewarding' career in finance.
After working 2 seasons as an instructor with a “lot of luck, and good timing” Matt has been living his best life running a ski in/ski out lodge in Hakuba, Japan. Hakuba Snow Tours is going into 4th season and is going from strength to strength, if you’re out in Hakuba make sure to stop by and get a drink with Matt at The Ranch!
Q. Why did you complete an EA internship?
I really fell in love with lifestyle and the people in ski towns after taking regular trips to Canada and Japan. After a current role in finance was coming to an end, I saw an ad for EA and figured at the very least it’d be a 6 month break from finance or it could be a way into a completely different career.
Q. What were the biggest challenges you faced in your first season?
The cold temperatures of up to -30 (-45 windchill) was a pretty wild experience and is something you barely manage to get used to.
Getting through to the level 2 exam was another challenge and after riding for over 10 years before going on the course I had several technical changes to make. Luckily the trainers in Canada on the EA course really were the best of the best and helped improve my riding massively. In the time that I’ve been in the industry I’m still to come across teachers or riders that are as skilled and knowledgeable than the ones we did our EA training with.
Another challenge was having to drag yourself away from the bar early, so that you’d be feeling fresh for your level 2 training and really make the most of the opportunities provided.
The big difference for me was going from the corporate suit and tie world to being out in stunning mountains with kids and teens, learning aspects of class control, having patience and enjoying being at work!
Q. Funniest moments or highlights?
There was nothing better than if you had a frustrating day at work coming back and having beers with 20-30 other instructors talking over the day and hitting features you’d made in your garden.
We were lucky to have a decent bar right underneath our bedrooms although, it was little troubling at times how much beer you could put away and still turn up to work and knock out some good lessons.
The number one benefit socially is the camaraderie with all the instructors and inters. People from all walks of life, out of high school, out of uni, or taking a career break that wouldn’t normally find themselves in the same room let alone living together and becoming best mates.
If you’re looking for programme that’s both rewarding and good for your growth and skill level in snowboarding or skiing while meeting a bunch of really good people on the same wavelength then EA is the one.
EA gave me the opportunity to do that, and along the way meet some really really quality people and have some friends that to this day remain some of my strongest friendships.
Q. What have you been up to since the internship?
Immediately after our season in Lake Louise a lot of us went down to Perisher to do a winter season in the Southern Hemisphere season. I lived with my roommates from EA, which was cool to keep our little snow family going.
After finishing up in Perisher the opportunity to buy a lodge came around in Japan. Having spent a fair bit of time in Japan sampling the somewhat famous powder Hakuba was the pick of the resorts that I’d go to. It was an up and coming resort in Japan with a huge amount of potential. So, with a lot of luck and good timing I managed to sell my house in Australia, and another small business I had with a friend.
Within about 6 weeks I was able to scrape together enough money to buy a medium sized ski lodge in Hakuba.
From there I started my own company – Hakuba snow tours – Providing accommodation, lessons, restaurant, bar and entertainment.
It was a big decision leaving the security of a stable job. It’s been 4 years now, we’ve grown year on year and has enabled me to live this snow town lifestyle that I fell in love with all those years ago. I’ve been lucky to continue travelling across the world to different ski resorts, and the connections and contacts I made at EA and on subsequent seasons has helped spread the word about Hakuba Snow Tours.
I wouldn’t have thought four years ago sharing a jug at Stables with Mark, wildly telling him I wanted to open a ski lodge in Japan, that we would be here 4 years later going into our 4th season in Hakuba. And now Marks interviewing me from EA in New Zealand. it’s pretty crazy where we’ve ended up after doing an EA internship in Lake Louise for the season.
Q. How important do you think EA was in helping you get to where you are today.
Without realising it at the time EA has helped me loads in where I am, and Hakuba Snow Tours is now. I’d been riding for probably a decade before entering the program and little did, I know a lot of my riding was technically incorrect. My riding changed completely – It’s much more technical than I first thought and has allowed me to take in way more challenging terrain, from backcountry to park riding.
The contacts and friends that you make spending 6 months in a ski town. I’ve had people that I met and worked with at EA become guests at Hakuba snow tours, and last season I had Blake and Clara worked and lived at the ranch for a season.
Funnily enough Blake and Clara met on day one of the internship in Calgary, and nearly 5 years later they are still happily together – quite a touching love story, so you never know what you could be signing up for!
Knowing the processes involved with how a ski school is run was hugely beneficial for running the lodge, we provide lessons to our guests but also with managing a business in a ski town. Typically, I employ either ex instructors I’ve worked with before or current instructors who want to work in Japan.
The guests are staying in the same lodge as the staff, and that makes for a great atmosphere in the bar. When the guy serving your beer (or water) is the guy that’s been riding with you and showing you all the spots there’s no shortage of stories.
By the time most guests leave after a week, they often leave as more of your friends rather than as a paying guest.
We have a big referral culture for our guests. The first 3 seasons we’ve had 10-15 of the same guests come back to stay with us each season.
Agreed to a deal with a group from after a few too many pints of water… that if they got our logo tattooed I’d give them free accommodation! This year they are booked in for 3 weeks, so they are certainly making the most of it!
Q. Where is your favourite place to ride in the world?
I’d be an idiot if I didn’t say Hakuba, it’s definitely the best place in the world for your powder snow there’s nowhere else quite like It that gets the consistent volume of snow.
The thing that Japan doesn’t have, and it’d be unfair if they did, is the altitude and length of runs, so that’s where North America takes the cake. Probably my favourite resort would be Kickinghorse in BC – Only a stone’s throw away from Lake Louise and to other great resorts like Revelstoke and Panorama.
But Hakuba would take the gold medal and the runs outside the lodge are the highlight!
Q. Top tips for anyone going on a season?
Great set of thermals if you are going to North America. Poor man pays twice and if you buy cheap it wont last long and it won’t do the job.
Go into your EA experience with an open mind you will meet the best people. People put out their best version of themselves when they travel, because they have a limited time to get to know others. They tend to drop the nonsense and give you the real person.
The snow community becomes a massive network around the world of mutual friends and is great to help you get employment down the track.
**Pro Tip** walk into your instructor’s locker room with your goggles or sunglasses on so you cannot be identified as having hungover eyes!
Q. What’s next?
The Lodge has 22 rooms with a licensed bar and restaurant, the atmosphere is incredible with good vibes, but we also would like to accommodate for couples and families not looking for the lively experience.
In the next few seasons we’ll be looking at opening smaller self-contained lodges which is very exciting!
At the end of the day...
My biggest fear in life is having to go back to finance.