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TURNING A PASSION INTO A BUSINESS

BELLA SEEL: ALS PRIVATE

From professional sportswoman to founder of a specialist holiday company, Bella is proof that you can create a viable business from a life-long passion. We met with Bella to find out how she made her dream a reality and what makes her tick.

Bella Seel:
Founder of ALK Ski
Words: Steve Trotter
Images: ALS SKI
JoJo Harper

 

 

 

Former professional freeride skier and one of the world’s youngest female ski instructors to be fully certified in the British, French, and Swiss systems. ‘Bella’ Seel was the first British woman in the Valais to gain Switzerland’s top-level Patente instructor’s qualification. Now as the founder of ALS Private, a company specialising in bespoke ski holidays, Bella takes time out of her busy season’s schedule to meet us in South Kensington to tell us where it all started.

“I’ve skied for as long as I can remember, it’s always been part of my life so it was an obvious progression to start a business within the ski industry. I guess it was in my genes all along, my grandmother raced for Great Britain and she was slalom champion. I have been so lucky to go away on family ski holidays my whole life, and it was in Courchevel where I first met Isabella an instructor at ESF – the French ski school. Isabella took me down the Grand Coulier when I was 11 years old and that was it – I was completely hooked.

I started racing with the Kandahar ski club in my teens and I raced on the FIS circuit in slalom and giant slalom until I was 18. Then I discovered Freeride and everything changed. We moved to Verbier and that’s what I did for the next 10 years. The terrain was incredible there and I never looked back. I competed in some freeride competitions around Europe and went on to coach for a freeride ski school – Powder Extreme”.

Why did you decide to leave the Alps and return to London?

After 10 winters in the Alps I felt it was time to move back. My family lived in the Cotswolds, they still do, so the UK is definitely home for me. My dream had been to start my own ski school, so in London it was a natural progression to start a concierge business specifically for the ski industry. I knew the industry well and I had built up a large network of contacts and people I had taught to ski over the years. What started out as a pretty basic concierge business model soon grew into organising parties and events; working with brands and booking group holidays. These days I spend a lot of my time at my desk keeping on top of admin but I’m still constantly meeting people, travelling and going to events. Actually I travel a lot, particularly in the winter months around Europe, I take a lot of flights, meeting people face to face is an important part of the business. I love the Alps and I miss not skiing but living in a ski resort is a bit like living in ‘Neverland’.

 

At what point did you know it was a viable business and you could make a living from it? 

Mmm, that’s a tough one. When I first moved back I was earning a living with my ski coaching, so I took a pay cut to set up my own business and be here, but it was definitely worth it. When I did start earning from the business I put almost every penny back into trying to make it grow. Now I do pay myself but it’s more about the lifestyle choice, so for the first 2 years it was all about injecting the money back in to make a success of it.

 

Do you think you could ever work for anyone else again? 

I think I would find it incredibly hard. I think I would try to find a way not to if I’m honest. I love the excitement too much. Look at my sister for example, she has an amazing career, she has the security, stability and a lovely salary that comes in at the same time every month. But at the same time, she doesn’t have the flexibility of when she can go away on holiday, or how she manages her working day. Yes I have the freedom, yes I have all the luxury of going where I want when I want. Does that outweigh the stress and pressure of running my own business? I think it does, for me personally but I think for some people it wouldn’t. The other side of it, the reality if it is, that wherever I am, I’m always working, I never switch off, every waking minute I am working. I’m lucky that my boyfriend also runs his own company so it’s very much the same for him. If he had a regular job working for someone else, maybe he wouldn’t be so understanding.

“I knew the industry well and I had built up a large network of contacts and people I had taught to ski over the years.”

Image Credit JoJo Harper

“I will go out and oversee everything, check everything is going ok on the ground and make sure everything runs smoothly.”

During a typical winter, how many days would you spend in the Mountains?

So, last winter I did 12 trips over three months between Jan and April. They are very fast turnaround trips and I’ll spend maybe 2-3 days in London between them. They’re either hosting or on a corporate trip, I will go out and oversee everything, check everything is going ok on the ground and make sure everything runs smoothly. I will spend a few days eating with them and skiing with them, but not actually teaching. The ‘on snow’ trips are more like press trips where I’ll go out and host all the skiing. I did that for ‘six senses’ in Courchevel, a company that launched last year, and I’m doing the same again for a new chalet that I’m helping launch this year in La Rossiere, France. Then there’s the skiing I do with Chemmy for “Our Legend”, a holidays and events company in Sainte Foy set up by Will Greenwood and Austin Heeley, which I am sure will do well. The trips are a combination of ‘on’ and ‘off’ snow stuff, actually taking them skiing, guiding or hosting. Then there’s the other stuff that I do which is more me, rather than ALS the brand like the Ellis & Brigham photo shoot for their magazine. I’m also on The Ski Club’s – ski and board magazine review team to test all their skis for the coming season.

 

Skis or Snowboard?

Skis – every time.

 

Piste or Off Piste?

Off Piste, definitely. I only have Fat skis.

I own 12 pairs of skis and they are all over 100 (cms) under foot.

 

Earlier you mentioned ex-World Cup Skier and Olympian, Chemmy Alcott. I know you two are close friends but how valuable has her involvement been to your business?

 I have known Chemmy for a number of years. I first met her in Verbier. After she retired from racing we spent time together running ski weekends for groups and partnering on certain projects. We’ve had a lot of fun and she has been incredible on the ALS projects we have worked on together. We’re a good match, in that I’m off- piste, she’s an on-piste racer, two females at the top of the sport, we just complement each other nicely and clients value that combination, that expertise. She’s busy with CDC Performance, she runs ski camps with her husband Dougie; teaching children invaluable life skills, it’s really doing well, but it’s great when we do occasionally get to ski together.

 

Where is your biggest market?

 Most of my clients are still Brits, and most are repeat business or word of mouth. I see a change ahead though, there is a big market in the Middle East. The Russians have taken over the skiing market, but I think next it’s going to be the Arabs. They have really got into their skiing, particularly skiing in Europe. I work with partners in Dubai and also in Michigan in The States, for clients looking to come over and ski with us.

 

Are the experiences you offer totally bespoke?

 Absolutely, I tend not to lock down dates or experiences, I think these days’ people value choice. I just put the options out there to inspire them and hopefully they come back with; we are a group of 4, this is what we want to do, this is where we want to do it, and this is how we want to do it, and I put it all together.

 

I believe you are taking 100 children out to the snow very soon, tell us about that…

 Yes, we’re off to Andorra with The Challengers Trust in January with 100 children from more deprived areas within the UK. The trust looks after 20,000 children and we are taking 100 with us.  Some of them haven’t even left Bedford, and some will never have seen snow. The plan with that is to grow and grow so that we can take thousands out to the snow each year, it’s so worthwhile.

 

Describe what your perfect day looks like.

“Fresh snowfall and bluebird (blue skies).

First lifts, get up high. Hike a little, and get into some great terrain with fresh now. Ski all morning, through lunch. Have a late lunch, some drinks and ski down the mountain. Take ‘Popcorn’ my very white Golden Labrador up the last lift of the day and ski down with her, chasing the sunset and après ski drinks.”

 

What are your plans for your business?

I love the way the industry is going. People are becoming a lot more adventurous and they are becoming much less interested in just skiing and eating Fondue in fancy resorts, they want to explore cool new places. Iceland has lots of potential for the lovely untouched terrain, so we are looking into that market right now.

I’m exploring a number of new destinations this year, and I’m really excited to be visiting Kamchatka in the far east of Russia, the scenery is like nothing else on earth. I’m also going to Northern Cashmere and Kazakhstan. I want to grow ALS, building new ever-evolving experiences in parts of the world where people haven’t explored or areas that are almost inaccessible to man. I want people to be able to experience skiing in the best possible way, with all the amazing and wonderful things it brings.

Check out more about ALS Ski:

www.alsprivate.com | Facebook – ALS Private  | Instagram – ALS_Private | Twitter – ALS_Private_Ski

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