Back To Ski Skool

By Tom Russell

Having "graduated" from ski school some years earlier (ok, so I got thrown out) and then tried to incorporate various skiing tips from helpful friends and fellow SCoM members into my style (style, what style?), I reacted positively when Carol suggested sharing a ski instructor (although maybe I should have found out earlier which bit I was to get). One instructor to two students seemed a better ratio than the 1 to 15 you get with a ski school, and should mean less waiting on a piste watching other students fall over and more time doing my own falling over.

Since we were going on the Club holiday to Val d'Isère the instructor had to come from the English speaking "The Development Centre" run by the son of a Club member, not least because, as SCoM members, we got a 10% discount. There was a moment of doubt when we were told that the instructor was called Nicko, but he turned out to be a Kent boy and a native English speaker (albeit with a southern accent).

So it came to pass that we were hauled up the mountain on a sunny morning, slightly nervous but looking forward to being able to gain a good qualifying time in the World Cup downhill practise after our lesson. This expectation was somewhat dashed when Nicko explained that we wouldn't see a huge leap forward immediately, so we resigned ourselves to waiting until after the second lesson two days later. I don't think he mentioned sow's ears and silk purses, but I can't be sure.

After a pep-talk explaining how the lesson would work, we set off following Nicko down a blue piste. My skiing seemed better even at that point, and I thought that I was doing a good job disguising bad technique, especially since Nicko was in front of us and did not appear to have eyes in the back of his head. Fat chance! At the first stop my shortcomings were fully revealed, and, worse still, I recognised them all. Still, that's what we came for, and Nicko dismantled my technique with a good grace and in a very constructive way. He then explained how to stand correctly (yes, it was that basic) and how to change direction without stopping and lifting each ski in turn to point in the right direction. When he demonstrated, it looked elegant and easy, but that's what experts can do. As a slight diversion we also got instruction on carving turns, which are brilliant if you can do them right.

Over the three hours Nicko criticised (always constructively), cajoled and encouraged us until his suggestions began to sink in, and we really did begin to see improvement. He concentrated on a few salient points so we didnít have too many things to remember, and reinforced them time after time in different ways. We both felt that he had correctly analysed our problems and was able to advise on how to improve. At the end of the lesson we felt exhausted but delighted that we really were skiing better. My technique felt more fluid, less energy wasting and caused less leg ache.

More instruction two days later emphasised and expanded the improvements, but the light was bad during this lesson, which somewhat restricted its scope. Nevertheless, we were both pleased with the improvement we felt we could feel. All we have to do now is remember to do it on the next holiday.

(In the event, we weren't allowed to ski the downhill course; they said they didn't want us to embarrass Bodie Miller!)