Meet Michael Mason - Mountain Bodyguard
JOB TITLE: Ski instructor and bodyguard at The Swiss School Verbier, Switzerland
HOURS: 40 hours per week
PAY: Satisfactory. The rate for hiring a private instructor for a day is £305. Bodyguard rates are higher and depend on the client.
PERKS: Living in the mountains, getting to meet a whole spectrum of people and seeing them overcome their fears
DOWNSIDE: There isn't one!
Being a mountain bodyguard sounds like a pretty rad job, right?
It conjures up images of a Arnold Schwarzenegger-style bloke, hurling himself in front of clients to protect them from shooting ninjas on skis. Michael Mason certainly looks the part.
He's a BASI ski instructor and SIA Close Protection Operator (i.e. bodyguard) as well as being a 5th Dan Master of the Japanese Martial art, Ninpo Tai Jutsu and SPEAR System defensive tactics trainer. It's quite a CV.
But there's a whole lot more to being a bodyguard than watching out for bad guys...
So, what does being a mountain bodyguard involve?
I work with The Swiss Ski School in Verbier as a ski instructor and a private bodyguard. So, it's not a public service. It's offered to certain clients who want protection on the slopes.
How did you get involved with being a mountain bodyguard?
I was already a ski instructor in Verbier, working in Close Protection separately. While teaching clients one winter, I saw an opportunity. These people would come for a week's holiday in Verbier. Their bodyguards would drop them off at the lifts in the morning, but while they were on the mountain, they had no one looking after them. What's the point in only having 80% protection? So I now offer bodyguard service with the Swiss Ski School.
They aren't worried about being being shot by some mad man, they're more concerned about their kids being kidnapped
What does that involve?
Well I take people up the mountain individually or in groups, either as a bodyguard or just an instructor. It depends what they want. I try and keep as low-key as possible, which is actually quite difficult in a ski town. I don't want to stand out because my clients are there on holiday. They don't want too much attention.
What kind of clients are these?
It's usually very, very wealthy people whose finances are well-known. You get a lot of hedge fund managers and stockbrokers who've made a lot of money very quickly. Mostly Eastern European and some from the Middle East. There may not be any specific threat against them. Most aren't worried about being shot by some mad man, they're more concerned about their wife or kids being kidnapped.
How do you spot trouble?
You are looking for things that are out of the ordinary. There's not a lot of difference between working as a ski instructor and a bodyguard. You're on the lookout all the time. You have to be aware of situations, people, body language. It’s about seeing things before they get too close. It's my responsibility to return people safely at the end of the day. However, often clients who are at seriously high risk won't being taking a holiday at that time.
What does an average day involve?
Generally, I pick the clients up from their chalet or meet them by the lifts in the morning. We'll ski for a few hours. I'll do a few exercises with them, give them a bit of feedback. Then we'll stop for a hot chocolate or something.
One client wanted to stop for vin chaud after every run. So before lunch, he'd probably had about a dozen! It depends on what they want really. Often they're really stressed out and it takes a day or two for them to relax.
Sometimes I take their Blackberries off them when I'm teaching. Then after lunch or at the end of the day, I'll hand them back to their security.
Some of the Russians I've looked after are like something out of a James Bond script
Have you ever been involved in any dramatic situations?
In the seven years I've been a ski bodyguard, nothing's really happened. A lot of guys in the Close Protection business will try and make stories out of nothing, to make them sound a bit like James Bond.
Unless you're working in a hostile environment like Afghanistan, West Africa, South America, not much happens. The characters you meet, however, are funny. Some of the Russians I’ve looked after are like something out of a James Bond script.
In what way?
One Russian guy came with his friend who was ex-Russian military. He skiied for the Russian military team in the 80s, so he was really, really good. Imagine this guy who's 6ft 4". He's bald with a mahogany tan and his nose was all over his face from being broken a few times.
He wore the shiniest black ski suit you could imagine with black and gold Chanel sunglasses. His head was obviously very shiny and had this scar going from one side to the other. I asked him what he did for a living. He just laughed and said sinisterly in a Russian accent, "business man". That was it.
Have you had any outrageous requests from clients?
There was an Eastern European woman who booked lessons with me. I had to pick her up from her chalet - this huge beautiful place with two doberman guarding it. She was very bling. Everyday was a different outfit, different hairstyle. She wasn't a bad skiier, but she liked everything being done for her.
One day we were skiing and came into a white out. She got a bit nervous and threw a wobbly. Actually quite a big wobbly. All of a sudden, she hated me and wanted another instructor - bearing in mind we're at the top of a mountain in a white out.
She said to me, "you've got to order a taxi". I said we can't get taxis up here. There was only one way down. Twenty minutes later when we were back in the restaurant, I was back to being the best instructor in the world.
Do you need any particular qualifications to be a mountain bodyguard?
You need to have the ski instructor and Close Protection qualifications obviously, but it's not just about being a good instructor.
You need to have good rapport with clients from all different cultures. You have to be able to deal with crying kids and spoilt kids.
I get guys emailing me saying they're good fighters. That's not a good thing to be, because that's not what we are. We're their to protect people and anticipate things before they happen.
What's the best part of your job?
It's forever changing. You get to meet a whole spectrum of people. One week, I'll be teaching a plumber from London. Next week, it will be a Russian billionaire and his kids. I've always loved the mountains. It's great that the mountains are now my office.
And the worst?
There isn't really a downside. It's rare to get clients who are really obnoxious or a bit of an arsehole. Often you'll get really crazy people skiing dangerously down the slope near my clients.
I do end up having to raise my voice and make them understand the errors of their ways. But that's not really a downside.
I get paid well, I meet some great people. Sometimes I'll hear instructors complaining when they've had an annoying client. I just think I'm so privileged to work here. There are far worse things than doing this.
For more information about Michael's business, alongside tips about "conquering fear and panic", check out his Facebook Page, Mason Survival: Functional Combatives, Functional Fitness.