Season Review part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zoe’s pair already next to mine


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

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

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

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

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

my african team elite

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

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

-X-

Season review post part 1

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

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

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

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

I love this place. Saas Fee Glacier in summer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spring has sprung

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

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

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

Scotland - moody

Scotland – moody

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

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

back to school - BASI style

back to school – BASI style

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

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

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

All that for this..

All that for this..

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

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

-x-

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.

and so it begins..

They’ve arrived. 

I walked out of the apartment this morning and scene of French chaos greets me.  Three cars with their bonnets open and their owners slipping about on the ice, juggling with jump leads.  Another car owner faffing about with bits of cardboard, trying to drive directly up a sheet ice slope without snow tyres.  Another guy taking relentless run ups trying to drive out of said iced up driveway, making it even more slippery in the process.  Torville and Dean could skate on our driveway at the moment.

Add this all to the herd of elephants that have apparently moved in above me and the Dutch drinking songs being sung at 1am this morning.  Half term is here.

Chatel sunset captured from Le Sherpa.

To be fair to the tourists that are abandoning cars all over Chatel at the moment, it was -18 degrees this morning and La Smart car only just started, which is an improvement on last week when the temperatures dipped into the minus twenties.  At -25 degrees, it was completely not interested and had to be jump started every day. 

Winters here are brutal on cars.  Reliability and function are paramount in choosing a car to live with all year round.  It’s due to snow next week too which will be very interesting because the village is salting the roads much less than in previous years which will mean epic amounts of faffing about which snowchains.

The extreme cold is getting to the humans too.  I skied to work the other day because the car refused to start.  Normally, skiing to work is a nice thing and gets you nicely prepared for the day.  However, -28 degrees at the top of the Morclan lift in Super Chatel was something else.  It took an hour for my hands to start feeling normal again after that.

I nipped down to Monthey yesterday and picked myself up a thin down jacket which hopefully is going to keep me warmer and not make me look too fat, as well as investing in two oversized wooly snoods at H&M for going to the pub use. 

Work starts in earnest tomorrow and the ski school is stacked out with work for the next 3 weeks.  We’ve had to draft in extra instructors to cope with the demand which is a change from last year when we were all scrapping for work.

I thought I’d get this blog in early because the chances are that I won’t be able to for the next few weeks.  See you in March. x

Back in Saas.

So I’m back and so is the ski season. The summer ski season that is. This summer, I’m going to be making regular trips up to Saas Fee to prepare myself for my BASI Level 3 exams in Zermatt in November.

Atomic SL’s – Surprisingly good in the pow :))

The technical level of skiing for this is a lot higher than the Level 2, so I need to be ready and a one week pre-course warm up in Zermatt just won’t cut it as far as preparation is concerned.

It’s been really cool being back in Saas Fee. This time last year, I spent 9-weeks one a gap course with the Warren Smith Ski Academy in Saas Fee which lead me to my current life of teaching skiing in the winter and teaching football in the summer. Being back in the toytown village of Saas with the electric cars and familiar faces from last summer has been great.

The journey up to the summer skiing on the glacier takes about 45-minutes, 2 cable cars and a funicular train before you emerge at 3800m gasping for breath. There are about 40kms of piste to rip and a great park with masses of kickers, rails and a pipe to keep the park rats happy. The Glacier opens at 7am (!) and finishes at 1pm when it gets super slushy so it means plenty of early starts.

I’m here working on the technical elements of skiing, things like refining short turns and making them more dynamic, as well as hammering long turns and bumps. One of my coaches from last year, Scouse, had a look at my skiing and kindly mentioned that it had improved massively after a winter of skiing which is reassuring and has given me extra confidence that I’m heading in the right direction.

A happy benefit of having been here before is that I’ve been able to stay at a friend’s place here in Saas. The friend in question is Maria Ramberger, Austria’s top ranked SnowboardCross racer who is also here training for the whole summer. It’s been great catching lifts and catching up with her and generally blasting around Saas glacier at high speed. She also cooks a decent pasta.

It’s been a refreshing few days here, almost like a mini holiday and it’s been great to be on skis again. That said, I’m a complete convert to summers in Chatel, which I never expected. I was expecting summer in the Alps to be one long wait for winter but in many ways, the scenery, the sunsets and barbeques are even better than the skiing and drinking of winter. With summer skiing less than 2-hours away it seems I’ve got the best of both worlds.

Online here at Mad Dog Ski.

x

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

x x x