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!!