Monthly Archives: December 2010

17/12/10 – SCGB leaders’ course: performing arts

Ski Club trainers-turned-entertainers

Yesterday afternoon the big moment arrived when around 40 sealed envelopes containing course results materialised in the salon of Hotel Levanna. Everyone who passed has been given a Ski Club of GB Leader grading (A to C), a ski grading on- and off-piste (purple to gold, as for Ski Club Freshtracks trips) and a fitness grading (1 to 10). There was celebration, relief, surprise and – for just a few – deflation, but our mission was far from over, as there was a final important hurdle to clear: Thursday night’s cabaret act, to be performed by our seven ski groups and our team of trainers.

Action off and on the slopes and a lively bunch of characters in terms of both candidates and trainers provided plentiful material for the sketches – which ranged from a shockingly frank poem to a hilarious horse race to a one-man stand-up (one group was badly hit by injuries). For me, the trainers’ effort in ripping us mercilessly apart was the winner, and an hour some had dreaded left most of us crying with laughter. I’d love to tell you more, but I’m afraid the content was rather too juicy to describe on a family website…

Yesterday was also race day, preceded by a fascinating visit to the Toviere pisteurs’ hut and a team photo after breakfast, in which I suspect some faces will look rather wild-eyed: Jack’s nightclub has been raking it in the past few nights. Olly Sloper – the youngest on the course at 21 – was the one to beat in the giant slalom Phil Smith set on the glacier, and he and I were the only trainees to have done significant racing (mine in the very more distant past than his…). Olly duly tore down in about 41sec and I was a couple of seconds behind. Yes, I admit it, both of us had our skis filed and waxed – but to counter that we stayed out trying to sabotage each other until 4am the previous night. Three of my Patagonia team-mates – also keen party people – did great runs to take the next few places.

There were certainly no catsuits on display: at 3pm it was minus-20 at Val Claret and the gale on the glacier made our race venue decidedly chilly. The past few days, in fact, I have been feeling like the Michelin woman, wearing two layers of Merino wool and two of cashmere, two sets of long johns and a pair of disposable toe-warmers. During our brilliant performance session with Phil Smith on Wednesday, some members of Patagonia group were breathing on each others’ cheeks to ward off frostbite and some reported icicles in their socks. In another group, would-be leader Jim Costelloe’s big toe went white and numb with frostbite: word has it he has been prescribed Viagra to ward off gangrene.

So the results are in, we all know what we think of each other, and some of us have been allocated exciting leading slots for the coming season (see the reps’ section of this website in due course to find out where we’re going). And suddenly, this morning, as we opened the curtains to a blanket of new snow – still falling softly – the adventure was over. Well – almost. Lost keys, unpaid bills and missing persons delayed our bus’s 8.30am departure by 45 minutes. Then reports started filtering in that Geneva airport was closed. Then we heard that Heathrow might be closed. At Bourg Saint Maurice our bus’s electrics gave up and we transferred to another one. On through the snow we ploughed, arriving in Geneva a good two hours later than scheduled. But no worries – Geneva is in chaos, all flights are delayed, and everyone is taking the opportunity to say their goodbyes over a final beer in the bar!

DO you enjoy this BLOG? Then SIGN UP to RECEIVE AN EMAIL each time I post a NEW ONE by clicking on ‘SIGN ME UP’ on the top right of THIS PAGE.

Leave a comment

Filed under France

14/12/10 – SCGB leaders’ course: heading downhill fast

Men's World Cup GS at La Daille

Nine days into our Ski Club leader training, most of us are getting the hang of it and the end is in sight. For some, our day off on Saturday provided a breather from a pretty relentless programme. Some slunk back to bed; some had fillet steak and champagne at La Folie Douce; some discovered the water-slides at Le Lagon. For me, it turned into a brilliant ski day after I teamed up with a couple of others who weren’t suffering too severe a hangover.

Our blast around the mountain took in forgiving, well-skiied crust, freshly formed moguls and powdery pistes as well as the men’s World Cup giant slalom at La Daille, where we warmed up with tasty 1 Euro vins chauds. On a remarkably uncrowded Solaise we found untracked powder before knackering ourselves hurrying back to catch the last Tommeuses chair.

Back in training on Sunday, armed with shovels, probes and transceivers of varying sophistication, Patagonia group played hunt the treasure, first in a playground, then up the mountain. Never has our six-some behaved so harmoniously as when seeking and digging up “bodies” in a mock avalanche scenario and we were rewarded with a huge smile from British-born, Chamonix-based mountain guide Kathy Murphy as her stopwatch clocked seven minutes, the best time yet this week. Kathy proved a superb teacher whose patience in the face of masculine banter revolving around probe lengths and penetration was awe-inspiring.

Finally for today, is it my imagination or are some of the party animals slowing down? I’m convinced I spotted a hitherto carefree individual or two anxiously cradling our “bible”, the Ski Club leader manual, and slinking roomwards at going-out time. The sauna, too, was strangely quiet on Monday. I suspect the swotting has begun in earnest for Wednesday’s written exam…

DO you enjoy this BLOG? Then SIGN UP to RECEIVE AN EMAIL each time I post a NEW ONE by clicking on ‘SIGN ME UP’ on the top right of THIS PAGE.

Leave a comment

Filed under France

10/12/10 – SCGB leaders’ course: speed, slabs and steam

Alternative apres-ski

I opened the curtains to glorious clear skies this morning ready for a demanding day at the mercy of mountain guide, ski instructor and former mountain rescue man Roland Stieger. My room-mates had returned from their session with him earlier this week grinning like lunatics, full of stories of straight-lining, and adding that it was one of the greatest ski days they could remember.

So it proved for Patagonia group today. The Frenchman tested us thoroughly, not only in terms of pace but also in assessing terrain, snow conditions and route choice, and above all in our awareness of avalanche danger. Scores of windslab slides – some truly massive – from the past few days provided glaring examples and our off-piste excursions were undertaken mighty carefully.

A few chilly toes and noses aside – it was minus-16 on Toviere this morning – we had a invigorating and informative day which followed on usefully from the start of our avalanche training yesterday with mountain guide Graham McMahon. Shovels, probes and various other equipment – pencils, credit cards, penknives, a pruning saw and a thermometer – swung into action on a 30-degree slope near the Aiguille Percee as Graham taught us what to look for in a snow pit. It was mesmerising – and slightly unnerving, given the dodgy layers we identified – to see what lies beneath.

Back at base, the hotel’s sauna, steam room and whirlpool are getting busier by the day as the temperature drops; meanwhile the gossip machine is working overtime as new friendships are struck…

DO you enjoy this BLOG? Then SIGN UP to RECEIVE AN EMAIL each time I post a NEW ONE by clicking on ‘SIGN ME UP’ on the top right of THIS PAGE.

Leave a comment

Filed under France

9/12/10 – SCGB leaders’ course: waylaid in a white-out

Will Schwarz on the chilly home run

Phase two of Ski Club leader training got underway yesterday, with seven new groups formed for seven days of intensive teaching and practice in essentials such as route choice, off-piste leadership, avalanche rescue and mountaincraft.

For my group, Patagonia, there was drama mid-afternoon when I failed spectacularly to keep everyone together during leading practice with the brilliant and smiley Patrick Usborne (familiar to Ski Club members in such snowy spots as Verbier and Jackson Hole).

Setting off down the green Fresse piste from the top of Borsat in a howling gale under a sky that was spitting ice, I looked round every five or six turns to check the vibrant blue jackets were on my tail, while also seeking a nice line and gathering speed for an impending schuss. Round a bend we hooned, but as I slowed to regroup further down just four were still with me. Our leader-trainer and two others, it seemed, were missing in action, and we couldn’t see back round the corner. Could they have had a crash? Did they take a detour? Or had they vanished deliberately to test how I’d deal with the situation?

Thankfully, after another circuit, we rediscovered the missing trio half an hour later back at the Borsat chair, all in one piece. It turned out that just as I had set off from the top, Patrick and co had been distracted by chit-chat with a passing gang from the Ski Club’s Freshtracks Premier Party holiday, which is taking place in Val d’Isere this week. I didn’t spot the dawdling, and by the time they came to follow we were out of sight, either in the murk or round the corner. They opted for the Genepy piste instead. My lesson for today? Learn to count at all times – and watch out for sociable stragglers!

DO you enjoy this BLOG? Then SIGN UP to RECEIVE AN EMAIL each time I post a NEW ONE by clicking on ‘SIGN ME UP’ on the top right of THIS PAGE.

Leave a comment

Filed under France, Off-piste

5/12/10 – Ski Club of Great Britain leaders’ course: here come the blues

Ski Club of GB leaders-in-training

Usually, in December, the slopes of Espace Killy bristle with pistachio jackets for a fortnight as several dozen ski- and snowboard-mad candidates undergo the annual induction that is the Ski Club of Great Britain reps’ course. This month, however, they are absent. Instead, locals in France’s premier early-season venue are watching with curiosity the arrival of a seemingly new group. Clad in bright blue, with dark trousers, they look rather swish, and they appear to be British. Could they be…? Surely not! Why, yes, a closer look reveals that this is indeed the new Ski Club uniform – as allocated to the 2010 intake of would-be leaders (formerly known as reps).

I have the good fortune to be here. There are around 40 of us, aged 21 to 60, and we girls are outnumbered to the tune of 3:1. Among our number are a policeman, an ice-skating coach, a pilot, a cameraman, an optician, a couple of students, a decent Scottish contingent and a handful of “adult gappers”. It’s amazing who turns up, actually: I am convinced I recognise one face from an internet dating site. Among our mentors are BASI instructors Gareth Roberts, Phil Smith and Andy Jerome, leadership guru Kyle Newman and SCGB’s own Simon Henwood.

Together we have piled into the lovely Hotel Levanna in Tignes Lac, where all of us – with the help of sensible name tags at meetings and mealtimes – are relishing making new friends, getting out on the slopes and discovering how to become top-class leaders. Two days in, we already have a local: most of us have crossed the threshold of the Alpaca bar, and at 3 Euros for a wine or beer, this looks to be the favourite.

I’ll leave you, for now, with an update on conditions: upper pistes beautifully powdery, turning firmer towards the village. Off-piste variable with high avalanche risk following a foot of fresh snow and a stiff wind.

DO you enjoy this BLOG? Then SIGN UP to RECEIVE AN EMAIL each time I post a NEW ONE by clicking on ‘SIGN ME UP’ on the top right of THIS PAGE.

Leave a comment

Filed under France, Off-piste