Martin Rowley grew up in the 1970s in Thredbo Village where his dad Dave had a building business. Not surprisingly, he skied from an early age and developed into a highly skilled all-round skier. Martin raced in his mid-teens before switching to freestyle and mogul skiing, which lead to a successful career competing on the World Cup circuit representing Australia for nearly ten years.
After he retired from competition, Martin spent a few years coaching, before settling on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula setting up a building company.
However, the mountains and coaching have drawn him back and four years ago Martin and his wife Vanessa established Mount Hotham Free Ski.
It is a progressive program where the aim is for participants to gain “the ability to become an all-rounded, highly experienced skier gaining skills in big mountain, slopestyle, moguls, ski cross, and big air.
CF: What was your motivation for getting Mount Hotham Free Ski up and running?
I’d stepped back from the industry but I was still skiing at both Hotham and overseas each year. We spent more time on the snow as our son Tristan’s interest in the sport grew. Around four years ago Vanessa and I were looking at our lives, and where we could really make a difference. That’s when we decided the time had come to move onto a new era.
Like most Australian resorts, Hotham seems to have a big focus on racing. Was it a challenge to get the resort to support your plans for MHFS?
We’ve been very fortunate to have Hotham support our concept from day one. In particular Belinda Trembath, Hotham’s general manager, understands that the youth in winter sports today are gravitating towards freestyle/freeski. It’s no big secret that Australia excels in freestyle skiing on an international level, and even more recently the newer sports of slopestyle and halfpipe..
How does MHFS work? Is it independent of the Hotham Snowsports school?
Yes, and it is a non-for profit organisation. We operate under the rules and guidelines set out by state law for such entities and we run independently from the Hotham Snowsports program. Our role in the resort is to provide professional programs, run by the top-level coaches from the Hotham Snowsports team, under my guidance.
It sounds like a program all resorts should have.
I think that anything great in life comes from a solid foundation. The base age level of our programs is seven but the greater numbers that form MHFS are around the ages of ten to 11. All athletes, must have the ability to carve a good GS turn. To ski off piste in all terrain and snow conditions. To jump to with balance and consistency. Ski with fluidity on changing terrain. Ski moguls with rhythm and short turn technique, and also understand the competitive arena. These skills are taught within a team environment while having fun, which creates a platform, moving towards their chosen discipline around the age of 14. Skiing history has shown that some of the best champions, no matter what skiing discipline, have been great freeskiers.
Hotham has some of the best and steepest in-bounds terrain in Australia. How important is it to get the athletes out on the natural terrain?
Very important. Hotham has naturally occurring features, gullies, bowls, cliff lines and great tree skiing. We also have some of the most easily accessible extreme off piste terrain from resort lifting. The kids are lucky to have this at their doorstep, and it’s a great asset to our programs.
Is MHFS your focus now? It must be nice for your “job” to be back in the mountains. It’s like you’ve come full circle.
Yeah, I feel like I’ve come home, loving every moment. I’m truly inspired by the team. I am fortunate to have worked with some of our athletes for a few years now. To be a part of their families. To watch their growth and learning process is a lot of fun. There is alot of work in the background to make MHFS so successful in such a short period of time too. We have a small but increasing committee that really are creative, imaginative, and tireless.