Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Winter is here at last

So it’s dumping down outside, the snowploughs can’t keep up with the volume of snow that’s falling and I haven’t seen sunshine for about a week.  Winter has arrived at last. 
Last year, I was a little apprehensive about the arrival of winter after a long hot summer and very dry autumn.  This year has been very different with much more rain but the arrival of winter came on the same week and so the cycle of the seasons, more noticeable living here in the mountains, continues.

a quick pit stop for a photo on my commute to work
One of the things bothering me last year was worrying about whether I would remember how to ski. So this year, myself and a couple of the guys went to Saas Fee as soon as they had more runs than just the glacier open and went for what is now becoming a traditional season opener.  We had a great day, getting up early in the miserable rain of Chatel and driving for 90-minutes towards a patch of blue sky that gradually opened up into a bluebird day of great skiing.
All fears of not remembering were gone within 10 seconds and whilst my personal technique on the day left something to be desired, I enjoyed myself and tried not to think of anything technical.  Just skiing for the love of it.

I was also breaking in some new kit.  I currently have a spare room full of stuff that replaces old worn out kit or shiny new stuff that is of course, essential to my very existence…  New stuff for this season includes a full NTN Telemark set up on WhiteDot One skis (they look so cool, cannot wait to try these), new race boots, new teaching skis, helmet and poles.  This is the one similarity that skiing has with cricket, a former passion of mine back home, you get to have loads of equipment that you can fuss over, discuss at length and banter about.
new telemark set up - NTN on Whitedot One's
The deluge of fresh snow means that everyone and their dog wants to go skiing on Saturday when the lifts open.  This means I’m working as of Saturday when the kids from one of the International Schools in the valley come up to bomb about in the fresh snow.  After that on Sunday, the first collective week starts and then we are into the season for real.
To add to a hectic start, I’ve got Cheeko, Hughsey and Stavros arriving, as well as Mrs Burrows’ friend Emma, all on the 15 December.  All are looking to get smashed for 4-days and each one of them is looking for an opportunity to take me down.  I have plan to combat them, the first part of which was to find them an apartment in the same block as ours but not actually in my place so they can disturb each other and not us.  This is a good place to start.

Plans for this season include a whole bunch of training for my Level 3 ski exams in March, less hangovers and more skiing.  I’ll let you know how I get on.



Monday, 1 October 2012

'So, what do you do in the summer?'

Probably the most common question that I get asked during the winter season, be it in my capacity as a ski instructor or sometime transfer driver to the airport is, ‘So, what do you do in summer?’. 

life's a beach
This is normally the second or third question after the two other guaranteed questions, being ‘What’s the snow like?’ (cold, white, attached to the mountain) and ‘How long will it take to get to Chatel?’ (as long as it takes, depends on whether you want me to drive like I am supposed to or if I can drive like I’ve got a 74 number plate, which you really won’t like).
So I thought I’d write a blog about what I’ve done since the ski season ended and for something to write about since I haven’t written anything since April. 

Non-ski season, I am a football coach and my 8 month off season started with a week of Easter football camps and progressed into various after-school coaching programs and summer camps.  We are now into the after-school coaching autumn season, with added rain, cloud, cold and general crappy weather.
This year, after meeting another particularly good coach who has joined the company that I work for, I have changed my approach to coaching.  I have realised that much of the work that I did last year, although fun, wasn’t that constructive in making kids better at football.  Trying to put myself in the shoes of a parent, I figured if they are going to pay X to come and have me coach them, then they should be a lot better at the end than when they started.  Even the ones who don’t really want to be there.

I now work on a similar basis to skiing, with a lot of questioning/discovery led approaches and a gradual build-up of skills in a particular set order, which makes for development of individual football skills.  At the age group that we coach, 5-11 normally, individual skills are hugely important.  Team play etc comes after in development but if you can’t do what you want with the ball, you’ll never get anywhere in the game itself.
Apart from this, I’ve been on holiday twice.  Once on Danny’s stag do.  18 blokes go to Ibiza – can’t really tell you anymore about that but I had two amazing nights, one at Defected at Pacha and the usual Space on Sunday.  The highlight of the Space night (apart from the eternity that we spent ensuring that everyone was ‘ready’ to go to Space on Bora Bora sodding Beach – never again Dan) was seeing one of my favourite DJ's Deetron live and the other DJ who dropped a Dr Dre track into the middle of his set at about 4am.  Dan won't remember this though as he was having his face painted as a tiger at the time.

The second holiday was a very pleasant 3 days that I grabbed with Mrs Burrows to Italy.  We went back to the place that we went on honeymoon, Cesenatico on the Adriatic coast and spent a couple of days on the beach and 3 nights eating in lovely Italian restaurants.  It was great and it was driveable from Chatel in about 7-hours.  It’s close enough that we are considering renting an apartment there next summer for a month and just chilling by the beach.  Getting out of the Chatel goldfish bowl for a while.
In an effort to offset the epic drinking that counts for the summer here, I’ve been helping a mate out who has been landscaping on an amazing Chalet up at 2000m above Les Crosets.  It’s interesting trying to do a day’s work at that altitude because if you don’t keep yourself fed and watered properly, you start making silly mistakes due to the effects of the height.

Also, it’s tough trying to put a decent shift of work in at 2000m and fatigue certainly was setting in at 8 hours + a day.  Whether this was just me being 35 years old and not used to manual labour after my previous life in suits and offices or the work being genuinely hard, I am unsure.  Anyway, we’ve got a break now until November so I can rest up.
As an aside on the subject of epic drinking, I got so drunk the other day at a wedding,  I seem to have actually scared myself into soberness.  I haven’t had a beer for about a week and a half now and the worst bit about it (apart from the rather worrying fact that this is about the longest it’s been since I started drinking at 15) is that I’m starting to feel quite good.  I am even considering seeing how long into October I can go for without.  The next thing you know I’ll be finding god.

I’m not missing the hangovers though..


Saturday, 7 April 2012


Last season I ended the winter on a high note, passing the first module of my BASI Level 3 ISIA qualification.  A year on and I’m 4 modules in, having just ended this winter passing my Second Discipline module.

The Second Discipline is to make you a more rounded ski instructor I guess, showing that you are adaptable and that you don’t only just teach skiing.  The problem that now have is that for my second discipline, I chose Telemark skiing and I think I’m in love with it.  I genuinely think I may have found something that I can work on for years to come and I know what I’ll be doing on my days off next season.

For those of you who don’t know what Telemark skiing is, have a look at the above picture.  Where a regular ski boot attaches to the ski at the front and rear of the boot, the Telemark ski is only attached at the front.  This leads to a way of skiing that is completely different to regular Alpine skiing.
It’s difficult to describe the sensation but the balance points, the way in which you use the skis, the possible different ways of skiing – in fact everything – is different.  It’s also as cool as it looks – the rhythm  of the turns are completely different to Alpine skiing and it feels really free.  Those that saw us in Les Gets on Friday last week would have had a real visual treat as 11 Telemarkers of varying ability and style were tearing around the pistes.

The end of the season is fast approaching with Morgins shutting on the 15 April and end of season parties in full effect.  We’ve had all of the live music on the pistes parties in the Portes du Soleil, Retro ski day in Chatel and the annual beer race in the Lior D’Or dutch bar.  I didn’t go to the beer race as I had to work the next day and I didn’t want to get roped in but I heard it was messy.  They usually have a hose on hand to wash the vomit down the street….
The end of the ski season means also it’s time to replace or retire a load of equipment.  The season is hard on skis that are constantly being skied over by kids, boots that are flexed into submission by bend the knees demos and poles bent through too much leaning on.  Sadly, I’m retiring my Head teaching skis this year which have served me well for two and a half seasons and looking to replace them with new teaching skis, race boots, telemark boots and bindings and googles.

We’ve got a school group here this week for what looks to be the final weeks serious work of the season and it’s supposed to rain all this week.  Teaching skiing in the rain is the ultimate misery but we are all a bit demob happy after a bumper season so everyone is making the best of it.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

At last, a rest.

It’s been a while since I last blogged, mainly due to how busy it’s been at the ski school during the school holidays.  I’m looking at the list of days worked here in front of me and tomorrow will be my first day off snow for ages and I’ve had 5 days off from teaching since the start of February.
get your lunge on

This is a massive volume in comparison to last year and I’ve already gone way past the total amount of hours worked last year.  This is great from an earnings and experience point of view but it’s taken a toll on my body and ski technique.  Trying to balance a winter lifestyle built around après ski along with constant skiing means unexpected leg cramps, an aching Achilles and ski equipment that is starting to break down.    

An unexpected bonus of this bumper ski season was my first proper week teaching in French in the ski collective groups in the middle of the Swiss school holidays.  This was a little unexpected but once I got into the swing of things it was pretty straightforward.  The important thing for me was that once I learned the right phrase for the thing I wanted, was to write it down that night to ensure I don’t forget it for next time.  I’m pleased that the ski school trusted me with it and the kids I taught had a good time.
I thought I might get a rest at the end of the holidays but in early March, Cheeko and Hughsey from home came visiting and brought with them their usual week of drinking and carnage.  You know well enough by now what happens when they come here but this time, they discovered the Dutch après ski bar in Chatel and bars in the sunshine up the mountain.  My leg cramps got worse that week…

I’ve been practicing my telemarking skills for the BASI level 1 telemark course that I have next week (see pic) which was interesting in the mogul slush conditions this week.  Myself and a friend even resorted to having a lesson from someone who knew what they were doing, just to get the technical knowledge that I needed to square this new technique in my head.

It’s started snowing big again today in the Portes du Soleil, laying a new layer of snow over bumpy slush and mogulled pistes.  The real question I suppose is whether I will stick to my plan for a day off or be tempted up the hill for some fresh tracks…

online here

Saturday, 11 February 2012

and so it begins..

They’ve arrived. 

I walked out of the apartment this morning and scene of French chaos greets me.  Three cars with their bonnets open and their owners slipping about on the ice, juggling with jump leads.  Another car owner faffing about with bits of cardboard, trying to drive directly up a sheet ice slope without snow tyres.  Another guy taking relentless run ups trying to drive out of said iced up driveway, making it even more slippery in the process.  Torville and Dean could skate on our driveway at the moment.
Add this all to the herd of elephants that have apparently moved in above me and the Dutch drinking songs being sung at 1am this morning.  Half term is here.

Chatel sunset captured from Le Sherpa.

To be fair to the tourists that are abandoning cars all over Chatel at the moment, it was -18 degrees this morning and La Smart car only just started, which is an improvement on last week when the temperatures dipped into the minus twenties.  At -25 degrees, it was completely not interested and had to be jump started every day. 

Winters here are brutal on cars.  Reliability and function are paramount in choosing a car to live with all year round.  It’s due to snow next week too which will be very interesting because the village is salting the roads much less than in previous years which will mean epic amounts of faffing about which snowchains.

The extreme cold is getting to the humans too.  I skied to work the other day because the car refused to start.  Normally, skiing to work is a nice thing and gets you nicely prepared for the day.  However, -28 degrees at the top of the Morclan lift in Super Chatel was something else.  It took an hour for my hands to start feeling normal again after that.
I nipped down to Monthey yesterday and picked myself up a thin down jacket which hopefully is going to keep me warmer and not make me look too fat, as well as investing in two oversized wooly snoods at H&M for going to the pub use. 

Work starts in earnest tomorrow and the ski school is stacked out with work for the next 3 weeks.  We’ve had to draft in extra instructors to cope with the demand which is a change from last year when we were all scrapping for work.

I thought I’d get this blog in early because the chances are that I won’t be able to for the next few weeks.  See you in March. x

Friday, 3 February 2012

Missed powder days and domestic crap.

Is missing a powder day a crime?  Some would say yes but I guess on some days, it’s a question of priorities. 
The Dents du Midi from the top of Super Chatel

When your estate agent from the UK rings you up while you’re riding a chairlift and tells you that he’s sold your house, I guess it’s inevitable that you spend the next day doing paperwork concerned with getting rid of the millstone around your neck that is your remaining link to the UK.
So I’m sitting here looking at all the pretty pictures on Facebook of people ‘shredding’ the pow in the Portes du Soleil, with comments like ‘kerpow’, ‘faceshots’, ‘epic’ and various other words that are code for people falling on their face in the deep stuff.  I console myself that I’m getting something productive done while I filling in boring forms and questionnaires concerning where the water meter is on a house 700 miles away.  Grrr.
It’s a funny time of the season at the moment, with not much teaching work around and the village seems to be taking a breather before next week when the true winter madness of half term in Europe gets under way.  I’m personally taking this time to rest up and fix my aching back and knees which are taking a bit of a hammering this year, through better ski levels of clients and endless powder days.

I had probably one of my best ever days as an instructor yesterday when I was looking after one of the race groups for St George’s International School who had come to Morgins to participate in an International Schools race.  The group I had were the Category C girls and I knew many of them from coaching football at the school in the summer. 

We did all of the racing in the morning and our inspection runs of the GS course were mainly exercises in clearing a foot of fresh powder off of the course.  My group came third in the team event but the real fun started in the afternoon when we had time to free ski in powder so deep it was over my knees.  We skied everywhere and did a bit of everything from open powder fields to trees and bumps and I can genuinely say it was one of the best days I’ve had on the mountain ever.

Right, I’m off to soak myself in a hot bath and try not to feel guilty at wasting yet another powder day in the Portes du Soleil. 

Online here - http://maddogski.com/news-and-blogs/when-real-life-gets-way


Friday, 20 January 2012

Ghosts, Injuries, Illness and pow.

Dear Blog
I’m sorry that I’ve not had time to write.  Unfortunately, I’ve been working more or less non-stop since the last time I wrote and when I finally do have a week off to myself (such as this week), a load of blokes that I used to work with have come here for a lads weekend, so I’ve had to show them around and get drunk every night.

The really curious thing about these ghosts from my past is that at some point in the last few days, more or less all of them have asked me about how difficult it is to live out here and aren’t I brave for making the big leap into the unknown and leaving the rat race behind.

Frankly, judging by the reports that I am hearing on how crap life is in the commercial property finance sector, I’m glad I did make the big leap.  There seems to be a crushing pressure on most of these guys that wasn’t there the last time I saw them and I guess life in the UK is as tough as reported.  Still, it’s nice to see them all again and it’s been nice to ski socially and to be able to ski at a fairly leisurely pace, especially as I seem to have been injured and/or ill for the last month.

What a lot of people don’t see when they sign up for ski lessons is that half the time, the person behind the goggles is dosed up on Nurofen or skiing around with one working leg or fighting off the latest seasonnaire cold that is going around. 
For the last few days, I’ve been trying to demo good skiing technique with a lower back that is more or less locked solid and sending shooting pains down my thigh.  Last week, I was fighting off what according to Wikipedia was Measles but my Mum said I probably had it as a kid so apparently it was just a rash then Mum…
Before I was ill and injured, I had a chance to ski for a day with my new best powder day buddy Nico (interviewed previously by me for MDS).  He’s pushing me to do bigger, better, faster things on powder days and I’m surprising myself with what I can do.  I draw the line a cliff drops and stuff as I have work to do but it’s nice to go out and be shown the best secret spots.  This does mean that I’ve had to equip myself with all the avalanche kit because I don’t feel safe venturing to some of the places we are going without.
I think Nico likes me being there too as I can just about keep up and I’m happy to film him for his sponsors.  I attach a clip of some of the January conditions in the Portes du Soleil.

It’s dumping down again here tonight, with a good 20cms already fallen today and big snow predicted overnight and into the weekend. 
Time to rest up and dust down the fat skis.