This bit is usually quite repetitive... if you've read it once, it doesn't change! That's the nature of history I guess. Anyway... it all started at Kings College, London in 1978/79. Kings owes its existance mostly to the enthusiasm of a guy called Chris Franklin. Chris's single-minded aim throughout his student career was finding ways of getting groups together to go skiing on snow... a task made difficult while subsisting on grant money and part-time work around the Union in Surrey Street. However Chris was nothing if not enterprising... with a particularly charming personality and the amazing ability to be able to sell ice to Eskimos! Useful when you need a few paying mates to generate a free place for an impoverished snow-lover!
Kings College in the late 70's certainly wasn't the kind of place you'd have said would be an ideal birthplace for a ski club really... actually, there weren't many uni ski clubs about at all back then! That simply meant that with some leg-work and perserverence, Chris was able to "corner the market" in prospective skiers from the London colleges and teaching hospitals... just about every further educational institution benefited from Chris's guerilla sales tactics... fly postering, networking - even hard-selling techniques involving copious amounts of alcohol (though its interesting to note that Chris didn't actually drink himself!) so signatures on booking forms and deposit cheques were often more than a little shaky.
Trips from London colleges gradually grew in size and frequency... and the school tour operators with whom they were booked started to notice the benefits of getting a student network to do the selling for them rather than teachers - partciularly as around then the Education Reform Act started to limit the dates that schools could travel... making student groups even more attractive as the medical schools were especially flexible on dates of travel! For a couple of years, Chris's reputation with operators grew... and so did the club that he'd formed in 1978 as the starting point for his enterprise! Every Thursday, he'd grab a minibus from the union and arrange dry slope evenings to Esher and Hillingdon... followed by a curry. A good way to get recruits for the trips and have fun at the same time... a "no lose" concept for all concerned.
Now remember I said Chris was enterprising? Well the move from selling someone else's holidays on commission to setting up his own company to sell the holidays wasn't hard for Chris to make. By the early 80's he'd established a small network of really cheap, pretty crappy properties... old chalets or closed-down hotels... but all with one major benefit in common. They were all in, or very near, GREAT ski resorts! Tignes/Val d'Isere, Kitzbuhel, Zermatt, Chamonix... a host of iconic ski villages with world-renowned reputations and enormous skiable terrains. Add cheap coach travel, cheap ski equipment, cheap food, very cheap chalet girls (sorry girls!) and avoid a few pesky rules... and you had Kings Tours! Selling holidays exclusively to Kings Ski Club members, the business grew quickly. It certainly wasn't any kind of holiday that most students would tolerate today as expectations are higher... but back then is was half-board with cheap beer and wine on tap and out of the way, so it really didn't matter too much if the noise levels rose a bit from time to time. The London office eventually moved out of Chris's basement flat in Notting Hill to a small third-floor suite in Shpherds Bush, and slowly that standards of accommdation and administration rose. Eventually, and following further diversification into summer products, renting chalets and hotels seemed less attractive than buying them and developing them... so that's the way Chris went, finding young, keen investors and entreprenuers like him who had enough money and courage to do something challenging.
So here we were... club, tour operator and property company... and suddenly interest rates were at 15%. Highly leveraged property deals were scary places to have pitched your investment camp... and something had to give. By the late 80's it was clear that the operator and property concerns couldn't run togther. Different priorities, aims and objectives lead to hard choices. The team of staff that Chris had built had personal choices to make... work as tour operators or run properties in the Alps. The best solution was to give the operator some structure of its own with enough money behind it to give it a chance to survive... and so in due course Kings Tours became a subsidiary brand of STS Travel - a well-established 50-year-old schools tour operator based then in Enfield. The young managing director - Mark Sanders - had the vision to see the benefit of Kings Ski Club as a sales vehicle and brand of its own for student ski travel packages, but its anarchic culture and working practices needed retraining and to learn a grown-up approach to business. STS gave Kings Tours that security and support as well as jobs to its key people... and crucially, it sorted out its finances. Mark also recognised that the name of Kings Ski Club was strong enough to need protecting and, in the same way as Chris had, he genuinely wanted the club to be able to stand on its own feet as a club for its members' benefit. To do this, he drew up a 25-year contract guaranteeing the club an annual income in return for use of the club name and network of affilaited clubs through which to sell holidays. The club's future looked secure, and around this time Kings started running alpine races, joined BARSC (the British Alpine Racing Ski Clubs) and began a series of races on dry slopes... the forerunners of today's leagues.
For 5 years or so, the partnership worked well, with Kings Ski Club secure and selling tours to its members and also new markets like the Armed Services, the English Ski Council and more. However the owners of STS had been in business for long enough. It was a family concern that had matured along with its owners. It was time for them to cash in. Mark left the company to form his own business and shortly afterwards a company meeting on a Monday morning introduced the new owners - the Rank Organisation based in Berkhamstead. It was a commute that most STS staff declined to sign up to. An era for STS was over, but what of Kings Ski Club? Well the race series were doing okay, membership was bouyant and dedicated voluteers like Paul Jones and Richard Graves drove thousands of miles almost every weekend to run races around the UK but the days of KSC as a ski operator and holiday brand were over. Despite efforts by Rank to make it work, the heart was gone as corporate rules governed every facet of its business. There appeared to be no understanding of the value of "The Club". By now Chris had moved on to manage his own business and the club had few to champion it! The committee wasn't surprised to learn officially that Rank no longer wished to commercialise the name or sell holidays to students... but thanks to Mark Sanders, there was the small matter of a 25-year contract between STS and KSC! To begin with, naturally, there were discussions about how valid the contract was, but the Club's people spoke to Rank's people... and in due course a substantial cheque was paid into the club account!
Result! Money in the bank and a club with keen people running it and a series of races that had long-since become the focus for UK student ski racing - cetainly long before EWUSC or BUSC (love 'em!). Sponsorship by The Daily Telegraph added more security to the club's future and with continued volunteer help, the club now does probably the best thing it's ever done for student skiers and boarders... you decide.
Of the original people that started Kings... many went on to work at high levels of the travel industry in the UK or have their own businesses following their own dreams living in extraordinary places with mountain views to kill for. I for one would like to hear from them! Ben, Nick, Robin, Sean... and Chris - how about it?
Of our past members... there are doctors, dentists, surgeons, nurses, politicians, lawyers - the cream of our nation - who spent serious time crashed out on grubby matresses in a converted cowshed in Tignes Les Brevieres. I know - I was glad to have been there!
I'm going to embark on a hopeless task as there are too many (remind me, someone, please!)... but here's thanks to some notable luminaries of Kings... Paul Jones, Richard Graves, Jason Hough, Simon Edwards, Angela Clay, Bimbette (you know who you are), Mick Coleby, Nick Delane, Tim and Nick Gulliford, Mark Sanders and Chris Franklin - plus dozens and dozens of previous race officials, committee members and resort employees (own up you lot) who between them helped establish something that seems increasingly special as the seasons roll past. Almost 32 of them now - and counting!