Follow this link to read the story from the beginning
On the Trainee Instructor course I had been advised to ski for two weeks to practise what I had learnt before embarking on the Instructor course (now known as Level 2). Taking this to heart, and because my younger sister Clare was spending the winter season in Les Menuires, I decided to visit her for a fortnight and then do the Instructor course in Val D'Isere immediately afterwards. The first challenge was to get four weeks off work. I put my annual leave request in and my boss at the time signed it without looking at it. He was not entirely happy when he realised he had given me a month off in one go. With return flights to Geneva and a BASI course booking made I was committed. BASI had yet to confirm the course and advised against booking any accommodation until they had, so I set off to Les Menuires with no idea whether my course would run and nowhere to stay if it did.
I took the public bus from Geneva to Les Menuires, changing at Moutiers, and met my sister Clare without any hiccups. Staying with somebody who lives in the resort means getting to meet a lot of people quite quickly so it was a fun two weeks. I skied hard and practised the things I had to work on from the Trainee course. These included edge control - keeping the inside knee in to avoid an A-frame, and using a tighter arc to control my speed. I have just dug out my course report form from ten years ago and it is interesting to see that the same issues have tended to crop up again over the years. I also got in a bit of informal teaching practise skiing with Clare's colleagues. During this fortnight I managed to lose my phone through the elementary mistake of skiing with my pockets unzipped. BASI cancelled my unconfirmed course in Val D'Isere at this point, a week before it was due to start, and I remember spending a lot of time and money in payphones trying to sort out what I was doing next. I managed to transfer to a BASI Instructor course in Verbier instead, so at a few days notice I had to organise transport to Verbier and accommodation once I arrived there. I booked a bus to Geneva airport via Moutiers again and worked out train times from there to Verbier. Continuing the theme of making simple but expensive mistakes, I somehow left my bus ticket in the laundrette on the last evening of my stay so I had to buy another on the morning of my departure.
From the airport it was fairly straightforward to negotiate the Swiss train system, which does run like clockwork. Three trains, one bus and three and a half hours later I was in Verbier. I did not realise until much later that it takes about half that time to drive the distance.
I still had nowhere to stay in Verbier so I had a quick beer in the first bar I saw and met a few locals before heading to the tourist office. With the budget I had I was pointed to the Bunker - about the only cheap place in Verbier. This is a large hostel underneath the town's sports centre. As you might guess from the name it is inside a nuclear bunker. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this aspect of Switzerland, the country is full of underground fallout shelters to be used in the event of a nuclear war. Private houses and apartment buildings have private shelters stocked with provisions and there are also large public shelters - I am not sure whether they are for those too poor to have their own shelter, or for those caught away from home when the sirens sound. Anyway, for about twenty four hours it was quite exciting to be living underground in a concrete warren with 12 inch thick steel doors and no windows. Then the novelty wore off and I was still living underground in a concrete warren with 12 inch thick steel doors and no windows. The accommodation was twelve or so people to a concrete dormitory on bunk beds. Meals were provided in the sports centre cafe, and we had use of the sports facilities as well so it was not all bad. The instructor course is one of only two courses I have taken with BASI that lasted longer than a week, so I was there for a while and had to make the most of it.
I met the rest of the candidates and the trainer the following morning. Three of them were already instructors working in Verbier but wanted to switch to BASI from other instructor systems. People often switch for one reason or another. In this case it was because the qualifications have to be refreshed every couple of years to stay valid and it was easier to do BASI refreshers than Canadian or Swedish refreshers in Verbier. Nationality wise we had a mix of American, Swedish and Brits on the course and like the Trainee course there was a fair spread of ability levels, although it was not quite as pronounced this time. I soon discovered, as I would do so often in my BASI career, that the goalposts had moved slightly. What had been the 'Speed' strand on the Trainee course became the 'Piste Performance' strand and now included short turns as well as high speed carving. As I understand it short turns were kept within the 'Steep' strand up to that point. If this sounds confusing that is because it is, and I still struggle to remember which are strands and which are threads in BASI speak after nearly ten years.
We started with some clean carving which seemed to go alright although on my Dynastar 4x4 Freeride skis I struggled to make as tight an arc as those on slalom skis. The task was clean carving rather than tight carving at that level though so it was not too much of a problem. One early difficulty that the group had was when asked to do a basic parallel turn at slow speed whilst being watched. Every one of us used a stem or slight snowplough to start the turn. Julian, the trainer asked if we were really ready to be ski instructors if we couldn't even manage a parallel turn. It can be surprisingly difficult to perform manoeuvres on skis at very low speeds, but of course as instructors we need to be able to do good demonstrations. To correct this we were split into pairs and had to follow one another shouting 'stem' loudly every time we saw the skis deviating even slightly from parallel.
Over the next couple of days we ran through the four strands - piste, bumps, steeps and variables (off-piste snow) as well as the central theme (beginner progression). Those involved with BASI will know that it has its own language for many things using a mix of North American ideas, translated French terms, educational theory and a few inventions. I was not surprised to find that my bumps and piste needed work but I was surprised to find I needed to work on my variables as well. After my first variables run I was told,
"If you can keep your knees apart you might - might - pass this course." Which burst my bubble a bit as I had thought I had been doing quite well.
I am going to finish here and make this part of the story a two part post as it is quite long. Click here to read part two.