On the road

This is quite a long one so strap yourself in.

Good news is that finally it’s snowed here in the Portes du Soleil.  The rain on the skylight stopped hammering at about 1.30am this morning, replaced by the pat pat sound of snow.  It’s been snowing ever since and hopefully we can all stop panicking that it was going to be a man-made snow Christmas.


The snowploughs have been working overtime and the avalanche bombing has been going off big time so next time I’m up the mountain, I’m expecting loads of snow.  To be fair, I was teaching yesterday and the snow covering wasn’t bad at all, so a quick refresh just before the masses get here is a bonus.

I feel like the entire autumn was spent anywhere else except in my own house.  I’ve already blogged about the race camp in Austria and I then had about 5 days at home before having to go off to Zermatt for the BASI ISTD teaching exam.  This is the highest level of teaching exam in the system (unless I guess you get invited to be a trainer of instructors) and to be absolutely honest with you dear reader, I thought the level was crap. 

I’m not sure if it was because I prepped too well (I did read the textbook through), or because I coach year round but I was really disappointed with the level of some of the sessions that were delivered by my peers on the course.  It’s not up to me who passes or fails of course but there were plenty of confused, dull and over complicated sessions that seemed to go down well with everyone that I thought were appalling. 

I always apply the €50 test.  ‘Would I have paid €50 for that?’  A resounding no in a lot of cases.

An added complication at this level is what I would call the pyramid effect.  The further you go up the ski instructor ladder, the stronger skiers you get.  With stronger skiers, you tend to get bigger egos, personalities and knowledge levels.  A lot of the week focused on different teaching styles and some of these involve giving students free reign to go away and discuss ideas. Ski instructors tend to procrastinate and discuss small concepts in fine detail and it takes a strong hand to keep these groups in check.

I also noticed a sort of Darwinism at work too on one of the members of the group who clearly was nowhere near the level required.  By midweek the rest of the group more or less turned on him and cut him adrift with harsh feedback and a lack of participation in his rubbish sessions.  It was fascinating to watch and sense the change of atmosphere in the group towards him, as if he was a cat who had used up all his lives.  An incredibly interesting thing to see from a group dynamic perspective.

Once that week was done and we finally got out of Zermatt (a massive faff by the way with the car free set up, train down to Tasch etc etc, everything there is designed to extract money from you) I had a couple of days at home before a day training Giant Slalom in Verbier with the Guru and then straight off to Alpe D’Huez for a weekend of Eurotest training before the main event the following Tuesday.

The weekend went pretty well insofar as it was really good to be able to do training on the stade where the actual Eurotest would be run and to get an idea of how difficult it would actually be.

The advice and feedback from the ESF guys who were running the training was pretty rubbish (pearls of wisdom like – ‘you know it is really icey so er, try to grip more…’  and ‘do more’) but I know my skiing well enough to figure out where I was going wrong.  That said, the whole set up of the weekend, gates, course setting etc  was excellent, so thanks to ESF in Alpe D’Huez for a good job well done.

Anyway, a quick dash home to prep skis and then back to Alpe D’Huez (3hrs 30 each way) for the Eurotest on Tuesday.  I could and probably will write a whole other blog on the actual events of the day but here is a short summary of how it went for me;

  1. Up at 5.45am with insomnia and Ben snoring in the next room.
  2. At the tourist office at 8pm to listen to speeches and wait to collect bib number 90.
  3. Inspect the course.  Find out it is even more icey than when you last trained on it.  Worry about going down it 90th.
  4. Do 3 warm up runs on different pistes whilst trying to memorise what you saw in the inspection
  5. Go to start.  Have man inspect your passport to make sure it’s you skiing it.
  6. Ski it like a muppet and get bounced out of the course by the massive ruts and holes caused by 90 people previous to you.
  7. Wait for course reset and go inspect again.  Add pressure to yourself because order is reversed and starting 12th is a good opportunity.
  8. Do 3 warm up runs on different pistes trying to remember new course.
  9. Go to gate.  Try to be angrier.
  10. Ski it like a muppet in some sections but good in others.
  11. Look at time at bottom, realise it’s nowhere near, congratulate friend who passed.
  12. Go home.

And frankly, there was nothing I wanted more at that point than to be at home after Hintertux, Zermatt, Verbier and Alpe D’Huez.  It’s a pretty high bar and I’m doing some serious thinking at the moment about if it is achievable for me.  It would be fair to say I wasn’t prepared having done minimal training but I know the 3 people that did pass and they spent the best part of 6 weeks in a race camp in Tignes for this one thing.  Is that realistic for a 37 year old guy with a wife, dog and an annual job?


clockwise from top. tension in start area, race track, start hut


Photos courtesy of Scott Pleva at Inside Out Skiing.

This is really the thing I cannot square with our ski system as it stands right now.  We are ski instructors/coaches but the amount of time spent actually learning how to teach and the process of learning is minimal, as is the volume of hours taught between levels that you need to build up.

The time spent on technical skiing is much higher and there is the prospect of trying to finish off the system with a speed test that even French guys who have been in ski race clubs for much of their youth are failing.   

It’s an interesting debate and one that I don’t have an answer to right now.  In fact I have to concentrate on healing myself sufficiently after the exertions of this one weekend to go do yet more technical skiing exams later in the season…

Till next time.