Highs and lows of ski teaching

Last week it was a delightful group of Kenyans all learning how to ski and generally ski teaching was fun and happy. This week I’ve been plunged into Christmas week ‘cours collectifs’ and I’m grasping for the French, Dutch and German phrases for ‘get up yourself you lazy enfant, it’s the millionth time you’ve fallen over for no reason today’…

Jardin – 2 days ago.  Is raining now.

It’s amazing to see the differences in kids that, on the surface, are apparently the same. As soon as they click into (or spend ten minutes kicking) their skis, some kids grasp the simple skill behind skiing in a snowplough and some look like they are trying amateur breakdancing on ice. Beginner plus is apparently the worst group to teach because the parents think they can ski but actually they can’t. They really can’t.

Of course, this is now my job and it’s important that I do all I can to make sure these little skiers and ‘cours privé’ of the future have fun and learn something but for some, you can’t help but feel they don’t want to be there and are only there so their parents can go ski, especially the little German kid who has thrown up on the piste for the last 2-days.

Still, picking up the flotsam and jetson of my ski group after every other turn is good for fitness and given the diet that I’ve been eating (beer and pizza) since I got here in November, every kid I help to their feet negates a demi Becks in the Av.

To compound my worries of an expanding waistline and inept ski group, the whole of Holland, the UK and France appears to have arrived in Chatel in the last 2-days causing parking and traffic chaos. Someone recently mentioned to me that it wasn’t the French’s fault that they were rubbish drivers, it’s just not something that they do well and they are all crap. It’s just how it is. Well, you can lump the Dutch into that category as well and the majority of the English that have arrived here.

It hasn’t snowed here for a week, it’s raining at the moment but because they’ve seen a bit of snow, they drive at 2km/h everywhere and stop in random places. The main issue I suppose is that the village isn’t set up for this many people. Outside of the season, only 1200 people actually live here so parking is at a premium. Even the Sherpa supermarket has caught onto the fact that nipping in there to buy a chocolate bar doesn’t mean that you can park there all night while you get wasted in the bars of Chatel.

An exciting development this week will be that my mates from home arrive to spend New Year here with us. Tempted by the après ski, copious quantities of Jager and hot snowboard chicks (in limited supply but I haven’t told them this) Cheeko, Hughsey and Afghan Nick arrive tomorrow to smash it up in Chatel for a week.

As a prediction for the future, my guess will be the Beginner Plus group will be having to pick themselves up a little more than previously due to their instructor trying not to be sick like the German kid…

published here


It’s Christmas

And like turning on a light switch, all of a sudden there is a million people in Chatel, all clogging up the highstreet, parking everywhere and walking down the middle of the road. The shutters on hibernating chalets are being thrown open and there are finally people walking around the streets with skis on shoulders. Christmas has arrived.

The Chatel locals are lamenting the loss of the free vend pool table in the Avalanche Bar, which has now been replaced by seasonaires and the occasional tourist. The tourists tend to go to the other bars in town and it’s always interesting to see the looks that the tourists give to the locals as they high five everyone that they know in the bar (which is invariably most of those with seats at the bar and their own glass appearing to drink for free). You can see the tourists thinking ‘Who is that guy? How does he know everyone? Must live here – sooo lucky..’

The party nights have started at the L’Avalanche Bar and L’Escalier and Tuesdays through to Thursdays and on weekends, you can take you pick of live DJ’s Muff and Jason Shutt as well as resident local bands. The missus doesn’t start work in L’Escalier normally until about 5.30pm which means that by the time these nights start at about 10pm, I am completely wasted and have to go home. This isn’t a bad thing though considering I have to get up and go rid the world of bad skiing the following day.

Last week I was teaching a group of Kenyan students from Nairobi from an international school who were over learning how to ski. Considering some of them had never seen snow before and the lowest temperature that they have there is apparently 25 degrees, the -10 at the top of Morgins was something of a culture shock.

The weather here was really cold all last week, the lowest I saw was -14 going over the Pas de Morgins one morning but it’s warmed up considerably and snow is expected on or about Christmas day.

Of course, for many of the seasonaires, Christmas day is a work day and I know that my missus will be working flat out from now until early January. The most that we will manage is a romantic cheap champagne Christmas breakfast of some sort before we both go off to work…

Merry Christmas all.

published here and here

Nursery slopes of skiing (and teaching)

In my last blog I was worrying that my skiing might not be good enough to impress my new ski school director but since I’m now in my shiny new ski school jacket and teaching all this week, I guess I am – either that or no-one else was available…

view from the nursery slopes

Both the Pre-la-Joux area of Chatel and the Follieuse lift in Morgins have been open for the last two weekends, providing some epic skiing on the opening day of the season, with 2 foot of fresh snow waiting to be skied out in the tree lines. This was basically our ‘training’ on the first Saturday mainly because I think everyone just wanted to go skiing and blow out the cobwebs prior to getting down to the more serious business of technique and teaching styles on subsequent days.

At the moment, I’m teaching a group of Kenyan kids and their two teachers from an international school in Nairobi, who are here to learn to ski. The kids are picking it up a lot faster than I would have expected and it was wonderful to see the look on the faces of them all as they came to the top of the lift in bright sunshine this morning and saw the Portes du Soleil, Dents du Midi and Mont Blanc in the distance.

I kind of half expected it but the rulebook for teaching kids is more or less thrown out of the window compared to the theory that we learnt as instructors. The kids are ambitious and we soon had them going higher and higher up the button lift.

I’m being shadowed this week (!) by another instructor, Ross Jackson, who I qualified with this summer in Saas-Fee. It’s been really useful to have him around to bounce ideas off of and I really appreciate having him around to ease myself into teaching. We are probably going to give him a group of his own tomorrow to make the class sizes smaller and more efficient. The only bad thing about Ross is that he makes his instructor jacket look really cool whereas I think I just look fat in mine.

It’s freezing cold here at the moment, about -7 on my drive to work (this is a real culture shock for the Kenyans) and it’s been like this for a little while now. The snow cannons are working overtime to make fresh snow in time for official openings later this week.

There has been a noticeable influx of seasonaires arriving into Chatel. I’ve been quite lucky that because I arrived in early November, myself and the missus are almost considered as locals and I can now sit in the corner of the Avalanche in Chatel with them and grumble about how the bar is too busy and the free pool table has gone. There are plenty of young and hopeful chalet girls turning up, as well as Chalet owners rushing about last minute to get everything done before the start of the season.

Winter starts here.

Healthcare Market Commentary and 2011 outlook

It’s been a while since the last DS Partners market commentary and I thought it would be useful before the Christmas party season starts to give a brief summary of the market this year and the outlook for 2011.

Over the course of this year, we have seen much change with a new coalition government and the uncertainty that that brought as well as the financial issues amongst some of the Eurozone members such as Greece and Ireland. Many feel that the Banks, despite the European stress testing that went on, still have on going liquidity issues and what funds they do have, they are not willing to lend to more risky projects and very much on their own terms.

We have also had the changes in structure of the CQC and yet another whole new way of regulating care homes and the loss of the star rating system – something which the market found very useful as a rating of quality. There has also been much consolidation in our sector with a number of smaller agents and other ancillary businesses being sold to competitors or closing down.

A lot of this uncertainty is leading to a market where the top end projects are attracting funding. These are the deals where the care homes are in effect ‘future-proofed’ with large room sizes and room for expansion. The type of operators that have this kind of budget to purchase these types of units normally can get used to the new normal funding levels of 70% or less and typically have a war chest of funds ready to buy in buyers’ market. Many operators have been waiting for such conditions for a number of years.

Smaller and individual operators are faring less well with the Banks as the Banks want to minimise their risk and will only lend again up to a maximum of 70% into this market and only on deal where the chance of success is very high. The paradox in this area of the market is that if you are an operator in this business cycle, why would you want to sell an income generating business? The deposit rates on offer at the Banks and relatively low price multiples mean that there is not much incentive to sell which is limiting the new stock coming on to sell.

In terms of an outlook for 2011, our prediction would be for more of the same in terms of lending conditions but with slow growth and the added complications of the timing of any Bank of England Base Rate rise. There is much uncertainty about how any potential rate rises will affect the wider economy, as I am sure that there are plenty of households and businesses that are only just managing to make ends meet while Base Rate is at 0.5%.

The other economic worry at the moment are the more fragile economies of the Eurozone with speculators and the bond markets taking increasing notice of public debt levels. Greece and Ireland won’t be the last economies to need a hand out from the ECB/IMF. You can read more about this in this article here.

This uncertainty in global markets gradually falls down to the risk analysts in the Banks and so I think that we can expect to see more of the same cautious lending through 2011 until there are real tangible signs of growth in the UK and the government’s cuts program starts to take effect.

This means more lending to safe projects at the new normal loan to value levels and the Banks still writing their own ticket in terms of interest rates and fees due to the limited competition in the market. We also feel that while we are still in this low interest rate environment, we will continue the cycle of limited stock coming to the market and limited Bank lending to only the good quality parts of this stock. This will explain why the same poorer quality stock is sitting on the books of some of the agents, metaphorically gathering dust.

Whilst a good broker can still have some influence on the loan to value and pricing of the deal, the importance now rests with a number of factors; firstly, the quality of the stock involved in the deal, the quality of the operator and how they have been running their business and lastly, the contribution coming into the deal from the buyer. Banks prefer cash coming into deals now instead of equity in other property, although if overall gearing is low and cash flow/profitability is strong then it can be look at in this way.

From all at David Stephen Partners, we wish you all a festive Christmas and wish you every success for your business in the New Year. If we can assist in any way with any business sale or finance project, we would be delighted to assist. Please visit our website at http://www.dspartners.co.uk/ for contact details and further information.

Things they don’t tell you about winter in the alps and learning how to ski Swiss style.

It’s been a grey couple of weeks here in Chatel – not in terms of the atmosphere, it’s getting more lively by the day as more seasonaires arrive and locals return – but the weather has been snowing or about to snow for about 10-days straight now.

world’s smallest pillow line

This isn’t a bad thing and is great news for getting the ski areas open early and for the season to come but the one sunny day that we did have was a real treat and myself and the missus made sure that we made the most of it by taking the dog on an epic walk, wading through snow up to our knees.

The snow normally comes overnight and I don’t mean the 3-inches of snow that has just ground the UK to a standstill but rather the sort of snow that takes a whacking great shovel just to dig to the car, in order to dig the car out so that you can start it. I keep forgetting to park the car on the road and not in the little parking area in front of our apartment and so when I wake up to go somewhere in the morning, I have to factor in an extra half an hour of snow-shovelling just to get the car to the road.

The thing that no one tells you about driving in winter conditions out here is that because the snowploughs plough all the snow to the side of the road, this snow mounts up and forms little walls so that if you want to stop or turn round, there is nowhere to do so – it’s like being in a giant scalextric track. I forgot my wallet the other day when I left home and ended up driving up and down the Route de Thonon just because there was a roundabout at each end and they were the only places I could turn round…

It’s especially difficult because I haven’t yet sorted winter tyres. I’ve seen in the various snow online forums the debates that rage on about whether you do or don’t need winter tyres. Having now been in cars with and without winter tyres and experienced proper winter conditions out here when the snow has caught out the local gritters and snow ploughs, I can say with confidence that if you are coming out here to do a season and are bringing your car, clear the moths out of your wallet and get them. They make the world of difference and potentially can get you out of some very nasty situations.

Yesterday, one of my bosses at the Morgins Ski and Snowboard School invited me for a day of skiing in Verbier. Of course, I jumped at the chance and it was a good chance to see some of the guys from the Warren Smith Ski Academy who trained me for my instructor exams, who have already started teaching there.

I hadn’t seen Rolf (my boss) ski before but I did notice the ‘Swiss Snowsports Pro’ Patente pin in his jacket and his skiing certainly lived up to this. It was about all I could do to keep up and by the end of the day my confidence in my own ability was more or less gone and my body was aching. The Swiss style of skiing is very distinct and different from the BASI style that I was hammering over the summer and it’s going to take me a little while to adapt to how these guys would like me to ski.

Verbier was lovely, although after the relative solitude of Chatel and Morgins, seemed like an urban sprawl. The conditions up high (only the top lifts and runs were open) were good with a solid base and fresh snow on top. Perfect for the fast carving that Rolf seems to like so much. It was a bluebird day and I’m glad that I had the sense to put on the SPF50 in the gloom of Chatel before we left.

Training with my ski school starts on Saturday with the ski director passing judgement on my abilities (or lack of after Verbier) and there is a private school coming up for group lessons on Sunday. The winter tyres are bring fitted to the smart car on Thursday so at least I’ll be able to get there to find out exactly how rubbish I am compared to the other instructors 🙂