1. Erm, so what do you call this white stuff?
When Dadley Ogetti (Alpina, Upper Sixth) arrived at Aiglon from Kenya last year, he had never seen snow. Nonetheless, he was now an Aiglonian, so he was put straight onto some skis. “I didn’t enjoy skiing that much during the first few weeks. I can still recall my short beginner skis and no poles, and other more experienced students whizzing past. However, I intended to be as good as any other student.”
Happily, Dadley was able to avail himself of some expert tuition – something that accomplished racer Michelle Kremer Goldberg (Exeter, 1988) had to do without on her first ski run at the age of seven. Michelle’s family had just moved to Switzerland from Africa and so her father took her to a small resort in the Jura. She says: “He gave me and my brother these little skis that he’d just rented, and said the best way to learn was, in his words, to ‘get up there – you don’t need instruction’.
“I remember the feeling of sliding on the snow, and how strange it was: the speed and the wind in my face. I remember feeling exhilarated, even though I had snow in my jacket and all down my pants, thinking this was unbelievable. But we realised that we’d never learn to ski unless we got some lessons!”
2. Snowplough coming through...
Ask any group of skiers what they remember most about their early days on the slopes, and the snowplough position is sure to come up. Though it’s ungainly and tiring, the classic knock-kneed stance provides stability and the ability to make your skis go where you actually want them to. Mr Michael Thompson, Head of Sport, says: “That’s probably the biggest step in learning to ski – being able to check your speed and feeling in control.”
Some instructors swear by the use of mechanical aids to stop the ski tips from drifting apart. School Guardian and British Schoolboys’ giant-slalom champion Hugo Ng (Delaware, Upper Sixth) recalls both advantages and drawbacks to this approach. He says: “There was a piece of rubber that I had to use, to keep the fronts of the skis together. It was a good way to learn. But if you fell over, the skis wouldn’t release from each other. That caused a few bumps.”
3. Look, Mum – french fries!
Once upon a time, it was easy to pick out those who had learnt to ski in the United States as they’d speak of progressing from ‘pizza pie’ (snowplough turns, with the skis arranged like a pizza wedge) to ‘French fries’ (skis side by side). Today the terminology has spread through Europe – and substituting fries for pizza is a significant skiing milestone. “It’s something you pick up really fast when you’re young,” says Hugo. “As soon as you can get out of that pizza, it’s amazing.”
Nevertheless, one peril of parallel skiing is overcon dence. Having left the nursery slopes behind, learners can find themselves in terrain that seems scarily closer to vertical than they’re used to. Mrs Naomi Haynes, Houseparent of Delaware, began skiing last year, and remembers one occasion when a lift closure ruled out the usual route back home. “My husband and I had to choose between waiting for an indeterminate time in a huge crowd, or try a more difficult route, which is what we did,” she recalls.
They were not the only ones to take this option and regret it. “There were lots of people on the side of this red run with the same facial expression as mine, and a partner slightly further down saying ‘You’re doing really well – it’s OK’. And most of them were seething like I was, shouting back ‘You should never have brought me here!’”
4. Shall I carve?
When the rudiments of good technique are in place, such as the ability to carve turns on a moderate incline, a wealth of terrain becomes accessible. Dadley Ogetti, who last year received an award for being the school’s most improved skier, says: “I believe I can pretty much do any slope now. If it happens to be a black run, I’ll have to regulate my speed. Nonetheless, I’ve got the experience and confidence necessary for difficult slopes.”
At this stage, it’s often said that skiers risk getting stuck on the ‘intermediate plateau’: they stop receiving tuition and never develop their technique any further. It’s a problem that Mrs Haynes has been determined to avoid. She says: “I carried on taking lessons to make sure I didn’t get into bad habits, which I think is easy to do when people aren’t watching. Then an instructor comes along and says ‘You’re wiggling your backside – you look ridiculous, and that’s not the way you were taught’.”