BASI level 1 complete

We’ve just completed our BASI level 1 assessment and 15 out of the 16 gappies passed the course and are now qualified ski instructors (but only in a non-mountain environment – the mountains will have to wait until we are BASI level 2).

saas fee glacier ski area

The BASI 1 qualification was assessed on a split basis between piste performance and being able to demonstrate all of the elements of the central theme from basic equipment familiarity, through snowplough and onto parallel turns. We also had to give an example lesson to our fellow gappies and I got straight running moving on to snowplough.
Our assessor was Becs who is a director at BASS in Morzine and we spent a very enjoyable week with her working on improving our skiing to the required level.

From a personal perspective, I got a lot out of the week improving aspects of balancing and taking time to settle over my skis before committing to the next turn.

The majority of the week seemed to be about balance and having had a day off (and massive hangover) on Saturday to reflect, I feel like I’ve got a lot more time and feel more settled when I’m skiing now. At the end of the course, the assessor and the students agreed on a course of areas to improve on with a view to having these areas dialled by the time we take the BASI level 2 course in five weeks.

The high pass rate was celebrated in true Saas style with beers and jagerbombs in the Alpen Bar just off the main square. There was a little bit of police dodging going on also as the night extended past 10pm to Metros and Poison nightclub. The ‘nights rest’ rule is taken seriously in Saas and any noise in the village after 10pm is punished by a fine of CHF200, not that this seems to apply to the Popcorn club which inevitably we end up in until 4am.

Some snow fell on the glacier last night and conditions were great for our day off. A few of us tried to take our ski instructor hats off and just have a blast about but it was difficult to forget all of the technical thoughts whilst skiing about and also analysing the recreational skiers technique.

Next up on the course is a few days of training, starting with work on carving tomorrow and then a 2-day first aid course

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Video feedback and BASI 1 starts

It’s never nice seeing yourself on video but when it’s combined with your fellow aspiring instructors pointing out the faults of your run, it’s even worse.

questionable fashion choice speeding bullet

I had an idea in my head of how I looked when I skied but the reality is more that of a 1980s ski video. All I am missing is the neon one piece suit.

The Warren Smith course that I am on makes extensive use of video feedback on two weekday evening sessions and I can already see the progress that I’ve made in just one week. My skis are cutting across the fall line more and I’m making more use of my poles to set up short radius turns.

We started this week at a very slow pace – zero speed in actual fact. We spent a morning of trying to turn in a tight space with no speed, the idea being to bring the use of our hip projection into our skiing and rotation of the thighs, rather than just flicking the skis into skiddy turns. I can tell you that this was more difficult than it sounds.

This progressed into lots of work on short to medium radius turns, the emphasis being on carving the short turn and making dollar signs down the fall line. Personally, I’m working on a wider stance while turning, a stronger left pole plant and driving the skis out of the end of the turn and into the next one.

Towards the end of the week, we spent a day working on our medium/GS turns, which was a great day of carving great big trenches in the piste over and over again. My superior bulk compared to my fellow gappies seemed to help keep me settled when cranked right over, although some credit must go to my new Head Supershape Magnums, which absolutely love that kind of stuff.

The course that we are on is pretty relaxed, although at some points this week it did feel a bit like a boot camp but there are two things that are sacred – the morning warm up and post ski stretching. For me, the stretching is a revelation – day after day, I wake up with no stiffness as you would with a regular ski holiday. We stretch on the lawn outside the hotel (much to the amusement of Saas passers by) for about 20-30 minutes and we each have individual areas that we pay special attention to in order to improve our performance up top.

Our BASI 1 course starts this week and I’ve spent my day off trying to re-learn how to snowplough again

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It’s been an intense start

When I arrived on this course, I thought that I could ski to a reasonably good level, spending parts of my winters hacking around red and blue runs at high speed.

saas fee ski area – where is everybody?

I used to be pretty proud that I had taught myself to ski but with the help of the coaches on the Warren Smith course, I’m already a much better skier with a better understanding of what is happening, why and where I was going wrong before.

The first day of skiing on the summer course started with a 7.30am (!) meet outside the hotel and a 45-minute ride up to the glacier on two gondolas and funicular that takes you up to 3500m.

Once you stumble out of the Allalin station, you are surrounded by a ring of 4000m+ peaks that tower above the ski area and the pisted plateau opens out before you.

There are four main pistes, taken up with young racers and ski teams on summer camps, as well as us gappies learning to ski all over again.

Over on the far side of the glacier there is a massive snowpark with various sized kickers and rails. This is where all the gangstas* on summer freestyle camps hang out who make up about half the traffic up top.

When you are up on the glacier, the altitude starts to be a problem when you step out of the funicular and climb the stairs to the lobby. It’s difficult to breathe at first and for the first few days performing at any kind of dynamic level is energy sapping (at least for me it is but then I counted playing cricket and drinking as ‘preparation’ for this course).
The other thing to watch out for at such altitudes is the sun. Already we’ve had a couple of guys on the course who didn’t bother with sun cream and are now sporting some seasonnaire style goggle tan lines after just one day – very amusing for the rest of us who are slapping on the 50+ SPF.

The intensity of the sun combined with altitude means we are drinking loads of water; personally I’m doing about two litres per day up there in a five-hour session.
It’s our mid-week day off today and I’ll be using the time to catch up on emails and resting in preparation for an increase in the intensity of our skiing for the rest of the week prior to the BASI Level 1 course next week.
*As christened by Woodsy – British freestyle skier who turned up today for the Saas-Fee ride competition next week who has been hanging out with us

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Gap course summer camp

I’m in Saas-Fee, Switzerland on the Warren Smith Ski Academy’s summer 9-week GAP ski instructor course.
Saas Fee in Summer

I’m here because I realised that I don’t really like what I do for a living very much and at 33-years old, there is a chance to change it so I can be on snow for a living.

The GAP course coaches you to the British Association of Snowsport Instructors (BASI) levels 1 and 2. Level 2 is more or less the base level that you need to have in order to instruct in various countries in Europe and it’s this qualification that I’m here to get.

So I’ve left everything on hold at home and believe me, it was a real wrench leaving behind the missus and the dog. They will both be out to visit at various points but the ‘am I doing the right thing?’ questions soon faded while lounging on the train watching the Swiss lakes and countryside roll by, with the prospect of weeks of intensive skiing to come.

The course itself is based on the Feegletscher glacier that you can ski on all summer and towers above Saas-Fee village. There are around 20kms of pistes to at a height of 3500m with a small network of 3 lifts, an extensive snowpark and a lot of international race teams also do their summer training on the glacier.

I chose the Warren Smith Course because I was impressed by the technical focus of the program and also on the basis of a phone conversation with Warren Smith himself. He seemed pleased that I was going for a full-on career change rather than just gapping. By all accounts he interviews personally everyone that is attending the course, I guess to ensure that the students are serious about it and not just there to party for 9-weeks (!).

I’m the first person from the course here in the resort as I thought I would be clever and get two-days worth of practice in before the course started on Sunday but the glacier doesn’t open until Saturday so I’ve been poking about Saas for a day or two, dodging the electric cars that are the only transport allowed in the village.

The course starts on Saturday and I’ll be updated this blog regularly. New life starts here…

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