Chasing the snow


Former Olympian Tim Cafe is addicted to chasing snow around the world. Now coaching the world’s best under-18 girls’ GS ski racer, he talks to Philip Chandler about his passion and his new business venture.

Queenstowner Tim Cafe hasn’t had a full summer for almost 20 years, but he’s not complaining.

The 31-year-old’s been chasing snow all his life, initially as a ski racer then latterly as an instructor, coach and guide.

“Dad fell in love with skiing when he came here in the ’70s so obviously I was brought up on snow.

“I’ve always loved it, I never questioned the fact that that’s my passion.”

Cafe got into ski racing when he was about 10 through the Queenstown Alpine Ski Team (QAST).

“If you went through ski school and you didn’t go into other sports, the next step was to join QAST and as soon as I started I thought ‘this is cool’.”

He admits he’d sometimes vomit before races.

“When you look back you realise how little everything mattered, but when you’re wrapped up in it, every race seems, like, so important.”

Between schooling he worked as Browns Ski Shop’s ‘boy Friday’ – the store also helped fund his ski racing, along with other local ski enthusiasts.

Cafe specialised in super-G – “it’s the fastest discipline you can train in, in New Zealand, which is strange ‘cos I’m quite small and most speed guys are bigger”.

Asked what his buzz was, he says it was chasing perfection – “completing things to the best of my abilities”.

“And also, frankly, it’s an identity. You feel confident about yourself when you get some results.”

Cafe competed at two world championships and the 2010 Winter Olympics in Whistler, Canada, placing 38th in super-G, “which was a little bit better than my bib [number]”.

“My goal was to go there and look like I belonged, not look like a banana republic, and I did that.”

He says that though the pinnacle of the sport is world cups – “I tried a couple of times but I wasn’t good enough” – being an Olympian opened up a lot of opportunities.

Between times he also did a marketing degree at Otago University, but says that during the global financial crisis there weren’t a lot of jobs going so he got into ski instructing.

Along with other national team members, he got free NZ Snowsports Instructors Alliance training after he gave up ski racing in September, 2011.

After taking local kids to a camp in Squaw Valley, in the United States, he worked for QAST for five years, ending up as head under-16 coach, and between seasons worked as a ski instructor in Aspen, in the US.

“Frankly, billionaires who pay lots of money to ski with people in Aspen want to tell their friends they skied with an Olympian.”

Cafe also had a year working in a ski resort in Chile and learning Spanish.

Back in Queenstown, he’s become personal coach to the world’s best girls’ under-18 giant slalom exponent, Alice Robinson.

“She’s got so much guts, like, no fear, great strength, and she’s one of the most competitive people on the planet,” Cafe notes.

He says his role includes ensuring she still has a rounded life, and he also plans to help her adjust to training and racing in Europe better than he did.

He also helps Nils Coberger coach the NZ men’s team, and still tunes athletes’ skis after learning the knack at Browns.

“It helps you coaching because you realise what parts the athletes can influence and what parts you can change in the equipment set-up.”

Meanwhile, Cafe and a business partner have just set up a US company, Inside Ski, to guide high-end Americans.

“Americans, mostly New Yorkers, love to ski in Aspen but they haven’t experienced the culture of skiing around the world, so we travel with them so they can experience it.”

He’s taking a client for two weeks in Chile next month and hopes to bring trips to NZ in the next two years.

Cafe says “anyone who can scratch a living out of the ski industry’s doing pretty well”.

“I’m going to ride it out for as long as I can.”