SkiBike Tour 2012-13 - Skibiker Ski Instructor

Posted: Thursday, 14 February 2013 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,

Due to popular demand from the readership, here is a summary of the last few days when yours truly turned to the dark side and played at being a ski instructor. My victim was to be my niece Sofia Kinnon, who had flown from her home in Guimaraes, Portugal, to join Tio Marco for a few days as a ski debutante.

The first priority was to get Sofia kitted out with the necessary clothes. She had brought sporty clothes, but they looked to be a bit on the lightweight side for ski duties, especially for the inevitable day one crashes. We went through my wardrobe and supplemented her clothes with a chunky lumberjack style fleece and some sheepskin mittens, it was somewhat of a bizarre combination, but sort of cute in a "Tank Girl" way. Next we were off to the Ski Clinic in Cluses to hire boots and skis, it is a little bit like Snow and Rock in the UK, i.e. quite a posh place, so not cheap, but filled with top quality kit. She was quickly measured up and provided with some very new looking ski boots, poles and excellent Head carving skis.

Sofia Kinnon - sort of cute in a "Tank Girl" way

So as not to waste any more time we headed to our nearest slope, Mont Saxonnex, just 20 minutes away, high up on Mount Bargy overlooking the town of Cluses. We sorted out a day ticket and began our lesson. The first task was just to practise walking in ski boots on the level, something I remember coming as quite a shock when you can't flex your ankles. Then it was time to clip on the skis and practise walking on the level, this was then evolved into using the herringbone "duck walk" step to climb uphill. Once some altitude was gained it was time to practise shuffling around and sliding back down in the snow plough position, familiar to anyone who has learnt to ski.

The Ski Instructor - would you trust your teenage daughter with him?

I felt sorry for Sofia, I forgot how tiring the combination of falling over, getting up and climbing can be when you first start, as she glumly commented, "I wish I had done those exercises you told me to do, Uncle Mark".
We had a little sit down and I pointed out how easy it is to focus on the skiing and forget about the view, the sun in a clear blue sky, the birds in the trees, the snow snakes..."The snow snakes?" she queried, "Yes" I explained, "They live under the snow and trip up unsuspecting beginners. Come on, let's try the easy way to get uphill".
So next we worked on using the Poma lift, something, to my great surprise, that caused no issues at all, I wish I had found it so easy myself back in the day.

I wish I had found it so easy myself back in the day

We drove up to a higher level to watch people use the chairlift, Sofia had the choice to give it a try, but stated, "I don't think these electrical items like me very much, can we come back tomorrow?".

The following morning Sofia got a few upgrades; the local Carrefour supermarket yielded a pair of salopettes and some ski gloves for under €50. I also made a decision to try substituting the heavy, wood cored, Head carving skis for some shorter and lighter Salomon Crossmax T skis that I had picked up off eBay, just a couple of days prior to leaving for this trip. I was reluctant to use these skis at first as they appear to be designed very much as children's' skis. But as Sofia is under 1.6m high and weighs less than 50kg we gave them a go and both her technique and confidence were instantly improved. It remains a mystery why "Ski Evolotive" or the "Progression Method" is no longer used in France. But I suspect it has more to do with Marketing departments and brand promotion than sound teaching methodology.

Sadly the weather couldn't be upgraded, I made the short drive to Praz de Lys, which was a bit tricky for the last 5km on steep snowy roads. In the poor visibility we practised using the much longer drag lifts there that lead onto some excellent, confidence boosting green runs. I made Sofia do a little training drill, by using the ski poles like handlebars, it limits excess upper body movement and forces you to ski with the legs only.
This worked well, so we moved onto the first blue run, it was a bit deep and choppy in places and she missed a turn and skied off the edge into quite deep snow, collapsing in a yard sale of ski equipment. I dutifully headed over to dig her out, "Uncle Mark!, quick Help Me", came a feeble voice. Fearing the worst, I asked "What's wrong, are you hurt?". "No, it's more important than that", came the reply, "How does my hair look? Is my make-up running?"

"How does my hair look? Is my makeup running?"

We did a little more practise, but the light was failing and when Sofia told me her knee was hurting, I decided it was time to call it quits for the day.

On the final day we made the trip to a "proper" Alpine ski resort, at the stunning cliff top town of Avoriaz. This also gave Sofia's mum a chance to travel with us, take a stroll around town and see the world her precious daughter had been initiated into.

I wanted to demonstrate how to use a chairlift and as luck would have it, Avoriaz has a gentle 3 seater chairlift serving one side of the village. The lift operator dutifully slowed it down further, after I explained I was teaching a debutante. Paul helped me by lining up so that we were on either side of Sofia, at the time to get off we both stood up and lifted her into the same stance. Then we made a quick loop through town, back to the start for another go and then another still. My intention was to make it all feel run of the mill and not in the least intimidating.

We then moved on to the pleasant Proclou, blue graded run served by a friendly detachable chairlift with a slow entry. After a few more runs it was becoming really crowded so we had a
quick pit stop to liaise with Paul. He warned me that the wooded runs down to Les Lindarets were a minefield of deep, heavy snow and moguls.
This left us with just one beginner friendly option remaining, the long "Blue du lac" piste from the top of Lac Intrets, back to Avoriaz for the last run of the day.
Unfortunately, the visibility was poor and getting worse by the minute. I hoped to get above the clouds for some late afternoon sun but this was not to be.
Sofia and I made the slow descent in appalling foggy conditions all the way back down, literally picking our way from one piste marker to the next.
Sofia did herself great credit not to grumble at "Loco Tio Marco" and just slowly follow behind me in foul weather which would have deterred some experienced skiers.
We made it down safely for final quick scoot around Avoriaz town to get back to the giant cable car for our descent to our starting point at the Les Prodains car park.

Picking our way from one piste marker to the next

Apart from being a tremendous family bonding session, I really enjoyed introducing one of the youngest members of the Kinnon clan to the World above the snow line and especially returning her safely to her mother in one piece too.

Sofia asked me how many people I had taught to ski, "One" I replied. "You mean one before me?" she queried, "No, just the one" was my reply.