On the chairlift with... Sir Matthew Pinsent

Simon Kelton
Since retiring from competitive rowing, Sir Matthew Pinsent has swapped his oars for skis - 2014 Getty Images

Sir Matthew Pinsent is well known for being one of the most successful and respected rowers of all time, winning 10 World Championship gold medals and four consecutive Olympic golds for Great Britain. Less well known is that he’s a passionate skier who rates family skiing holidays as the best ever...

When did you first go skiing?

I only went once as a child. My father had a friend who ran an outdoor centre in Norway and we went on holiday there once when I was eight.

When did you next hit the slopes?

I was 24 and on a rowing camp in the Sierra Nevada in Spain. Steve Redgrave [his former Olympic teammate] has always been a really keen skier, so when we had the chance we took half a day off. There was only one piste, but we had a great afternoon larking about.

How did you find that first downhill experience?

I’m 6ft 5in and around 17 and a half stone, so I found the scariest bit was turning and facing down the fall line. I have a very clear memory of that terrifying sweep downhill and the sense I was completely out of control!

Did you go cross-country skiing as part of your training?

Yes – during the last five or six years of our rowing training, we’d go for three weeks to places like Switzerland and Norway in February. We’d be out of bed in the dark to row on machines, then after breakfast go for a two- to three-hour cross-country ski.

The slopes near Verbier

When did you go on your first ski holiday as an adult?

It was too risky to go on a skiing holiday when I was rowing at the top level, so I went as soon as I retired. My wife is Canadian but she’d only ever been on a day trip to Blue Mountain outside Toronto so we went to Mammoth in California. It was wonderful. A huge mountain with great signage. If it says blue, it’s a blue. As a learner, it was ideal.

Where do you most like to ski?

Anywhere and everywhere. I’ve been to the Three Valleys several times, Kitzbühel, Whistler, Mammoth, and Val d’Isère three or four times with Steve Redgrave. I’d love to get back to North America and ski Aspen, Vail and Jackson. We’ll probably do that again soon, but it’s tricky with the kids. It’s quite expensive and there’s also the jet lag.

Is Steve better than you?

Yes, much better than me. I don’t know whether that makes him very good but he’s done his instructor’s award, which is great because he takes no rubbish from my kids so it’s huge fun to ski with him.

Redgrave and Pinsent at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, where they won gold in the coxless pairs Credit: Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images

Are you a very competitive skier?

Not really. Rowing was all about beating other crews, but that mentality doesn’t help me with skiing. Luckily I satisfied my need to win with all the rowing. Now I don’t need to rank myself publicly or privately against other people so I can just relax and have fun.

Who do you usually ski with?

I love to take the whole family. We’ve got twin boys of 10 and a girl of 8. We’ve been with Esprit Ski [a specialist family operator] for the last six years. They do a cracking job looking after the kids. They sort out all their clobber so there’s no chasing boots and poles and skis around the chalet in a panic. We end up spending more time together on a family ski trip than almost any other time.

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What do you most love about family ski holidays?

The kids go trotting off at 8.30am and then you can decide whatever you want to do. I get to ski with my wife in the morning and hang out with the kids in the afternoon. You don’t have to think about cooking or washing up. We haven’t found any other family holiday that can match it, although the kids are at that tipping point where they’re just about to overtake mum and dad!

Does skiing help the children in other ways?

They’ve started putting their gloves on the radiator and getting all their gear ready. It makes them more independent.

Sir Matthew was knighted in 2005 for services to rowing Credit: Getty Images

Have you thought about going on The Jump?

They keep on asking me and I keep on saying no. Steve cracked a rib when he appeared and it’s a huge eight-week time commitment. Although it looks fun, I really can’t afford it.

Piste or powder?

I’m a piste man, but I know there’s a whole world of powder out there waiting for me.

What’s your perfect ski day?

Weather is critical. I love a perfect bluebird with brilliant snow. I’ll ski with my wife and maybe some friends until lunch. Then we get the kids out of ski school and ski another couple of hours. We don’t ski too long or get too exhausted. I’ve found there’s a law of diminishing returns if it’s getting too dark and difficult.