MadDogSki friend Guy Elson recently took on the challenge of the BASI ski instructor training course in Morzine – here’s his honest account of a character-building five days in the mountains:
There are just three days to go before I start my BASI (British Association of Snowsport Instructors) level 1 course here in Morzine. The sun is shining and it feels like a summer’s day by the beach with a balmy breeze… I hope there is going to be enough snow for the course. I have been skiing almost my whole life (except for during my early 20s, when I became briefly distracted by girls and pubs!). I first donned a pair of skis age six and although I have pretensions of being a freestyle skier, the honest truth is that I broke the ACL in my left leg six years ago on a jump in whistler. Although it’s now repaired, high impact anything is out of the question… add to that the fact that I am now 37 years old and a father.
So, it’s the night before I start and although I am a very experienced skier I feel a little unnerved, there is a childish part of me that thinks there isn’t much they can teach me, and there’s a voice of doubt repeating “what if I fail?”. My game plan is to try and be as objective as possible, no preconceptions… I have paid my money for the course, let them do their thing.
To even get to this stage I had to complete a two-day first aid course with B.A.S.P (British Association of Ski Patrollers) and a short module on teaching children (an online course). B.A.S.S (British Alpine Ski School) are partners with B.A.S.I and are hosting this particular level 1 course in Morzine. That’s a lot of B.A.’s in one place! The level 1 course runs over five days and requires an additional 35 hours of shadowing an instructor to complete the course.
On completion of the BASI level 1 you can teach on dry ski slopes and in snow domes in the UK. Level 2 qualifies you to teach in Europe, but if you have ambitions to teach in France you better get into training! The Euro test requires the applicant to complete the giant slalom within 10-15% of the Olympic qualifying time, which just may just be possible… with an extremely stiff wind behind me!
Day one – a bluebird first day of BASI
It is day one of the course, a perfect bluebird day (but it’s been like that all week). I am staying in a small satellite resort called Grande Terche, so I have a 15-minute drive to Morzine. My lower back and knee have been pretty stiff in the mornings, so I do a few stretches, drink a proper sized coffee, down a cocktail of anti-inflammatory drugs and I’m good to go. After finishing my first day and I have to say I really enjoyed it. There are roughly ten students and two instructors, so a good teacher/pupil ratio. The day was split into two parts, a practical session on the slopes to study technique and introduce teaching elements, and an informal lecture and study group that basically recapped in depth the morning’s practical session.
I was quite surprised at how many English people are living and working out here. At least three of the group live and work in the Alps (France, Switzerland and Austria)… lucky them, it certainly beats inserting yourself into a sardine tin on wheels to get to Charing Cross every morning!
Day two – the going gets tough
It’s 5.30am, my daughter has had a bad night (teething or a cold) and so I can’t sleep. Instead I’m thinking about today’s course. I had to design a simple task to teach to the class today, I’ve done it but I may have over complicated it. On a more personal note I’m thinking about changing up my ski suit today. It’s time to breakout the “Special Blend” court jester’s outfit, which usually gets a marmite response – some love it and others hate it.
It turned out to be a long day and if I’m being honest I found it really hard. Technically everything we did was relatively simple. As predicted I over complicated my task and demonstration to the class, but it was still a positive experience. Then we concentrated on the “central theme” the doctrine philosophy of the church of BASI. This theme builds on itself to take a novice “Snow Newbie” from learning to hook a pair of skis on, all the way through to the saintly status of parallel turns. Unfortunately by the end of the day, with thirty years of skiing experience behind me, I felt incapable of doing a snowplough turn correctly. I had an enormous sense of frustration leaving the slopes. Luckily the local supermarket had a special on chocolate fingers so I demolished two packets!
Day three – Hump day on the slopes
I don’t want a repeat of yesterday, I’ve had a word with myself and I’m going into today’s session with a positive attitude to learn. I had a nightmare parking the car yesterday (finding change for the parking meter) and as a result I was late, which didn’t go down well….. Today I’m early.
The first lesson of the day was so far the best bit of ski advice I have had, centring my balance underfoot. I have always overbalanced forward, and this tip was something I could get to grips with.
As the sun got going conditions slowly became sloppy and the old niggles of adjusting my ingrained technique took hold. I felt like I was being told to speak English with a French accent, it was quite fun, but I was struggling to say a lot of words correctly and eventually felt like I couldn’t communicate in my native tongue. As I swung from enjoyment to despair, Lesley (our instructor) dropped the bombshell about delivering a 20 minute lesson tomorrow! I’m not ready!
It’s now 11.45pm and I have just finished my lesson plan. The lecture session in the afternoon helped to formulate a plan and the “Grande Grimoire” that is the BASI manual does in fact hold all the answers.
Day four – Judgment day
It’s judgement day today. I have so much theory running around my head that I need to tune out and do something else. Luckily feeding my daughter breakfast requires serious attention!
It’s now lunch time and I have just completed my lesson – thank god! It didn’t go completely to plan. I had visualised where I would teach each section of my lesson on a piste which we have consistently used during the week. Unfortunately, I was thrown a curve ball. My class started on a completely different piste, which required me to navigate my whole class through possibly the busiest corridor in Morzine during the lunch rush – logistical nightmare. The second problem was that the gradient of the piste was too shallow to effectively perform my tasks, a bit like steering a bicycle around an obstacle course at extremely slow speed. Anyway, it’s now done and it wasn’t a complete disaster.
It’s the end of the day and I have experienced the good, the bad and the ugly of teaching. It certainly has given me a lot of respect for all those teachers out there, hats off to you. One thing that did happen in the latter part of today was that I started to feel slightly in tune with this new style of skiing – are the days of serious frustration starting to pay off?
Day five – the pay-off
I have woken up with my daughter’s cold, I feel terrible. My wife has made me a cup of hot lemon and ginger with strict instructions to chew the sliced ginger, horrible but I’m feeling a little more human… Ok let’s finish this course.
At lunchtime today a minor miracle occurred. My mind and body joined forces allowing me to execute perfectly controlled short and long parallel turns, “BASI style”. It feels balanced and controlled, something that I felt I had lost from my skiing over the first four days of the course. I feel like a caterpillar finally emerging from the cocoon in the form of a Peregrine Falcon. All the hard work and frustration has paid off.
It’s now the evening and I’m very pleased to be able to say “I’m a ski instructor” – I passed! All I have to do now is complete the 35 hours of lesson shadowing. It has certainly been a roller-coaster of emotions, but the sense of achievement would not be half as sweet without the struggles – and believe me, there where points when I seriously considered quitting. I have another week here in resort before returning home, so hopefully I can tick off some of these shadowing hours.
I would like to say a big thank you to B.A.S.S for the course, Lesley for all the effort she made in our instruction, and finally to the great group of people on the course with me – we did it!