Instructing: A Stumbling Block on the Road

Allow me, if you will, to set the scene: Upon returning to the UK from a full, draining ski season in Vaujany over in the French Alps nestled next to Alpe d’Huez I proceed to spend the following 6 weeks sleeping on a sofa at my parent’s house. All of my belongings stuffed into the loft and whatever nook and cranny was available in between the usual hodgepodge of family stuff, and also my sister’s, her partner’s and their bouncing baby daughter’s worldly possessions. In a word – cramped.

These six long weeks saw me job hunting to within an inch of my sanity: Instructing, Outdoor Retail, Travel Agent, hell – even a school cleaning job. I applied to them all, country wide too, being based in what feels like the retirement capital of Europe – Worthing, W. Sussex – made those rare interviews all the more difficult to get to. That hardest bit of that phase was just the sheer lack of responses I received from just about everyone whom I pelted with a CV; barely a we have received your application, let alone a sorry you have not been successful. That sort of silence is crippling for a job hunter!

But anyway. An olive branch was extended to me in the form of the Pinnacle Climbing Centre in the heartland of Northamptonshire and in June I became a full time climbing instructor! I’d relocated in record time to Northampton, a cushy 15 minute cycle commute making everything sweeter, and started settling in. The management even gave me the added responsibility of being an unofficial social media co-ordinator of sorts, keeping the Facebook and Twitter pages up to date and filled with content.

Now we bring ourselves to the first week of September: I’m called in for a meeting with the Centre and Duty Managers to iron out a few niggles such as being more of a team player (I wasn’t making enough cups of tea for my colleagues) and discuss the social media performance which wasn’t going as well as the Managing Director wanted. In short my probation period was extended a month and was given 2 weeks to buck up my ideas and see a marked improvement. A bit of a short time frame but alright, this is new territory for me.

I have a good fortnight full of good instructing sessions, plenty of social media stuff and I even offered several cuppas around. I took some pre-planned holiday for an adventure up to Scotland to bag our first Munros which was for the most part very successful – don’t think I’ve eaten that well in a long time! So arrives the Monday, six days into the trip, we’ve just driven from Glen Brittle campsite up on the Isle of Skye back to our adopted base of the Glen Nevis campsite in Fort William. As we got booked in for the night I checked my emails – 1 unread message from my HR Manager simply titled Letter Attached – I read the letter and lo and behold I’ve been dismissed from the company and given a week’s notice in accordance with my contract.

The reason: “…the main priority of social media postings has not improved, and the necessary reporting has not taken place, amongst other things”.
I’d been dismissed for an extra responsibility given to me by management, not for the actual duty for which I was employed. Surely just taking the responsibility away from me would have done the trick instead of cutting me loose entirely?

Just imagine that for a moment. Being sacked by email whilst on holiday. It’s like being dumped by a partner by text, a bit mean and not really the done thing.

I followed up the email when signal allowed and asked about my final weekend of work when I returned from Scotland, surely I’d have work to do being on a 40hr/week contract? Alas, no. I’d already been worked out of the rota and not given any hours to see me to the end of the notice period. The only reason to actually go into the centre was to collect my belongings and return my uniform. A sour experience let me assure you, even with the Duty Manager keeping it friendly and supportive when I dropped by.

So here I am, job hunting countrywide again with the timer ticking on my accommodation. I refuse to go back to that sofa! One benefit of being that little bit further up the country is that I can literally roll onto the M1 and be just about anywhere in England/Wales within 5 hours, especially missing out that god forsaken M25!
Plenty of CVs have been fired off near and far lately with some already promising leads, ideally something comes up that pays me more than minimum wage and considers the qualifications I’ve toiled long and hard to achieve.

Feel free to share your thoughts and advice on this little stumble of mine. If there are any suitable vacancies out there let me know!

At least Scotland was good!

At least Scotland was good!

Review: ICE BASI 10 Week Gap Course

I have put this off for long enough now, seeing as I got back in mid March.

Between 5th January and 16th March I undertook my single most expensive venture to date: An official BASI 10 Week Gap Course through the International Centre of Excellence (ICE) situated in the world renowned French Alp resort of Val d’Isere. Starting with 65, as time went on candidates peeled off as they undertook their 4 and 6 week assessments and called it and end, resulting in a still impressive ~40 finishing the full 10 weeks.

The Course

ICE was the first provider of the BASI 10 week gap course anywhere in the world. The 3 Directors/Instructors; Dave, Mark and Rupert are the most experienced instructors BASI has to offer and can make a champion skier out of just about anyone, given enough time.
I had signed up for the part-time course which involved 5 weeks of two-half days per week, and 5 of full days. I found that I was the only person to go for the part time option in week 3, I would have appreciated being told this before starting the course so that I might have pulled the extra money together to go full time instead. I found myself skiing solo for the majority of the time which was surprisingly de-motivational as there was no genuine feedback being given on my performance or technique, I could already see others on my course overtaking my abilities within the first week of being part time. I paid 100Euros to go full time for the 7th week in order to equalise my skills with my peers ready for the final 2 weeks of solid assessment. I would recommend anyone considering this or a similar course to go full time if funds allow, if you’re already a brilliant skier then the part time course may be suited to you.

The specialist workshops provided were fantastic, whether it was a day of slalom coaching from former Winter Olympian Alain Baxter, a ski maintenance tutorial or the freestyle session everyone benefited and everyone asked for more of the same. It really opens your eyes when an instructor in his early 40’s pops a backflip out of nowhere and casually says that he likes to do one every day in order to ‘keep young’!

When it came to the assessment criteria for levels 1 and 2 the main focus for the instructors were the Central Theme (Sliding, Ploughing, Plough Turn, Plough Parallel, Parallel), short turns and long turns. These 3 ‘strands’ had to be nailed down so well that the skier can perform them without even thinking. The other 2 strands that make up the 5, bumps/moguls and variables/steeps were covered in a greater depth from the week 6 mark with the expectation from the instructors that all candidates would be practicing and racking up the mileage in those 2 strands on a near daily basis in order to be proficient enough for assessment. Natural moguls are something that must be ridden regularly in order to ski them in a controlled and proficient manner, the same goes for steep, variable terrain. This becomes abundantly obvious when we gawp at Rupert as he hammers it down a mogul field without a care in the world, looking as cool as the snow around him.

Shadowing and teaching is a key component of the course. Week 6 involved a full week of shadowing an instructor from Oxygene, one of the bigger schools in Val, and I was assigned to a ‘Bronze’ group consisting of twelve 7-11 year old kids. The overall experience of shadowing that group was rewarding and I learnt several important things such as never fall over in front of children, and it is very difficult to not swear when something goes wrong. My instructor, Massimo, was so grateful for my help I was asked to help out for another week, I checked this with the Instructors and ended up doing another week but this time shadowing adults which was a completely different experience but equally rewarding and fun.
The teaching side of things was practically continual throughout the course with everyone giving a short lesson near enough weekly, the lessons were generally on either the Central Theme, Shorts or Longs. When the Level 2 assessment kicked in the instructors upped our game and we were giving lessons on everything ranging from how to improve someones psychological capacity in skiing, through to bumps. My 3 assessed lessons for Level 2 were Shorts which didn’t go too well due to lack of planning, Plough Parallel which I got huge praise for, and Bumps which was average. Some lessons from candidates were fantastic and imaginative, others were just plain painful to go through. If you’re considering this course then I recommend having a ‘game face’ that you can put on for teaching, even if you’re shy or a bit monotone getting your game face on makes a solid improvement in your lessons.

Professionalism was a given on this course, if you showed up to a session stinking of booze, or even still drunk then you’d be given a b*****king and if it continued you’d be sent home. Being mostly 18 year old gap year kids on the course there were quite a few slap downs.

It’s worth mentioning the pass rates of the 6 and 10 week Level 2 assessments. 6 week pass rate was about a third, the 10 week was about 95%. If you can spare the extra month it is recommended to take the time and effort to perfect your skills and nail the assessment without any worries.

Snowboarding courses offered by ICE appear to be outsourced to a local ski school as none of the trainers are really boarders.

Val d’Isere

A world renowned resort with class leading conditions and slopes, there’s something for everyone in Val D. A huge selection of bars, nightclubs and restaurants will keep everyone happy, I’d recommend Blue Note for apres drinks and nibbles – if you can find it of course! A must try is the hot chocolate with Cointreau. Cafe Face is another good apres venue with beer prices starting at 2.80 at 4pm rising 20 cents every half hour, as you might guess it’s a very popular place.
Being such a busy resort the bus service is reasonably regular, I was based in La Daille just down the road from Val centre. An annoyance with the bus system was that the depot was 200m further down the road from La Daille and on a freezing night (every night) when trying to get into Val there might be 2 or even 3 buses sat in the depot instead of driving on the circuit.
The Centre Aquasportif is huge, located unter L’Olympique gondola containing a good climbing area, mostly ungraded bouldering but has 15m roped section ranging from Font 5 to 7a, a swimming pool with relax section, weights area, sauna/spa, squash courts and a cafe.
From the abundance of 5 star hotels in the town it’s safe to say that prices are a little beyond inflated to suit the local clientele, Val d’Isere boasts the most expensive Spar shop in Europe and the price of a beer ranges from 3Euros in Saloon Bar pre-apres, to 9Euros at La Folie Douce any time. Don’t make the mistake I did and go with a light bank account!

The Kit Used

From the looks and actions on near enough everyone else on the course, I think I came best prepared to deal with the weather conditions. The only times I felt cold were on the really cold days (sub -15C), main main setup was:

If it was one of those cold days then I simply swapped the Astron Jacket for the M.E Omega jacket. I trialed the Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man as a mid-layer but was simply too warm.
Everything combined and worked perfectly, I rarely felt sweaty, the wind was kept out, and smug satisfaction that everyone else was chilly in their designer brand outfits kept me going whatever the mountain weather was doing.

Highs and Lows

I can’t count the high points of the course as there were just too many, from some excellent dinners to the unobstructed views of the Mont Blanc Massif, the invasion of hot Swedish girls to the banter with the instructors. It truly was a great 2 and a half months. The conditions were some of the best people had seen in a decade, plenty of fresh powder to keep everyone very happy all the way through and had no sign of stopping even as we called an end and headed home.

The lows were few and far between, the only nagging ones that got to me were the 18 year olds on the course were mostly spoilt rich kids on their Gap Yahs, they hit the town hard a good 4 or 5 times a week and so I generally steered clear of them. Another was some of the restaurants; part of the course was 5 paid-for dinners per week, our selection consisted of Quicksilver, Morris Pub, Les Tufs and Chez Axel. The former two were fine, good selection of burgers (especially Morris) and other basic meals. The latter two were a different story, ‘Tufs’ dished up some awful dinners for the group and only really redeemed themselves once the Instructors had had a strong word with them to get their act together, a lot of people in the group asked for their meal money back and decided to fend for themselves for the remainder of the course because of Tufs. Chez Axel is a well presented, rustic style french restaurant that offers reasonably good food (especially pizzas), but has the most incompetent staff I’ve come across! The manager got incredibly angry whenever more than 4 people showed up at once requesting food, at one point hurling insults at a group that decided waiting wasn’t worth their while, I wouldn’t recommend these places at all.

Did I mention how expensive Val D is? It’s expensive.


A fantastic course run by world leading instructors situated in a top, yet pricey, resort. Patience for rich kids a bonus and ability to take onboard every morsel of advice the instructors can give you. Guaranteed conditions throughout, busy weeks such as half terms don’t do the pistes justice, go when it’s quiet.

Recommend the Pte du Montet to Tignes les Brevieres challenge – One side of the piste map to the other finishing up for an excellent meal in La Sachet.

Me on the Grande Motte

Me on the Grande Motte

BASI 10 Week Gap Course Completed!

So, finally, after 10 solid weeks of skiing I have completed the official BASI 10 week Gap Course. The result is me achieving the Alpine Level 2 Instructor qualification.

I can now instruct worldwide (except France) on a seasonal basis.

Huge thanks to the course hosts ICE, or the International Centre of Excellence, for their absolutely world class tutelage and expert guidance in every aspect of skiing.

Next post will be a full run down of kit used, review of the course, review of the resort and anything else noteworthy. Could well be tomorrow as I’ve got an 8 hour wait at Geneva Airport….pray for my sanity!

SPA Training Course Done!

Another step on the path to becoming a Mountain Sports Instructor has been passed this weekend with the completion of the Single Pitch Award training course. With the two instructors, Dan McKinlay and Adam Hughes, it was a great weekend teaching me new techniques and reinforcing established ones.

I now aim to complete the SPA by Spring 2013, racking up as much climbing and supervision experience as possible. I am looking for climbing suggestions, and partners, in the Peak and Snowdonia areas but also any suggestions/recommendations for the Val d’Isere, France, area would be greatly appreciated, anything up to and including HVS 5c (British Trad Grade).