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.


Summer skills

No doubt that this post will be lost in the general angst of Brexi but I recently had a great experience that I wanted to share with you.

In the ski season I’m often asked what I do in the summer and  apart from some other things that I’m working on and generally planning my diary for the ski season, my main work is coaching football for kids.
For the last 5 or so years I’ve worked for a company called Intersoccer who run after school football all over Switzerland but principally in the French speaking area along the Lake Geneva riviera.  This has lead to me developing loads of great young footballers and it’s fantastic to see them grow up and improve their skills.

I normally first come into contact with them when they are about 5 years of age and I normally keep them within the Intersoccer system until the point at which they need much more competitive football can start to go and play club football with local teams.

Something that I have put in place over the last two seasons with Intersoccer is matches against other Intersoccers to measure our progress.  For example, Intersoccer in Montreux played Intersoccer Lausanne recently in a return match of ones that we held last autumn.

The tournament was originally designed as a fun morning for the kids to show off their skills but after our narrow defeat to Lausanne (by some much bigger boys I might add) my team from Montreux were determined for revenge.
My approach to coaching football is very sequential, much like learning to ski.  I worked on this for a number of years with my colleague and now famous on Indian TV, Stevie Grieve.  It follows that you need to have the basics down before you can move onto the next level.  For example, a very basic model might look like this;

Ball manipulation > moving with ball > turning with ball > passing ball > shooting with ball

Obviously there is much more to it than this but as the weeks go on, I start to build some very competent young footballers who can more than old their own against older boys and are often playing for their school teams.  When they pop out of my system, they often go to play for local clubs and fit in very well due to their skills foundation.

Back to the tournament, we ended up drawing two matches against older boys with my senior group, a result that they were very proud of and my more junior guys smashed their equivalents in Lausanne playing with less players and still winning 8 or 9 -0.

montreux seniors – hard fought draws

Montreux juniors – no mercy

It was amazing to see the lack of fear in these young guys, trying their skills and playing with freedom, trusting their instincts.  When I coach from the sidelines, I try to stay quiet as much as possible and let the kids work out solutions to their own problems.  If I absolutely have to say something, I try to be positive and encouraging.

When setting up the teams, I try to keep it as simple as possible,  My main instructions for this tournament was to hustle the opposition man on the ball and counter attack with speed.  The team set up and decided their own formation based on the weeks of practice before.

Anyway, well done to all of you that might be reading this.  I’m very proud of what you achieved.

Aside from football coaching, we had another group in the hotel last week, not skiing this time but a group from the UK who were here to learn French and do activities in the afternoon.  They had a great week and enjoyed excellent food from our new chef.  I had the beginners group of French learners and they made great progress by the end of the week, going out into the village and interacting with real French speakers.

Summer has started properly here now.  I sit currently in Geneva and it’s 31 degrees.  I really struggle in the heat, especially in the city, so much so that I’m planning a trip back to the UK this weekend in the hope that it is colder. (Assuming that is, they let me back in :))


‘So, what do you do in the summer?’

Probably the most common question that I get asked during the winter season, be it in my capacity as a ski instructor or sometime transfer driver to the airport is, ‘So, what do you do in summer?’. 

life’s a beach
This is normally the second or third question after the two other guaranteed questions, being ‘What’s the snow like?’ (cold, white, attached to the mountain) and ‘How long will it take to get to Chatel?’ (as long as it takes, depends on whether you want me to drive like I am supposed to or if I can drive like I’ve got a 74 number plate, which you really won’t like).

So I thought I’d write a blog about what I’ve done since the ski season ended and for something to write about since I haven’t written anything since April. 

Non-ski season, I am a football coach and my 8 month off season started with a week of Easter football camps and progressed into various after-school coaching programs and summer camps.  We are now into the after-school coaching autumn season, with added rain, cloud, cold and general crappy weather.

This year, after meeting another particularly good coach who has joined the company that I work for, I have changed my approach to coaching.  I have realised that much of the work that I did last year, although fun, wasn’t that constructive in making kids better at football.  Trying to put myself in the shoes of a parent, I figured if they are going to pay X to come and have me coach them, then they should be a lot better at the end than when they started.  Even the ones who don’t really want to be there.

I now work on a similar basis to skiing, with a lot of questioning/discovery led approaches and a gradual build-up of skills in a particular set order, which makes for development of individual football skills.  At the age group that we coach, 5-11 normally, individual skills are hugely important.  Team play etc comes after in development but if you can’t do what you want with the ball, you’ll never get anywhere in the game itself.

Apart from this, I’ve been on holiday twice.  Once on Danny’s stag do.  18 blokes go to Ibiza – can’t really tell you anymore about that but I had two amazing nights, one at Defected at Pacha and the usual Space on Sunday.  The highlight of the Space night (apart from the eternity that we spent ensuring that everyone was ‘ready’ to go to Space on Bora Bora sodding Beach – never again Dan) was seeing one of my favourite DJ’s Deetron live and the other DJ who dropped a Dr Dre track into the middle of his set at about 4am.  Dan won’t remember this though as he was having his face painted as a tiger at the time.

The second holiday was a very pleasant 3 days that I grabbed with Mrs Burrows to Italy.  We went back to the place that we went on honeymoon, Cesenatico on the Adriatic coast and spent a couple of days on the beach and 3 nights eating in lovely Italian restaurants.  It was great and it was driveable from Chatel in about 7-hours.  It’s close enough that we are considering renting an apartment there next summer for a month and just chilling by the beach.  Getting out of the Chatel goldfish bowl for a while.

In an effort to offset the epic drinking that counts for the summer here, I’ve been helping a mate out who has been landscaping on an amazing Chalet up at 2000m above Les Crosets.  It’s interesting trying to do a day’s work at that altitude because if you don’t keep yourself fed and watered properly, you start making silly mistakes due to the effects of the height.

Also, it’s tough trying to put a decent shift of work in at 2000m and fatigue certainly was setting in at 8 hours + a day.  Whether this was just me being 35 years old and not used to manual labour after my previous life in suits and offices or the work being genuinely hard, I am unsure.  Anyway, we’ve got a break now until November so I can rest up.

As an aside on the subject of epic drinking, I got so drunk the other day at a wedding,  I seem to have actually scared myself into soberness.  I haven’t had a beer for about a week and a half now and the worst bit about it (apart from the rather worrying fact that this is about the longest it’s been since I started drinking at 15) is that I’m starting to feel quite good.  I am even considering seeing how long into October I can go for without.  The next thing you know I’ll be finding god.

I’m not missing the hangovers though..


Back into the weekly grind and self discovery.

The summer is finally over and the brain exhaustion process that are football summer camps is finally over and I can get back into some sort of normal weekly routine whilst I wait for the snow to arrive.

Looking after 20 mini footballers and 2 assistant coaches was not the most taxing work I have ever done but stressful in its own way especially when you consider that you are responsible for parents’ most precious things ie. their children for 7 hours a day. Luckily, most of the kids this summer have been great and I’ve only had to tell a couple of the kids how it is over the course of 6 weeks of summer camps.

After the summer camps, I had a very welcome week off which I spent most of in the pub in the absence of anything else meaningful to do and now I’m back into the weekly routine of autumn term after school football coaching. This means afternoon sessions on Monday through Thursdays with long weekends from Fridays to myself.

The odd thing about these after school sessions compared to the summer camps is that they are only an hour or two of actual football coaching. Obviously the travel time and set up means that it all takes much longer but in terms of the actual session, it’s a wonder that we actually get as much done as we do. It seems so short compared to the endless hours of summer camps.

You have to plan your sessions so that they are short and sharp so for example, yesterday’s session was a quick 10 minute warm up game to get everyone moving, 2 x 15 minute skill sessions and then some small matches at the end. It helps if it’s all related to so that one theme blends into the next and there is a chance of skill improvement by the end of the session.

From a personal progression point of view the football coaching, I’m sure, is going to assist enormously this winter with the ski teaching. In addition, I’ve also started to fill my autumn evenings here with visits to the local boxing club on a Tuesday night, French lessons on a Thursday night as well as playing for the Val d’Abondance Football Team on Friday nights (particularly difficult as this is entirely in French.)

The boxing is very interesting from the perspective of learning a new skill and coming at something from the perspective of a learner. Most of the year I am teaching something, be it football or skiing and to have to learn something new from scratch is a really useful insight into learning and the ways that people learn.

I have discovered that I am not very comfortable just throwing myself into something new but prefer to talk everything through and understand it mentally before I try it, through fear of looking like a muppet. This also draws a parallel with French as I will only talk French in public if I am confident that I am one of the best French speakers there amongst the English. If other, more experienced English Francophones are there then I am effectively a mute for fear of making mistakes. It’s very frustrating and also the same with skiing for me. I went out of my way in Saas in the summer to ensure no-one saw me make mistakes and this is something I need to get over really.

Anyway, enough soul searching, I have yet more new skis, this time anticipating a powder season to come. Scott Pure, 193cm and 101mm underfoot with a snazzy ‘venturi’ tunnel thing at the back which apparently makes them float better. They are seriously big and there had better be a bunch of pow this season or these bad boys aren’t going to see the light of day.

big boys

I’m not sure if 5 pairs of skis is too much really but the only pair I could realistically get rid of are my Head Supershapes but I can’t sell those as they are the skis that helped me change my life to where I am now, so they will be going on a wall or in a sentimental corner at some point.

Bring on the snow so I can change the tracksuit for a ski suit. 3-months and counting.


It feels like the end of season..

We’ve almost got Chatel back to ourselves now as the bulk of school holiday tourists are long gone.

An agent of exploitation

There are only a few French school groups left in town, inexplicably traipsing back through town from the gondola to their hotel, presumably to have lunch, before tramping all the way back to the gondola again to go skiing. I don’t understand why they do this as they must lose about 3 hours of skiing time just walking about and having lunch. They are French I suppose and being in a hurry is not a concept here.

The great tourist getaway means that takings for the local bars are starting to drop off as the French, Dutch and English who pay with actual real money are replaced by seasonaires who were hibernating for February, running up tabs that they can’t really afford on the £100 a week that a chalet girl earns.

It’s still hot here and there is some serious snow-melt going on. A lot of the businesses here are thinking that this is pretty much it for the winter season and I’m hearing of people having their contracts terminated early at the end of March instead of April.

The main topic in town now is the eternal question of ‘what are you going to do in the summer?’. I’m pleased to say that both the missus and myself have managed to line up summer work already, with the missus carrying on her glamorous work as a waitress and me taking the first steps towards a new summer career coaching football.

Many people who have seen me play before will be horrified at the thought that I’m teaching kids football, especially when most of my career was spent shirt pulling and kicking lumps out of centre forwards and then passing the ball to someone who could actually play.

There is still some ski teaching work going on in the slush though and this week we’ve got a really pleasant group of kids over from a school in Hornchurch on a ski holiday dressed up as a ‘French trip’. They are all typical cockey North London kids and considering my group hadn’t skied on snow before, they are doing really well.

I thought it was going to be a long week when all 8 of them fell at the same time like bowling pins the first time we did something difficult but as each hour passes, they are getting more confident. It’s the first all boy group I’ve had this season and they are being typical boys, crashing into each other, fighting and generally not listening. It’s nice to hear some London accents again though as everyone in Chatel seems to be a northern monkey for some reason.

As a last harrah this season before all the work dries and I teach young kids the finer arts of how to defend like an Italian number 5, I’ve booked myself onto an Alpine Development coach BASI course which will be the first of eight modules that I take on my way to my BASI level 3. I’m planning on ticking off all of the other straightforward ones before the level 3 technical skiing exam because I’m still crap in a lot of areas and need to improve before I do that one.

This blog might sound a little odd given that it’s only mid-March but there is a real end of season feeling about Chatel at the moment, perhaps because the season started so early in December. Perhaps this will change if we get more snow. The clouds have rolled in tonight so perhaps we might get lucky.

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