Sunday, 21 December 2008

10 Point Skiing Checklist

There always seems to be a lot to remember when going skiing, so I have a mental list I run through when going out through the door for a day's skiing. Some of these are pretty obvious - skis and boots for example - but when the kit might be in a locker on the hill, in the boot of my car, or in the appartment I like to tick off in my head that I won't need to make a frantic return home for a missing item. I've grouped them into threes to make them easier to reel off to myself in the morning.

1. Skis
2. Boots
3. Poles

4. Hat/Helmet
5. Gloves
6. Goggles/Sunglasses

7. Suncream
8. Wallet/Money
9. Keys

10. Ski pass

Thursday, 18 December 2008


I recently spent a weekend skiing in Garmisch in Germany - well actually I went there for the Eurotest but more on that later. I have never skied in Germany before, and the skiing in Bavaria tends to be overshadowed by the resorts in the Austrian Tirol just a few kilometers away. However I was very pleasantly surprised by the region - the towns are picturesque, the scenery is spectacular, the people are friendly and the beer is both good and cheap.

There are actually two ski areas accessible from the town of Garmisch. Germany's highest mountain - the Zugspitze - offers a small but varied area of glacier skiing which is reached either by a cog driven train which winds its way through a tunnel inside the mountain, or by a tiny cable car. Either way it feels like a trip back to the pioneering days of ski resorts, and there is actually an exhibition at the top station dedicated to the history of the ski area and to the workers who dug the tunnel back in the early thirties.

The second and larger ski area is the Garmisch classic area, which starts right at the edge of the town and consists mainly of pleasant tree lined slopes. As we were there for the Eurotest (the race test which forms part of the top level ski instructor exams in Europe - see previous entries in this blog for more info) we did not actually get to see very much of the ski areas.

The race was scheduled to be held on the Zugspitze, so we had a warm up day on Saturday getting to know the race piste and doing some light skiing. The Sunday race was postponed due to bad weather - too much snow and poor visibility. Everybody else on the mountain seemed to be having a lot of fun in waist deep powder whilst the racers hung around waiting for a descision to be made. The race was finally moved to the Garmisch classic area and held on the Monday in cold sunny conditions. I skied a bad race and was several seconds off the target time. I had another try this week at Alp D'Huez and missed by 1.26 seconds, so I'm getting closer.

The picture was taken from the bottom lift station first thing Monday morning, whilst queueing for a lift pass with the other 80 or so Eurotesters.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Binding safety

I said a couple of posts back that I was going to cover bindings and safety in the near future. I mentioned that if you loosened your bindings in the spring then it is important to tighten them again before going skiing. The big proviso of course is to make sure you tighten them to the same setting they were on before.

Adjusting your bindings is something you should only do if you know what you are doing - if you don't then leave it to your local ski shop to do. The important number is the DIN setting, which is a measure of how tight the binding is, or how difficult it is for it to release in a fall. If the DIN setting is low the bindings will release easily, with a high setting it will take a lot more to make them release. The idea is that the bindings release your boot from the ski before you injure your leg, but don't release prematurely when you are not at risk of injury. A binding releasing unexpectedly, or pre-releasing, can lead to injury as well. Setting the DIN will always be a compromise, as a low speed fall can break a leg or twist a knee whilst applying lower forces to the binding than skiing bumps at high speed for example. Each manufacturer produces a chart to determine the correct setting for a skier, taking into account variables such as skier height, weight, ability, style of skiing and boot sole length. Once you know your setting you should aim to buy a binding with that number close to the centre of its range, rather than at one extreme or the other.

Skiers often set the heel bindings tighter than the toepiece, because they believe they will put greater forces on the heelpiece when skiing. However the binding manufacturers are well aware of how people ski, and the heelpiece springs are much tighter than the toepiece ones already so toe and heel should always be set the same.

The DIN setting will only work accurately if the binding is adjusted properly for the boot. Boot sole length and forward pressure have to be correct for the binding to release as it should, and these are adjusted and checked differently for each make of binding. This is another reason to let a shop adjust your bindings for you unless you are sure you know what you are doing.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Pre Season Ski Service

Following on from the last post it is about time to get your skis ready for the winter. My ski hill (Arinsal) is open this weekend as will plenty of others so the winter has arrived.

Since you gave your skis a good wax and edge before putting them away last spring (didn't you?) you will not need to do them again, although another wax won't do them any harm. Ideally you want to use a set of ski vices and a workbench, plus a rubber to hold the brakes out of the way, but otherwise you will need to improvise some way to hold the ski base up and the brake clear of the base.

You will need a plastic scraper and a couple of brushes now (horsehair and nylon). Scrape the wax from the ski bases using the scraper across the whole ski to avoid scratching the base with the corner. The scraper should have a notch in one corner which you can use to scrape the wax from the metal edges. Now use the brushes from tip to tail - nylon first then horsehair. This will restore the structure of the base making the skis look like new again with that fresh from the factory grainy look.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Time to Tighten Your Bindings

For those of you who loosened your DIN settings when putting your skis away at the end of last winter - as I advised in my Summer Ski Care post back in May - don't forget to tighten them up again before you hit the slopes. I know it seems obvious, but it is easily overlooked and a ski pre-releasing can have unpleasant consequences.

A few years ago I was working as a Plongeur (washer upper / kitchen porter / dogsbody) in Meribel. After a couple of days of hard work on arrival, I got my first chance to go for a ski. I grabbed my old straight Salomon Equipes, went up the chairlift and did about three turns in chopped up snow before both skis ejected. Thinking this was a bit odd, as I wiped the snow out of my goggles I checked the bindings and realised both were wound down to about three. I put the skis back on and gingerly traversed onto smooth groomed terrain to take the easiest route back down and find a screwdriver. Unfortunately I forgot myself halfway down, and took a tiny bit of air from a tiny bump. As I landed the right ski released and the brake chose that moment to detach itself from the ski - I think the screw pulled out of the plastic. The ski accelerated faster than I could manage on one ski at the time, and I careered after it, terrified that it would injure somebody, or worse. Luckily it shot off the side of the piste and into the trees without doing any damage. Less luckily that was the last I saw of it, despite an extensive search. I was forced to become a full-time snowboarder for a couple of weeks until I found a pair of previous season Volkl P40s in a sale rack.

I know it is early season, and you may not be skiing for another few weeks or months, but the season is beginning, so a reminder is timely for resort staff, ski-bums and anyone getting some snow in before Christmas. Of course forgetting this little detail won't usually lead you to lose a few hundred Euros' worth of ski kit, but it can easily lead to unexpected falls and potential injury. One final point to note, is that it important to tighten the binding to the same DIN setting as it was at before, assuming it was correct. A binding set too tight or too lose can be dangerous. I will elaborate on pre-season ski servicing, and binding safety in the next couple of posts, but for now, ski safe.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Race training in Tignes

This is just a quick post as I've had to pop down to the Tex-Mex bar in Tignes to get a wi-fi connection. I'm looking forward to the day when holiday rental appartments have high speed internet. I have started race training a week early in order to take a week off later to sort out my Andorran work permit for the winter - an annual start of season hassle.

The training is going well so far. Skiing gates really forces you to ski well and it is always surprising what a difference it makes when someone else has decided where you have to turn. If you really want to improve your piste skiing then some training on a race course can make an amazing difference. If you get the chance to spend some time in the gates then I would really recommend you take it, however it is not the most forgiving environment. Every mistake will stand out, and most race coaches will be much blunter than your average ski instructor when it comes to giving feedback.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

A Chamonix Chalet

As regular readers will know I have been working in the Chamonix valley for the summer and autumn. Although not ideal for beginners this really is a fantastic place for skiers and moutaineers (and snowboarders, rock climbers, mountain bikers etc.) looking for the steep and the big. This valley really is on a different scale to any other European ski resorts I have visited, and I've been to a lot of them over the years.

For anyone interested in visiting the valley this winter, the Ice-Break Chalet just up the road from me deserves a mention. My friend and occasional climbing partner Martin is running the business with his fiance Abi his winter. Unlike a conventional chalet they are offering holidays for anything from a week to a whole season (5 months) with all the traditional home comforts of an up-market chalet - half board with wine, sauna, DVD and internet, log fire and so on, plus ski workshop and free transport to the slopes and around the valley. It sounds to me like an incredibly luxurious way of spending a ski season - I remember sleeping in a hole under the basement stairs of a chalet in Meribel for a season, while friends crammed into a shoebox in Val D'Isere which barely had room for a set of bunkbeds and a cooker. When you factor in the amount spent on food and drink in a typical season in the Alps, living in comfort in a catered chalet might not be all that expensive.

The other big bonus of this setup is always having somebody to hit the slopes with who knows their way around the valley. Martin is a BASI qualified snowboard instructor and is training to be a UIAGM mountain guide with ENSA (the French national school for skiing and alpinism) so he is a good guy to be on the hill with.

Anyway, if you're interested check them out at They also have a blog of life in the valley on the site which is worth a look for snow updates and photos.

As we are into November, watch out for some more ski oriented posts from now on. My season starts in 10 days when I head over to Tignes for skiing on the glacier, so the countdown is on.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

The Smell of Winter

It began to snow here last night, and it is still going strong. It is nice to see the first snow of the season falling as early as October, but more exciting is the fact that it is falling all over Europe. The Alps, the Pyrenees and even Engalnd are all getting their share.

Stepping outside this morning I was hit by the smells of winter in the air. Woodsmoke, cold clear air, and the smell of the snow itself, all combined to make it clear that winter is on the way. Autumn is a time for anticipation of the coming winter, and it feels like it is going to be a good one.

I'll sign off with a couple of photos taken whilst working this afternoon, just to show how the snow looked then.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

How to extend your winter season

Many people I speak to seem to think that the ski season lasts from Christmas until February. There is a mad rush to fit everybody's holiday into a few short weeks. Even seasoned skiers often seem to think the season is basically late December until mid March. In fact it is quite easy to make a winter season last six months or more in Europe. This year I am planning to do five months (mid-November to mid-April) but it will be running out of money and work that ends the winter, rather than running out of snow. Similarly, most ski resorts shut in April when the customers dry up, not when the snow melts.

To start the long winter, plan some warm up weeks in a high resort with a glacier. I'm heading to Tignes in November for four weeks race training, but there are other options. No resorts will be fully open, but some will have quite a few runs. In late November and early December, watch out for resorts opening early, especially if there is good snowfall. Last year several Austrian resorts opened a few weeks earlier than planned to take advantage of good conditions - the publicity was probably worth more to them than the actual tickets they sold.

Opening dates proper are spread throughout the first half of December (with one or two exceptions) so from then until April it's easy. Take your pick of resorts or travel between them.

Into April, and resorts start to close as they run out of customers. Most of the bigger resorts will be open until late April at least. Some, such as Val D'Isere or Chamonix are open until early May. After that it is time to get out the skins and start hiking, as the only way up is under you own steam. May is the height of the ski touring season - spring snow, longer days, safer conditions and no crowds mean ideal conditions for gettting away into the back country. Most years ski touring will be possible well into June.

After that, well if you want to keep skiing it's back to the glaciers for summer skiing. Or up to the Arctic Circle to ski under the midnight sun. Or down to NZ, Oz or South America.

Hopefully this might give some of you some ideas, either to extend your ski season, or to slip in an extra holiday or long weekend. Of course there is a whole world out there - there are lots more places to ski in Europe than those I've mentioned, let alone North America and Asia.

By the way the photos are from Tignes last November and Chamonix in May.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Three Tier ISIA

This post is all about forthcoming changes in ski instructor qualifications, so if you are not an instructor or planning to become one it might all sound a bit complicated. Hopefully it will be of some use to those choosing an instructor or ski school as well.

The International Ski Instructor Association (ISIA) has been setting minimum standards for ski instructor qualifications for some time now. These standards are pretty high, and to be awarded a qualification with the ISIA Stamp is an achievement that usually takes several years. This stamp represents the top or next to top level in the various national sytems, e.g. BASI Ski Teacher, CSIA 3, PSIA 3 or NZSIA 2. For a more detailed explanation of ski instructor qualification levels see this post.

Up to now, the ISIA has never recognised any other qualifications, either higher or lower. This has made it dificult to compare qualifications from different countries, and have them recognised properly when working around the world. Many European countries have a top qualification that is significantly more demanding than the ISIA stamp, which they consider to be a middle level. Each system also has one or more entry level qualifications which are generally similar in standard to one another but which have no international recognition.

Earlier this year, the ISIA proposed a new three tier ISIA stamp system. This will retain the current ISIA stamp as the middle level. The new levels will be as follows:

Entry Level - for "non professional ski teachers" and entitled to hold the national association stamp. This is likely to be similar to BASI Level 2 Instructor, CSIA 2, PSIA 2 or NZSIA 1.

The 2nd Level - "the first step for Professional Ski Teachers" Recognised by the ISIA as meeting the Minimum Standards, entitled to the ISIA Stamp. This should be similar to current ISIA stamp qualifications.

The Top Level - Fully qualified Ski Teacher. At this level the curriculum must include a speed test and a mountain safety module. Entitled to the ISIA Card. This is likely to be at the level of the top European qualifications such as the BASI ISTD, French Diplome National, Italian Maestro etc.

Hopefully when these levels are established internationally it will put an end to any uncertainty about how various qualifications relate to each other, and make it easier for qualified instructors to work around the world. It might also make it easier for customers to choose an instructor.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Using Your Mobile Abroad

A common peice of advice for anybody travelling abroad for any length of time (e.g. doing a ski season) is to buy a local phone or SIM card. If you can get your phone unlocked, and for many phones you can do it free on various websites, then a new SIM card is the cheapest way but buying a new phone does let you check your messages on your existing number more easily.

The rationale is the high prices most phone operators charge for roaming calls and texts, and the assumption that calls with an operator from the country you are in will be vastly cheaper. However, this is not always the case as I recently discovered in France. Several friends told me that only one of the French networks provides decent reception in the Chamonix valley, so there seemed no point in shopping around for the best deal. I bought a basic thirty Euro SIM card, expecting to get nearly that much credit and in fact getting only five Euros included. I wasn't too happy about that, since every SIM card I have bought before in any country has nearly its full value included as credit, but I thought of how much money I would save by stopping using my UK phone. Until I found the (not well advertised) tarrifs and discovered that making calls in France cost 55 Eurocents a minute - significantly more than using my UK phone in a foreign country. Roaming charges have been capped by EU law for the last year or so, but it seems there is no limit to what a company can charge its customers while at home.

Anyway the moral is: research things before you rush in and buy, and compare the prices properly. There are several options for using a mobile abroad - buying a local SIM, buying a roaming SIM that works cheaply in many countries, or finding a phone operator in your home country that does good roaming tarrifs.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Get The Iron Out

It's only two months until ski areas start opening around Europe, and the Northern Hemisphere. If you want to make it feel a little bit closer and you have a bit of free time, why not get out your skis and give them some TLC. Not only will it make you feel better while you are missing the snow, it will make them faster as well. If you serviced the skis well at the end of the season, there is no need to sharpen the edges, and no need to scrape the wax off either. Just iron in a new layer of wax, leave them somewhere warm for a couple of hours, then put them away again. Use a mid-range wax for this, not an expensive high-fluoro wax which is not long lasting enough. The idea is that each time you apply wax it will impregnate itself deeper into the base, lasting longer and making the base faster.

Friday, 19 September 2008

I'm Back

Well after not managing to post for nearly six weeks it's about time I wrote something again. Not that I've really got a lot to tell. It's been a lot of work and not much play, saving up for the autumn training courses. My French is improving though, and I'm in a pretty nice place so no complaints. Winter is definitely approaching however, so more ski related posts will be appearing soon. In the meantime, thought I'd give a mention to a couple of my favourite skiing blogs.

Firstly, the friendly people at the Nutcracker Ski Club in Mt Buller, Australia have a nice site with good photos and lots of info and their season is in full swing whilst up north we are just counting down the days until the snow comes back.

Secondly, Homeboy's Ski Blog is written by a couple of Finns and covers all sorts of skiing topics as well as mountain biking over the summer months. Unlike me they generally manage a post every couple of days or so.

Both these are well worth a visit, so take a look and I'll be back in a couple of days with some more skiing stuff to get in the autumn (i.e. nearly winter) mood.

Thursday, 31 July 2008

Trip to Annecy

No matter how attractive the place you are in, it is always nice to get an away day every now and again and see somewhere different. A recent trip to Annecy was a chance to get out of the mountains, and deep valleys, and see the picturesque lakeside town nestling in the Alpine foothills.

The town is the capital of the Haute-Savoie department, with a well preserved old-town along the banks of the river running out of the lake. We stopped for lunch at a terrace restaurant beside the river next to the 12th century Palais de l'Isle Jail (Palace of the Isle of the Jail) - one of the most photographed landmarks in France. After a pleasant steak we were entertained by a miming clown, who appeared wheeling a unicycle but sadly did not ride it. Then we walked along the river to the lake to the strains of an accordion player. It was like walking through all the French cliches rolled up together.

The Old Town around the river

Market stalls on the bridge

Palais de l'Isle Jail from behind - the famous view is from the other side, but you can see that picture all over the web (Google, or Wikipedia it) so this is my one.

Looking down the lake over the Pedaloes

Saturday, 26 July 2008

My Tartiflette Recipe

I have never posted a recipe before, but to follow up the Haute-Savoie post I think a local recipe will give a good flavour of local food. So, here goes with my version of a Tartiflette. With salad it should serve a family of four, or 2-3 hungry skiers. The quantities are approximate, as I am a "throw it in till it looks right" kind of cook.


1 kg (2lb) potatoes, peeled and sliced
200g (1/2 lb) lardons (or smoked bakon, diced)
1 large onion
A clove or two of garlic
1/2 litre (1 pint) double cream
1 whole Reblochon cheese - preferably a ripe mature one
Salt and pepper
Olive oil for frying
A little white wine (optional)

  • Pre-heat the oven to about 170 Centigrade, Gas Mark 4
  • Finely chop the onion and saute in a little olive oil until soft
  • Chop or crush the garlic
  • Add the garlic and bacon to the onions and saute until browned
  • Place the sliced potatoes and the onion and bacon mixture in a large gratin dish in alternate layers so they are roughly mixed together
  • Season with salt and pepper
  • Pour the cream over the top until it almost covers the mixture
  • You can add a little white wine at this point - for authenticity it should be a Savoyarde wine but I wouldn't buy one specially.
  • Slice the Reblochon in half horizontally, so you have two circles, then place the two halves skin side up on top of the dish. As it cooks the cheese will melt through the potatoes.
  • Bake until the potatoes are tender - roughly one to one and a half hours.

If you cannot find a Reblochon you can substitute another sufficiently smelly ripe old cheese. This is just the way I make it, but there are lots of variations. Bon Apetit

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Haute-Savoie Region

As promised, here is a bit of a travel blog type post on the Haute Savoie region of the French Alps which extends from the southern shores of Lake Geneva down to Lake Annecy to the south west and Chamonix, Mont Blanc and the Swiss and Italian borders to the south east.

The culture and architecture of the region are fairly typically Alpine, with a tradition of small farming communities. More recently of course, tourism plays a major part of the economy and there are many world class ski resorts - Chamonix, Megeve, Morzine, Avoriaz to name a few.

Architecture uses the local materials of wood and stone with the traditional chalet style being quite common. Stone lower floors with wood above are quite common, as are balconies running the length of the upper floors. Roofs are tiled with wood, stone or often just corrugated metal sheets.

The wooden church spire in Argentiere

A typical old farmhouse in the region

The food in the Haut Savoie and Savoie regions could be described as hearty - the staple ingredients are potatoes, cheese (including goats cheese) and cream. Also popular are onions and various meats, particularly pork products. Restaurants offer various cook-it-yourself options including meat and cheese fondue, Pierrade/pierre chaud - cooking meat on a hot stone, and Raclette - melting cheese onto bread with a fancy gadget.

A typical local dish is Tartiflette, made with sliced potatoes, lardons (diced smoked bacon), onions, cream and Reblochon cheese. Although typical, and apparently traditional it was actually invented in the 1980s by the union of Reblochon cheese makers as a ploy to boost sales. It is a great winter dish though and I will post a recipe in the next couple of days.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Blue Skies at Last

Here is the same view down the vallley as the bad weather one a couple of posts back - just to prove that there really are mountains down there - including Mont Blanc. This is a great place to be staying. I should write a travel blog type post on the Savoie region - there is the obvious mountain scenery, but they also have distinctive architechture, cuisine, cheeses, traditions and uniquely bad wine. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a wine snob and I'll drink practically anything but I have learnt to steer clear of the local stuff here. So my mission for the next post is to get some photos of local architechture, food etc. and I'll do a proper travel writeup of the area.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Ski Fitness - Summary

To round up the series of articles on ski fitness, I want to sumarize the last few posts, but also to discuss the relevance of other sports and activities.

Apologies for the lack of pictures in this longish post - I will post some more soon.

The important muscles for skiing are obviously the leg muscles - the quadriceps group but also the hamstrings, the core muscles of the abdominals and back, and also to an extent the arm muscles.

Three areas of importance are cardivascular (aerobic) endurance, strength and flexibility. For a typical recreational skier wanting to ski all day without getting too tired the first is the most relevant. As the performance level increases strength and flexibility become more important. Flexibility allows the body to make the necessary shapes more easily and is developed through streching programmes - remember to do stretches after other exercises as static stretches before exercise can increase the chance of injury.

Strength training allows the body to effectively manage the forces that build up in high performance skiing. A wide range of muscles come into play, so the best training will use free weights to develop more muscles. To perform at your highest level on skis will require some effort spent on strength and flexibility training.

Exercises such as running, cycling or team sports will develop cardiovascular fitness and help with muscular endurance. Some form of aerobic exercise like this should be used as part of any programme. However they will not build a lot of strength in the skiing muscles (i.e. you can still expect some aches after the first day or two back on skis). Swimming can be good as it develops a wide range of muscles in an impact free way. In fact most sports will have a positive effect on skiing ability. For most people, simply keeping fit and active is the best preparation, accepting the odd first day aches as just a part of skiing. If your skiing holiday is your only exercise for the year (and we see plenty in this category in the ski school) then it will be really hard work, and not as fun as it could be.

A few sessions on an artificial slope in the off season can help keep the skiing muscles in trim, particularly in the run up to the holiday. Those of you who are luccky enough to live near the mountains and ski at weekends probably have far fewer problems than those who do their winter's skiing in one week away.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Argentiere Glacier

I popped out to get a takeaway pizza the other night and got this fantastic view of the Argentiere glacier on the way. The sun and clouds came together perfectly for an atmospheric scene. To the right of the glacier you can see the ski run to the village winding through the trees (no snow on it at this time of year, but a less than three months ago I was skiing it). On a more sombre note, this glacier, like many others, has receded a lot over the last few years - a much more significant indicator of climate change than all the worrying over how much snow such and such a resort got last winter.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Great Weather

I arrived in Cham on Thursday evening in the rain. Friday and Saturday were pretty nice days though, so we got plenty of work done. Today was a day off to get some climbing done, but sunny weather first thing had turned to heavy rain by 9.30am, which has continued all day. Still, I'd rather be here in the rain than back home.

The view towards Mont Blanc from Argentiere (it's behind the cloud in the cetre of the photo).

Monday, 30 June 2008

Back to the Alps

I should be packing at the moment as I'm heading back to Chamonix tomorrow. Not for skiing this time (although there will be at least one pair of skis going in the car, just in case), but it will be good to get back to some mountains. Living in one of the flattest parts of England is not good for the soul. The ski season is over but the mountaineering season is kicking off, and there is plenty of walking, climbing, cycling and every other summer mountain sport to be done. I am going to be working though, helping a friend renovate his house - lots of digging and pushing wheelbarrows to be expected. So I won't be spending that much time playing, but there should be some free time.

I will make this a quick post, and get back to the packing. Hopefully I should be posting some nice mountain pics and stories from the Alps in a few days, as well as a roundup of the ski fitness posts.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Ski Fitness - Arms

Continuing the recent theme, I want to move on to the arm and shoulder muscles. Apart from holding and planting the poles, it is not that obvious that the arm muscles have any great importance in skiing. However, if the arms begin to flail when the terrain gets rough, it will be difficult to maintain a balanced position. The arms should be kept forward and strong to help keep the upper body still in a good position. Admittedly there are plenty of good skiers seen skiing with their hands in their pockets, but most would bring their hands up and forward when tackling difficult terrain, particularly at speed.

When caught off balance, an arm will often get flung back. To recover effectively means driving the arm back forward into a strong bablanced position.

Maintaining and regaining a strong arm position is obviously easier with sufficient arm and shoulder strength. There are several approaches to this, with free weights being probably the most effective. Exercises such as bench presses and shoulder presses are good, as well as those exercising several muscles together like push presses or cleans. Various dumbell exercises can also be used, as well as weight machines. Finally, push ups and pull ups require little equipment, and can play a part in any training programme.

As before, I only intend to give suggestions to get you started. It is important to do any free weight exercises correctly and safely so it is best to get advice from a trainer or coach.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Ski Fitness - Core

I want to continue the ski fitness series by moving on to the core muscles. As with most sports, core strength is important in skiing for stability and balance. Having a solid core will enable you to maintain a strong position even when the terrain is trying to throw you off balance. This is especially true in bumps, crud or slush - all the difficult, uneven conditions really.

The core muscles are the abs and back. Various exercises for these go in and out of fashion - sit-ups and crunches are less popular at the moment for example. The current popular exercises are things like the plank, or the many Swiss-ball exercises. Also good are press-up variations (e.g. clapping your hands during press ups).

As with the legs, free weights are good for a range of muscles. Again, squats are a great starting point, and should be included in any weights programme for skiing. In fact, some would say squats are about the only exercise you need.

It really is up to you to find what works - there are many approaches to developing core strength. However, it is not to be ignored if you want to maximise your performance. The next fitness post will move up the body again to the arms.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

How To Be A Ski Instructor - Job Hunting

For those who have followed my occasional posts on 'How To Be A Ski Instructor', now is the time to start looking for work for next winter (in the Northern Hemisphere at least). If you are a newly qualified instructor it can be daunting to get that first job and get on the instructor ladder - like many professions there is something of a Catch 22 where you need experience to get a job and a job to get experience.

My advice is to apply for a lot of positions. Hopefully you will have some contacts from courses or from resorts you have visited. Use these but do not rely on them exclusively. It is always good to have a backup plan if a job falls through. By all means apply to the big name resorts - they will employ a lot of instructors but there will still be a lot of demand for positions. Do your research and find all the ski schools in a resort, not just the biggest or best marketed. Do not be disheartened though if you are not offered your dream job on a plate. Look at other options, including less glamourous options. In Europe you obviously have the Alps, but also Andorra, Spain, Eastern Europe and Scotland. In the US the East Coast resorts may be easier to find work at. In Canada there are many smaller areas beyond the obvious Whistler and Banff resorts. There are also advantages to working in a small area, as part of a smaller team. It is often friendlier with more opportunities for training and progression. Above all, don't give up - something will turn up if you keep looking.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Ski Fitness - Legs

Continuing the theme of getting fit for skiing over the summer season, I want to start with the legs. The main muscles used in skiing are the quads at the front of the thighs, and the hamstrings at the back. Most people would probably guess that the quads are more important, but in fact if you are correctly balanced the hamstrings will take a large part of the load. If your quads feel seriously tired when skiing you are probably sitting two far back - I will return to this point in the future, but for now I want to concentrate on physical rather than technical training.

Strength and endurance are both important, and the balance depends on the type of skiing you want to do. If you want to ski well all day you will need more endurance, whereas racers or competitive bump skiers for example will obviously need more strength and power over a shorter period of time.

Running, cycling, swimming etc. will all improve general aerobic fitness and endurance, and some form of aerobic training should be included in pretty much any programme. For recreational skiers, a good general level of aeorobic fitness and an efficient skiing technique are all you need to be able to cruise the slopes all day without feeling too tired at the end of the day.

Competitive skiers, and those looking for a higher level of performance will need to look at strength training, i.e. using weights. The leg press machine is a start, but squats are a lot better and work the core muscles as well. Whether using free weights or machines it is important to exercise the hamstrings as well as the quads.

To improve your ability to make explosive movements, plyometric exercises can be useful, especially later in the programme.

Finally, most people will benefit from a stretching programme to improve flexibility. This is quite underrated by many skiers, but being flexible can help as much as being stronger. However, avoid doing static stretches before exercise (e.g. as part of a warm up), as it can make you more prone to injury. Do the stretches after the exercise session.

This post is really just an introduction, with a few pointers to what will help with skiing. You need to know what you are doing when embarking on a weights programme, so find a trainer or coach if necessary, or get advice at your local gymn.

I plan to continue the fitness theme over the next few posts, since there is not a lot of skiing to be done at the moment for most of us.

Saturday, 31 May 2008

Skiing Fitness - Which muscles to use?

With it being the off season for skiers in the Northern Hemisphere, it is a good time to look at training over the summer months. I plan to cover some different aspect of this over the next few posts - and yes, there will be more on unicycles.

The image above shows (roughly) the various muscle areas that are important to skiing. The obvious area is the quadriceps, marked in blue. These are the muscles that most people will think of in connection with skiing. However the quads are not the only, nor even the most, important muscles for skiing. The hamstrings, marked in green, are at least as important and perhaps harder to train effectively. Like most sports the core muscles (abs and back, marked in red) are very important. Finally arm strength has a role to play in high performance skiing.

An all round training programme needs the right balance of speed, strength, endurance and aerobic fitness training, and also needs to suit the type of skiing you do. A bumps specialist will have different needs from a ski mountaineer. In either case though, it is better to start now and build up a good base rather than leaving it until the weeks before the next ski trip.

The next post will cover the leg muscles - quads and hamstrings - what we use them for and how to train them.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Arinsal Closing Weekend Last Month

I am posting another picture from the last weekend in Arinsal, just to illustrate how much snow there is at the end of the season. This was the 12th April on the afternoon after the Ski School Race. Three of us had just skied the chute in the middle of the cliff band, which is pretty much the only couloir in the Arinsal ski area and had been on my list to do for a while.

I would have posted it sooner, but the trip to Chamonix for the second half of April got in the way of posting for a while, and by then I had plenty of ski touring pictures to post as well. Hopefully this will illustrate the point I have made before, that contrary to popular opinion the end of season is still a great time to go skiing.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Martian Skiers?

Firstly I would like to apologise for the length of time since my last post - I have been having some issues with the Blogger platform.

You may have seen Nasa's photographs from the Phoenix lander which touched down on Mars yesterday. Much has been made of the "quilted" patterns in the Martian landscape, and how they may have formed. My first impression though is that, colour aside (and the colour is false anyway), they bear a remarkable resemblance to a bumps run in any ski resort.

Okay, I am not seriously suggesting that Mars is inhabited by snow loving alien skiers, although there are some pretty big mountains over there. Perhaps I have just reached the point where I see something ski related in every news item or photo.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Unicycle update

You may remember I bought a unicyle in Andorra with the aim of improving my skiing fitness. Although I started with the usual burst of enthusiasm of anybody with a new toy, the next snowfall put a bit of a dampener on things by filling the car park where I practised with a couple of feet of fresh white powder (no complaints about that mind you).

Back home in England I have been practising again, and have finally managed to turn the thing, rather than just trying to stay on it whichever way it decided to go.

Here are a couple of photos, just to prove that (at least briefly) I was balanced on it.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Summer Ski Care

Being back in England, most of my skis won't be seeing any use for a while. It seems a good time for a reminder of what needs to be done before putting skis into storage for a while.

Tune the edges as normal ready for the next use, then apply a generous amount of wax and make sure it covers the edges as well as the bases - this will protect them from rust over the summer. Don't scrape and brush as you would normally, but leave the wax on the skis as a protective layer.

Finally, loosen the DIN settings of the bindings until they are as low as they will go - this helps the springs to last longer. However, if you do this MAKE SURE YOU TIGHTEN THEM before you use them again.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Mont Blanc Du Tacul (nearly)

The last trip in Chamonix was planned to be an ascent of Mont Blanc du Tacul - a subsidiary peak of Mont Blanc and a 4000m mountain in its own right. Unfortunately we left it too late booking the cable car and had to get the 9am rather than the 8am lift. Next there was a slow moving queue of people doing the Valleé Blanche on the knife edge ridge out of the top station, so it was after 10 o'clock by the time we actually started the climb up.

We knew that we had to be on the way down by 1pm, as the snow bridges on glaciers lower down would be weakening in the warm weather. In particular an area known as the Salle a Manger* was reported to have several weak snow bridges. We would have to cross these on our descent of the Valleé Blanche after the climb. Unfortunately we were still several hundred vertical metres short of the summit by one, so reluctantly switched crampons for skis and headed down. Near the end of the descent we came across a lake which had formed on the glacier from melting ice. It was a remarkable shade of blue, with black caves visible in the depths below a few floating icebergs. Photos from the day are posted below.

*Salle a Manger is French for Dining room, as this is an area where many people stop to eat their packed lunches, often in unwise places, on the descent. A lot of people seem oblivious to the dangers of glaciers and the high mountain environment, perhaps because the skiing is not too demanding and there are plenty of other people about. However a number of people have been killed on the Valleé Blanche descent this year, often through ignoring their guide's advice. It is quite frightening to see people sitting beneath creaking seracs and loaded avalanche prone slopes, or taking their skis off while wandering about crevasse zones.

The queue on the ridge

Ian on the climb

A lake formed in the glacier on the way down

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Back home

As of late last night, I am back home in England. I have a mountain of gear to unpack, and a mountain of clothes to put through the washing machine. It's already hard to believe I was in Chamonix only yesterday morning.

I am trying to figure out how to get back to the snow as quickly as possible. The main options at the moment are summer skiing on the European glaciers, or South America. Australia/New Zealand are obvious possibilities as well. Really I need to consider where I can train effectively for the Eurotest in November. It is a tough test, but a major step on the way to the full ISTD qualification.

On the blogging front, I plan to get back to providing a mix of skiing advice, photos, reports on my ski related activities and the odd bit of opinion. I have a few more photos from Chamonix to post, a couple of lessons in the pipeline, something on off-season ski care and after that I'll make it up as I go along.

I've had a really great season this year, and have managed to drag it out into almost six months, which is the longest one I've done, and skied in four countries. Thank you to all the people I've skied with and partied with, to everybody who's been reading and especially to those who have taken the time to comment or email.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Aguille Crochues

This time I have some photos from the other side of the Chamonix valley - we hiked to the Aguille Crochues from the Flegere and Index lifts via Lac Blanc. At 2837m it is not a high peak in the region, but it is a peak nontheless and none of my previous tours have taken in an Alpine summit. We were hoping for some spring corn skiing back down, but it was a little late in the day so we had to be content with untracked but heavy snow.

Apologies to those of you who have previously commented positively on the ski tips posts - there will be more of those in the near future. At the moment I'm afraid I've been having too much fun skiing, touring and having an end of season holiday.

The Aguille Crochues on the way up

Ian on the way down

The Aguille Crochues from near the lift station - the peak in the middle of the skyline - we ascended behind the skyline ridge.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Col D'Argentiere

Seeing as I'm on holiday at the moment, here is another post full of photos and not many words. Yesterday we skinned up to the Col D'Argentiere and skied back down. Just under 1000 metres up, and 2500 metres down to the valley.

The first picuture shows our objective - the col on the skyline just right of center

The last push

The view from the top

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Springtime in Chamonix

The last couple of days have been really nice. We have been skiing in the morning, rock climbing in the afternoon and sitting around the fire in the garden all evening. Spring is a great time of year, it's a shame it leads into summer and the end of the skiing. From Ian's house here it is 5 minutes walk to the lift station, and 10 minutes the other way to the nearest crag.

On Saturday we did the Vallee Blanche, Chamonix's most popular (and perhaps most overrated) off piste excursion. We took a variation route to avoid the crowds, but heavy breakable crust persuaded us to rejoin the main route. It was nice to do it in the morning and be down for lunch before going for a climb - last time I did the Valle Blanche was in 2002 with a guide and it was a big day out with lots of planning and a very early start.

The photo is from the start of the route, just leaving the Aguille Du Midi cable car station. The route goes to the right of the rocky hill in the middle, and then follows the glacier down behind it to the left.

Monday, 28 April 2008

Back in Cham

Well, I'm back in Chamonix now after the week in Austria. Didn't make the Eurotest, in fact I was further off than last time I tried it which is a bit disappointing. It wasn't as well organised as the French test, and the visibility wasn't too good so I wasn't the only one with a disapointing time.

The Chamonix valley seems to have moved into summer mode in the week I was in Austria. The snow has receded a fair bit, and the weather has turned warm and sunny - barbecue time.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Chamonix Photos

We have finally found some Internet access in Austria, so I have an hour to post and to check my email before the ticket runs out. We have had a great few days' training and my GS skiing has definately come on with some good coaching. We are in St Anton now with the lifts shut due to bad weather and tomorrow's Eurotest postponed by at least a day.

I will let you know how the Eurotest goes, if and when it happens. In the meantime I will leave you with those photos from Chamonix on Wednesday. We started at the Grand Montets, took the Pente Pisteurs (Pisteur's Slope) towards the Argentiere Glacier. Skinned up to the Col du Passant and skied down to Le Tour. A good but fairly popular short tour, however we did find some fresh lines.

This is me with the Grand Montets cable car station and the way down the Pente Pisteurs in the background.

And this is Ian and the way ahead up to the Col de Passant

Ian on the way down.

And this is our route down to Le Tour (taken from the Cafe at the bottom). We came down to the left of the rocky ridge on the skyline in the centre of the picture. You might be able to make out the sheer number of tracks down a slope that is a two - three hour walk in. This was the first day after a snowstorm so all these tracks were made that day. Back in Andorra you could hike two hours and find fresh tracks days or weeks after a snowfall.

Friday, 18 April 2008

On the Move

I'm writing this from Chamonix, where I have had a great couple of days. I'm in the middle of packing for Austria - we are heading over there early to get some training in before the Eurotest next Wednesday. After that the snow should be good over here for a while yet, so I'm hoping to get some touring in before heading back to England. It's nice to be in the big mountains again - Andorra is great but nowhere is like Cham for really big skiing. I have some great photos which I will post when I get chance.

It's all been a bit hectic really - I arrived here at 1.30 Wednesday morning was handed a beer, then told to be up at 7.00 to pack the kit and get the first lift. Yesterday was a bit more laid back, testing out my race boots after a few modifications (hopefully to make me faster - we'll see). And today has been getting ready to leave again.

I'll try and resume normal service soon, with some photos and more skiing tips.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Race photos

As promised, here are a couple of photos of the ski school race courtesy of Gustavo and Fotoski. They are both of the last gate on the course. I would have liked one from further up to analyse my skiing a bit more - all I can say here is that my hands are a bit too low to be aerodynamic and my feet could perhaps be a touch wider. I can't say much about the snowboard photo either, except I'm glad I survived the race on one.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Ski School Instructors Race

Much to everyone's surprise, including mine, I came third in the race today. I have had lots of comments all afternoon along the lines of "I didn't know you could ski properly" and "it's about time the English learnt how to ski". Obviously all the money spent training in the summer and autumn has paid off to some extent. This is a short post since I've been celebrating all afternoon at the ski school barbecue, and plan to continue shortly. I'll try and get hold of some photos of the race to post tomorrow.

Ski School Race - Today

As I mentioned briefly yesterday, the annual ski school instructors race is today. Whilst in part I am using this as training for the Eurotest, mainly it is a fun day where all the instructors can challenge each other in both skiing and snowboarding (and I haven't even been on a Snowboard in over a year so it should be interesting). I'm testing out the new scheduled publishing feature to post this while I'm out skiing. Check back later if you're interested in how I got on.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Bad Weather, Great Skiing

As the title says, the weather has been pretty poor lately, so no photos I'm afraid. We have had a lot of rain lately, which is generally pretty miserable to ski in and being here for the whole winter it can be hard at times to keep the motivation to go skiing in less than ideal conditions.

However, we have the ski school race approaching tomorrow and Flopi (an instructor here by winter and race coach in Argentina in the winter there) planned to set practise courses Tuesday to Wednesday this week. So I headed up the mountain early each day, despite the weather.

On Tuesday morning I looked out of the window at 8am to see fog and rain. On the mountain it was snowing and there was zero visibility so no race practise. Steve (another instructor) and I drove over to Arcalis to ski some powder. The snow was deep, warm and heavy - hard work but it makes you ski properly just to stay upright. We ticked off a couple of chutes I have had my eye on for ages, had a run in the trees, stopped for a coffee then did a bit more off-piste exploration.

Wednesday morning was again rain and fog outside my bedroom window, and on the mountain it was still raining. So we trained some GS gates in the rain for a while, had a good time since we don't get much time in the gates here.

Thursday was again zero visibility and no racing so Steve and I headed to Soldeu and the bump stadium. The sun tried to come out, the rain stopped for a while and the bumps were soft and well shaped - the sort to make you look good. Plenty of people were on training courses and it was quite pleasant to watch them all under pressureA whilst having a relaxed day skiing about - my turn will come later this month with the next Eurotest attempt.

Today there has been slow and steady snow, but with better visibility so we had another day in the gates. The snow was better so it was much more productive this time.

All in all it has been a good four day's skiing when I could quite easily have looked out of the window each morning and gone back to bed. A lesson I need to keep in mind I think.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

A Small Rant

I don't usually use this blog as a platform for rants - there are plenty of other blogs out there doing just that. However, I thought I should mention Ryanair. My sister was due to visit me recently, and booked a flight to Barcelona with Ryanair, having checked that there were connecting busses from Barcelona to here. She then realised, a few days before travelling, that when Ryanair say Barcelona they really mean Gerona - an airport about an hour and a half from Barcelona by bus or train. This meant she had to book car hire at the last minute as the flight was due to land just after the last bus from Gerona. Since Ryanair actually promote this route for skiing in Andorra, you would think they might make sure the flight times matched transfer times. Althought there is a later bus from Barcelona, she would still have missed it after travelling to Barcelona airport by bus.

When the day came to travel, the flight was diverted to a different UK airport due to high winds, and she was offered a bus to the new departure airport. Taking this option would have got her to Gerona after the car hire desk shut for the night at midnight. Faced with spending a night at the airport and an extra day travelling (out of a three day visit) she decided not to bother.

Okay, I understand that Ryanair cannot control the weather, and budget airlines will always be more susceptible to delays and cancellations - that's why they're cheap. So, to an extent my sister was hit by bad luck. What I still cannot understand is how they can advertise flights to Barcelona that land over 60 miles away from the city. Granted, they write Barcelona (Gerona), but how many people unfamiliar with Catalunya will realise that indicates an airport in a different city. The same list of airports has for example London (Gatwick), indicating which London airport. It seems to me that calling Gerona the same place as Barcelona is a bit like saying Manchester (Liverpool) - which would incense the inhabitants of either city but the two airports are considerably nearer to each other than the two Spanish ariports.

Anyway, that's my rant over. If you do want to go to Barcelona, the local airport is usually simply called Barcelona (BCN) or occasionally El Prat de Llobregat Aeropuerto. Ryanair also advertise Barcelona (Reus) which is almost as far in the opposite direction, so be careful.

Monday, 31 March 2008

Why we don't lean back in powder

There is a common misperception in skiing that in order to ski powder, or other deep snow, it is necessary to lean back. In any type of skiing, it is important to stay centred over the feet, and any fore-aft movement should never take the weight behind the heels. The moment the weight moves aft of the feet, the pressure is on the tails of the skis and you end up trying to turn by levering the whole ski around with the cuff of the boot - not good for your skiing or your legs.

So why do so many people say to lean back in powder? To keep the tips out of the snow is the answer I often hear. Another reason is that good skiers often appear to be leaning back in powder, and their tips often do come out of the snow. Both answers are related, but we need to take a closer look at what is really going on to show that you don't actually have to lean back.

When we say we need to be centred, we are talking relative to the ski - most people know that as the slope gets steeper we have to lean forward more to maintain our position over the ski. On a firm, groomed slope, the ski is flat on the slope, so the position we make over the ski is the same as the position over the slope. However, in deep snow the ski tip needs to come closer to the surface of the snow, and the ski will compress the snow beneath it to form a supporting platform. The result of this is that the ski is no longer parallel to the slope but angled upward, so that the skier who is balanced over the skis appears to be leaning backwards against the slope. The diagram shows two skiers, both in balanced positions on similar pitched slopes, however the bottom skier is in deep snow so the whole picture, including the skis, is tipped backwards.

This may seem a bit pedantic - after all the skier does look like they are leaning back - the important point though is that they will feel centred and in balance. If someone is told to lean back they will inevitably lean onto the backs of their boots and find it hard to stay in control.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

The Best Apres Ski Drink

After a hard day on the slopes, it is a great feeling to hit the bars still in ski gear for a spot of apres-ski. The first drink after skiing is always the best one you will taste, and the second is not far behind.

On a sunny day most people will probably go for a cold beer or maybe a cider. On a cold snowy day, or damp one, it is hard to beat a hot wine. Known as gluhwein in German speaking areas, vin chaud in France, and vino caliente (a bit of a mouthful I know) here - the recipe is always similar. Wine, herbs, fruit, cloves, maybe a dash of brandy or other spirits mixed and heated. Actually this post was inspired by (and is a tribute to) the vino caliente pictured above. It was made by Pablo, a barman at Ciscos here in Arinsal, and as you can see he put a great deal of effort into the presentation. So much so that I had to take the photo. I was quite reluctant to drink it at all, as I didn't want to spoil the artistry, but managed to force myself in the end.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

End of Season Snow

We have just over two weeks here until the end of the season and just like last year the snow is pouring out of the sky. Again March is proving the snowiest part of the winter (well spring now) and the next two weeks are again expected to be quiet. This week is actually surprisingly busy, due to an early Easter, but from Saturday until close the slopes will probably be deserted. I can never understand why more people don not ski in April. The slopes are quiet, the snow is usually good and the weather is warmer in between snow storms. People tend to assume I think that the resort closes when the snow melts, so the last couple of weeks before close day they might expect the snow cover to be patchy. In fact this resort closes in mid-April because there are not enough visitors by then to make it viable to open longer. Apparently people go to the beach instead - which is another thing I have never understood; why go to a beach when you could ski instead?

There are a string of other reasons why the end of season is a good time to ski. I think I mentioned a few this time last year. Some examples are end of season sales in the shops, cheap packages and accommodation and staff who know their jobs well after a few months in post (unlike at the start of the season where many staff are new).

With all this snow I think another post on how to ski powder could be in order, as a follow up to the last powder ski lesson I posted back in January.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Dealing with Ice

We have reached that part of the season where the slopes are usually very firm in the mornings due to the melt-freeze cycle. Some days the snow can be firm and grippy, other days it can be like a sheet of ice. Ice is one of the most intimidating snow types for many skiers, so it seems like a good idea to address the techniques to manage it. Technically there is a difference between hard slippy snow (stuff that fell out of the sky and has transformed due to weather, passage of skiers, groomers etc.) and ice (water which was liquid and then froze), but to most skiers the difference is academic.

On firm, slippy, icy terrain there is a perception that the skis need to be edged more to increase grip. In order for this to work the pressure against the skis needs to be increased to maintain balance, and the picture looks like the skier on the left in the diagram. The force against the skis has to be balanced by the centrifugal effect of the skier going around the turn, and by the weight of the skier. With high performance skis, perfectly tuned, a very good skier can do this. However, maintaining this position is dependant upon the skis continuously gripping a very firm surface. The moment the grip fails the skis skid out sideways and the skier's mass will fall downwards, probably hitting the ground.

If you are racing, or race training, the technique described above works well. For most people the skier on the right in the diagram illustrates a more realistic approach. Accept that you are going to skid sideways, and try to make it a controled skid. Keep the skis fairly flat and the bodyweight above them - this way when the skis skid sideways the body is not left hanging in the air but stays above the feet. Making skiddy turns keeps the speed under control and minimising the pressure under the feet reduces the likelihood of the skis skiiding out sideways. The idea, unless you really want to go fast over the ice, is to ski delicately and gently. Even if you want to start carving turns on ice, try to stay more over your feet and use less pressure. It is possible to increase the edge angle whilst keeping the center of mass closer to the feet, but that is another lesson I'm afraid.

Ice is just one more type of snow (notwithstanding the comment above) with its own set of demands on the skier. If you don't let it intimidate you it can be just as rewarding as any other condition.