Learning the secrets of skiing in a kilt – and more
We now have an inkling of how big a challenge it will be. We have worked on our technique, tried to rediscover how it feels to ski as a beginner, and taken first steps in learning how to teach others. And one of our little group has taken a tumble, shattered a dream, and flown home. But I am getting ahead of myself …
At the beginning of the week we are still finding our ski feet, and getting used to our new life in the Alps. Many course members are staying in chalets: eating breakfast and dinner together, sharing bedrooms, getting to know one another’s fancies and foibles. A few of us, including me, have rented our own space, for a variety of reasons.
Staying in touch, both with each other and folks back home, is cheap. A pay-as-you-go mobile costs from just £17.80 at the supermarket Migros. And that includes £8.90 of credit – towards calls that cost 17p a minute to the UK, or texts for 6p worldwide.
You do need to show your passport, though. A Swiss diplomat in London told me that they stopped selling them for cash to unknown buyers when it was discovered that al Qaeda operatives in the Middle East were calling each other on Swiss mobiles.
My favourite shopping find is Michelod, a patisserie at the foot of the slopes that sells mouth-watering cakes – and I resolve to get to know a new one every day.
I am surprised at the variety of ski tips I pick up. Such as how to ski without trousers or underwear. One morning I come across a group of men dressed in everything from a morning suit to full hunting garb, who tell me they have been skiing together for 25 years and call themselves Mad Jocks and Englishmen. Mike McTighe tells me the secrets of skiing in a kilt: “Rub Deep Heat into your knees. Ski slowly and very precisely, and try to avoid falling over. Above all, keep well clear of button lifts.”
At the Academy, our days follow a set pattern. We meet at 10 at the gondola, and head up to the slopes for a warm-up. This involves 40 of us swinging legs, arms and then hips, before lying on our backs on the snow to perform exercises to activate our core stomach muscles. With skis all around us and ski poles planted vertically in the snow, the scene looks like the aftermath of a medieval battle in which soldiers felled by arrows lie scattered among the broken lances.
We then split off into our groups, and for the next five hours – with a quick break for lunch – work on our technique. Over a week, our instructor Jordan has us doing all manner of exercises. He teaches us braquage turns – spinning 180 degrees on the flats of our skis while barely moving downhill – and shows us how to use them to tackle moguls, before taking us to the top of a long, steep mogul run. And we all descend successfully – cautiously at first, having just watched a couple of skiers who have ventured beyond their technical ability tumble down the mogul field like rag dolls.
We work on our pole-planting; make big carving turns, sweeping wide across the piste; and practise skiing on one leg. Jordan talks us through the basics of teaching beginners how to ski, for next week we will take the first of our two ski instructor exams. And on two days during the week, he videos us: those same evenings, we gather in one of the chalets for a forensic examination of our skiing style.
But one event casts a shadow on the week. Ian, the former ski rep, soldier and landscaper, now antique currency dealer, took a tumble and twisted his ankle. He thought it wise to have an X-ray – only to be told he had broken a bone, and that he would have to fly home to have pins put in.
At the Thursday video analysis we see him for the last time, his leg in plaster. What a cruel blow for his nine-week adventure to be cut short on day two. We say our sad farewells – and those of us staying on resolve to make the very most of every day we have here, whatever it brings.
- Further information: the Warren Smith Ski Academy (www.warrensmith-skiacademy.com), the Switzerland Travel Centre (00800 100 200 30, www.MySwitzerland.com) and the local tourist office (www.verbier.ch).
- Train tickets from the UK to major Swiss cities are available through Rail Europe (0844 848 4070; www.raileurope.co.uk); onward travel within Switzerland through the Swiss Federal Railways (www.sbb.ch)
- Equipment rental through Ski Service (00 41 27 771 67 70; www.skiservice.com).