Interview: Christian Newsome of Hit The Hills

James McKnight James McKnight

Christian Newsome is a mountain biker who is trying (successfully) to turn his hobby into his living through the UK based holiday company that he has set up, Hit The Hills. Having spent many years traveling and riding in some of the best mountain ranges in the world, whilst working in chalets and catering to fund the habit, Christian certainly knows the ins and outs of the MTB holiday and what us grubby bike riders are after. Accommodation, food, direct access to trails and plenty of coffee on tap are the staples of a good bike trip and to be able to get away for an alpine style break on these shores is a great idea.

Christian Newsome of Hit The Hills.  Photo © Andy Lloyd
Christian Newsome of Hit The Hills.
Photo © Andy Lloyd

Does it sound like we’re selling his company too much? The truth is that he has a great set up and most importantly the right ethos – he strives to make a modest living and not to take over the MTB holiday world. Leading a great lifestyle is of utmost importance and that’s why we’re fans of what he is doing.

Ladies and gents, may we introduce Christian Newsome, founder and chief grafter at Hit The Hills: 

Bike Magic: So Christian, where did you grow up and how did you first get into riding bikes?

Christian Newsome: I grew up in “Sunny Rhyl” on the North Wales coast wondering the local hills. I had a few friends at school who were into mountain biking so brought a Raleigh Ti 1000 in 1993 from Halfords for £280 and went out riding with them. They beasted me in the beginning.

When did you really get into MTBs and where/how did you develop your hobby?

Living in a seaside resort with loads of tourists milling about kind of pushes you to seek quieter spots and explore further afield. On the North Wales coast you have two options: the sea or the hills. After doing a few local trails with my mates I started riding further afield to the Clwydian Range and Gwydr Forest in North Wales on the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme. This sparked my love of the outdoors and doing epic days out.

Once I passed my driving test I got a bit lazy on the exploring front and then went to University in Leeds so had less time to ride but still managed to fit loads of time on the bike in when I returned home, I especially loved the Scouse Track at Moel Parc and Coed-y-Brenin.

Over the years I tried a few disciplines: cross country and downhill racing, street riding, trials, hike-a-bike, lift assisted etc. and after spending summers in the highlands, French Alps and Whistler I finally settled on what I guess you would call ‘all-mountain’. To this day there is nothing I love more than wondering round in the hills with my bike, a map and some good friends.

What’s your history in the Alps? Where have you worked and doing what?

After hitch hiking round China the year before I acquired a love of cooking so enrolled at my local catering college and learned how to do it professionally. I got a job in local restaurant and when the summer came they wanted me to work 80 hours a week for minimum wage. I decided to spend the summer managing a Chalet in Morzine instead and got a job for a well-loved alpine holiday company in 2005. It was great; I rode about 5 times a week, got horrendous sunburn and was acclaimed for having “le grand cheveux” (massive bouffon) by the locals.

Christian at work preparing the all-important MTB energy food of choice - cake. Photo © Andy Lloyd
Christian at work preparing the all-important MTB energy food of choice – cake.
Photo © Andy Lloyd

How did working in the Alps lead you to want to start your own company?

While working in the Alps I realised that there was a market for the chalet style experience in the UK. The set-up worked really well: an easily accessible base where you can ride all the great trails from the door, somewhere to hang out in-between riding, amazing food, like-minded guests and someone working to make sure it all goes smoothly.  All the riders loved switching off and being well looked after and I loved ensuring they were having a good time. I have found that this approach works really well in the UK and all the guests seem to love what Hit the Hills offers.

What does Hit The Hills do exactly then?

Hit the Hills offers guests fully catered weekends in the best locations for mountain biking in the UK.  It’s a base to hang out with your mates, ride some awesome mountain biking trails and let us take care of you. We offer breakfast, packed lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and as much tea and coffee as you can drink during your stay. Each venue has a dedicated host to make sure the weekend goes smoothly and that guests enjoy themselves. There is also a good supply of bike magazines, maps and guidebooks for guest to gander at when not riding. Guiding is also offered at an extra cost as well as other outdoor activities such as white-water rafting, gorge walking and coasteering.

Where do you operate?

In North Wales: Coed-y-Brenin, Snowdon, Berwyn Hills, Gwydr Forest (Llyn Crafnant). Then also Bamford – Peak District, Hubbeholme & Chapel-le-dale – Yorkshire Dales, Portinscale & High Wray – Lake District, Forest of Dean and the Long Mynd in Shropshire. Hit the Hills is customer led and super flexible; if a group of riders wants a different location it’s no problem as I can accommodate most requests.

Christian Newsome taking some time out in Snowdonia. Photo © Andy Lloyd
Christian Newsome taking some time out in Snowdonia.
Photo © Andy Lloyd

Favourite location? Is this because of the facilities, the riding, the place or all of the above?!

All the venues have something about them, for example our Coed-y-Brenin venue is a upmarket cottage with a great view towards Cadair Idris and easy access to Pont Scethin, and Coed-y-Brenin; from the Snowdon bunkhouse you can ride (with a little bit of carrying) from the door to the summit; the Chapel-le-dale (Yorkshire Dales) bunkhouse is opposite a cracking pub and sandwiched between Yorkshire’s highest peaks and not much else; and then the Gwydyr Forrest venue is super remote, set amongst some of the most stunning scenery in Snowdonia and on the massive Llyn Cowlyd route. Shall I go on?

Are you aiming to build this into a full time living? Do you do other work to subsidise the company and do you have a long-term plan for Hit The Hills?

I am committed to creating a customer led mountain biking holiday company that offers guests an awesome experience every time they come to stay. The goal is to build a brand and become one of the top 5 mountain biking holiday companies in Europe. Hit the Hills is in the second year and after a lot of hard work is now self-funding. The next step is to make it pay a liveable wage so I can do it full time but until then I have a day job to pay the mortgage and for bikes.

Is it just you running the company? It must be a lot of work for one person to work behind the scenes on bookings, promotion etc. and also to do the groundwork?

I run the company and have a few guides, chefs and hosts to help me out when needs be. I am a massive fan of concentrating on what you do best so I have automated as much as possible and I’m getting in the experts to help me where I don’t have the skills. I built the first website myself which got Hit the Hills noticed and then re-invested the profits and updated the website and automated the booking process. I now have a PR company helping with the promotions as well. This is great as it allows me to concentrate on what I do best: finding great venues with amazing riding from the door and the food!

Another day, another epic hike a bike. Stay tuned for a write up of riding Snowdon with Christian coming next week. Photo © Andy Lloyd
Another day, another epic hike a bike. Stay tuned for a write up of riding Snowdon with Christian coming next week.
Photo © Andy Lloyd

Do you always get to ride when you’re on a Hit The Hills trip? Is that the aim at least?

I tend to ride at least once during the weekend. Sometimes I like to stick around at base to make sure everything is running well and help guest out with repairs, advice on trails and providing vehicle support if necessary. The weekends aren’t about me though they are about ensuring that guests have a great time and if that means I don’t get to ride then no problem.

www.hitthehills.com

All photographs in this article © Andy Lloyd.

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