Two weeks in Zermatt –BASI Level 2

Winter time again! Undoubtedly my favourite time of year and with two weeks under my skis already I am feeling ready to settle in for the season in Italy.

Writing this I am on the train in a beautiful, snow covered valley, clunking down and away from Zermatt. I have mixed feelings on my departure. I’ve just spent two weeks training to become a BASI level 2 ski instructor, unfortunately I didn’t quite cut it. Passing every module but one and even then I only just missed out.

Now, being a ski instructor by profession isn’t an easy thing. It’s expensive, the training is time consuming, it’s physically demanding and your place of work being costly is an occupational hazard.

But of course the perks hugely outweigh the drawbacks.

1

Ultimately our office is one of the coolest of any profession and watching something click for a student first time which allows the, to enjoy the mountains more is a feeling I find hard to match. Yes I’m poorer in terms of my bank account at this moment in time but, with the risk of sounding cliché, I’m much richer in terms of experience and happy for it too.

The start of the course seems like an age ago now. I arrived a day early to settle in and get my legs back –lucky really as it took me long enough to find my tiny apartment up a backstreet and a very steep hill! Zermatt is clean and efficient, filled with watch shops and ski hire places and not a car in sight! It’s blissfully quiet there, just with the occasional electric taxi whizzing past.

I met up with my roommate to be for the next week, Donna, a lovely lady taking her adaptive level 1 (skiing techniques for aiding the disabled) and unpacked.

The first thing that struck me when arriving at the BASI welcome meeting that night was the overwhelming sense of belonging. The enormous meeting hall was packed with like-minded ski and snowboard instructors of all ages and backgrounds, all there to better their discipline. Everyone was happy to chat and get to know each other before heading out onto the mountain the next day. Alpine ski and snowboard levels 1, 2 and 3, adaptive skiers and mountain safety were all to be covered and assessed by the much admired blue and white coated level 4 trainers.

2

We were given a quick speech from the training director Roy, who insured us, pass or not, the aim was to become “more awesome”. And that we did.

After this we were split into groups and introduced to our trainer Alessandro –a blue eyed Italian with a quirky accent and sharp sense of humour. He would be our mentor for the next two weeks.

The course itself consists of the following elements:

  • Central Theme (a learners progression from never wearing skis before through to parallel turning)
  • Piste short (Short radius, grippy turns)
  • Piste Long (Long, carved turns)
  • Variables (Ability to ski varied off piste conditions and steeps)
  • Bumps (Performance in moguls)
  • Teaching (A number of 10-15 minute sessions on the central theme)
  • Professionalism (Ones general punctuality, attitude and behaviour throughout the course)
  • Written paper

There were ten people in our level 2 group, one of which is my friend and long-time colleague at the Plymouth dry ski slope back home, James. We’ve skied and trained together for over six years so it felt right to be stepping out onto the glacier with him alongside. James quickly became christened Jamie by Alessandro which sounded excellent in his accent and so it stuck.

The rest of the group were a lovely bunch. Andrew the experienced ex racer, Ed the crazy beach bum, Matt who had his wife visiting in the resort too, Rachel and Alice –Mum and daughter from Milton Keynes and the mad hostel trio Gaz (Gavin), Amelia and lovely Scottish Laura (Lisa). As a group we immediately hit it off but the latter three in particular formed an inseparable bond of banter within the first few days.

3

The course itself was an emotional rollercoaster. You are permanently assessed from the word go on your skiing and attitude despite the laid back, friendly manner in which the course is conducted. Every time you were given good feedback the elation was palpable and any points for improvement became our own personal demons.

Starting Monday we met every day at the lift for 8.30am and skied until 3.30ish working on drills and skills for both our teaching and personal skiing. We then had to attend an evening theory session which would typically last another few hours. We were also given a work book to take back and complete home study and write up notes from the day.

Week one blessed us with amazing weather. There wasn’t much snow but it was made up for with beautiful sunshine and stunning views. It was my Birthday on the Tuesday and I literally couldn’t have wished to be spending it anywhere else.

By Friday however the winds had picked up to 120km/hr up the top so the mountain was closed. What was falling as snow on the glacier was pouring down as rain in the village so everyone was feeling a little miserable. We had extra theory sessions and our week one review from Alessandro. As is fairly typical, almost everyone was told that they were not at the level to pass with still a week to go. This feedback could’ve gone one way or another but luckily no one was discouraged but instead motivated to make the most of our weekend off. The lifts were open again Saturday and Sunday so we headed up onto the snow and practiced hard.

Donna moved out on Saturday after passing her adaptive course and Jamie moved in to keep me company for week 2.

If the first week had gone fast the second travelled at the speed of light. The weekend spilt into Monday and then suddenly it was Wednesday! My anxiety was building fast.

4

Fairly confident that I had passed my teaching elements I was really knuckling down with my longs and shorts. Unfortunately the smallest of faults can be your Achilles heel when it comes to these courses. The standard is very high, understandably enough, and I was playing a race against time. Every time I improved, I was narrowing down the amount of things I had to fix but it was coming more and more apparent that it was going to come right down to the mark.

In the end it was my inconsistency that got me. Everything was at the level but my shorts where I could do a great turn to the left but was struggling to recreate the same level of performance to my right.

At 3.30pm, Friday afternoon, I was given my course result and along with four others, I’d failed.

Of course it’s gutting, the first thoughts that run through your mind are if I could just have one more run, or maybe they’ll just do an X-factor style “I didn’t like it.. I LOVED IT”, tell you it was a joke and that you’ve passed. Then as it dawns on you, you start thinking about the vast amount of money you’ve just spent on it all and how much it’ll cost to retake!

But when this has all died down and you’ve had time to think the perspective shifts. Yes I spent quite a lot of my savings on this course but I’ve improved my skiing more than I could have hoped. I’ve met a whole bunch of incredible people, stayed in a beautiful town, skied the highest piste in Europe a number of times and loved it all from the word go.

Would I give back these two weeks? Nope!

Do I regret a single second? Definitely not! I skied my hardest right up until my last run and felt so close to making it. Like Roy said, I, along with everyone else on my course, pass or not, have become more awesome.

Just a few more weeks training and I’ll be ready for the retake.

The final night was a good one, almost the whole of Zermatt spilled out into the bars and clubs in celebration or commiseration for the last two weeks. Students and trainers alike could finally let their hair down and breathe a sigh of relief. No more waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat thinking about lesson plans and snowploughs.

I stayed and extra night in my little apartment before jumping on the train. Now to the Dolomites for the ski season. I’m really looking forward to getting started and not to have to think about and technical skiing for a good few weeks!

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