Saturday, 23 February 2013

AMPing it up!!

So after 4 days of well earned rest it was time to hit the slopes and have some fun!! After all the hard work for our Level 1 we spent last week doing the All Mountain Pro programme. The aim is to ski all sorts of terrain (the crazier the better) and learn to do drops, some huge moguls and just generally have an awesome time!

I was with Audrey again this week and we kicked off the 4 days at Sunshine. We were blessed with a lovely sunny day and as always the snow conditions were pretty nice. After warming up we spent the majority of the day exploring new terrain (well new to me), including drops, tree runs, some of the hugest moguls you ever laid eyes on and the back bowls. The only disadvantage was the amount of rocks! By the end of the day it wasn't uncommon to hear anguished cries of "rock,rock, rock!" followed by a loud scraping sound and groans as scratches are ripped out of a pair of freshly tuned skis!! We finished the day with my first Double-Black Diamond run. This is the hardest level of run in the Canadaian classification system. I'm not going to lie, I was tired and not scared exactly, but let's just say certain words from a rather select vocabulary passed through my mind! I simply had to grit my teeth, mentally cross my fingers (really doing so would be a bit of a hazard while holding ski poles) and hope for the best! I got down in one piece, with very little technique and pretty inelegant skiing, but I did it!! We finished the days with the ski-out back to the lodge then heading back to Banff.

Wednesday, as usual, was at Norquay. Lots of people had been out the night before so numbers were pretty low, not that that's necessarily a bad thing, smaller groups mean a quicker pace and less waiting. My group spent the morning doing our Level 1 PDP (Personal Development Programme) with a Level 4 Instructor called Heather. We spent the morning skiing around focusing on a particular skill each and then working on these as a group. Despite rotating instructors each week, it was great to have a fresh pair of eyes and a new way of explaining things. After Lunch our group headed out with Charlie and another afternoon of pushing myself to the limit. Norquay hasn't had snow for a while so the pistes were rock hard, and the moguls too! But we did so this one amazing run, cutting down from the top of one of the chairlifts, following the lift-line and cutting through the trees and away from the pistes, into a crazy powder-field littered with trees, bumps and moguls. Another inelegant but amazing run, and my confidence was starting to grow!

Thursday we heads out to Lake Louise, and it was another day of free skiing. In the morning we concentrated on carving (something I can actually do!!). The afternoon we spent free-skiing, doing some crazy runs, including lots more double-black diamonds. I've got to the point where I stand st the top of a slope, I dont' think s**t I'm going to die, now I think "Cool let's do this!" and as long as I get down, in one piece at my own pace, it's amazing!! I've skied stuff this week that had someone said to me at the start of the course "week five, you'll ski down there" I would have laughed at them! Finally back to Banff and dinner before we headed out to Cascade Ponds for a bonfire!! Beforehand a quick trip to Safeway to stock up on marshmallows. It was pretty cold but the fire grew in capacity. Pretty much everyone turned up, including all the instructors, and everyone stood chatting, drinking eating marshmallows toasted on the fire. I started off a tend by sacrificing my old worn-out mittens on the fire to the Snow-Gods in the hope of a Pow day, others followed with more glove, snowboard boots someone even burnt their old ski, battered ski Jacket. We headed back, some people then went out, but I headed back to bed for some much needed sleep in preparation for the AMP ride-off!!

Another day at the Lake and it was time to AMP it up!! Audrey (my) group and Charlie's group joined forces for the morning. We were assessed on long carving turns, short fast turns (including a jump which most of us bailed on). It took a while with group of 12 of us, but it was great as I got to ski with loads of people I hadn't skied with before. We finished off the morning, with the Ski-Cross, a specially built course which you can race up to 4 people on! Such Fun!! Then in the afternoon we all skied in one big group. We were assessed doing a drop then a free run. I went somewhere in the middle, my first go I got some air and landed the drop fine (the bit I was worried about!!) but the light was so flat that I couldn't judge the run, all bumpy and choppy and so I had a massive wipe-out, ate snow but managed to keep my skis. Back up the chairlift then another go and this time was much better! Got more air, landed fine and cruised ( well fine, made a few rather wobbly turns) down to join the others and was immediately bombarded with snowballs!! As a group we headed back up the mountain before splitting up again into our smaller groups, some more runs before heading back to Banff. Safe to say I wan't the only one who napped on the way back to town! Straight to dinner and our awards ceremony, I didn't win but did get a specialy mention (smug!) then a lazy evening.

A weekend off then it's back to the grindstone!        

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Been a long time Coming

It's been a while and a lot has happened! We have definitely set into a weekly routine which now feels incredibly normal to me but to a lot of others, must seem incredibly exciting! Every week has the same structure, we ski for 4 days, have 3 days off and then the cycle starts again.

My ski groups since you last heard from me have consisted of numerous old faces plus a couple of new ones. After skiing for a second week with Charlie the next was spent with Audrey, A Level 3 Instructor from  Quebec. It's got to the point now though that whichever instructor I have, each has slightly different definitions or analogies for the same explanation. Result: confusion, I've come to the conclusion that if you do something and the instructors say nothing you're doing fine, if they give praise you're doing really well!

One of the highlights of the past couple of weeks was Dog-Sledding!! So much fun, if you ever get the chance to do it go for it!! I was in sled with my roomie Emily and Issy. Each is pulled by a team of 7-8 dogs in pairs and each pair has a specific role within the team. We got to drive the sled and all the time you have to talk to the dogs and encourage them, the more you shout the happier they are, the faster they run! Nothing can compare to sledding over a frozen lake surrounded by mountains. After sledding for the afternoon, everyone met up around a bonfire beside the lake for Hot chocolate and cookies and for cuddles with Tika, the cutest Husky Puppy in the world!! I wanted to smuggle her back to the hotel and then back to England, unfortunately so did everyone else and so after lots of cuddles and photos it was time to say goodbye and head back to Banff.

I provided one epic fall when skiing at Norquay. It was towards the end of the day and we'd spent ages working on our snowploughs, so just to relax and have a bit of fun, we went to one of the quieter slopes which is wide and not too steep, with some bumps and jumps at the edges. I decided to do a bit of backwards skiing, just to practice. The run was pretty flat, it was wide, there was no danger of me falling over a cliff. To be honest I was trying to show off, in the end I went too fast and ended up crashing into a tree-well, laughing hysterically! 

This last week has been the most important week so far. We had our Level 1 CSIA course. £ days of continuous assessment of our skiing and teaching. I had unfortunately been struck down (sounds dramatic I know) with some horrible sinus-flu thing and had spent the last 3 days before in bed and to be honest wasn't feeling all that great. But anyway I was determined to at least try and do the course. We were split randomly into groups of 6-8, most of the people were Nonstoppers but our group had one guy from Canmore. We were assigned a course leader for the 3 days, ours was a guy called Patrick who was originally from Bordeaux but has lived and instructed in Canada for over 10 years. To be honest I don't actually remember all that much from the course apart from a lot of the time leaning on my poles thinking 'Don't throw up, don't throw up'. The vague memories I do have were pretty fun, but I'm not sure I'd make a good teacher. On Thursday the final day of the course, we finished pretty early about 2.30 then faced a nervous wait for the results. Most people headed to the bar while I curled up in an arm-chair and napped. Finally we were all given the good news and I am now officially a CSIA Certified Level 1 Ski Instructor!!

So now after a few days of rest, recovery and recuperation. Next week brings the start of the All Mountain Pro programme. Basically we're just going to have a lot of fun doing all terrain and all sorts of freestyle stuff!!

Here is a video of me skiing from a couple of weeks ago at Mount Norquay, not my best but better than nothing!

Friday, 25 January 2013

Day 12-15: Back to Basics

Having been here a little while now and been skiing quite a bit it has only just occurred to me how ridiculous a sport skiing actually is. I mean, who in their right mind would strap 2 pieces of wood (or whatever skis are actually made of these days!!) to their feet and slide down the side of a mountain in extremely low temperatures? And how bonkers must the person who first thought of it have been to come up with such an idea? More to the point how much more bonkers must the person who the inventor suggested this concept to have been to actually think it was a good idea to try this out? Not sure if that even makes sense but anyway, I came to think about this after realising that in the name of fun, in the first full week alone 5 people were injured enough to have to seek medical attention and take days off from training (and that's not including those who were hungover!!). And I assume that I am not the only one who has taken tumbles serious enough to warrant ice-packs the moment we return to the hotel and yielding bruises so that patches of skin look like they were designed for a children's dot-to-dot. Not that I'm complaining, I'm having a great time, it's just, well rather strange.

Anyway it was the beginning of a new week, and yet another new group to learn with, though with a few old faces popping up: Scott, Stephen, Lewis, Johnny, Emily (my roomie!), Matt and Josh, though he is out of action due to a knee injury so doesn't really count!! This week we have Charlie as our instructor which is like a future version of us. He is from Essex and several years ago as a Career break did a similar instructor course with a company called Peak Leaders in Argentina. He then decided to make instructing his full-time career and as well as teaching in Canada has also taught in South America. This week it's back to basics with the re-introduction of the Snow-plough, everyone's first steps (or slides?) into the world of skiing. Something which one relies on almost constantly to begin with, seems like a bit of a distant memory since entering the phase of the parallel turn and hockey-stop, achieving a perfect snow-plough is a lot easier said than done. On day one at Lake Louise we headed out on our usual warm-up runs for an hour or so before heading off to the Nursery Slops to head back down memory lane. We were transported up on the magic-carpet (can it even be called a lift?) and for the rest of the morning, concentrated on how to perfect our ploughing, with the right stance and more importantly haw to identify a well-performed snow-plough. Needless to say after over a week of skiing varied terrain this very necessary part of training was a little on the tedious side and I am probably correct in thinking that the majority of the group was greatly relieved when it was announced that the afternoon would be spent exploring some new tougher terrain. We headed up to the very summit of the mountain on Lake Louise's only button-lift and spent the rest of the day navigating our way down a wide range of runs, including tree-runs and off-piste. After a fairly fast-paced afternoon it wasn't surprising that a lot of us slept the entire journey back to Banff!!

That evening included one of the highlights of the trip so far, a visit to the Banff Hot Springs. Now when I say they were amazing I'm not exaggerating!! You will know by now that I adore the hot-tub at Irwin's but this was on another scale!! A group of about 15 of us went up there after dinner, I don't think any of us were quite sure what to expect. After changing we headed out though a glass tunnel with a sloped floor which got increasingly deeper with water, blissfully hot at 39 degrees celsius, until about knee-depth, then through a doorway to outside to plunge into a naturally heated pool. Sighs of ecstasy echoed from everyone and then there was silence while everyone basked in the heat and got used to the sensation of having a freezing head and a wonderfully warm body. I can't tell you how relaxing it was, only that I didn't particularly want to leave and that, once we had left, I felt so relaxed and sleepy that I literally fell into bed and to sleep as soon as my head touched the pillow.

Tuesday was spent up at Sunshine where we were exploring a lot more varied terrain. We took a break from the basics to have a bit of fun and work on improving our technique. We are definitely moving away from the easier runs and are doing increasing number of black runs, this is great because not only is it a challenge but if you don't use correct technique, over you go and end up with snow all down the back of your jacket. One of the day's more entertaining moments was when we were skiing down a gentle green run (the easiest level) Matt easily navigated all other traffic on the piste and then, while he claims he was being distracted by Johnny, collided with a lone tree situated on an otherwise empty stretch of snow!! Other than that a clear, blossoming bromance has developed between Stephen and Johnnny with the occasional addition of Scott and Matt. After another tiring day (Charlie sets a fast pace!) back to Irwin's and yoga for most and revision for me.

Wednesday is Norquay day, and with a tech session planned for early afternoon, a shorter day of lessons. Now, Norquay is a pretty small mountain and much of the terrain is on the tougher side. This particular day, one of the main lifts was broken meaning we were a little limited in ski areas. In addition there has been little or no fresh snowfall there since we arrived so the snow is hard-packed with a tendency to become icy, in short, if you fall at speed it hurts!! So in light of this, much of the morning was spent snow-ploughing again and repeated ups and downs of the same, single lift. It was also another film-day, so we have some wonderfully tedious footage of slow traversing wedge-turns across slight inclines, movements not normally associated with the intensely fierce looks of concentration they were coupled with! An early lunch then we trooped back out, a little reluctantly if truth be told at the expectation of more snow-ploughing, but were pleased to hear that we were calling it a day on that front! Instead our group spent the afternoon working on carving which for those of you who don't know is when you put all your weight on the edges of the skis during turns so you carve a deep curve into the snow. We ended up having a competition to see who was best but in such a way that we all improved. We headed back to Irwin's for the tech session which for this week was all about injury prevention. It was given by Annie who is not only one of the instructors for Nonstop, but is also a physiotherapist at Banff's hospital. She explained about the most commonly occurring snow-sports injuries and the most likely situations in which they can occur, what we can do ourselves to treat the injury if it's not severe enough for a (very expensive) visit to the hospital, and also some stretches which we all tried out. Dinner time again, circuits for some, the bar for many and more revision for me before another night's kip.

Our final lessons of the week were at Sunshine again where we were blessed with our first proper powder day of the season with 16 centimetres of fresh snow fallen overnight and more still falling!! Any plans of snow-ploughing today went out of the window and the day was devoted to carving fresh tracks. Skiing powder is hard work and by the end of the first run my thighs were aching (a comparison would be doing squats with extra resistance nonstop!!) but you know what they say: "No friends on a powder day!!" Most the day was spent either off-piste, on black runs, moguls or in the trees. Once you got used to the conditions it was easy to understand why people get so hyped up!! It's hard not to feel a thrill of excitement when you stop at the bottom of a slope and look back on the smooth, curving tracks your skis have made through previously untouched, knee-deep snow. We also spent time skiing lift-lines, usually horribly steep and peppered with rocks and hard-packed moguls, today they were a joy and instead of the usual feeling of relief of surviving it in one piece, most of the group's immediate desire was to leap back onto the chairlift to do it again!! So much to ski, so little time!! Another key part of the day was starting to master jumps and drops, part of which we did together with Kelly's group. Today was the perfect day to try as due to the fresh conditions, if mistakes were made in take-off or landing, the inevitable falls was soft \and comfortable, if a little on the cold side!! Our last run of the day before skiing down came to a sudden halt during a rather spectacular tree-run which finished with a jump with a drop of 4-5 feet. I was due to be last to take it and everyone survived it pretty much fine until Lewis who took his turn before mine. On seeing the jump and deciding it might be a bit much (he only started skiing one week before the beginning of the course!) he tried to come to a hockey-stop on the edge of the jump, instead going flying off it sideways and kneeing himself in the face and breaking his nose, landing in a bit of a heap, ski equipment strewn across the piste and staining the ground crimson with the blood gushing from his nostrils. It all sounds rather dramatic, but he was pretty stoical. Once the blood was mopped up, he happily skied down to the bottom with the rest of us before being driven off to the hospital to get his nose straightened out.

So another week's instruction down and 3 days off to relax. Time is passing so quickly 11 weeks will be gone before we know it!!

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Day 5-11: A day of rest....then a bit more skiing

So a week has passed since my last post and the course is already going way quicker than I could have imagined! After 3 days on the hill, Monday was a day off. I was full of good intentions, planning on having a bit of a lie-in, skyping home then heading up on the last bus to Sunshine Village for a bit of free skiing. I managed to meet the first 2 objectives but failed miserably on the third, instead spending over an hour talking to the parents before deciding to give the good intentions a miss (were they really that realistic anyway?) and have a restful day, starting with the hot-tub, then heading into town to 'Second-Cup' and my first proper coffee since arriving in Canada. Can't really remember what I got up to in the afternoon but in the evening, with no supper provided, Emily and I headed out for Chinese and then to the Cinema to see Les Miserables. Now if anyone hasn't seen it and is planning to, I warn you take lots of tissues because I cried most of the way through and I never normally cry at films! The film surpassed all my expectations (though Hugh Jackman's rendition of 'Bring him Home' was not up to Alfie Boe's standard) and I returned to the hotel an emotional wreck and collapsed into bed ready for the following days' instruction.

Our ski groups changed for this week and all the instructors rotated. Me, Lewis and Olivia were together again along with 3 others, Abi, Bill and Billy and our instructor was Kelly. She is a Level 3 instructor from Ontario on her first season teaching for Nonstop, but has taught all around Canada and in Australia too.  The first lesson of the week as always was at lake Louise and thankfully the weather was a lot warmer (though still pretty freezing!!). This week our main objectives were to continue to work on turning, stance and pole-planting during turns as well as having an afternoon session starting to work on skills for park Skiing. To be honest all the days have sorted faded into one long day, all I know was that on Tuesday we were at Lake Louise, Wednesday at Norquay and Thursday and Friday at Sunshine! One of the days just before lunch, for me, something suddenly clicked and I finally understood what all the instructors were saying about smooth turns, the correct stance and all that jazz, unfortunately after lunch that had all gone again and I was back to square one! One of the parts of the course, is that our skiing gets filmed so we can see what mistakes we're making and how we can make improvements. It feels really weird doing the skiing and thinking you've done everything right like the instructor is telling you, but then watching back realising you're hardly doing it at all! So personal objective #1: must try harder and exaggerate everything, I don't have to look at me so it's everyone else's problem.

We skied more varied terrain this week including a lot of moguls (a lot more fun and a lot less daunting when you know how to do them!), moving on to black runs, some tree runs layered with fresh powder that is as deep as your poles are long and the usual runs we had skied on the previous week. I add at this point that our 2 days at Sunshine the weather wasn't the most cooperative! In a complete contrast to our beautiful, clear blue skies and bright sunshine of the previous week the sky was white, the ground was white, the light was low, is was snowing and the wind was blowing. In short you couldn't see far and judging the terrain was difficult. Not fabulous to ski in but actually pretty useful for putting into practice everything we'd learned from both last week and this, because if you didn't do it right, over you'd fall ending up with a face full of snow and not a clue which way was the ground and which was the sky!! So a bit of a blessing in disguise. On our final afternoon we swapped instructors back to Anna for a session on park skiing. Because of the visibility being so bad we first practiced skills on the slopes such as side-slipping, jumping and skiing backwards which is actually really fun and not as hard as it looks! We then entered the park to learn a bit about safety and to have a go at sliding across some of the boxes just in our ski boots, slightly precarious but fun and I actually can't wait to have a proper go at it but maybe at the moment it might be a better idea to sort out the proper skiing first!!

This week our tech session was all about tuning skis. On Thursday night a group of us skiers walked to 'The Tuneshop' on the industrial estate on the edge of Banff. We were greeted by Dave and his team who explained to us all about how to tune skis (unsurprisingly!) edging, waxing, how to repair scratches and gouges in the base of skis and so on. He also explained ways to avoid causing more harm than good to your skis when tuning them yourself, to be honest although it was all very interesting, I got even more confused as the talk went on and came to the conclusion that, if I need my skis tuning I'll just take them to the Tuneshop!!

This week there were also 2 birthdays, Joel and Mike. Joel's 21st was on Thursday night and most people joined him to celebrate after our tech session had finished. I didn't because as usual I was hugely tired but I'm guessing everyone had a pretty good night and a not so nice morning after, judging by the small numbers that made it out to Sunshine on Friday morning and the silence on the bus both on the way there and on the way back!! Everyone celebrated Mike's birthday on Saturday by heading to Mel's for dinner and drinks then to Devil's Gap, where he was plied with shots of increasing intensity and disgustingness (cement mixer anyone??). I (having stayed boringly sober) made my excuses at 11 pm to seek the hotel and bed while the rest headed to Aurora's for more fun?? Each to their own!!

I might add at this point that Saturday and Sunday were free days. Most of the group enjoyed a lie-in and general recuperation, except I had to get up at the crack of dawn for a pre-arranged Skype, first thing on Saturday. A lot of the group decided to head out to ski but a leisurely morning followed for me with brunch at Mel's with Issy and Emily then whiling away the afternoon with a bit of this and a bit of that. Sunday followed a similar pattern with a lot of the group heading out skiing, but I chose to be lazy and took a second day off to relax before our 3rd intense week of instruction!!

Monday, 14 January 2013

Day 2-4: Up the Mountain

So today (Friday) was an even earlier start!! We were going to head up to Lake Louise one of the 3 ski areas surrounding Banff which is an hour bus ride away. We were due to catch the Bus up there at 8 am which meant breakfast at 7 am so we were up at 6.30 am! Painful any day of the week but even worse when you're still recovering from jet-lag! Unsurprisingly the journey was pretty subdued but it was breathtaking. We left town when it was still dark and watched the sun rise over the Rockies. Beautiful doesn't do the view justice, it was awe-inspiring. The sky was cloudless, the sun shining and the powder fresh, like heaps of icing sugar but there was one drawback: it was seriously cold! When I say cold I mean freezing at -25 degrees celcius! We stumbled off the bus and into the lodge to get on our gear. Putting on a brand new pair of ski boots is not fun and takes so much effort!! It got to the point where I didn't actually think I'd stuff my feet inside them, but we got there in the end and let's just say with the combination of cold and how tight they are that time, about 9 am was the last time I felt my toes until the end of the day!!

We had just enough time before the start of lessons to do one run. We took the glacier chair up the mountain and that was when I started to get cold!! I managed to avoid a faceplant when getting off and we set off and everything came flooding back! I had forgotten the joy of carving tracks into fresh powder, the crunch of the snow under the skis and the feeling of freedom. I got down and back to the lodge in one piece to meet up with Anna and the rest of the group. There are 8 of us, me, Steph, Stephen, Scott, Lewis, Charlie, Tristan and Olivia, or 9 if you count Anna, and we very quickly merged into a very close if a little dysfunctional family!! The day was spent doing a tour of the area and getting our ski legs back. It being a week day the pistes were pretty much empty so there was plenty of space for awkward turns and some ninja moves to prevent embarrassing falls! The conditions were perfect, a blue cloudless sky with the sun shining down, the snow was lightly packed but with a light dusting of powder that rose up in clouds every time we turned or skidded to a halt. The views from the tops of the lifts are just stunning, but the drawback of the beautiful weather is that temperatures are so low that taking pictures risks getting frostbite!! There was no proper instruction just a few helpful hints along the way and a good day skiing but I was cold. By the end of the day both my hands and feet were both painful and numb from new boots and cold and were only restored to normality by a long soak in the hot tub! We returned to Irwin's for dinner and then bed.

On Saturday we were off to Mount Norquay, the smallest of the 3 ski areas and only a 10 minute bus ride away. Lessons were due to to be from 9-3 so we got a bit of a lie-in compared to the day before. If possible it felt even colder than when we were at Lake Louise, a higher percentage of the pistes are in the shade so although the sun was shining just as brightly and the weather was just as beautiful, the temperature was lower than the previous day and as it progressed my extremities got colder and colder, they went numb then painful and then a weird combination of the two until it got to the point where I was sobbing, convinced I'd got frostbite and cursing the flimsy mittens I'd dared to think would keep my hands toasty warm!! Less whining, more explaining!! Although Norquay is small, it is home to some of the more difficult terrain of the 3 ski areas, this meant that we, as skier still finding their feet, were limited to a small number of runs so the day was a little on the repetitive side and I personally did not enjoy it as much as Lake Louise, but that might have been because of the aforementioned issues with hands!! This was the first day we had any actual instruction or criticism. We were working on turns which are meant to trace out as equal linked c shapes. We were told to ski down a slope and then at the bottom classify our turns into 1 of 3 categories, c's, zig-zag or banana. Scott and I defied all 3 and invented a new category dubbed 'the extended 'zig-zag'. We then spent time trying to correct mistakes and to execute the perfect turn. Not many us us managed to succeed but we all improved!! The day had several high points including when Scott made friends with some  little kids on the chairlift. They liked him so much that they then tried to abandon their own ski school group and tag along with ours!!

We finished at 3 and then returned to Irwin's for a technical session (which will happen each week) this week it included info about what we need to bring to the mountain, the best way to enjoy our time out here and some team-building games which were a tad awkward to say the least!! I then went straight out into town to buy a pair of boot-gloves(sexiest things on the planet but help keep feet warm) and the warmest pair of mittens I could find in Banff!! there was no way I was going to have another day like that! Then hot-tub time again to warm up (I think this will fast become a daily ritual!!) before supper and a session to choose our extra activities for the 11 weeks. Included in the price course are 25 credits which can be put towards different activities, each of which costs a different number of credits so, for example, tubing at Mount Norquay costs 2 credits, dog-sledding costs 16 credits and so on. Extra credits could be bought for 10 dollars each or if you didn't spend all of them, they could be sold to friends! I spent only 21 credits, choosing dog-sledding, an ice-hockey match in the local town of Canmore, a visit to Banff Hot springs (more hot-tub time!!) and tubing at Mount Norquay. I then sold my other credits, making back some of the money I made from the afternoons purchases! I was nearly dead on my feet so headed off to bed ready for the next busy day!

On Sunday we headed out to Sunshine Village and yet another cold  but beautiful day!! This was the last day in our current group and our last day with Anna and all of us were feeling a little on the sad side at being split up :'(. We took the gondola up to what is known as 'The Village', dumped our gear at the lodge and then headed out. While most other groups headed up towards the top of the mountain our group headed down, it being a weekend the upper pistes were much more crowded than they had been on Friday, the lower pistes were emptier though and we had a great morning until the wind picked up and the temperature dropped even further and all of us were feeling it!! We decided to take a break for hot chocolate at one of the smaller cabins that are dotted around near to all the main gondola and chairlifts. No rest for the wicked though, as we discussed stance and ways to improve it and how this linked into what we worked on the previous day, how stance can help improve turns and so on. I should mention at this point that today's entertainment was yet again provided by Scott who turned up horrendously hungover after many games of beer-pong the night before, as the day went on he got worse and worse until the point where he couldn't turn without faceplanting!! After spending the morning lower-down in the area, in the afternoon we headed up to the top. At the top of one of the lifts called Goat's-Eye the view is just stunning, you are surrounded by the peaks of the mountains, and you just feel on top of the world!! It's breathtaking. We then skied down to the middle station of the Gondola before taking it down the rest of the way. Back to the hotel, hot-tub, dinner and then pre-drinks before the launch party!!    

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Day 1: Getting to know You and You and You.....

I didn't sleep well. Well I didn't sleep badly but it wasn't great. It was an early start, breakfast between 7-8 am before a Ski-boot fitting lecture at 9 am. Despite meeting most of the other course-members at the airport I swear the numbers have multiplied!! There are only about 12 girls on the whole course so the boys number about 45 and the all look the same and all seem to be called Adam which when you're jet-lagged isn't very conducive to learning names!! Breakfast (a continental buffet) was somewhat subdued, lots of people were hungover as well as tired and let's be honest the coffee wasn't up to much (though this is coming from a self-declared coffee snob) so trying to talk to everyone was impossible!!

The boot-fitting lecture was given by a guy called Junior who owns one of the best boot-fitters in Banff. He told us every minute detail about a pair of ski boots which just goes to show you how rubbish rental ones are and told us a couple of horror stories about the consequences of buying naff gear.

It was then time to meet our instructors for the next week of lessons and have a tour of the town. Throughout the course, the instructors will rotate so each group will get the chance to have tuition from every instructor for at least one week during the 11 week course. I'm starting this week with Anna who is a Level 4 CSIA Instructor from Calgary who commutes to Banff every day. She is also in charge of all the other course Ski Instructors collectively so my group is pretty lucky in that we're starting with the best! Anna gave us a tour of the town if it can be called that! Banff is a bit like a Tardis: it's small but with a hell of a lot in it! Unlike a lot of ski resorts Banff was an established town before the skiing scene got going whereas a lot of other resorts, particularly those in the Alps, have grown up around the skiing meaning that come summertime they are ghost-towns empty of people. Banff Avenue is the main street and then a grid of side streets spread out perpendicularly to form a town like a very regimented spiders-web, all the street names are named after animals, Wolf, Rabbit, Elk, Caribou and so on each lined with mainly restaurants, hotels and ski and snowboard shops, with the occasional Clothes shop or chemist along the way. Anna took us to the Ski-hub to collect Ski-Passes and Bus-Passes requiring a lot of waiting around for bleary-eyed mugshots taken at such awful angles that make even the most photogenic people look horrendous so that us normal-folk haven't got a hope in hell!! Then it was off for shopping and equipment advice. I only had boots to buy having purchased skis, poles and a helmet last summer at heavily reduced prices back in England. With a boot-fitting booked at Soul (Junior's Shop) for 4 pm I tailed along with the rest of the group feeling rather smug at my savvy purchases while they were looking at skis costing about $800 (£550) upwards plus poles, helmets and bindings! After the tour everyone went their own way, some of us for lunch then to stock up on supplies from Safeways before chilling out unpacking and getting over jet-lag.

Boot-fitting is not like shoe shopping. A ski-boot is made up of 3 main parts: the foot-bed which is basically an insole, the liner which provides padding and comfort as well as warmth and the plastic shell. To be honest I couldn't tell you much at all about how all these components fit together to create a boot that fits well but they do and that's that! First I had to fill out a form with all my details, height, weight, ski experience and so on, then my feet were specially measured, length width. toe length, arch height and length and every other conceivable measurements were taken to try and determine the best boot to go for. Now with boots what they look like doesn't really matter it's all about the fit so you just keep your fingers crossed that the ones that do are in your price range and look nice! I, having stupidly wide feet, was pretty limited as to which boots I could get and the ones the fitter, Rob, advised were pretty beyond my budget. The rigmarole of trying on included trying on the shell without the liner, trying on the liner, trying out different foot-beds then trying the shell and liner together and so on until Rob was satisfied. He might have been but I wasn't, well at least the fit was good but the costs were pretty hefty so because my haggling skills are poor at best I did the whole apologetic and innocent routine and eventually another potential model of boots to fit my freakish-feet were found and luckily for me were $150 cheaper, more attractive and a better fit so it was win-win all around!! My happiness didn't last too long however when I realised I faced the walk back to the hotel alone with both skis and boots to carry in rapidly dropping temperatures and darkening skies.

It took longer than I anticipated to trek back and I arrived 10 minutes before the start of dinner our first one of many at the hotel. Our group took up most of the tables in the restaurant and deafened most of the other guests with loud talking and laughter punctuated with speeches made by the course staff and all the instructors followed by rounds of clapping. By this time my energy was flagging and fatigue was descending. In general group conversation was not quite as exuberant as before. Emily (my roommate) and I headed into town again to pick up her boots from being fitted with boot warmers before heading back to Irwin's to warm up from temperatures which had become even more bitingly cold. And since then we've just been chilling in our room watching TV and trying not to go to bed too early. Tomorrow will be an even earlier start. It's our first day on the mountain and we have to catch the ski bus from outside the hotel at 8 am! So now I'll sign off for the night, bed is calling and eyelids are drooping!! Night all, tomorrow beckons!

We have arrived!!

So yesterday was the day I arrived in Banff, Alberta, Canada. It's been a long time coming but at last I am here!! But first I must backtrack a bit and tell you why I am here!!

So all the way back in June of 2012 I decided that during my upcoming Gap Year I wanted to do a Ski season but that I didn't want to go the usual route of chalet hosting, because let's be honest, if you're cleaning other peoples' toilets how much skiing do you actually get done?? So I turned to good old Google and discovered a series of companies that ran ski instructor training courses. So the first question was: which Company? Well that wasn't too difficult, lots of emails and phone calls later I decided to go with a company called Nonstop who mainly run courses in Canada plus a couple in France and New Zealand, which leads us to the second question: where do I go?? Nonstop runs courses in Banff, Fernie and Red Mountain in Canada and in Serre-Chevalier in France during the Northern hemisphere's winter season and in Porters, New Zealand in the Southern Hemisphere's Winter (my summer). This was harder to answer I decided on Canada because I'd never been there before so then which resort? Well to be honest I didn't have too much preference so on a family friend's recommendation Banff it was. So phase one began, I booked the course and started to work out a plan to budget my trip, persuaded the parents to come out and visit and started to save every penny I could, by the end of August I'd earned enough money to combine with my savings to pay for the trip, phase one was complete and the waiting began.

So yesterday, the 9th of January, was finally my departure day. After 6 months of waiting it still hadn't really sunk in that I was actually going but the flights were booked, gear was bought, the packing was done (just!) and I was on my way to Gatwick airport to start my journey!

Now a word of warning, if you are ever planning to fly from London to Calgary, do not fly with Air Transat. I had never done a transatlantic flight before but from what everyone told me, I expected pretty cramped conditions but with individual TVs with lots of films and TV and a bit of music. This I got none of, well the conditions were cramped unsurprisingly but to say entertainment was sparse would be an understatement! I know it's a first-world complaint but a nine hour flight with nothing to do but stare out of a window onto clouds and a wing that looks like it's being held together by duct-tape is not my personal idea of fun, anyway each to their own. But I survived and arrived in Calgary airport at 4.30 pm local time, which with a 7 hour time difference was 11.30 pm Harriet time, dazed and slightly hyped up on caffeine to meet the others and to make our way to Banff, an hour and a half coach ride away. My first impression when we got there? Cold, very cold and snowing!! A quick welcome chat, drink and check-in at the Hotel it was a struggle to stay awake beyond 9.30 pm so it was time for bed and hopefully sweet dreams!!