The ninja snow man

Meet the world’s deadliest ski instructor

Michael Mason, instructor at the Swiss Ski School in VerbierYou normally know what you can expect to find in a ski school brochure. Group courses, private lessons, children’s club, perhaps a special cool school for teenagers. But a bodyguard service..?

The Swiss Ski School of Verbier has just published its new brochure, and believes it may have come up with a first – by offering skiers the services of a Swiss-qualified instructor who is also a trained bodyguard.

You may wonder why you might need one. Have manners really become that bad on the slopes? Are the rosbifs really so boorish and unpopular that they risk being lynched on the piste? Or have the lifts become so crowded that you need a bodyguard to defend your place in the queue?

Not according to the man in question, Michael Mason from Brighton. He expects his services to be of interest to visiting celebrities, and to super-wealthy skiers worried about the risk of kidnapping.

“People like Russian billionaires,” says Mason, “they know that criminals are going to think seriously about kidnapping their kids. They probably have their own highly trained security, and are protected in resort, and when they are driving – but can their bodyguards ski?”

So what, you wonder, would a ski instructor/bodyguard actually do when things get ugly? Unclip his skis for a round of fisticuffs? Bundle his celebrity client onto a waiting skidoo to whisk them away from irritating fans? Smuggle them down the slope incognito in a blood wagon?

“It’s all about eyes,” says Mason. “It’s seeing a problem before it gets too close. It’s about planning, and being prepared. Close protection isn’t about being a roughty-toughty, it’s being able to think clearly and spot trouble before it happens. That’s all part of your training.”

It’s not so different from the awareness you need as a ski instructor, says Mason. “The whole time you are thinking about the safety of your students, watching out at crossings, keeping an eye out for skiers or snowboarders who might be out of control.”

Mason’s protection extends to breaks, as well – for example, avoiding exposure in visible locations by making reservations for lunch, using a false name that has been agreed with the restaurant.

When he is not in Verbier, Mason is based in Brighton. Outside the ski season, he teaches martial arts and self-defence around Britain, works as a freelance bodyguard, and runs courses in close protection – mostly for former soldiers who want to work as bodyguards.

A long way, you might think, from the world of the ski resort. “I always wanted to be in the mountains,” says Mason. “When I was growing up, it very rarely snowed – but when it did, I loved that mystical, magical feeling when everything went white. I loved the snow, I loved being cold, and I just had this dream of living in the mountains.”

Michael Mason, instructor at the Swiss Ski School in VerbierHe discovered skiing on a school trip, aged 16, and fell in love with the sport immediately. For many years he skied for pleasure, before training as an instructor in Verbier – where he has worked for the local Swiss Ski School every winter since.

His passion for martial arts, meanwhile, began at the age of ten: “It was at the height of the Bruce Lee era. There was a programme on TV called Kung Fu with David Carradine, and the first time I saw that I was hooked.” Mason took up karate while he was still at school, and went on to train in the Japanese martial art of aikido, before qualifying as in instructor in Krav Maga, a combat system developed in Israel. Soon after, he discovered what was to become his calling – the Japanese martial art of Ninjutsu. For the past 20-odd years, he has been travelling to Japan for a month every year to train with a grand master.

Ninjas are known in popular culture, both in Japan and in the West, as masters in sabotage, espionage and assassination. Over the centuries, they have gained a reputation for possessing supernatural skills – such as being able to control the elements, and become invisible.

For Mason, it is not just the oldest of Japanese martial arts, but also a highly spiritual discipline. “It’s not about how well you can kick, or punch, or throw someone, it’s about how well you can recover from being punched, kicked or thrown. It’s about developing the spirit of survival.

“If you are thrown 1,000 times, you get up 1,001 times. In training, I may be thrown six feet up in the air, slammed onto the ground, and choked – and yet afterwards I bow, and say: thank you very much. But that’s not part of English culture – saying thank you for nearly breaking my bones.”

Much of the discipline, according to Mason, is about controlling your ego. “You don’t get into a fight just because you think you’re tough. Sometimes it means avoiding trouble. It’s about picking your fight at the right time, when the odds are in your favour.” Which fits in with the image of Ninja as the stealthy, quick-witted fighter of folklore.

“Like any martial art, it’s about using your body in the most efficient and effective way,” says Mason. “And that’s not so different to skiing – it’s about being able to survive whatever the mountain throws at you.”

  • Classes at the Swiss Ski School in Verbier can be booked through Verbier Sport + (00 41 27 775 33 63;
  • Further information: the Switzerland Travel Centre (00800 100 200 30, and the Verbier tourist office (
  • Train tickets from the UK to major Swiss cities are available through Rail Europe (0844 848 4070;; onward travel within Switzerland through the Swiss Federal Railways (