Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Arrived in Tignes

Well, I've arrived in Tignes, and found a bar with wi-fi so I'm back online for the minute (as long as I keep buying drinks). We have had two days of race training so far - today would have been the third but the resort stayed shut due to the weather. The good news is that there is plenty of snow. The bad news is that there is a lot of wind as well. Still it is all looking a lot better than last year.

I would post some new photos here but I have forgotten my USB lead. D'oh. I have posted an old photo of me racing (ski school race, March 06) to illustrate where I need to improve (and hopefully have improved since then). You can see that my inside ski is turning but the outside one is heading away down the hill. This is because my weight is too far inside (notice the inside hand and shoulder dropping) so I cannot pressure the outside ski effectively. The principles are not that different from any other sort of skiing, but for someone unused to racing, the gates really do add a new dimension. Looking at a photo can help to analyse and pick out faults, but using a video is even better. If you get the chance to watch yourself skiing on video, especially with your instructor or coach, then it really is a useful learning tool.

Anyway, I had better sign off now. As I said previously, posts will be sporadic until the end of the month when I get to the flat in Andorra with steady Internet access, so please bear with me.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Off to Tignes

Well, for me the winter starts here. I am heading off to Tignes in about half an hour although I won't be there until Sunday night as I am taking something of a meandering route and visiting friends on the way. The plan is two weeks of training and then heading over to Andorra to organise my work permit for the winter. Posts will probably be quite sporadic over the next two weeks until I get to Andorra and a stable internet connection. It all depends on the wifi access in Tignes, so please bear with me. I will be back.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

More Resorts Opening Early

Well, snow is falling all over the Alps and more resorts are either open or planning to open well ahead of schedule. Part of this is no doubt for the publicity. Even with great conditions only a few people will travel to those resorts at this time of year. Most people just cannot drop everything to go skiing at short notice. There will of course be locals (those within a few hours drive) going up at the weekends, but the main benefit to the resorts is to shout out "we have snow, and plenty of it" loudly enough for all the doubters to hear. I imagine that if last year had not seen such a scarcity of early season snow, most resorts would wait until their scheduled opening dates.

Resorts open early include Schladming and Kitzbuhel, both in Austria, although the latter is just opening weekends at the moment. Verbier in Switzerland plans to open some lifts from Saturday onwards.

I am really looking forward to my trip to Tignes next week. Ten centimetres of snow has just fallen, and whilst at present only the Glacier is open the runs down to resort are due to open in just over a week's time, half way through the course. From next week, expect to see a bit more on my actual skiing experiences in the blog, as I will be skiing nearly every day from then until April.

Monday, 12 November 2007

How To Be A Ski Instructor. Part 4 - Networking

If you haven't been following this occasional series on becoming a ski instructor, you can catch up by reading Part 1 - The Gap Course, Part 2 - Individual Courses and Part 3 - Finding A Job.

The last part covered finding work in the UK and finding part time (e.g. peak season) work abroad. This was partly because it is very late to be looking for jobs abroad for this winter, and partly because jobs abroad can be hard to come by without experience. If you have found a job abroad as a newly qualified ski instructor, congratulations. If not, don't give up but don't be too disappointed if you do not find one this winter.

If you are a newly qualified or soon-to-be-qualified instructor, the best thing you can do is network (obviously this is important for experienced instructors too, but they should already know that). Talk to everybody. Get to know the staff at your local slope, many of them will have contacts in ski schools abroad. When you are on holiday, or on courses, talk to as many instructors as you can. Ask the ski schools about work (although this is difficult in France). Find out about recruitment processes and timescales. Collect email addresses and leave CVs. People are much more likely to give you a chance if they have met you and can put a face to the CV.

At the end of the winter you probably will not have a job offer yet, unless you are really lucky. What you will have is a pile of contacts to follow up on. The more the better as many might not materialise. Pay attention to each ski school's timescale for recruitment and apply for as many as you can until you have a firm offer. Even then it might be worth having a backup plan, just in case. This can be a fickle and transient industry after all.

The picture above is from the summer race training camp in Les 2 Alpes showing two happy ski instructors on a powder day.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Can Ski Instructors Ski Black Runs?

I thought I would address this question because I have often been asked "can you ski black runs?" by people I am teaching. It is usually children that ask, but adults do as well. I find this staggering really, considering what job I am doing. It is a bit like asking a driving instructor if they have ever been on the motorway, or a maths teacher if they can multiply.

To teach skiing you need to be able to demonstrate techniques accurately, which means performing them consistently even in difficult conditions. You also need to be able to take customers onto more difficult terrain when they are ready, and you need to be seen to be skiing well at all times. For all these reasons as well as safety issues of travelling around the mountain, yes you do need to be a good skier to instruct. That does not mean being a world class competitor, although many world class competitiors have gone on to be great instructors and coaches. It does mean (as a minimum) being comfortable skiing any marked run in resort at high or low speed.

There are many criteria on which instructors are tested, and the level increases for the higher qualifications. Of course good skiing is relative, and many a top instructor would look quite average beside a world class racer. However, to qualify to instruct you do have to reach a level that most recreational skiers would call 'good'. Personally I prefer the word competent, as in competent to do the job, or competent to ski the whole mountain.

I was looking for a photo of me on a black run to illustrate this post (and prove the point), but all I could find was this warning sign from the top of a double black diamond run in New Zealand. I remember taking the photo because you never see signs like this in Europe. For one thing, anything approaching extreme is off piste and unpatrolled, and for another, extreme is another pretty subjective word. If something is skied often enough to warrant a sign, some would say it is not really extreme.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Exercise for Skiing

The exercise illustrated to the left is often cited as the way to prepare for a skiing holiday. You adopt a sitting position (minus the seat) against a wall and hold it until your thighs cannot take any more. And this achieves? Well, not a lot really. It will make your quads burn a bit and possibly give some small strength boost. However the quadriceps are not the only muscles used in skiing, nor even the most important.

Skiing requires aerobic fitness, flexibility and physical strength. Improving these can help improve your skiing. Concentrating on one muscle will not.

If you want to be able to ski all day then regular aerobic exercise such as running, cycling or swimming is the best plan. Doing one of these three times a week is probably all the training most people need to get the most out of their skiing holiday.

If you want to do more to help your skiing you need to plan a program including both strength and flexibility straining. The strength training should concentrate on core strength and stability as well as all the leg muscles. Squats are ideal for this and should form a significant part of any weights programme for skiing. A programme of stretching should accompany the weight training, but static stretches should not be done before a weights session. The programme can also include plyometrics, interval training etc.

You can obviously take your training as far as you like - it depends what you want to get out of your skiing. World Cup racers train full time whilst one week a year skiers just need a basic level aerobic fitness.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

It's Snowing!

I'm not a big fan of using exclamation marks in titles - mainly because they are so overused these days. However I think I can justify one here. Several Austrian resorts have opened already - up to six weeks ahead of their officially scheduled openings - due to early snowfalls. French and Andorran resorts have received a dusting of snow so far - not enough to open but a hopeful indicator of more to come. After the poor snowfalls across European resorts last season, and the predictions of global warming related doom, it is important for the industry to get off to a good start this winter. Hopefully this will reassure the doubters that the snow will still come, and that last year was an exception - one of those bad winters we have every few years.

If this winter lives up to the early signs we could be seeing a season to remember for some time. Let's hope for all the snow we missed out on last year.

Let it snow...

Friday, 2 November 2007

Why does everybody else drive on the wrong side of the road?

It is only a couple of weeks until I head out to France and then Andorra. I am almost looking forward to the drive this year. For one thing, going to the Alps first means I can avoid Paris which is my least favourite part of France for driving. Mainly though it is the fact that once out of England, queues on the motorways become a rarity.

I get used to driving on the other side more easily recently, but I still wonder why most of the world drives on the right hand side. There are good reasons for driving on the left, such as it being easier for a right handed swordsman to mount a horse on the left hand side without the sword getting caught on the animal's back. More relevantly you could argue that driving on the left means keeping the right hand on the wheel while changing gear (or even changing the CD).

Until around two hundred years ago, people in most countries rode their horses and drove their carriages on the left. Then France switched to the right, along with all the countries ruled by the French at the time. Eventually most of the world followed suit. There are various theories about why the French switched. There is the idea that the common people (without horses or carriages) always walked on the left (to avoid being run over) and after the revolution nobody wanted to look like a member of the aristocracy so everyone travelled on the left. Or there is the theory that it was to spite the English, and I have also read a complicated argument about the differing ways French and English coaches were driven. My favourite theory though is the story that Napoleon was left-handed, and therefore preferred to mount his horse from the left. As a lefty myself I like the idea that a single bloody-minded left-hander could have forced almost the whole world to do something the left-handed way. Even better, the world is still doing it the left handed way two centuries later.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Can you buy an all-round ski?

My last post about how many skis I seem to cart about these days got me thinking, can you buy a real all-round ski these days? What would I use if I could only take one pair of skis with me? I'll leave anything race related out of the equation for the moment, since you would only really want race skis for racing.

That leaves piste, off piste and the park, for me at least. So the ideal ski for the piste, something stiff and shaped like a slalom or skiercross ski. The ideal off-piste ski would be fatter and usually softer, while for freestyle you want a twintip ski with not too much shape or width.

If you have no interest in jumps and tricks then a narrower freeride ski makes a good compromise between on and off piste. Some have a slightly raised tail allowing some switch manouvres as well. This type of ski has a bit of everything without really specialising in anything. Examples include the Salomon X-Wing Tornado and the Rossignol B74 (I'm not particularly endorsing those companies over all the rest, I just happen to have their catalogues to hand).

Until a year or so ago, my use-everyday-go-anywhere-skis were Dynastar Troublemakers; Twintips that were stiff enough to be fun on piste, soft enough to be good off it and my favourite ski that I've tried in the park. My other skis stayed in the ski rack most days and I thought for a while they were the perfect all-round ski. The downside was that while I was having fun, I lost out on the piste performance of a stiffer, more shaped ski. Like most twintips, they are all too easy to ski on with your hands in your pockets. Of course, twintip skis come in all kinds of width and stiffness, some better for powder, some for piste and some purely for the park. Most people with an interest in freestyle can find a twintip that will suit them out of the park as well.

I suppose my conclusion is that most people can find a reasonable all-round compromise ski to suit most aspects of their skiing. However, if you want to keep progressing you really need to spend some time on a high performance piste ski now and again. If you don't own a pair, rent some for a day on your next trip.