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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Missed powder days and domestic crap.

Is missing a powder day a crime?  Some would say yes but I guess on some days, it’s a question of priorities. 
The Dents du Midi from the top of Super Chatel
When your estate agent from the UK rings you up while you’re riding a chairlift and tells you that he’s sold your house, I guess it’s inevitable that you spend the next day doing paperwork concerned with getting rid of the millstone around your neck that is your remaining link to the UK.
So I’m sitting here looking at all the pretty pictures on Facebook of people ‘shredding’ the pow in the Portes du Soleil, with comments like ‘kerpow’, ‘faceshots’, ‘epic’ and various other words that are code for people falling on their face in the deep stuff.  I console myself that I’m getting something productive done while I filling in boring forms and questionnaires concerning where the water meter is on a house 700 miles away.  Grrr.

It’s a funny time of the season at the moment, with not much teaching work around and the village seems to be taking a breather before next week when the true winter madness of half term in Europe gets under way.  I’m personally taking this time to rest up and fix my aching back and knees which are taking a bit of a hammering this year, through better ski levels of clients and endless powder days.

I had probably one of my best ever days as an instructor yesterday when I was looking after one of the race groups for St George’s International School who had come to Morgins to participate in an International Schools race.  The group I had were the Category C girls and I knew many of them from coaching football at the school in the summer. 

We did all of the racing in the morning and our inspection runs of the GS course were mainly exercises in clearing a foot of fresh powder off of the course.  My group came third in the team event but the real fun started in the afternoon when we had time to free ski in powder so deep it was over my knees.  We skied everywhere and did a bit of everything from open powder fields to trees and bumps and I can genuinely say it was one of the best days I’ve had on the mountain ever.

Right, I’m off to soak myself in a hot bath and try not to feel guilty at wasting yet another powder day in the Portes du Soleil. 

Online here – http://maddogski.com/news-and-blogs/when-real-life-gets-way

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Christmas in the Alps

It’s a funny thing being out here in the Alps at Christmas.  Christmas isn’t generally celebrated by a day of complete shutdown like it is in the UK.  The French and Swiss normally have a big family meal on Christmas Eve and then spend their Christmas Day either working or skiing.  Both myself and Mrs Burrows were working on Christmas day so it passed as a bit of a non-event.

better than last year

I had planned to cook Mrs Burrows a nice breakfast and open presents in front of a roaring electric heater but in fact, the phone rang the night before and I found myself basking in the sunshine at the top of the ski lift in Morgins, waiting for my client to turn up for a 2 hour private lesson on Christmas day.  It was a great lesson, a parallel level skier wanting technical advice on how to improve.  This is quite a rare lesson to get (the usual is debutants) so it more than made up for not being able to rip open wrapping paper!

The mountain actually gave me my Christmas present the day before anyway, as yet another big dump of snow meant that on Christmas eve, I was up skiing deep powder along with a few mates on snowboards.  Not wanting to bust my knees right at the start of the ski season, I settled for making pretty S shapes in the snow while they jumped off things and generally fell over loads.  I took a video on my phone that you should be able to see below which shows you just how much snow there is out here in the Alps so far this winter.    

It seems as if Europe is certainly where the snow is at right now and I don’t think that since the lifts have opened, I’ve skied on the piste yet, except for instructing and even then, the temptation is to jump off the side and into the deep stuff.

I’m trying to make a point this year of going out skiing with people who are better than me and this is leading to discoveries of lots of hidden valleys and gullies that are full of snow and where to go according to what conditions.  It’s been great and I’ve never skied so much snow in my life.

I’m also learning to take the right tools for the right job and I can highly recommend the Scott Pure’s that I bought in the summer.  At 101mm underfoot, they float really well and are fast becoming my favourite for days when it’s dumping up top.

As if loads of snow before the tourists arrived couldn’t get any better, the skies have cleared for the arrival of the masses at Christmas and New Year and we are now teaching under bluebird skies.  Nice and warm for instructors who have until now been absolutely freezing in the fog, cloud and mist.  It’s suntan time!

Despite all of the roads now having been cleared of ice and snow, it seems that once the visitors to the region have managed to get the snow chains on their cars when there was a little bit of snow around, they can’t be bothered to take them off again.  We are all very amused at the moment by the sight of expensive low profile car tyres being ruined by clanking about on snow chains on clear dry tarmac.   Please people, take them off – it’s not due to snow for a week and you’ll be able to get much faster and more comfortably…

online here

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La neige arrives

After a lot of people getting very nervous and some dire predictions by local farmers that the snow wouldn’t arrive until February, the snow is here and winter has started at last.

I was wondering who the arrival to the village would be that would ‘bring the snow with them’ and it turned out to be my mates from home Cheeko and Hughsey, who flew out to surprise me for my birthday at the start of December.  My wife had organised a surprise party for me at The Avalanche and I couldn’t believe it when my boys from home showed up.  (actually I cried – sad I know)

Of course, you know by now the usual carnage that follows and I was pretty glad to get rid of them a few days later, as my liver had taken a real pounding.

oh dear

This weekend was the formation weekend at the ski school where we all get together for a ski and work on things like technique and the progression of skiing from a complete beginner all the way through to parallel skiing.  Last year, this had to be done in two groups of French and English but this year was done entirely in French as there are only 3 British instructors at the ski school (which should mean more work for all of us!!!).  After a year abroad, I understood most of what was said.  This is what progress looks like.

my office

The seasonaires have started arriving in Chatel and the girl’s night out kicks off the winter season tomorrow night with 44 of Chatel’s finest ladies tearing the village up.  This also means that there will be plenty of local single chaps out checking out this season’s talent and trying out their best moves.  Judging by last weekend’s efforts, it’s pretty obvious who’s got game and who hasn’t.  Let’s just say that inviting the new chalet girls to an X-Factor final party doesn’t count as good ‘game’..

It’s snowing big outside and a few of the locals have been out riding the powder and one guy going to the effort to skin up the local highest peak, the Mont de Grange (2400m+)  Not really my style to be honest but we were all pleased for him.  I’ve just dragged my big fat skis out from the cave in anticipation of a powder day tomorrow morning :DDD

online here

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Rememberance Day Trip to Saas Fee

It’s mid-November here in Chatel and there is still no sign of the long awaited snow. A lot of people here are getting quite edgy about this but as I keep pointing out to them, I arrived about this time last year and it didn’t snow meaningfully until the start of December.

my piste.  mine.

In a bid to beat the Movember blues (and the tragic-ness that is my moustache attempt), Irish Matt, French Miche and myself took a day trip to Saas-Fee on Friday as we had heard that conditions were good. Additionally, it was a day off in France for Remembrance Day but crucially, not in Switzerland as they don’t celebrate it, so we were sure of the place to ourselves.

What a day it turned out to be. A 6.30am start in Chatel as well as a few stops for coffee, fuel and breakfast, meant that we were heading up the familiar lifts to 3500m by 9am and we were greeted at the top by fresh powder lines and immaculate pistes.

As is my style, I took the wrong equipment and was struggling to get my GS skis to float in the flatter sections of pow, so I couldn’t hit the fresh snow like my snowboarding mates but we were still having an absolute ball nevertheless.

The only issue at Saas-Fee when you are up on the glacier is looking out for crevasses that have been covered up with new snow. I was feeling a real sense of foreboding the times that I was skiing off piste and I didn’t stray too far into the deep. I’ve learned to recognise and listen to my 6th sense on days like this.

I thought that we would be skiing the glacier all day but it turns out that snow had fallen all the way down to 2500m and that you could ski all the way to the middle station. The pistes were in incredible condition and at the sort of gradient that you could really get your carve on. I was now loving my skis, using them for their true purpose but by the end of the day, I was skiing back with cramp in both legs after making the most of the super grippy snow. You can really feel the difference between real snow and snow cannon snow when you’re trying to get everything out of a stiff ski.

We went for a total of about 5 hours in the end with only a short stop for coffee (CHF27 for 3 Irish coffees – wow!). The lift ticket is steep at CHF68 but with the instructor licence, it was only CHF41 for me! It takes about 1h45m to get there from Chatel and is only a 5 minute walk to the lifts from the car park.

We had a short moment at 11am to remember those who died making our way of life possible for us all and when I think back to how I used to spend the 11th day of the 11th month in the UK, a day enjoying fresh snow in Saas-Fee strikes me as a much better tribute.

online here

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That end of season feeling…

The snow is melting fast in the Portes du Soleil and unless you are looking in the right direction, you might be forgiven for thinking that we are in the middle of summer. A strange winter season keeps getting stranger, with yet another couple of weeks of remorseless sun and blue skies.

No sarky comment.  Just a pretty picture.

The locals have taken to hiking up to local spots to get their fix of powder but unfortunately for them, there are only so many good spots and almost everything including all the difficult lines are now all skied out. Personally, I can sort of understand hiking for 45 minutes to find some fresh to ski for 2 minutes, but not when it’s 10 degrees and slushy, it’s too much like hard work.

With the complete absence of any new snow for weeks, the pisteurs are doing all they can to keep the various ski areas in decent nick but we now have ice in the mornings for a couple of hours and then slush, locally known as ‘soupe’ from about 11.30 onwards. Slush is fine if you know how to ride it but it’s getting so heavy at the end of the day, it’s almost impossible to use.

Teaching work at the ski school has dropped off a cliff with the last week or so. Pas de neige means pas de touristes. I’m planning to check the records of how much work there was this time last year because if this is normal for this time of year then next year I’m going to book a trip to Canada or the US to get some proper deep snow skiing done.

There is a real start of summer feeling in Chatel at the moment with ‘liquidation’ sales going on in all the ski shops (still not making them anywhere near cheap enough to consider buying anything) and people leaving for home early. All of the seasonaires starting to think about summer and whether they are going on staying, much depending on what work they can find. It seems sexist to stay but the way it seems to work is that all the girls go to work as waitresses and all the boys go and build stuff.

We’re all still praying for the usual expected but unexpected April dumps of snow but for now it feels like the winter is almost over and that’s very sad.

online here

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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