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Inside Snow: Mark WatsonInside Snow: Mark Watson

Inside Snow: Mark Watson

February 2024

Last month, we caught up with Ellis Brigham Mountain Sports Training Manager, Mark Watson. His primary role is to make sure staff are bang-up-to date with the latest ski tech and know their cuffs from their clogs when it comes to fitting ski boots. We found out how Mark got to where he is today, what makes a good boot fitter, and how the UK has cultivated high quality boot fitting culture to rival any Alpine nation.

SIGB: Tell us about what a Training Manager does. What are you training the staff at Ellis Brigham to do exactly?

Mark Watson: My main goal for anybody starting with the company is to get them to a point where they're able to speak to customers confidently about the boot fitting process or about purchasing skis. I provide a pathway starting from scratch with, what is a boot?

Lots of new staff come in without knowing the elements of a boot, and in many respects I would much rather start off with a blank canvas.

I walk them through everything to do with skis, ski boots, the technology, and how to understand feet. They can then take that information to the customer, apply it to what they see in front of them, and then be able to deliver a good boot or ski fit so that the customer can go away and ski in comfort.

SIGB: Do you think it’s important for people who would like to be a boot fitter, or sell skis, to have a pre-knowledge of skiing or snowboarding?

MW: I don't think it's important. I think it's good that as a company we've got a broad range of skiers. We have such a diverse range of customers that come in to see us, it's helpful to be able to relate everyone. Sure, it does help having a bit of an understanding of snowsports, but I can teach anyone how to fit a ski boot. What I can't teach them is how to be good with customers.

SIGB: So, are communication skills the most important thing you’re looking for in potential employees?

MW: Yeah, we look for customer service-based skills, not necessarily skiing specific skills.

Showing the best technique for grinding footbeds

SIGB: How did you get started working in the industry?

MW: I did get into it through skiing, actually. I first started skiing at school when I was 14, but I didn't really get into the sport until I was 17. I started hanging out in the snow dome and got really into freestyle. That kind of evolved into working on the slope, then into the shop. I went off and did winter seasons for a few years and after that I worked on the slope as a park shaper. I went into the events industry for a bit, but I came back to skiing to work in retail at Ellis Brigham when I was 26.

Mark's rider profile in the Ellis Brigham catalogue circa 2005

SIGB: How did you get into the role you’re in now?

MW: I think it helped going away from the sport completely for a bit and getting some experience just dealing with people and gaining more life skills. When I came back to working on the shopfloor I quickly went into a dual role as an assistant manager and ski department manager. When the training role came up it was an easy application for me because it would be based at the Milton Keynes store where I already worked, but I also love speaking to people, working with people, and developing people. So, for me it was perfect.

SIGB: What do you think allowed you to progress through the business so successfully?

MW: I'd always wanted to make sure that I was doing the best job I could, but I also had this passion to help people. I think that really helps with fitting ski boots especially because you're trying to make sure someone goes away and has the best experience they can. Empathy is quite important! It's no good if someone comes back saying they’ve got a problem and the store just tell them to deal with it. I want to make sure that everybody is helped as best they can be, and I try imparting that on any staff I’ve employed.


SIGB: What is it you like about boot fitting specifically?

MW: It's quite a hands-on job, it involves practical skills, problem solving, and not every boot fit is the same. You've got to think on your feet and sometimes you’re time bound as well. You’ve got to figure out how to make someone happy in their ski boots, sometimes by coming up with a creative solution.


SIGB: What would be your best advice to somebody who thought, that sounds like something I want to do?

MW: My best advice would be just to have a go. I mean, there's a lot to learn but we don't expect everybody to learn everything all at once, it’s very much a learn-on-the-job type of role.

It’s very hands-on and you’ve got to be happy using a few tools. The UK tends to nerd out a bit on boot fitting!

We get quite in depth. It's not like going into a rental shop in Italy or a Decathlon, picking up a size eight, putting it on and checking if it’s comfy. We have a tried and tested process in the UK and it's pretty much repeated in any good boot fitter around the world. I think most of the UK retailers are doing an extremely good, thorough job at boot fitting.

SIGB: What’s the best thing about working in the UK snow sports industry?

MW: Probably that it’s not very corporate at all! It’s a small industry and everybody kind of mingles and knows each other. I think that’s probably quite unusual. Everybody is supportive and there’s not much fierce rivalry. We want everybody to be doing well because if there's another snow sport shop doing well, then the industry is doing well, and that's good news for everybody.

Check out the boot range available at Ellis Brigham Mountain Sports.

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