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BIG INTERVIEW: ‘Snow Hunter’ Patrick Thorne talks about Bond, The Beatles and living in a Highland croft

Patrick Thorne has become the world's leading authority on skiing. Image: Sandy McCook
Patrick Thorne has become the world's leading authority on skiing. Image: Sandy McCook

His life has taken him from working with The Stranglers to being turned down by McDonald’s and booking a cheap £5 railway offer which steered him and his wife Sally to the Highlands, before they pitched up in Foula in Shetland.

So there’s nothing straightforward about the fashion in which Patrick Thorne has moved from a childhood in Derbyshire to becoming one of the most highly-regarded skiing writers in the world at the couple’s croft in Kiltarlity, near Inverness.

It’s a remarkable place, a bit like the dwelling inhabited by Dick Van Dyke’s inventor Caractacus Potts in the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and even Patrick sometimes wonders how he ended up in the Highlands – yet, as he made clear during our conversation, he’s here to stay and in his element as he gazes up at the Cairngorms.

He and Sally briefly tried living in London, but they “hated it and sat in the cinema every Monday watching Highlander” as the prelude to eventually moving to Scotland with a six-month flat rental in 1988 when they were both still in their early 20s.

Patrick Thorne has been in love with the Highlands since he moved up in the 1980s. Pic: Sandy McCook.

It was a relocation which was fraught with peril, but somehow they made it work and Patrick began writing successful books after his talent was spotted by a literary agent, following a Sunday newspaper’s focus on the “wasted young generation of the 1980s”.

And now, he is the “Snow Hunter”, a best-selling author, a travel expert with a penchant for unearthing weird and wonderful facts, a man who has just released his new work Around the World in 50 Slopes, which chronicles everything from James Bond to The Beatles and Dracula, and the editor-in-chief of InTheSnow website and magazine.

‘It was easy to get a 100% mortgage’

So how did it all happen? “We found a croft house that had been on the market a year and over 100 people had looked at it, but nobody wanted for various reasons (one later told us there was a horse in the dining room when she went to look at it).

“Our parents advised strongly against it, but we paid the deposit on credit cards and it was easy to get a 100% mortgage then. We went six months without electricity, but we were young and foolish and we are still there now – it’s the only place we’ve ever bought.

“We only had the house on a tiny bit of land initially, but got to know the crofter who had the land and who became a grandfather figure to the three boys we had and we got the croft about 20 years ago after he died.

“The croft was run down, but we’ve tried to revitalise it over the years, with hens, a polytunnel, ponies and I’ve planted 500 Christmas trees – without much of a plan.

“Anyway, I kept writing books and freelancing for magazines and newspapers through the late 80s early 90s, then the internet made it easier for me to work remotely for publications all over the world and I’ve been doing that the last 25 years, editing InTheSnow magazine for about 12 or 13 years now as one of my main jobs.”

Powder: The Greatest Ski Runs on the Planet became a stone-cold smash across the globe in 2014 and was subsequently translated into myriad different languages. So there are high hopes for his latest offering and it certainly doesn’t disappoint.

Whether you’ve ever skied or never been near a chairlift or the piste, there is gold in these pages and Patrick is a master of the quirky, the weird and downright surreal.

What, for instance, connects the Fab Four to snow – and no, it’s not The White Album.

As the author said: “The Beatles is tied to them filming the snow scenes from their film Help! at a little Austrian ski resort called Obertauern in the mid-1960s.

“There are lots of great anecdotes. No one really knew who they were when they arrived, and unsurprisingly they couldn’t ski. A group of local lads – who are now very rich owners of big hotels – were their stunt doubles, there were impromptu gigs and a grand piano being played as it slid down the slopes. Even now, they still have regular Beatles festivals with cover bands and anyone connected to them travelling out.”

Patrick Thorne has brought skiing to life in his new book Around the World in 50 Slopes. Pic: Sandy McCook.

And what about James Bond? “Oh, there are lots of connections to skiing but I have gone with Murren in the Swiss Alps where On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was filmed.

“The money from the film company helped pay for the completion of a revolving mountain restaurant which had run out of funds. Other famous scenes include the first snowboarding on film when Bond takes the sled off a knackered snowmobile and heads off boarding, looking much cooler than the pursuing bad guys on skis.

Shaken but not stirred on the board

“There was also the time he skied off a cliff, you thought to his doom, but instead he opened up a Union Jack parachute.  One run at a less well-known ski area in the French Pyrenees, used in a scene in a 1990s Bond film, has been christened piste number 007.

“[Bond author] Ian Fleming gave James Bond a Scottish father, Andrew Bond of Glencoe, and Fleming himself lived in Kitzbuhel for a year in the 1920s.”

A skier crosses a snow-covered Cairngorm plateau with a cloud inversion in the background in a dramatic image.

Patrick has chosen The White Lady in the Cairngorms among his 50 routes and it’s obvious he is in tune with nature and the environment in the north of Scotland.

As he said: “Keep an eye on the forecast or book months ahead and you might get lucky, but be prepared to switch to mountain biking or golf, perhaps with a tour of Loch Ness, Balmoral, a whisky distillery or two, and some dolphin spotting in the Moray Firth.”

Yet he appreciates the problem for skiing companies of an increasing lack of snow and voiced his fears that, sooner or later, the snow will vanish from the peaks altogether.

It may only be a matter of time

He told me: “I can’t see another outcome, the world is warming and we’re just talking about maybe slowing it down a bit, but still warming. We’d need to work out a way to stop it altogether and perhaps reverse things.

“When I first started writing about ski holidays in the 1980s, the news was always about ski area expansion and new slopes being created and environmentalists were regarded as interfering busybodies. Now, every press kit you get is full of green initiatives and many resorts employ environmentalists to ensure they’re doing all they can to cut CO2.

“But it’s nowhere near enough. The past summer saw catastrophically high temperatures in the Alps and many other parts of the world. Glaciers melted at unprecedented rates – the kind projected not to happen until later this century.”

Patrick Thorne has been growing hundreds of Christmas trees.

Patrick is an exuberant character and nothing gets him down for long. But at the moment, he realises he has some priorities to attend to as the festive season beckons.

He said: “I love trees and I love Christmas and I was looking for something to fill a few rough acres of ground, so I thought Christmas trees. That was six or seven years ago and the biggest are getting up to six feet… so I need to get organised.

His book is a global treat. But now, it’s time to spruce up at home!

Around the World in 50 Slopes is published by Wildfire.


  1. What book are you reading?
    Girl, Woman, Other[by Bernardine Evaristo].
  2. Who’s your hero/heroine?
    Well, my wife Sally says that it should be her, and it is, but assuming that is too big a cliche, I’ll go for Barack Obama whom I wish could be made the first president of the world.
  3. Do you speak a foreign language?
    French very badly (Français très mal).
  4. What’s your favourite music/band?
    [Scottish electronic music duo] Gefahrgeist (although I worked for The Stranglers 40 years ago and have splurged on front row tickets for The Pet Shop Boys at P&J Live next year).
  5. Most prized possession?
    Letters from my dad.