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.  

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Hello

So I’ve migrated my blog over here from blogger. Was getting increasingly frustrated with how crap blogger is to use, so I’m going to give wordpress a go and see how well it works.

Everything should have migrated nicely, let me know what you think.

In the meantime, have a look at this beautiful sunset (no photoshop) from just behind the pub after last night’s cup final.

Photo0091

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Interview with Nico Cruz


Earlier this month I was out on a rare non-teaching powder day with a few mates in Chatel and caught up with local freerider, Nico Cruz who was off to the US in search of powder to shred and cliffs to drop.

Nico has starred in a few videos and has a few magazine covers to his name so I grabbed an interview with him for Mad Dog Ski before he left.

So you’re off to the US in February. What are you up to out there?

Skiing some resorts around Salt Lake. Alta, Snowbird, Park City and also Jackson Hole.

I’m looking to be skiing some powder since Europe is so dry at the moment. I’m realizing a dream to be skiing in some of the mecca of powder skiing.

I’ve looked at your videos online and seen the magazine covers that you’ve done. It looks like you’re all about hitting the powder and jumping off cliffs. What’s your favourite thing to do when you ski for yourself?

Well it’s definitely skiing powder, nothing beats skiing powder. When you feel the snow hitting your chest and you get face-shots every turn is the sole purpose of skiing for me. Also hucking stuff is quite a good feeling. Knowing that you chuck yourself off high cliff and just land in powder.

So Chatel is your winter hometown, what do you like about it so much?

First it’s where my family is from and even though I wasn’t raised here I still feel a strong bond with this place. Secondly, I’ve travelled quite a bit and to be honest it’s difficult to find a resort that’s got has much variety in terrain than Chatel.

Chatel is a place that a lot of UK skiers and boarders come to. Why do you think they like it here so much?

First, it’s the closest resort from the airport, Geneva and then it’s a real village before being a ski resort so you got the real feel of being in France. It’s quite authentic. And it’s part of the Portes du Soleil.

Where are your favourite spots to ski in the Portes du Soleil?

Well besides Chatel obviously, i quite enjoy the park in Avoriaz and cruising around all the resorts actually.

The kickers in Les Crosets were bigger last year…

Well they actually had snow last year (laughs)

Any secret spots that you want to share?

Not too sure I would like them to be completely canned tomorrow and also not sure I want the responsibility of pushing out of bounds but if I have to pick one of them it would be through the forest down to Les Lindarets.

And what about if you aren’t skiing the Portes du Soleil. What other places do you like to ride?

Well I absolutely loved Japan, it really lived up to my expectations regarding snow.

The Portes du Soleil is well known for having lots of lazy blue and red runs and generally easy skiing. How did you come to be known for jumping off cliffs and getting buried in powder turns?

Well when you’re there on the days that it dumps you can easily get covered. Also the off-piste in the Portes du Soleil is massive, so not much link to the colours of the slopes I have to say.

Freeride skis have moved on a lot in the last few years. When we were out the other day the pair you were on had a bit of rocker and a fairly unique shape. Does this really help in the deep stuff or is it a gimmick?

Yes it helps a lot. The fatter the ski the more float you get, so you can concentrate on riding more than lifting your tips of the pow, then the rocker camber helps the ski rise form the snow even more so it’s pretty amazing.

How much time do you spend in the snowpark? The standard of riding in the videos has gone up massively in the last few years so I guess you’ve got to be pretty good at everything?

Well, people kind of specialise and in my case I use the park to train then bring it to the backcountry but where I really want to get better is at skiing very steep and gnarly lines.

Where do you hope that skiing can take you? What’s next for you?

I’m not really sure. If i can keep on skiing and getting taken around resorts around the globe it’d be amazing. The travel is great and really part of my experience in skiing. The places you see, the people you meet. It just makes you want to do more and see more. It’s definitely an addiction.

Ok, finally, four other mini questions;


1. Black or white?

Black, even though snow’s white.

2. Person you’d most like to share a T Bar with?

Michael Jordan if he skied.

3. Plane, Train or Automobile?

Automobile

4. Top Gun or Days of Thunder?

What? I’m French remember.

Top Gun never made it to France?

Yes but what’s the other one?

Same movie but with cars – exactly the same.

Top Gun then. Love the F16.

Nico is sponsored by Amplid, Orage, Hestra, Electric, Discrete, Bern, Châtel, Skullcandy, Lange and Look

Photography credits to : Jahl Marshall and Niseko Photography.

Published here

Even the Swiss get excited about new snow

So I’m now writing this winter for Natives as their snow and resort reporter for Chatel and Morgins, as well as providing similar blog content for the Dare2b Mountain Lounge website too.  I’m also in discussions with some guys who do video snow reports which might be a fun thing to do for the season.  Also, getting paid for all of this too….

Last week, my new boss Rolf from my The Morgins Ski and Snowboard School rang me to check my date of birth for some paperwork that he was doing. The conversation turned to general stuff and how he was coping with all of the preparations for the upcoming winter season (I’m heading out there quite early in about 2 weeks time so I am hoping that he’ll need a load of ski tech work doing or some such).

He mentioned that the first snow of winter had arrived in Morgins and that everything had turned white.  At this point I said to Rolf, ‘but hang on Rolf, you’re Swiss, are you telling me that you get excited about the snow coming?’ (Rolf is a greying father of two who has the look of a man who has seen it all)

‘Yes’ he said, ‘I love it when it snows’ and even though he’s probably seen more snow than you can shake a stick at, the enthusiasm in his voice and the obvious big grin that I could hear down the phone line made me genuinely excited about the prospect of the coming season. 

I can’t wait.

Published here and here

Job searching

I’m back in the UK now catching up with various domestic stuff. I’m on a bit of a deadline because I’ve got to be out in Switzerland at the start of December for my first season as a ski instructor.

the dog.  pleased to see me.

I’ve got a job with the Morgins Ski & Snowboard school in the Portes du Soleil which I’m really pleased about because it’s the one place that I’ve always wanted to work, ever since I fell in love with the place when I skied through it a few years back.

It seems that all the hard work that I put into my applications to ski schools was worth the effort. I was only applying to French speaking Swiss ski schools so I took the time to translate my covering letter into French, had a French and English version of my CV and attached a decent picture of me skiing to my emails.

In the end, I had five jobs to choose from in Grimentz, Crans Montana, Champery and Morgins. In the week after my gap course in Saas, I stayed in Switzerland and went along to four interviews, two of which were in French. I speak reasonable French but this was another level and I found myself a little out of my depth. I don’t think I’ll be putting ‘advanced French’ on my CV again…

published here

Officially a ski instructor

So I have finally got over the hangover from Friday night’s epic celebrations of 13 out of 14 of the gappies passing their BASI level 2 qualifications.

some ski instructors

I passed and, for those that plan to, we can now be let loose to teach real people on real mountains all over the world. I’d like to be able to tell you about the party we had to celebrate but I remember nothing of it until I woke up on the floor of the hotel lobby at 5.30am. I blame the altitude.

The final week of the BASI level 2 exam was a pressure cooker for some people and an opportunity for others to put into practice everything that they had learnt over the last nine weeks.

My fellow gappy Alex had a full on Cinderella story, being told that he had some serious issues with his skiing three days into the 2-week course. With the mountain being shut for a few days over, he had to develop his skiing to the level required in a very short time. I kind of knew that I had passed when I was assigned to help him and over an incredibly intense 3-hour ‘Dave private lesson’ we made the changes that he needed to make stick and he passed.

The trainers call you down the hill one by one to tell you your result and I was first down the hill to get the nod to whether I had passed or failed. I couldn’t get excited about my pass though until I heard how he had done. I can’t begin to describe how happy I was for him because, like me and only one or two other gappies, he actually plans to teach skiing in the alps and I know how much he wants to pass on his love of skiing to others.

We had an amusing night in the Alpen Bar one night of the BASI course when a few of us ranked all of the gappies in skiing ability terms. This then moved on to ranking all of the Warren Smith Academy coaches in order of ski ability too. It’s pretty hard to determine differences in ability between BASI level 3 and 4 instructors (even though there were some surprising outcomes) so we fairly quickly moved on to ranking the good looking women in Saas-Fee. Predictably, Lydia the barmaid in the Alpen Bar was the clear winner.

As I write this, I’m sitting in a hotel in Martigny trying to plan a schedule for the three interviews that I have lined up this week with various Swiss Ski Schools. Most of these are going to want to know that I can speak French to a decent level because I said that I could – the fact that I’ve been in Swiss German speaking Saas for nine weeks has not been helpful to strong French language skills. They will also want to know that I can ski so I made a video of myself skiing on the last day of BASI that I can take with me to show them.

This is the last blog about the summer gap and I’ve had an absolutely wonderful time over the last nine weeks in Saas. It’s the sort of place that really gets under your skin and I just know that I will be back, probably to train for level 3 next summer. The Gap has been like a combination of an epic ski trip and a stag weekend, except that it keeps going and getting better week after week and your skiing gets really grooved. I know that I’ve made four or five mates that I’ll keep for life and I’ve met Olympians and World Cup skiers and snowboarders.

I don’t know if my blog has helped anyone who is thinking of doing a gap course but if there is any doubt, just do it – you won’t regret it.

published here

BASI level 2 starts

Our BASI level 2 exam has started and after much anticipation, we are finally into the last two weeks of the summer gap course in Saas-Fee.

a lonely scouse waits for his lost sheep

The main question that I am asking myself is have I done enough work so that my skiing up to the level required to become a qualified instructor.

I feel like I’ve certainly been putting the work in – I think I’ve skied almost every weekend and day off that we have had here and I normally skip the food break on the mountain in order to get a couple of extra runs in. I’m hoping that all of this extra ski time is going to pay off and judging by the feedback that I’m getting from Al, the BASI trainer who is with our group this week, I think (hope!) this extra work has paid off.

There are two groups and two trainers sent out by BASI. Our one is Al Okrafo-Smart, who is based in Val D’Isere and the other group has Andy Freshwater, an ex-GB racer who was at the Nagano Winter Olympics in 1998 (apparently he went through the same gate that Herman Maier went over in that famous crash). They have very different styles, with Andy’s group doing all sorts of weird stuff everywhere and our group focusing on the fundamentals of skiing and how this relates to performance stuff. It’s very interesting to have another different style of working after the two previous weeks of boot camp from the Warren Smith Academy coaches.

The BASI coaches are using video feedback in the same way that the Academy guys do except that there is a difference with the video runs that we are doing this time because they count. I get a very different feeling of pressure, thinking that this run has to be spot on because this is what I’ll be judged on. It’s pretty intense and you can feel the tension running through the gappies.

Al has been good enough to give us an idea of whether we are skiing at the required level to pass BASI 2 and there are different levels of work to do within our group. Some are skiing very close to the level and we know that one of the more talented skiers is beyond it. From a personal perspective, I know that my carving is at the right level and I’ve just got to show a little bit more agility in my short turns – no more Mr Smooth next week, I’m going to be chucking myself everywhere.

The mountain has been closed for a day or two here and there while yet more fresh snow dumps on the glacier. This is adding a bit more pressure on to those people with a lot to work on as they will only have a limited time to work on their weak areas. A bonus to this is that we have got all of the theory and some of the demo lesson work out of the way so we can mostly concentrate on performance skiing for the rest of the course.

I’m starting to feel sentimental about Saas, knowing that I’m going to be leaving it in just over a week. It feels a little bit like home to me after 8-weeks and anywhere else is going to seem really busy and brash compared to a village where you walk everywhere and have to dodge electric cars. Everyone here has made me feel really welcome and I’m not sure if that is just a Swiss thing or a Saas thing but I’ll certainly be sad to leave all of the new mates that I have made here.

For now though, it’s a big focus on the final week of the exam and then the final Friday night end of gap celebration.

published here