Happy new year etc blog

A belated happy Christmas and New Year to you all.  The festive season here tends to descend into a cycle of teaching, partying and alcoholism and the massive attack of cramp a couple of days ago I took as a sign from my body that it was time to calm down a bit.  I didn’t actually realise that it’s late January so 2 months of the season have flown by already.

So today is probably the second day off that I’ve had since Christmas eve which, whilst I am certainly not complaining in a year where the snow has been awkward at best, is a very welcome pause to catch up with a few things.

Highlights of the Christmas season for me were;

1.  Teaching the President of the Parliament of a Mediterranean country , who was in Morgins on a short break with some friends, no doubt de-stressing from the strain of getting her country’s economic situation sorted.  Anyway, we got her up and skiing and for her, the fresh clean air of the mountains and learning a new skill were a really good way to unwind from her day to day life.  She was a super interesting person too.

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Doesn’t matter who you are, the mountains dwarf you.

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the Prez et moi

2.  Another guy new to skiing, a Dutchman called Florian.  He turned out to be one of the fastest learners I’ve ever seen.  He would take one look at anything you showed him and replicated and understood it perfectly.  After just two hours, he was skiing perfect parallel turns and when I saw him yesterday, he said he had been to Avoriaz twice that week (a good 2 hours skiing away) and was loving life.  Good times.

In amongst all of this, this season the ski school seems to be using me in a different way and I’ve ended up coaching and helping out the race team for one of the International Schools that we look after.  This is certainly really interesting work and I get a real buzz out of improving young skiers.

Also on the weekends, the boarding school kids from another International school aka ‘The Russians’ are back this year for super Sundays and we spent a really pleasant day yesterday bombing about the Portes du Soleil, skiing powder and hanging out in the snowpark.  The highlight of the day for me was when they told me that they didn’t know what a ‘snowtrain’ was.  It’s not every day you get to teach the snowtrain. 🙂

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I’ve been waiting a long time to teach this..

From a personal perspective, the last blog I wrote was a bit of a rant about the Eurotest but last week I was back in the catsuit to ski some more Giant Slalom with BASS Chatel.  I had a good day and thought I made some really good changes but it reiterated the conclusion that I have come to about where I’m going this season with what I am focusing on.

I was so far away from where I wanted to be with the Eurotest that I’ve decided to shelve any further Eurotests for this season and defer it to next year.  I’m now focusing only on my Level 4 technical exam in March.  This means I really have to look at my all round skiing and make sure that I can take my skiing to the next level in terms of precision.  I also need to spend the next 2 months of my life skiing as many moguls as I possibly can.  Moguls are trying to form here in the Portes du Soleil but everytime they get to a decent size, it snows again!  Annoying.

Anyway, if you need me, I’ll be in the Renard bumps field in Chatel, the Swiss Wall in Les Crosets or under the Bochasse lift line in Morgins.  If you see someone looking really confused, that’ll be me.

Till next time.

-x-

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On the road

This is quite a long one so strap yourself in.

Good news is that finally it’s snowed here in the Portes du Soleil.  The rain on the skylight stopped hammering at about 1.30am this morning, replaced by the pat pat sound of snow.  It’s been snowing ever since and hopefully we can all stop panicking that it was going to be a man-made snow Christmas.

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The snowploughs have been working overtime and the avalanche bombing has been going off big time so next time I’m up the mountain, I’m expecting loads of snow.  To be fair, I was teaching yesterday and the snow covering wasn’t bad at all, so a quick refresh just before the masses get here is a bonus.

I feel like the entire autumn was spent anywhere else except in my own house.  I’ve already blogged about the race camp in Austria and I then had about 5 days at home before having to go off to Zermatt for the BASI ISTD teaching exam.  This is the highest level of teaching exam in the system (unless I guess you get invited to be a trainer of instructors) and to be absolutely honest with you dear reader, I thought the level was crap. 

I’m not sure if it was because I prepped too well (I did read the textbook through), or because I coach year round but I was really disappointed with the level of some of the sessions that were delivered by my peers on the course.  It’s not up to me who passes or fails of course but there were plenty of confused, dull and over complicated sessions that seemed to go down well with everyone that I thought were appalling. 

I always apply the €50 test.  ‘Would I have paid €50 for that?’  A resounding no in a lot of cases.

An added complication at this level is what I would call the pyramid effect.  The further you go up the ski instructor ladder, the stronger skiers you get.  With stronger skiers, you tend to get bigger egos, personalities and knowledge levels.  A lot of the week focused on different teaching styles and some of these involve giving students free reign to go away and discuss ideas. Ski instructors tend to procrastinate and discuss small concepts in fine detail and it takes a strong hand to keep these groups in check.

I also noticed a sort of Darwinism at work too on one of the members of the group who clearly was nowhere near the level required.  By midweek the rest of the group more or less turned on him and cut him adrift with harsh feedback and a lack of participation in his rubbish sessions.  It was fascinating to watch and sense the change of atmosphere in the group towards him, as if he was a cat who had used up all his lives.  An incredibly interesting thing to see from a group dynamic perspective.

Once that week was done and we finally got out of Zermatt (a massive faff by the way with the car free set up, train down to Tasch etc etc, everything there is designed to extract money from you) I had a couple of days at home before a day training Giant Slalom in Verbier with the Guru and then straight off to Alpe D’Huez for a weekend of Eurotest training before the main event the following Tuesday.

The weekend went pretty well insofar as it was really good to be able to do training on the stade where the actual Eurotest would be run and to get an idea of how difficult it would actually be.

The advice and feedback from the ESF guys who were running the training was pretty rubbish (pearls of wisdom like – ‘you know it is really icey so er, try to grip more…’  and ‘do more’) but I know my skiing well enough to figure out where I was going wrong.  That said, the whole set up of the weekend, gates, course setting etc  was excellent, so thanks to ESF in Alpe D’Huez for a good job well done.

Anyway, a quick dash home to prep skis and then back to Alpe D’Huez (3hrs 30 each way) for the Eurotest on Tuesday.  I could and probably will write a whole other blog on the actual events of the day but here is a short summary of how it went for me;

  1. Up at 5.45am with insomnia and Ben snoring in the next room.
  2. At the tourist office at 8pm to listen to speeches and wait to collect bib number 90.
  3. Inspect the course.  Find out it is even more icey than when you last trained on it.  Worry about going down it 90th.
  4. Do 3 warm up runs on different pistes whilst trying to memorise what you saw in the inspection
  5. Go to start.  Have man inspect your passport to make sure it’s you skiing it.
  6. Ski it like a muppet and get bounced out of the course by the massive ruts and holes caused by 90 people previous to you.
  7. Wait for course reset and go inspect again.  Add pressure to yourself because order is reversed and starting 12th is a good opportunity.
  8. Do 3 warm up runs on different pistes trying to remember new course.
  9. Go to gate.  Try to be angrier.
  10. Ski it like a muppet in some sections but good in others.
  11. Look at time at bottom, realise it’s nowhere near, congratulate friend who passed.
  12. Go home.

And frankly, there was nothing I wanted more at that point than to be at home after Hintertux, Zermatt, Verbier and Alpe D’Huez.  It’s a pretty high bar and I’m doing some serious thinking at the moment about if it is achievable for me.  It would be fair to say I wasn’t prepared having done minimal training but I know the 3 people that did pass and they spent the best part of 6 weeks in a race camp in Tignes for this one thing.  Is that realistic for a 37 year old guy with a wife, dog and an annual job?

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clockwise from top. tension in start area, race track, start hut

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Photos courtesy of Scott Pleva at Inside Out Skiing.

This is really the thing I cannot square with our ski system as it stands right now.  We are ski instructors/coaches but the amount of time spent actually learning how to teach and the process of learning is minimal, as is the volume of hours taught between levels that you need to build up.

The time spent on technical skiing is much higher and there is the prospect of trying to finish off the system with a speed test that even French guys who have been in ski race clubs for much of their youth are failing.   

It’s an interesting debate and one that I don’t have an answer to right now.  In fact I have to concentrate on healing myself sufficiently after the exertions of this one weekend to go do yet more technical skiing exams later in the season…

Till next time.

-x-

The pre-season blog

I write to you in this blog with the great news that I’ve actually been skiing!

Unless you count the day I spent in Saas Fee in October, which now seems so long ago as to not matter at all, I’ve just returned from a week in Hintertux ,Austria.  I was in Hintertux to spend some time training Giant Slalom (GS) with a view to going for the Eurotest at some point this season.

If you’ve never heard of the Eurotest (which will be loads of you because the Eurotest is very small in its relevance to anyone other than a small number of ski instructors bitching their way through the British ski system), it’s basically a European-wide test of your ability to race GS adjusted to the time of the best guy in the world at it.  If you’ve never heard of GS I don’t blame you, but it’s the stuff they show on the TV with the catsuits and the gates.

Anyway, at some point in the British system you have to suck it up and do the Eurotest if you want to go on and finish the system.  I’m in that space now so I’ve got to learn how to ski GS.  Growing up in London with no mountains, no local ski club as a yoof and no interest in skiing until age 14, it’s all new and interesting.

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Not me but Bromance in the fog. I was crying somewhere.

So there I was on the Hintertux glacier fighting with 25-meter radius skis that only work above a certain speed, bombing about the glacier.  The first couple of days were pretty hateful.  Not only was I getting used to being back on skis but also these new mental fast skis and it was all a little bit too much for me at one point, especially in the fog where I couldn’t see shit.  For me, flat light is kryptonite and that combined with an unfamiliar place and equipment was enough to make me want to quit.

Help was at hand though as I was with the Bromance, who suggested that we get involved in the après ski before our day off.  I thought I had seen après ski but clearly Austria is on another level.  We stepped into what appeared to be a nightclub at midnight before realising it was only 5pm in the afternoon on a Tuesday.  Anyway, 10 beers, a load of laughs, some bitching and some questionable DJ choices later, all the stresses were gone…

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day off.

Back on the big skis later that week, I started to work out how they worked and started to love them. For the last 3 days we were in the gates and I have to say that I LOVE gates.  I love the concept of being in a race track, with the challenge of the course making you turn where you don’t necessarily want to turn, the whack of the gates against the body and the lack of subjectiveness of the clock.  You’re either fast or you aren’t.

We will see where this goes this season but for sure, you won’t find me bitching about the Eurotest.  If I get there, I’ll be able to look the local instructors in the eye and say I’ve got it and take the respect that comes with that.   Thanks to Sean Langmuir for a great week.

On a slightly more snowploughy note, bookings are starting to arrive for the winter and I’ve already got some really nice work lined up for December with potential for much more.  I’m looking forward to skiing with some of the kids that I teach football to (and their parents!).  The good thing about this is that it reduces the time that you are unfamiliar to the kids and you can get so much more done if that student-teacher bond is already there.

Next week I’m off to Zermatt for the level 4 teaching exam.  I’m really looking forward to this one but I’m also apprehensive at the same time.  This will be the first snow based module of level 4 (highest in the BASI system) that I will have attended and I’m anxious about my level of skiing.  I’ve been with my head in the textbook for a while now and have written down a bunch of ideas, but I’m not that academic so I’ll be really challenged if the examiner is one that wants all the right ‘words’.

We will see.  See you in a week or so.

-x-