The amateur psychology post

In skiing and in other sport down the years, I’ve always been interested in gaining a performance advantage, however marginal.  This could be in making sure that my equipment is the best it could be and well looked after, making sure I’m fit and flexible but the one I have been most interested in up to now (and had never really taken that seriously) was the mental side of sport.

In Kjitfell


In previous blog posts I’ve mentioned times where I’ve been on a ski exam and been somewhat in the wilderness mentally, not focused on the task or not generally in the right headspace to achieve anything good.  I specifically remember a Wednesday in Verbier skiing about when I was supposed to be practicing, wondering what the point of it all was.

So when it came to something that I really did want, in this case, The Swiss International Equivalence course, I decided to do some work to mentally prepare, as well as the extensive ski training leading up to it.  I’ve read a number of books on the subject specifically with regard to visualising goals either in detail or in an abstract way and formed an idea of what my process looked like.  I used to do a similar pre shot visualisation thing when I was playing golf back in the day.

I imagined a door, which had ‘Dave’s skiing’written on it.  It was a pretty low key red door, nothing special at all, when you opened it up and walked in, you walked into a corridor which had a number of doors, all open that lead down a corridor.  As you walked down the corridor as through each open door, each one had the name of an exam written on it.  The first had ‘BASI 1’ written on it and so on.  I didn’t fail anything for quite a while so there were many doors to walk through, all with some sort of achievement or exam pass.

In itself, this was a good feeling and I had a sense of achievement and just how far I had come professionally as I walked through each door.  Eventually, I came to a couple of doors which were located on the side of the corridor, these were locked and these represented various exams that I had taken and failed.  I wasn’t able to walk through these doors.

I continued down the corridor past some locked doors and there on the left was a door with a big, thick, solid oak door. This door had ‘Swiss Snow Sports’ written on it and it was just slightly open, through the ajar door, I could see a glowing light, as if from a fireplace and hear some warm chatter from inside.

Before I carry on, I should mention that this took a while to come together, to fill the images with color, to ‘see’ that some doors were locked but most open.  I would say that in the months leading up to the test, I was probably going through my visualisation every other night, most often as I was just dropping off to sleep in the evening.

After some time, I was eventually able to put my hand on the handle of the door and open it, it took some further time to be able to see my foot crossing the threshold of the room and stepping in.  Looking back now,  I can see that I was able to do this more as my personal level of skiing got better and I became more confident of what I needed to do for the Swiss Tests.

Once I was in the room, it was much like you would imagine a cozy snug room in an old school type private club in London.  Wood panels on the wall, leather couches, deep luxurious carpets and a roaring fire.  Why the Swiss Snowsports room should be like this in my mine is anyone’s guess, I’m not here to be judged, just tell you the process 🙂

After a while, I was able to stand in this room for extended periods without feeling like I shouldn’t be there.  Initially, I wasn’t able to do this and felt pressure to leave immeadiately.  Most times, just getting into the room meant that was the end of the exercise and I would already be asleep or I would just snap out of my visualisation and get on with whatever I was doing.

The most significant thing about the visualisation for me was the moment of stepping with my foot from the corridor into the cozy room.  In reality, this was the image that I used the most whilst I was on the exam.  The exam itself, as I mentioned in this blog post here, only allowed you one go at the test in question, no room for errors.  Often in skiing exams, you are waiting at the top for the examiner to wave at you letting you know that’s it’s your turn to show them what you can do.  It was during this wait that I closed my eyes and imagined that exact moment of stepping into the room.

For the very last run of the test, waiting at the top of the zip line moguls run, traditionally my nemesis, I was able to shut my eyes and walk over the threshold of that room.  I opened my eyes, everything was calm and I then put down a decent run.

The power of the mind in sport is still very underrated in my opinion.  If this helps anyone to get an advantage, however small, then I am happy to have shared my process.
-X-

Swiss Snowsports International Equivalence Course – part 1

Since I successfully converted over from the British Skiing members organisation (BASI) to the Swiss Snowsports system, a lot of people have people have asked me about the process and the content of the practical conversion course that you have to pass.  Some people have one eye on Brexit and the implications of that.

I am one of 5 people in the group of 7 that took and passed the course in November 2016 so the information that follows is up to date and a fair reflection of what to expect when going through the process of converting over your qualifications from any other national system to the Swiss Snowsports system.

For those of you non ski instructors reading this blog, this may get a little nerdy.

THE PAPERWORK

The first part of the process is to fill in the form demanding an assessment of your qualifications.  This form can be found HERE and it’s in French , German or Italian.  If you can’t speak a second language and you cheated your way through the second language module in your home instructor system, you might struggle and I have no sympathy for you.

The Swiss Snowsports system has levels as follows (the kids instructor is optional);

Kids instructor > Aspirant > Instructor > Brevet Federale

In terms of the qualifications that these equate to, I can only relate you to the British system.  BASI 1 and 2 are worth nothing to the Swiss, the level isn’t good enough.  If you have the British level 3, that equates to the ISIA stamp which is what the Swiss get when they get the Instructor qualification.  If you apply with less than ISIA stamp, you will probably be asked to do the aspirant exam.  The Swiss give the ISIA Card with the Brevet Federale, the British give it on completion of the Level 4 because of their ties to the Eurotest countries.

Once you have submitted your request, Swiss Snowsports will give you their decision and ask you to pay 270frs to see it.  If you are happy to pay, they will send you a dossier with where they consider that you stand in their system and what to do next.  Most people who are applying are ISIA qualified as a minimum and will be asked if they wish to book onto the International Equivalence course.

Depending on the qualification that you hold, you may have to attend a tourism and law course and maybe 1 day of the off-piste mountain safety course.  Both of these will be in French, German or Italian.  Normally these and the practical tests will be sufficient for the Swiss to issue you with the Instructor qualification.  Sometimes this is called the ‘Patente’ but this is a Valais thing only and has a different issuing authority.

If you wish to continue with the system and get your Brevet Federale which allows you to teach off-piste and gives you the right of establishment of your own ski school then you have to go to Bern and sit a written test in French, German or Italian as well as defending a dissertation in front of a panel of experts, that you wrote and submitted previously.

In part 2 next week, I will outline the skiing tests, passing grades and skiing level needed in the International Equivalence course.

Season Review part 2

Hello from sunny Geneva.  I promised you more frequent blogging and the second part of the season so here we go.

Early January continued with teaching our lessons in Chatel.  There was sufficient snow to get the cold north facing Follieuse piste open in Morgins but for some reason, they didn’t get going until the middle of January which was a real pain in the arse for all those that work and teach skiing in the village.    When the big snow finally came in mid January, everyone was happy to finish skiing around dodging rocks and get into the swing of the ski season.

I had a really good day in mid January skiing around the Portes Du Soleil with my friend Scott Pleva of Inside Out Skiing.  I’ve done a few courses with Scott over the years and he’s a really great guy.  If you are looking to improve your skiing in the UK, you should definitely check out what he does at the indoor snowdomes.  We talked and skied a lot and plotted a few things in connection with bringing a group of his skiers out here to sample the delights of the Swiss side of the Portes Du Soleil.  You can check out the trip that we have planned here.

The ski season was a little disjointed for me this season because of the birth of my daughter Zoë.  For those of you that don’t know, she was born on 18 January and has been a delight every since she came into the world.  

I’ve noticed about this whole baby thing is that the pre-natal classes that you have to attend, which seem mainly to be spend waiting for them to end and listening to a whole bunch of stuff that doesn’t really seem that complicated (and indeed could just be condensed down to a one hour YouTube video that is obligatory to watch).  Compare this to the actual reality once the baby has arrived and you more or less are just left to get on with it without that much guidance at all.  I’ll never forget the time when I was left all alone with Zoe, just 10 mins after she was born, where I was on my own with her for an hour or so with no clue what to do.  It’s really very strange that you get all this chat before the event but very little after.

On another note, am I too premature in having bought her skis already?

Zoe’s pair already next to mine


After 10 days playing new Father, I was back on skis and into the guts of the International Schools Ski Race season.  These are great days, looking after groups of good young skiers racing for the glory of their schools against other schools in the region.  The fun bit from our perspective is not only skiing with these guys but also getting to visit other resorts and getting out of the Portes Du Soleil for a while.  This year, we visited Les Diablerets, Villars, Saanen and we would have gone to Gstaad too but it was cancelled due to bad weather.  The level of skiing was generally good and it was great to see so many kids that I knew through skiing or football at the races.

Once high season holidays were out of the way and the weeks of teaching in French and some basic Dutch (google translate is your friend here) were clear, the season evolved into teaching our own groups that we bring out to Morgins with Ski Morgins Schools, our company that runs Ski and Educational Trips to Morgins.  This year we had groups from The Middle East, Africa and the U.K.

Because these groups are often completely new to skiing, they are a big contrast to the groups on race days and it is sometimes exhausting having to think for 8 kids and yourself and everyone else on the slopes around you.  Sometimes it’s a question of limiting the amount of stupid decisions that kids make whilst remembering that they don’t see those decisions as stupid because they don’t realise or see the dangers that we see.

I had a couple of good groups over the course of these weeks and a couple of beginners groups.  The beginners are great fun and I’ve now become so comfortable with teaching groups like this that I’m now experimenting with different teaching styles, command, guided discovery, questioning approaches etc.  I have concluded that they reach the same level at the end of the week irrespective of what style I use..

The last group of the season from Africa were exceptional.  Because Morgins closed early this season (again, a lack of snow did for them) I got to ski my group around the Chatel Pre La Joux sector.  The group was comprised of the kids that had all skied before and frequently took skiing holidays with their parents.  I had the most amazing week with them, skiing on and off piste, moguls, jumps, ice and slush.  They took it all in their stride and skied in in the African style, which is fun, lots of laughing and supporting each other.

my african team elite

For the last 5 days of the season, I had my old business partner Steve and his excellent family out here to visit.  I was being Dave the tour operator this week as I had organised an apartment for them and showing them all the best restaurants and teaching their kids George and Rosie how to ski.   The kids took to skiing like ducks to water and I can see a ski holiday being a fixture of their family year for years to come.  The only question left is how long will it be before the parents need lessons to keep up with the kids.  About two years I reckon…

My next blog will be the Swiss Snowsports conversion equivalence course one.  

-X-

Season review post part 1

Once again, it’s been a while since I posted but I’m determined to get back on the horse of this. Writing about skiing is quite a cathartic process and helps me get my thoughts in order and focus my energies in the right direction.

In addition, my blog was something of an advert for me but I’ve been so busy with a couple of projects the last couple of years and a whole bunch of personal stuff that I won’t necessarily bore you with (suffice to say I am now a divorce statistic), that I simply haven’t haven’t had time to blog. This is a nice problem to have.

So here we go again, you’ll be hearing from me a lot more often now.

This is something of a review post from July until December. The second one will follow next month. I started my season, like normal, on the galcier of Saas Fee. I missed opening day by a couple of weeks but I was there around the start of August, which for a non-natural skier like me, means I’ve got plenty of time to feel the skis and get my technique in order before the winter starts.

I love this place. Saas Fee Glacier in summer.

This season however, I had a purpose and that was the looming spectre of the Swiss Equivalence conversion exam in November. For those that don’t know, if you have a bunch of qualifications from another ski instructor system, in my case BASI, the British system, you can write to another national body and ask them how the qualifications that you have got stack up against theirs and what level they will give you.

I’ve known for a long time that my future and ambitions do not reside in France, I’m now married to a Swiss, I have a Swiss kid and I just prefer it in Switzerland, you could call it my adopted home if you like. It’s been my ambition for a while to get to where I needed to be to work independently in Switzerland.

The only real reason that many people tend to follow the British system all the way to the end is that it gives you working rights in France. I’m not interested in that and my interest in the British system died a while ago.

Anyway, as is my usual summer, I was in Saas about twice a month training some very, very specific things that you have to do in the Swiss system that you don’t really find anywhere else. I’m planning to detail a lot of this in a separate post but I basically spent the whole of Autumn on slalom skis trying to learn how to carve backwards at speeds much beyond my comfort envelope.

I did some specific training with Tom Waddington of New Generation Ski School in Verbier who should definitely get a mention for running the course and making himself available to be there.

My second plug goes to Ben Shubrook at Optimum Snowsports in Saas Fee who was a great training partner. I spent many days on the Saas Glacier with Ben and his unique sense of humour and you should definitely check out Ben’s Ski School in Saas Fee if you are ever there.

The conditions on the Saas Fee Glacier itself were awesome all the way through the Autumn. They even got the pistes down to Morenia at 2500m open by mid October which was a real bonus to get the ski legs ready for the test itself. I thought this was a sign of a decent winter to come down at our end of the Valais but I was wrong.

The Equivalence test itself came and went, two days in Zermatt with some of the best skiers I had ever seen with my own eyes. I don’t want to reveal too much as I’m saving it for another post but the level of skiing from the demonstrators was out of this world and I learnt a lot on those two days.

The Swiss send the results of this test to you in the post. There is no waiting until the Friday and a nervous chat with a trainer like the British system makes you do.

The results arrived in the post after a two week wait and I was delighted to have passed. I now hold the Federal Brevet in Switzerland and the right to establish my own ski school.

After the course, I had a bunch of work to do relating to coaching football and I was expecting the usual early season big dump of snow to fall in Morgins so we could get going. The big dump came and most of the main piste in Morgins was ready but for some reason, the resort didn’t get going until mid January. An absolute disaster for the ski schools and the businesses in the village.

Everyone was forced to go and deliver their lessons in the French sector and that meant working in Chatel Pre La Joux over the Christmas and New Year period. Whilst it was great that we got some work done, being in Chatel was chaos. So many people skiing on icy, rocky pistes, the conditions were pretty difficult and ‘teaching’ in this setting is more often a case of just keeping clients safe as opposed to getting constructive work done.

I had the pleasure of skiing with the head of Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club’s head of academy so I was able to pump him for some decent answers to my questions relating to football.  The answers I got relating to ‘is Pep actually any good?’ And ‘is there any place in the game for a classic number 10 like Totti anymore?’ were very enlightening.

More about the season in part 2 in a month or so.
DB

Spring has sprung

So May has come and gone in the Alps and by and large, it hammered down with rain for the whole month. I’m pretty sure it’s always like this in May but because it was freezing cold as well, it snowed and there were plenty of videos being posted of people still skiing well into late May and even early June.

This has really pissed off the bikers who are itching to get out and do whatever it is they do on their incredibly expensive machines (where else do you see adverts in the supermarket for €2000 bicycles ffs). I’m often asked if I’m into biking and whilst I’m sure that it’s something that I could be interested in, I just don’t need another expensive activity in my life right now. I just dropped another load of money on skis and various other equipment that I’m going to need this coming season.

Talking of burning money, I recently had to go to Aviemore in Scotland to attend the BASI Level 3 Common Theory Course. For me, based here in the French Alps, this meant a trip to the Swiss capital, Berne to get a new passport (mine expired in January and I forgot), a flight to Amsterdam, a connecting flight to Aberdeen, a 2 hour drive across Scotland and the same in return. Immense amounts of travel and cost which is why I left this course until last.

Scotland - moody

Scotland – moody

I’m not going to bitch and moan about why the course cannot run in Europe as it was interesting to see where the BASI system all started. I met a bunch of interesting people and learnt some stuff too.

The course itself was mainly classroom based for about 2.5 days, with one day of orienteering/going for a walk in the hills around Glenmore and a day in the gym. The classroom stuff was a mixed bag, with some interesting topics like Psychology and Sociology and some stuff that was less interesting. As mentioned, I met a load of really nice people and got to spend a week chilling with old mates in a nice apartment in the Scottish hills.

back to school - BASI style

back to school – BASI style

Once the Friday of the course came and went, I had completed my ISIA Level 3! Looking back on the planning that I had done and the season that had just passed, 4 exams passed, 3 weeks of specific training, a load of teaching and finally, it’s all over.

Actually, it feels like a bit of an anti-climax because inevitably, I’m now planning to get on with the level 4 ISTD. I’ve done the work for one of the modules so far and I’ve planned which exams to take next year over a 2 year plan to get my full certification.

A large part of going through the system seems to be belief in your own ability and I still don’t really believe that I’m a good skier compared to some of the people that I see around me. I wonder sometimes how I’ve got to where I am now. Perhaps that belief will come if I pass the technical skiing modules for the level 4 this coming winter. I still hate walking up stuff so I am leaving the European Mountain Safety exam until next season..

All that for this..

All that for this..

So this starts now really with a planning process to get stronger and technically better at skiing. I’m planning to spend a bit more time in Saas Fee or on glaciers in general this summer, race training in the autumn, with the first exam in Zermatt in December. I’m not rushing as I thought the two years I spent working towards ISIA was time well spent but I can see the top of the pyramid now and it’s only natural to want to climb towards it.

Some of the people that I met on the Common Theory Course are now already in New Zealand and are skiing and teaching in the southern hemisphere winter. I have to admit to being jealous as I’m ready to ski again now. I’ll have to satisfy myself with glaciers and gates until then.

-x-

Back at the coalface

I only just realised that the last time I blogged was 6 Feb.  Since then, I have been teaching non-stop for 4-weeks, followed up by 2-weeks of BASI level-3 exams.  Looking at my calendar, today is the first time since the start of February that I’ve been off skis.  At the moment, there isn’t a part of me that doesn’t ache. 
celebrating L4 exams

The way that the English speaking work has come in this year (all in one long period of consecutive weeks) meant that I didn’t really have that much time for ski training in preparation for my Level-3 exams.  They only way that I could practice was to snatch a few runs after work with Ben, my mate at the ski school, who was also due to take his level-4 exams.  So after work we would go for a quick hour and ski-2 runs of short turns, 2-runs of long turns and 2-runs of bumps.  I guess this made for focused and precise training as we both passed our exams!
Bens success is a bigger achievement than mine, as the technical level-4 exam is the highest one in the BASI system and not many people get to that level (there are only something like 350 full BASI level 4 skiers in the system).  Ben won’t mind me saying this but up until we started training, he was skiing shit but he is kind of mercurial and he obviously pulled enough performance out to impress the right people.  I also think that he got an examiner that appreciated the scruffy, womanising, drinking model of ski instructor that he is..
The week after, I went to my own technical skiing exam.  I got lucky with my group and there were some excellent skiers in my group who very much dragged the group onwards and upwards, especially in the moguls which you may remember I was not happy with.  We also had an excellent trainer, a guy called Andi McCann, who knew an incredible amount about how the body worked and how to get the best out of it. 
The low pass rate of 7/16 on the level-3 course reflected that the exams become tougher at this level.  Personally, I didn’t feel THAT challenged (which is going to sound horribly arrogant) and this gives me confidence to see how far I can take my skiing.
destressing during the L3 teach
Following a huge hangover on the Saturday morning, the following week was the level-3 teaching exam, which again was challenging.  We had to teach our peers during this week and I felt that a lot of people mistook doing drills as teaching and didn’t really understand enough about the subject they were teaching to teach it well.  This really showed up at times during the week.  Again, I felt confident on this exam and only had to teach 4-sessions during the week and got given Friday off.  The standard again was a fairly high bar, with 10/15 passing.  (For those of you that I know who will read this on FB or whatever, I’m not trying to be a prick, I’m just being honest.)

Following another exam success hangover, we are back into the real world of teaching, a far cry from the high speed larking about of the last two weeks. 

Today I had 17-beginners scattered around the magic carpet in the fog… 

Training days

Unless you are interested to hear me talk about the ski training that I have been doing more or less constantly since mid-January, I’m afraid you might find this blog entry a little boring.  I’ll try to jazz it up as best I can though.
GS training in the rain = dead phone

So last time we spoke, I was off to see where I stood amongst my peers on a BASI ISIA level 3 training course in Morzine.  The good news is that I seem to be in a good place, with all of my skiing in fairly decent order with the exception of my kryptonite, mogul skiing. 

For those of you that have never been on an instructor training course before, there is an awful lot of standing about discussing theory, which was tough going on the feet when the temperatures over there were down to -15 at one point.  (I discovered mid-week that if you put gaffer tape over the seams of your boots, it makes them slightly warmer.)  There is also lots of work on short and long turns, getting right down into the tiniest details of technique, things such as the precision that you load your new turning ski with etc etc.

For me, things went well for the first couple of days when we did lots of work on long turns and my personal favourite, short turns but I suppose that it was inevitable that at some point we had to head to what Jaz (our trainer) described as ‘the best bumps run in the world’.  This is The Renard, which is a black bumps run just to the left as you ride up on the Chaux des Rosees lift in the Pre La Joux area of Chatel.

So this was my weak point and I had a trainer watching who I know is likely to be one of the assessors on my actual exam.  I tried my hardest on that afternoon, not really helped by some terrible visibility but despite my worries and frustrations, I actually managed to put in a very slow looking but neat video run.  This gave me some confidence but I knew then that I needed to ski bumps for a month before my exam, a thought that was echoed by the trainer.
So, the following week, I was booked on another training course with BASS in Chatel run by a guy called Peter Kuwall (PK).  My mate and fellow ski instructor Ben really rates PK as a trainer having spent 8-weeks with him in New Zealand two summers ago, so when PK asked us what we wanted to work on, I said, ‘I need to work out how to ski bumps and fast’.  So on day 2 we arrived in the bumps and PK basically told me that my approach to bumps skiing was probably wrong tactically and set about sorting me out. 

Lo and behold, 2 hours later and another half day of bumps skiing later,  I am much more confident in what I am doing and more familiar with being in that environment.  We shot some more video and it looks visually better, if still pretty gentle!

As if that wasn’t enough, another quiet mid-season week means that I’m off for some afternoons of Giant Slalom training this week.  This is with a view to getting more familiar with racing in gates skiing which I’m going to have to do more of in order to work towards level 4 skiing.

I’ll let you know how it goes but it may be some time as we are almost into the madness of half term and all that brings.  It’s starting to get busier here in Chatel and it won’t be long before the masses arrive.

-x-

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