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-

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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

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 :))

Xx

Back from the brink.

So it’s been a while.  The last written blog entry date was in December 2014.  That’s a bit too long but to be fair, I’ve been caught up in a lot of things.

Moody weather over Morgins

The short list of what I’ve been up to basically runs as follows.

  • Take a year off from BASI ski instructor exams to rediscover my love for skiing and partying
  • Get divorced
  • Start a business
  • Become sober
  • Get back on the ski instructor exam trail

There is a lot more too it than that but those five small items have taken up a lot of time and I want to strike a balance in this blog between content and privacy.

In all this time that I haven’t been blogging there have been two major ski related experiences that have changed my perspective on skiing.
The first was a day in the season off of BASI where I got up early and went to see my good friend Ali McGrain in Courchevel. Ali has been working in the US for years but was in Europe also doing his own exploration of the BASI system with a view to becoming full cert over here.  Ali is a full on ski geek like me (and won’t mind me calling him that) and we had a fantastic day bombing about the 3 valleys, talking shop.

I’ve read in a few books here and there that when you let go of skiing in your head and stop thinking technically, that’s when you start to make the real discoveries.  This was a day like that.  Because of the nature of the ski runs in the 3 valleys, long cruisy reds with seriously big distance in between lifts, you can really get into a groove and experiment with different things.  It was here that I found a freedom of movement in my hip joint, a proper discovery that has transformed my skiing.

The second experience was actually on the BASI level 4 technical exam that I only managed 3 days of last time.  To be fair, at the time this was a in full marriage breakdown time so it was difficult to concentrate.  However, this time, I had trained well and was in a much better place mentally for my trip to Val D’Isere.
I had a great trainer in Giles Lewis who was inspirational as a person and also a skier, especially in moguls.  I was skiing really well on the first two days and was feeling super confident I until the last run of the second day when I ripped a massive hole in the bottom and edge of my favourite pair of skis.

It turned out that were beyond help and the only other pair of skis that I had taken with me as a spare were a set of 185cm GS skis which I despised.  A measure of how confident I felt at this point though, after a very strong two days on the exam, I said to myself,

‘do you know what, I feel confident, I’ll take these shitty skis I don’t like and ski the bolllocks off them.  I’ll show you all.’

I didn’t quite work that way and quite who I was going to ‘show’ was unclear.  Often, I wasn’t going fast enough to get the ski bending properly and it was just way too long to be that effective in quite short ruts in the moguls we were skiing.  Over the course of he week I gradually felt the exam slip away from me until on Friday afternoon, I was told that I wasn’t good enough.  By that point, I just wanted to go home anyway and headed back north to a warm bed and some good food.

Although on the face of it, this was a negative experience, it many ways it was positive, and also meant I got to buy a new  pair of skis which I absolutely love.  If I had been on the exam on these skis, I know I would have passed.  I spent many lift rides with trainers on that exam, chatting about life in general and the journey to full cert and I know it’s not a rush.  I’ll be back, better than ever but for now I’m looking at alternative instructor systems more aligned with where I want to be in the future.

Plans for the summer I hear you ask?  My summers are mainly spent  plotting for the winter.  Saas Fee opens mid-July and I’ll be up there training for my next project.  I’ll also be running a ski camp for some kids that I work with, also in Saas Fee.

Other projects include nutrition and health coaching certification which means lots of study and a language camp that starts next week.

Skiing dates are already starting to come in and my diary for 2016/7 season is starting to look busy already.  Get your bookings in soon to avoid the rush 🙂

Chat soon

x

 

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-

The End

So last time we spoke, I was back in the teaching groove after finishing my BASI Level 3 technical and teaching exams.  The season soon wrapped up, with ski teaching work dropping off in Morgins immediately after Easter.  Annoyingly, even now, I can see there is snow up the top and the mogul field is still there, looking lonely. 

above the clouds in Tux and a rare pic of me skiing (complete with spear throwing pole plant)


Easter was quite busy this year in Morgins, probably due to Easter actually being at a reasonable time of the year when there was still snow.  The first season I was here, Easter fell at the end of April and the resort was already shut by then!

So now all of the lifties in Morgins are happy again because they can finally get their cows out of the shed and get on with their main summer profession, farming.  May has been a little disappointing so far, in that it has rained more or less constantly.  I don’t know why I am surprised because it always rains for a month in May and then we get on with a long hot summer from June.

I started my summer job in the second week of April this year, meaning no break between the ski season and the summer football season.  After a month of it now, I’m fully back in the groove and playing football for myself 3 nights a week, in a vain attempt to get fit and fight my aging body.

I suppose I did have a little break between the ski season and the football season by having to go to the Hintertux Glacier in Austria for the BASI Level 3 Mountain safety course.  For various reasons, I wasn’t looking forward to this course much but mainly because of the tales I had heard from other people about having to walk up mountains, in order to ski back down them again. For me, this is something that I just have absolutely no interest in, my preference is to use the lift that are there for your convenience.  When I see people skinning up the mountain, I am normally thinking ‘weirdo’ in my head.

However, I guess the point of the BASI system is to challenge you to become a more rounded skier and so I tried to be positive and get stuck in.  The course itself was very different to your standard BASI course in that it was run by a mountain guide from Chamonix, Dave Cummins.  Dave didn’t appear to be hung up at all on our skiing level; he was more into the walking up stuff and mountain navigation.  That said, he did ask us for ski tips during the week and he was definitely skiing better at the end of the week than the start!

The course covered a lot and I enjoyed the bits I was expecting to enjoy, namely learning more about the snow pack and avalanches, navigation, working with transceivers and skiing off-piste.  Luckily for me, because the snow conditions over the week deteriorated due to the heat, we didn’t end up doing that much walking up but I got a feel for what it was all about and getting away from the crowds.  As part of my level 4, I have to go and do 6 days of touring anyway, so I’m going to have to learn to love it I guess.

Another bonus of the week was skiing again with my good buddy George Walton, pro skier and all round good guy.  I’d seen George piste skiing in my Level 3 tech exam but it’s clear that his passion is off-piste and considering we spent most of the week ripping about hunting fresh or skiable powder and spring snow, his skills were on show and a pleasure to watch. 
Georgy rock jibber

So at the end of 6 days, another course was passed and that only leaves me now with 1 course left until I get my full BASI Level 3 ISIA stamp.  The exam I’ve got left is the Common Theory which you have to go to Scotland to do.  Everyone that I have spoken to says that this course is a dull one as it is classroom based but I’m determined to be positive about it, not least because the theory side of skiing is something I am hugely interested in.

So summer starts now, I need to get fit and have a determined think about whether I go forward to the BASI Level 4 or not.  I wrote down a pros and cons list as to whether I should, which came out 13 for and 4 against (is it wrong that a lot of the 13 pros were to stick it to people who told me I was crap at skiing??) so I suppose I had better get on with planning which modules to start training for next season.  I’m sure one of those will be to start going to Giant Slalom race camps in the summer so no doubt I’ll have a few summer blogs to add too.

See you soon.

Well busy mate

It’s been over a month since I blogged, what with friends and family coming to visit, teaching at Christmas and New Year and some training, I’ve not had a moment to sit down and write.  This is my first day off skis since the 22 December.



sorry for picture repetition but the stupid blogger system isn’t letting me upload new photos.  get it sorted.

First up, friends coming to visit and the default thing for the last few years has been that we all get drunk and generally destroy ourselves for 5-days then everyone goes home.  Much to my surprise, things have actually changed amongst my circle of mates from back home.  Cheeko is half the size he used to be because he is training to do the London Marathon, Hughsey seems to have lost his drinking ability because he is happily in love with his new girlfriend and Stavros was one flight away from New Zealand, never to be seen again.  Sometimes, change is good.

Once we got rid of those guys, my Mother-in-law came to visit at Christmas, which was a very pleasant time for Mrs Burrows.  She misses her family at this time of year and it was good that she came here to see where and how we live.  Personally, I didn’t see her much because I was too busy teaching skiing in the rain.  Teaching in the rain is one of the more miserable parts of Christmas week.  It always rains at Christmas and every year we act surprised.  There cannot be many more contradictory sights in the world than ego filled ski instructors, especially the new ones who think they are slightly above fighter pilots in the ego standings, soaked through from a day skiing in the rain.

New Year passed with the usual armageddon of people setting fire to their money through the medium of fireworks and a shivering, frightened sheepdog under the bed, followed by a smattering of lessons that brought us to this week where my year really gets going. 

This year I introduced to the ski school another instructor Al, who I met on a course about 2-years ago.  Al is almost all the way through the British BASI system, with only one exam left before he gets his Level-4 and the full ‘Carte Pro’ which allows you to work anywhere in Europe.  Al’s been quite inspirational to me and I’m now focused on seeing how far I can go in the system, including the dreaded European Speed Test.

So in contrast to last year, where I would just teach and ski straight home, I’m now looking to finish off all of my level-3 ski modules this season, and start working towards level-4 myself.  After teaching now, I’m now putting in a couple of hours a day training by myself or with people better than me (more or less everyone then..) and noting down discoveries in a little notebook.  Next week I’m off to a training week in Morzine to see where I stand in relation to the level-3 standard and see what I’m up against in terms of the other people on the course.

So far, the less drinking more skiing thing is working (apart from a couple of non-graceful falls from the wagon) so let’s see if I can keep this focus up and have a good couple of weeks.  I’ll let you know how I get on when I get back.

-x-