Snowboard instructing has come a long way since the 80s. So has one of our original instructors, Ash Muller.
He tallies up a whopping 69 seasons spreading the love of shred. From basic origins in Kitzbühel in the 80s, through being a founder member of Hotham Boardriders in ‘88, to over 30 winters at upmarket Beaver Creek, not to mention 14 at Chile’s awesome Valle Nevado.
Oh, did we mention representing Australia at the 1999 Interski (aka ‘The Intsructors’ Olympics’) in Norway?
It’s been a long ride. But he’s not slowing down, only COVID and recent serious illness have stopped him hitting 70 seasons already. Knowing Ash he will battle on through and make it to that elusive teaching season #70 in 2024 – northern or southern winter.
Snow Action’s Founding Editor Owain Price caught up with Ash for an ongoing chat – we started over beers in Valle Nevado, Chile, way back in 2014..
We probably met Ash back in the day c1990 too, but memories fail us both. He was the token Aussie when we dropped into Valle Nevado mid-September 2014, and we had a crazy few days skiing and partying with him.
It was an early onset of spring there, while in Australia it had been a great season.
“Mates from Hotham keep telling me how good it is” he said, barbecued meat in one hand, beer in the other, as we sat on the sunny mountain restaurant terrace after a morning exploring the vast area.
“Do I look worried?” he continued, waving at the surrounds – with inter-linked El Colorodo and La Parva included, this is by a fair margin the overall largest ski area in the Southern Hemisphere.
Valle Nevado is highest and best of the 3 areas, the village on a ridge at 3,000m beneath peaks hitting 6,000m in the heart of the Andes.
Ash doesn’t ever seem worried by much. He has always been a guy who goes with the flow, leading to a peripatetic life that puts most people’s decades spent mowing the lawn and worrying about having more garages than the neighbours in perspective. Though he had the smarts to pick up a cute, now very valuable, townhouse in Lennox Head along the way.
Known as ‘Crashley’ in Australia and America, or ‘Abuelo Ash’ in Chile (ie Grandad Ash), he has a worldwide network of friends and clients that has taken him to amazing places. Not to mention got him up to Platinum frequent flyer status, enjoying First Class lounge access as he swans about the planet from gig to gig.
How did it all start?
“Chance. I was backpacking in Turkey when some Canadians showed me a ski magazine. Among all the big colour ski photos there was one small black and white pic of a guy sliding sideways with a massive plume trailing behind him. That one photo changed my life.”
“To me the massive white mountains covered in snow were reminiscent of big waves and I longed to surf them. So I headed for Kitzbühel, Austria and began my odyssey.”
“Kitzbühel had its own challenges, especially as I was down to my last American Express traveller’s cheque.”
Kitzbühel was the mecca for Aussies wintering and working in the snow in the mid-80s, with plenty of jobs to be found. The Londoner Pub was the centre of the nightlife, and those who worked there could drink as much as they liked, as long as they maintained fast service. Serving shots at the pace of the fastest drinker in a group was the aim – no responsible service of alcohol in those days. Ash got a job cooking pizza and pasta, and began his get-into-boarding mission.
Starting with finding a board.
“Nobody was able to tell me where to get a snowboard because it was early days, pre-production and most were riding home made ones.”
“During my 7 years at Kitz I formed a friendship with some locals who were making homemade boards, so I got on those. The next season, after working summer at a NATO base in Germany, I was cashed up and bought myself a Burton 150 Elite, which I then exchanged for a 165 Cruiser.”
“It was an amazing time. Although we were turned away at the base of chair lifts, we were permitted to ride the Gondola up the Kitzbüheler Horn.”
“Improvisation was key as we sourced warm boots that could be squeezed into old XL ski boot shells, that were then cut apart to make an exo shell, which was then affixed to a wooden board with sectional edges screwed in. Not pretty, but functional.”
Kitz was home to Austrian ski royalty, the ‘Red Devils’ Ski School run by Tony and Rudi Sailer. Snowboarding was quite the upstart.
“Fritz Hartman was a great skier and ripper rider who was sponsored by Quiksilver Europe. He showed me the ropes and I started snowboard instructing in his Snowboard School. Some of the alpine carving skills he passed on gave me an early interest in racing.”
One that continues: video chatting to check details for this story in March I caught Ash back home in Beaver Creek after just missing the podium in a race and totally bummed as a result.
“Basically I learned boarding by the crash and burn method. I was a kid who had only seen snow on a school trip to Jenolan Caves when I started.”
Soon he had his first Austrian licence to teach, and a long career was launched. He moved to Ernst Hinterseer’s Ski School Total next.
“Chance intervened again when I met a couple of Aussie instructors who pointed me in the direction of our powder capital, Mount Hotham.”
It was a lean start there for a would be snowboard instructor in 1988.
“There wasn’t a great deal of work if you didn’t ski and I didn’t. The Ski School already had two snowboarding Swedish brothers, Stefan and Andres Nilsen, and along with Dave Coleman they had the whole field covered.”
In 1989 I did the APSI (Australian Professional Snowsport Instructors) Snowboard Proficiency course, run by Geoff Sawyer at Falls Creek.
“It wasn’t until 1990 that I was finally hired, when Mount Hotham Boardriders successfully secured a sponsorship with Vic Health under the umbrella of LIFE BE IN IT (remember Norm?). Our plan for Australia’s first Banked Slalom was up and running.”
He also set up LSD – the Ladies Snowboard Development Program – for Team Hotham, with Krista Zirknitzer one of the first signees.
“I sold Zirky his first snowboard too – a Crazy Banana in 1988.”
Australian snowboard teaching was getting organised and structured properly at the time.
“In 1991 Matt Gilder, Selina Weber and Geoff Sawyer began formulating Level 1, and in winter 1992 did the first ever Level 1 exam and course. Later we rode the northern winter in Whistler Blackcomb, and worked at what would become Level 2. By 1994 the first Level 2 was run at Mt Hotham.”
“Australia’s Snowboard Certifications were presented in Japan in 1995 at Interski. Australia’s Level 2 certification earned its ISIA stamp, followed by Level 3 in 1997. At the time we felt that a fully certified instructor should be able to instruct in alpine gear as well as freestyle. Honourable thought, but the reality was that the associated expenses for instructors, who weren’t exactly making big bucks, and the decline in students chasing the hard carve, meant it wasn’t practical.”
At the following Interski in Norway in 1999, Ash and Dan Monahan from Hotham and Adam Webster from Thredbo represented Australian snowboarding.
“It was a personal highlight of mine and I recommend all APSI members to strive for the chance to try out to be an Australian Interski team member.”
“Again we presented the Australian way, and in my view, the Australian way was on par with the rest of the world. We were then, and remain now, proud to represent Australia and it’s teaching methods.”
Last season he was back as a National Trainer and Examiner, putting aspirants through the hoops at Perisher.
After a couple of northern season doing snowboard tours Ash made it to Beaver Creek in 1993. As one of America’s most up-market resorts it has allowed him to meet some very high-powered and well-heeled clients over the years. With some amazing side-trips as a result, like getting taken heli-skiing in Iceland, or diving in the Galapagos.
Another fringe benefit is the lifetime Gold Epic Pass, after completing 25 seasons teaching at Beaver Creek.
Despite having introduced whole families to the enlightened side over the years, he also ski instructs to pay the bills.
“I’m certified for ski as well. I had to for work. Skiers have a different mentality, and I’m just happy to do low end ski lessons.”
As mentioned, he can have a beer at lunchtime there in public, in uniform, and no one cares. He also got me tagged onto the weekly instructor’s torchlight descent when we caught up there again in 2017, just via a quick word to the Ski School Director. Personal responsibility and relations still overrule rules in Chile. As for a ski school end-of-season party trick, one of the team wearing the kid’s animal mascot outfit back to front with tail to the fore was pretty fun too. He would have got arrested at home..
Subject to visas, Ash had hoped to get back there for a short season in 2023, not wishing to miss the 35th anniversary of Hotham Boardriders in August. Illness intervened but he still made it to the Boardriders anniversary and cleaned up in his age group in the banked slalom.
Life generally is getting tougher for instructors most places as season accommopdation rentals soar. It’s easy to end a season owing money, which is not the idea going long term. It’s okay if you are the gap year kid doing it for fun, with a career or family business to segue back into, but not to make it your lifetime commitment like Ash.
“For me, a lad from a blue collar working class family who, by chance, met some crazy Canadians whilst backpacking, it has been a champagne life style on a beer budget’’ he sums up.
“Being able to look across the mountains of the world to see incredible sunsets and sunrises, to heli board in Iceland and swim with penguins in the Galápagos Islands (another client invite) who could ask for more? I have met and made friends with people of all backgrounds, from sport stars to Hollywood stars, Washington politicians to wolves of Wall Street. It’s been a blast. I love boarding and I love teaching people. Sixty nine seasons is just warming up, I’m not done yet!”