Ending the season with my BASI 2 exam – by Beth Lloyd

Beth looks back on her snow-filled winter and recounts an intense week spent on the Hintertux Glacier, retaking her BASI 2 exams at the end of the season – how did it go?

2015/16 – A winter to remember

My first blog of this winter for Ski Club was written on the way down the mountain from Zermatt, tail between my legs. Two weeks of training and examinations hadn’t given me the pass I needed on my first attempt at BASI level 2. I was gutted. It seemed like a huge knockback, I’d skied my very best and it just wasn’t good enough. All I wanted was to teach and my ticket to that life had just vanished before my eyes.

Luckily I had work lined up in the Italian Dolomites for the season with a company that has looked after me well for many seasons. I knew I’d be in safe hands whilst I nursed my bruised pride back to health. I jumped on the train with my ski bag and left Zermatt behind, travelling across Switzerland, Austria and into the South Tyrol, Italy.

What lay ahead of me was potentially my best ski season yet. The snow was a little late to arrive but it didn’t really matter. I had incredible friends around me, a stunning location, an enormous network of pistes to train on, the benefit of some great coaching from the Italian ski schools and eventually some amazing off-piste conditions to tour up and shred down again. I finished the season feeling satisfied I’d made the most of my time there.

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Finding some amazing powder in the Dolomites was a season highlight (Photo c/o James Rushforth)

Time to retake BASI 2

So not only was I happy with the season, I was feeling ready to give the level 2 another crack. With sixteen weeks of training behind me I was certainly in a much stronger position that I had been in November. After a few days back at home I caught my flight to Munich and travelled to Hintertux Glacier, Austria.

When I arrived my heart sank. We drove through drizzly side streets to reach my hotel at the base of the lift where the cabins disappeared up into a thick, soup-like cloud. I couldn’t see the mountain I’d be skiing on for the next week but the webcams confirmed that they were also engulfed in low visibility. My spirits were lifted slightly by the hotel –a four star that I’d managed to book on the cheap as part of a package. I had a comfortable, modern room, was fed by a hearty first dinner and even had access to a spa, games room and cocktail bar! In my line of work I’m happy if I’m given a bunk bed in the basement so this was luxury.. . I was also happy to see a familiar face in Giles, one of my colleagues and a good friend from my winter in Italy. In fact the whole hotel was full of BASI students doing a whole variety of courses, a fair few of whom I recognised.

 

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We became accustomed to seeing a very snowy scene at the start of the week (Photo c/o Hintertux Facebook)

 

The next day I pulled on my gear and grabbed my poles and skis like a soldier readying for battle as I wearily observed the webcam, little had changed from the day before. We climbed into the lift and headed up to 3000m in height where a storm was settling in. High winds, prickly snow and thick cloud held the top of the glacier captive. We braved the top lift a few times but the cabin swung worryingly and the ski down was little better. The fronts of my skis were difficult to keep track of let alone the piste markers and every now and again a “warning crevasse” sign would loom out of the mist – just to build confidence! Below the top station the cloud cleared but gave way to slushy spring snow which had twisted knees written all over it! How was I meant to demonstrate my best skiing in conditions like this? The course started tomorrow and I could feel my chances of passing slipping away.

On our way down in the bubble, spirits low, I caught sight of a marmot enjoying some afternoon sun on the lower slopes. He was whistling away and keeping look out across the reseeding snow, he was looking forward to summer.

Well Mr Marmot was in for a cruel surprise the next morning. I was woken at 6am by the crashing and scraping of a very familiar noise –snow clearers? I was confused at first, when I’d gone to bed I had pulled the curtains on a green valley caught in the turn of spring. When I opened my curtains to see what the commotion was I actually squinted at the sight of bright, white snow. A blanket of around 20cm had covered the entire village. I quickly ran over to the TV to check the webcams and sure enough the grey screen from the two days previous had been replaced by a white one. It was reporting that around 50cm had fallen overnight up on the glacier, but yesterday’s storm seemed to have settled leaving just a constant flurry of snowflakes.

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Despite being so late in the season we had a 50cm of powder! (Photo c/o Hintertux Facebook)

I grabbed all my things and headed for the lift station to meet my group and was introduced to our trainer for the week, Elaine. She had an excellent reputation for being harsh but fair. This was a reasonable evaluation I felt as the week went on. She was honest and clear. There was no confusion on whether she liked or disliked your last run, she was supportive yet instructive. The perfect balance.

The cloud had made little effort to clear on that first day but the constant replenishment of fresh powder snow and lack of wind meant for better conditions in comparison to the day before. Many were put off by the fresh snow, wishing it was pisted, but it was my favourite kind of day! I would choose a day where it buckets constantly down with snow over any other. The slopes go quiet, partly because the weather discourages most from skiing but also because the snow creates a beautiful muffling effect which I find very peaceful. Despite being on my piste GS skis instead of my preferred powder bashers, I was having a good day.

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Celebrating the weather breaking with our BASI trainer

The next day however was even better. What started with another white out lower in the valley gradually converted the higher we climbed, into the most stunning cloud inversion. This was the first time I’d seen the mountains here since arriving and they were breath-taking. The blue sky was revealed along with fields of soft, fresh powder between deep, icy blue crevasses.

This is where the week really started. The good vis lasted throughout as did this great snow. I was able to push my skiing hard every day and really get stuck into the feedback Elaine was giving me. The group started to bond more too, meeting up for drinks and dinner after each night, enjoying the lift rides up the mountain together.

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The crowd of BASI hopefuls gathering at the base of the mountain

Yet no one could hide the building nerves as the week went on and slowly those lift rides became quieter and more pensive. The thing about the retake is that it’s only a week long (half of the full course) and therefore much more intense, plus everyone on the retake is already very aware of both how difficult the course is and also the horrible feeling of failing. They’re keen not to repeat the experience.

Despite feeling in a better position than I had in Zermatt I was still feeling sick to the stomach with nerves and waking up in the middle of night dreaming of articulating the movements for the perfect snowplough. I was enjoying the snow and the skiing but I was willing Friday to arrive just to get it over with.

 

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Receiving more instruction ahead of the retake exam on the Hintertux Glacier

 

 

On Thursday we all had individual meetings with Elaine to discuss whether we were at the level or not and what we needed to work on in order to gain the pass. I was a little stunned as her pen hovered over the ‘at the level’ box on the marking sheet for every discipline and her words seemed to dissolve into thin air as she spoke them. The only ones I heard were “Just ski the same tomorrow.” I knew I had a few points to work on in my skiing and all I had to do was not let them slip tomorrow and it sounded like I had a good chance. You’d think this would have been a relief, but instead the nerves were worse than ever. I barely ate that evening, had an early night, barely slept and was awake at 5am. I just wanted it over.

The whole course is an exam, they watch you ski every day and take it all into account. So it’s naive to think really that the last day is solely pass or fail, but this doesn’t stop everyone feeling the pressure. It’s the last day to prove yourself.

It runs as follows: Warm up runs first thing. Then two runs of each skill with a practice for each. Those two runs are your final chance so everyone takes them pretty seriously, beating themselves up for the tiniest inflection out of place. The trainers give nothing away on these runs. You feel completely alone in your skiing. We skied our moguls, short turns and long turns then took a break for lunch –again I didn’t feel like eating. Then it was back outside to demonstrate our snowploughs, plough parallels, and parallel turns. Then steeps (short radius turns down a steeper pitch of slope).

 

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The Hintertux Glacier was the perfect testing ground for us BASI hopefuls

 

This was one of the elements I failed on last time and I was conscious of this as I took a deep breath and stabbed my poles into the ground, lining up for the run. I did the customary talking to myself under my breath and stamped the tails of my skis before setting off. Run one of two. As I steered my skis down the hill, keeping my body in check and my eye line just over Elaine’s shoulder my mind went blank and I let the skiing take over. Soon I was stood next to Elaine, slightly out of breath and ready to head to the lift for my next run.

“Congratulations Beth.” Were the only words I remember clearly. The rest of them whistled away as I found myself skating away and carving back to mid station. The weight of the mountain itself seemed to be lifted off of my shoulders. All that stress and worry disappeared and was replaced by a sort of baffled happiness.

It wasn’t until many hours later in the midst of the end of course party that it really started to hit home. BASI level 2. I can teach anywhere. Japan, Canada, Argentina. The world just opened its doors to me and my skis. Now all I’ve got to do is step through them.

It was the perfect end to my season.

 

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