Ski instructor course 1: Intro

First thoughts on embarking on a course to become a ski instructor

View of Les Ruinettes, above a sea of cloud

When I look up from my laptop I usually see a rolling swell of London roofs, with the odd treetop floating in the sea of Edwardian tiles that stretches to the horizon. If I look up now, I see a pine tree dusted with snow, garlanded with frosted cobwebs that glint in the sun. A skier just glided past, slowing to look through my window at me tapping at my keyboard; and I pause to think – why am I here?

The short answer is easy enough. I am in the Swiss ski resort of Verbier to train with the Warren Smith Ski Academy. This is not my first Academy course: I came here for a week three winters ago, and the August before last did a summer camp on the glacier in Saas-Fee, a few valleys to the east.

I’m back because the courses worked wonders for me. Previously I felt I had reached a plateau in my technique: after many years of skiing I was comfortable on most pistes, but somehow never seemed to improve beyond intermediate level. But over the two courses, I found that the intensive tuition, and the Academy’s focus on biomechanics and physiology, gave a huge boost to my confidence – not to mention my skills.

This time I am taking things a step further. I am doing what the Academy calls a “gap year course” – nine full weeks at the end of which, fingers crossed, all the participants will have qualified as ski instructors.

Warren Smith (right) with the author

With Warren Smith (right)

I expect the course to be pretty intensive. The instructors will be honing our skiing skills, with the help of video analysis. We will take additional modules on avalanche awareness and first aid, ski maintenance, sports psychology and biomechanics. We will learn how to teach the basics of the sport to beginners, and we will shadow instructors from one of the local ski schools. And over the nine weeks, we will take two exams run by BASI, the British Association of Snowsport Instructors, Levels 1 and 2. If we pass, we are told that these will qualify us to work at Swiss ski schools.

So, early the other morning I set out across a snowy London and slid out of the city on Eurostar, hours before the wintry weather brought much of the country to a halt. I skimmed across a frost-rimmed France by TGV, glided across Switzerland, and at the little station of Le Châble boarded a postal bus to climb the switchback road up to Verbier, a vertical mile above London.

In my little studio I unpacked my clothes and my Marmite, and spent the next couple of days settling in. I set up what I’ll need to stay in touch – internet access, a local mobile phone – and located cashpoints, shops, and explored the resort.

Looking out of my window, I’m also apprehensive about what lies ahead. I haven’t been away for this long for more than 20 years. Now, aged 48, I wonder how I’ll get on – and fit in. What if the other students are all gap-year youngsters, fresh out of school? Will there be anyone else of my age? And if so, how have they managed to organise such a long break from work, family and home? Are my fellow students going to be scarily expert skiers, or here for Verbier’s party lifestyle – or both? What will it be like living in a small place where everyone knows everyone else’s business? I’ll find out soon enough…

Another skier has just glided past my window. I can’t wait to begin.

Verbier, looking down Chemin du temple, with paraglider

In the resort of Verbier: an exciting outlook