School ski trip – Crans Montana
Saint Mary’s Catholic School
Saint Mary’s Catholic School in Leyland had done ski trips before; in fact annually. Never before had they been joined by a total stranger for the week. Joining the pupils on the trip were headmaster Philip Mooney and two other staff; Stephen Tattersall and Jade Thornhill. I have to confess having a headmaster with you does put you on your best behaviour !
My role was purely to support Thomas 1:1 whether in the hotel or on the ski slopes but quickly found I was very popular with the kids on the trip. This was for one main reason; I ski wearing a koala bear rucksack !
With the exception of Thomas I’d not met any of the school prior to the trip. When I turned up to meet them at Geneva Airport with a koala bear rucksack they must have thought I was bonkers. In fact my previous boss on the dialysis team (Jessie Rahim) will tell you I am indeed totally bonkers. Koala certainly raised a few eyebrows. There was definitely some sniggering, pointing and whispering going on.
There is in fact a serious side to my bonkers rucksack; it makes me very obvious and traceable. By the end of the first day the pupils from St. Mary’s had realised just why I’d got it on.
In the busy ski gondola lift station the children had something to follow. At lunchtime I was an easy to find adult. Even children from other schools staying in the same hotel would come up to me at lunchtime. They all said the same thing:
‘we can’t find anyone else … you’re really easy to spot because of your rucksack’
On one of the days I tried to not take my rucksack and leave it behind. I failed.
‘Miss …Miss … where’s your rucksack … you’ve not got your rucksack on … you can’t go out without it … we need you to wear your koala bear … we really like your rucksack’
My koala bear rucksack proved so popular that I was nicknamed Nurse Koala.
As part of the trip we all had group ski lessons with École Suisse De Ski Crans-Montana (ESS Crans-Montana). Our instructor was called Vincent. He was a French man from Nimes who had been travelling through Australia for a year and taught himself English whilst there. In the summer Vincent worked as a land surveyor. Or so he said. The internet is wonderful, you can find out all sorts of things. I would later find out that he wasn’t who he said he was and discover his real identity.
Vincent is in fact a talented individual who has taken that talent all over the world. Had he said who he really was and what he really did the focus and attention would have been on him; the week was about the children skiing. To this day I am the only one on that trip who knows the real Vincent and I will be keeping it that way.
So as to support Thomas I joined his ski class with Vincent. I have skied since the age of 6 but recently had all but practically stopped. Having reached top ski class many years previously I found when I joined classes I didn’t learn anything and skiing alone can be quite … well … lonely. Having lost the enjoyment from skiing I mostly did winter walking. If it was a sunny day I might put on a pair of skis.
As we set off in a group for the first time Vincent took us down a gentle slope. When I say gentle, it was almost flat.
‘Make the pizza shape … nice and slowly …’
I could walk faster ! I was definitely in the wrong class. So was Thomas.
Thomas hated skiing. The class was far too difficult and he spent much of the time at the side sitting in the snow; he wouldn’t take part. The class were brilliant, rallied round him giving gentle encouragement and support along with his brother. It was all to no avail. Nothing would make him get up from the snow. Whenever I approached he would turn away and jab at the snow with his ski pole. All I could do was stand patiently nearby, not too close but close enough so that he could still see I was there.
Finally my patience was rewarded and Thomas beckoned me over.
‘I don’t want to do it’
I suggested that I take him back down to the hotel but he didn’t even want to do that. At lunchtime he sat quietly eating his sandwiches. I again offered to take him down from the mountain but once more didn’t want to. Much later afterwards I would come to realise that Thomas was in fact very homesick.
The ski class continued after lunch. I sat with Thomas watching the group skiing down the piste and I occasionally joined them so that I kept warm. Returning from one of my runs with the ski class I found Thomas plodding up a little slope of snow and skiing back down. He skied up to me
‘I’m going over there where we were this morning’
Then he was gone. I headed off in hot pursuit. As I passed Mr. Mooney the headmaster I had just about enough time to shout to him what we were doing and where we were going. For the remainder of the afternoon Thomas skied with me. I tried to help him on occasions but my actions were quickly rebuffed.
‘Stop helping … I can do it myself’
That was me firmly put in my place then.
Now there is a rule on school ski trips, a rule I didn’t know about and quite a major one; you don’t ski away from the class. In skiing with Thomas on the beginner slope away from the class we had broken the rules massively. We did get away with it though; just. Since I’d not been on a trip before I wasn’t aware of the rules. In keeping Thomas with me I had in fact stayed within my remit of supporting him 1:1. The next day Thomas moved into an easier class but the two of us would continue to be naughty and break the rules. Well, for a little while longer at least.
Under the nurturing guidance of another instructor Thomas thrived, he loved skiing and couldn’t get enough of it. At lunchtime all he wanted to do was practice and the two of us would sneak off to the nursery slope. Now, wearing a koala bear rucksack on my back was making the two of us pretty easy to spot. In order to be a little more discreet I would leave my skis elsewhere and stand watching from the side. That way it appeared that I was just stood people watching but if Thomas needed me I could still quickly get to him.
It became obvious to Vincent that I could ski. Not only that, but I was capable of helping. The children’s skis were set to pre-release (come off) at the slightest bump. Skiing on a piste covered in fresh snow that was bumpy meant the skis were constantly coming off. It made progress down a ski run frustratingly slow. With the ski’s coming off the children would fall over. As soon as they stood up they would cover the underneath of their ski boots with snow. Now in order to be able to easily clip into your skis the underneath of your ski boot needs to be clear of snow. The easiest way of clearing the snow off the boot is to scrape it along the top of the ski or whack the snow off with the ski pole whilst balancing on the other leg.
When I say easy, it’s actually quite difficult and takes good balance. Just try standing on one leg and hitting the underneath of the shoe on the other foot with a stick. You’ll see what I mean. You’ll fall over !
The children were finding this really annoying. As soon as they’d get the snow almost off the boot they would lose balance putting it back down in the snow and have to start again. In order to help speed things up and try to keep the lesson moving I started helping the children. It’s much easier if you can use both your poles to balance yourself while someone else sorts out the snow clearing. There is a time and place for learning how to do this yourself but this wasn’t it.
Vincent immediately made me his rear guard.
‘Rosemary you go to the back and help the children who fall’
Not only was I proving to be a useful rear guard but I was also to prove useful in a much more serious situation.
In poor visibility our instructor inadvertently took the class down a ski run that was a bit too steep for them. It was to create total carnage.
Being rear guard I was always at the back of the class. As I came over the top of a rise I was brought to a sudden stop. The entire class had fallen over almost simultaneously. One of the children was shouting to the instructor.
‘Vincent stop ! Everyone’s fallen over !’
As Vincent stopped, turned around and looked at the chaos above him all I heard him say was
‘My god, my class’
Not a single one of the children had their ski’s still on. Children, ski’s and poles were scattered across the piste. There were two groups of three children who had crashed heavily into one another whilst trying to get back up. In the crashed group nearest me was a child totally still and silent. Vincent caught sight of me and as he looked up at me I could see the worry in his face. He wasn’t the only one worried; I was too.
I immediately went over to the child who was lying still and silent in the tangled heap. For a brief moment I was in full nurse mode, checking the area around me and her to ensure it was safe then checking her. Thankfully she wasn’t hurt. Together Vincent and I set about untangling her.
Vincent and I had been the only two left with ski’s on but when skiing over to the child who wasn’t moving I too had lost a ski. This meant picking up 11 children, 23 skis and 22 ski poles.
The incident left the class very shaken.
Assistant ski instructor
As the week progressed a recurring theme developed. Lost ski poles. Even our instructor wasn’t immune. He lost both his poles after leaving them in the ski gondola and we had to go back for them after lunch.
Each time a ski pole was dropped from a ski lift it had to be retrieved. You could guarantee the poles were always dropped into an off-piste area. This created a problem for our instructor, what to do with the class while he went off-piste to fetch the dropped pole. The easiest solution was to leave the class with me.
By now Vincent was confident in my ability and knew I could cope if a child fell or there was an injury. Besides which he was still in vision range so could still see me and the class. Each time he left the class with me we would agree a point lower down to meet back up.
From the moment Vincent left me with the class they knew I was in charge, they did as I said and I wasn’t going to take any messing around.
I organised the class so that the weakest skier was behind me and the strongest skier became my rear guard. Skiing with a class of 11 following behind is very different to how I would ski normally. I found my speed was slower, posture much more pronounced and I made each movement exaggerated so the class could see what I was doing. We snaked our way down the run in an orderly line with me frequently checking over my shoulder for any problems. Not only was I visually checking what was now my class but I was also listening to the sound their skis were making. I realised the sound their skis made told me much more than just looking over my shoulder did. When I felt it necessary I would halt the class, re-group them and set off again. Vincent always made it to the meeting point first and would stand patiently watching me bring the class down the run.
The sense of pride you get when you have a ski class following behind is difficult to describe and explain. It ticked all my boxes; snow, winter, mountains, Switzerland, skiing, children, teaching. I was hooked.
Since changing jobs I had lost the teaching side of my nursing career and no longer taught student nurses or new nursing staff. I missed it. From that moment I knew I wanted to become a ski instructor.