A few years ago, I was asked to write this article, about the experience of learning to ski, at shall we say a ‘later’ age.
I’m including it in this Blog, because B.A.S.S. mentioned below have been issuing some really good short videos about ski technique, and I wrote the music they use.
I should add that my eldest son Danny, is now a Ski Instructor working between France and Italy in the Alps, and having a whale of a time, and he would never have had that opportunity had it not been for Hugh and the BASS team.
Essentially what happened was that Hugh had been on a course at the IGF in Bath, and had attended my lessons. We became friends and he invited me out to play the Les Gets Blues festival. Therein, something beautiful was born, and I shall blog about it in full at a later date.
For now, this was written some years ago….
It’s a heartfelt piece, so read on.
FOR ADULTS COMING TO THE WHOLE “SKIING” THING LATE:
Let me just say from the outset, that I totally ‘get’ the skiing thing.
It is simply a beautiful experience and one that I would recommend to anyone. There is nothing to feed the soul quite so well as being high on a mountain, breathing clear, pure air and surveying vistas of mountain ranges on a beautiful blue sky day.
However despite this, my own progress has been marred by a number of false starts, and an almost extraordinary lack of basic essential skills.
My good friend Mr Hugh Monney, runs the British Association of Ski Schools out in the French alps, and the quality of teaching dished out by he and his staff has been exemplary. As evidenced by the almost equally annoying, massive progress made by every other member of my family.
Details can be found here…….
Give them a call. They’re nice people.
This therefore, is my own individual take on skiing lessons and the whole ‘ski ’thing.
I hope it makes some kind of sense.
For adults coming to the whole skiing thing, there are many factors which will determine your psychological approach, and believe me, the psychological approach is everything…
In my opinion, everyone carries a profile of themselves around with them.
It’s to do with how you fit with the world.
It’s to do with Height, Weight, size and shape.
It’s a culmination of your interactive experiences on this planet, good and bad.
It’s about how you fill your space.
Let me grow this idea….
Before I start, I have to state that this is my own experience. There are many people who approach the sport, the same age and size as me and pick it up real quick and become as proficient as anyone could hope to be.
I came to skiing late. I was 39 yrs old.
I weighed 17 and a half stone (245 pounds) and was, I believed, averagely fit (i.e. I visited a gym 3 times a week and worked out on machines and free weights. I could run a bit and lift a bit. If you saw me for the first time you would’ve described me as a ‘big lad’.( Not fat, per se, although my BMI score would have you believe I was clinically obese, along with the rest of the England rugby squad…..)
The sports I pursued as a boy at school were foisted onto me as a natural consequence of the Lancashire Grammar School system…i.e. tall, big, equals rugby.
For the most part of my school sports life, I was a rugby player.
Now let’s just investigate this one small part of my psyche.
One of the necessary component parts of a rugby match is physical contact.
Hard physical contact. Head crushing, bone bruising, sickening physical contact..
And that’s how its supposed to be. You can’t get away from it, even the shyest blind side flanker has at some point to try and flatten a little scrum half who decides to try and break down the wrong side of the scrum. And it hurts.
It really does hurt.
Anyone who says it doesn’t is lying. Or a psychopath.
A big man running into another big man hurts.
Trying to bear the weight of an opposition scrum, who are trying to collapse the thing by brute force, and using only your back hurts when it finally goes down. Plus you might get stamped, but that’s just big boys fun.
The feeling of running freely and then being abruptly stopped, and waiting for the split second before your whole mass gets slammed into the earth, is a sickening one, and it never gets any easier. The close up smell of sweat and blood combined with that pain, stays with you forever. It makes up part of your psyche.
Now, it also has some plus points. It teaches you that you are a big guy, and unconsciously it affects your personality, so that in later life, the first time you go into a pub, or a football crowd, or a crowded nightclub, you are unphased by the concept of touch and closeness to other people. Friends send you to the bar, ‘cos you’re a big bugger and you’ll get served, not realising, that actually all it is, is a willingness to push in, stand up straight, use a loud voice, and impart your physical presence to those around you, its in your psyche.
Other sports I enjoyed were soccer, Although, I never had the fleet of foot or the centre of gravity to be the star striker I felt I should have been. I enjoyed cricket as I had some concept of the idea of spinning a ball, but overall, Rugby is my abiding memory of sport. So nowadays, when I feel the start of physical activity, when I feel my thighs begin to twitch at the start of some unfamiliar action, or my body begin to sweat in anticipation of some extra energy that will be required, my brain by default, reverts back to it’s memory centre and that, is of a big lad playing rugby.
Unfortunately, that’s not a good frame of mind to start skiing.
When I was a kid, it’s not that I remember winters full of 6ft snow drifts, or Xmas days like Xmas cards, with the winter snow, deep and crisp and even.
I’m not one of these people who bang on about Global warming, by reminiscing about the snow falls we used to have.
What I remember was Fog, Frost and Ice.
Months of it.
Pretty much from the end of October, we could be guaranteed covering of some type of frost. Hoar frost on the ground, Window frost all over the glass of the house or car.
There was just a lot more cold weather, and consequently a lot more frost.
Now, the thing about a good deep white hoar frost that some of today’s kids may not be able to relate to, is that if the frost was thick enough (usually back streets, where the footpath either side of the cobbles had been tarmac’ed) you could Slide.
It was a national kids pastime.
On the way to school. You could see where other kids had been, by looking out for the slides they left. Every so often, you’d find a beauty, possibly fuelled by some housewife throwing her mop bucket out across the back street, and the freezing air adding it as a layer of ice to the already deadly slippy hoar frost, anyway the point was.. Sliding.
And I was good at it.
In fact I loved it.
I had the height and mass to allow me to run at the slide and then brace my feet in a parallel position at the start of the slide, and hope that momentum would carry me as far as possible before the physics of friction forced you to tumble over, (and you inevitably tumbled over). But that was OK.
The price of scraped skin on hands, or a rip in your school pants, was nothing compared to the exhilaration and freedom of moving without movement.
But it always ended with a fall. Or nearly always. Just every once in a while some lucky sod, would manage to keep their balance right up to the end of the ice, and either stop abruptly, but remain upright, or jump off the end of run as if trying to escape from the end of a particularly voracious escalator, and stagger forward a few feet, but again retain their balance. Most of us however, went down. Hard.
It was only later that night, as you nursed your swollen wrists and picked at the sore scabs that covered the inside of your palms, that you began to count the cost of the Sliding, but then tomorrow would come, and the allure was to much to resist. And off you’d go again.
So, I’ve taken a lot of time to try and describe to you, the state of mind I’m in when I approach a session on the snow.
My default sporting position is that of a ‘big lad’, familiar with the concept of physical pain, and the damage I am capable of doing with my frame, and a dim memory of sliding on ice as a kid.
Nowadays, when I watch a good skier, I recognise certain basic actions they are able to perform. Nothing flashy or even technical. Just basics, that I know I will never achieve, or at least not without years and years of practice. How do I know? Because I’ve witnessed it so many times during my own teaching sessions on the guitar.
The ability to fall down and get yourself back up on your skis, quickly and gracefully, is the equivalent to moving quickly and efficiently between playing a ‘C add 9’ chord at the third fret of a guitar, and an ‘A maj 7 flat 5’ at the fifth.
It’s a facility. A facility brought about by years of practice. There is no way to teach it. You can show how it should be done, but really, it’s just years of hard work and dedication and struggle, until it becomes second nature.
And its those little things, that in my opinion, teachers tend to forget.
For me the most necessary skill a teacher can have, is to remember how it felt, not to be able to do the thing they are teaching.
If I could open a ski school for me, and others like me. It would start with at least a week of falling over.
Wrist straps, and knee protection like the kind worn by skateboarders would be a necessary part of the kit, and the first day at least would be spent on soft snow, throwing people to the ground, and making them get back up again. Just that.
Push them over and make them get back up.
Let them feel the absolute spastic akwardness of ineptitude.
Let them feel the quiet desperation of being totally shit at something.
Useless. No business doing it. Lumpy, graceless, like new born foals , shot full of LSD and shoved onto Altrincham ice rink.
But they can only get better.
Better at recovering.
Familiar with the alien slippiness.
Becoming unafraid of the terrain, by being in close proximity to it.
Day 2 would be spent trying to go backwards.
Again on soft snow, and all the time with the aim of falling over from a different perspective.
Skiing backwards is something that seems to me to be an essential ability.
Being caught on a hill, trying to listen to an instructor, whilst being aware that skis are slowly slipping away from you, backwards, is the most awful feeling, and I believe it should be taught right from the beginning.
Simple control whilst standing still.
The ability to get back up again quickly and efficiently when you do fall.
Familiarity with the cold of the snow.
I cant stress enough, how, for me, this is an absolute pre-requisite to being able to START to learn.
There is a point you reach when learning to ski, in which the body is required to do something so counter intuitive, it boggles the mind.
I’m talking about leaning out away from the mountain.
Always lean with your upper body away from the mountain and face downhill – chest downhill.
THIS IS RIDICULOUSLY HARD.
Let me explain.
There are some techniques in Ski-ing that make sense.
When you’re going across the ski slope, remember to always keep your weight on the inside edge of your bottom ski (the one facing down hill); the ski closer to the top of the mountain is only there for the ride.
THIS MAKES SENSE!!!
It feels entirely natural.
It is what you would instinctively do.
However, it goes hand in hand with another equally natural instinct.
To lean close into the hill.
And this is WRONG.
It definitely is wrong. There’s no point moaning about it. It’s wrong. It makes you go faster with less control. How sick is that?
So that would be day 3.
Leaning out from the mountain, and falling over a lot.
Day 4 would be spent concentrating on one simple concept.
Ski-ing is simply a matter of stopping.
Skiing is stopping.
Nothing more or less. Everything in between is unimportant compared to this single truth.
Ski-ing is about stopping.
There is a point during any ski run where the skis have to point down hill in parallel.
Ski-ing is simply learning to stop them running away with you.
Point them down hill, and then learn to stop them running away.
You do this by turning.
Everything, I have been taught about turning is correct.
I’ve had 6 different ski instructors, each with a different tale on turning, but essentially, they were all right.
It’s the most important bit.
If you do it right, all that happens is you become more confident in how long you allow the skis to point downhill. The size of the turning arc becomes shorter, as does the time between each turn, but make no mistake, This is where its at.
Stopping is the key.
Day 5 would be all about stopping.
Hockey Stops. All day.
After all these, you would I believe, have the confidence to attempt your first Green Run……………..!