Take Two Part-One – Shocking Experience

More Level 2 Training

I’d seen a post on Facebook from BASI Trainer / Examiner Hannah Bryans about summer training camps in Zermatt. I’d done my BASI Alpine Level 2 in the spring and Hannah had been the trainer / examiner. Struggling with a serious hip injury I’d not passed. Part of my post course discussion with her and been around doing another Alpine Level 2 Performance Training Course in Zermatt followed by a resit. I got in touch and flew out.

When I got to Zermatt I discovered my trainer and examiner for both the Alpine Level 2 Performance Training and the Resit was James Bennett. There are a couple of BASI trainers and examiners who I’ve always wanted to ski with. One of them was James Bennett !

James Bennett

Ski Instructor James Bennett

Like most BASI Trainers and Examiners James started skiing as a child. From London James (or Bennett, as he’s known) got into skiing at his local slope, Bromley Dry Ski Centre. He has been a member of two British Ski Teams, in both Alpine and Telemark racing. Since then he has become a BASI Trainer in both Telemark, Coaching and Alpine delivering courses in the UK and abroad. He holds Telemark ISIA, Coaching Level 3, BASI Trainer / Examiner qualification, Level 1 Snowboard, Level 1 Adaptive, can do a mean handstand and I suspect he is capable of a summersault or two on a trampoline. He’s been an active coach for the British children’s team and has a strong interest in the development of children’s skiing from grass routes level up.

After getting his first BASI qualification, what is now the Alpine Level 2 Instructor Qualification, James went to work in the French alps as a ski instructor for the ESF in Valmeinier before working in Morzine for BASS. In 2008 James became an official Opener for the Euro test. In 2015 and 2019 he represented BASI at Interksi as a member of the BASI National Education Team / Demo Team.

He’s also a qualified First Aid Trainer; handy given my reputation for injuring myself on BASI courses !

Skiing with James in that first week I would have a shocking experience that is one of the most surreal and bizarre moments I have ever had.

A Shocking Experience

Moments after the above photo of me and BASI trainer / examiner James Bennett was taken something quite extraordinary would happen to us both.

We had heard a couple of claps of thunder and so decided to collect our bags from the bottom of the slope and head back to the main lift station to download. What happened next would be a surreal and shocking experience.

Half way up one of the t-bar lifts me and BASI trainer / examiner James Bennett were struck by lightning. Suddenly, without warning, there was an orange flash and the sound of an explosion. We were right in the middle of it. The noise and orange blast that accompanied the lightning strike left us both, well … erm … shocked. I was still on the t-bar, James who had been beside me was now slightly ahead and to the left. He looked at me bewildered as I clutched onto myself checking I was still alive.

‘What happened’ ? he asked. ‘Did you get struck by lightning’? I acknowledged that I had. ‘I was struck as well’ he continued. ‘Are you ok ?’ he asked. ‘I think so, just very shaken and feel as if I’ve been bit in the head by something”. I had quite a pain to the side of my head and the top. It was very difficult to explain the pain. A sort of mix between stabbing and burning. James too had the same thing along with tingling in his hand.

Two T-bars ahead were two other members of the group who seemed unscathed but between us was a man who had been thrown to the ground by the hit. He wasn’t getting up either. In fact, he wasn’t even moving. Me and James looked at each other. The two group members ahead had started to approach the man before remembering to stop and wait 60 seconds before going any closer. Me and James joined them beside the man. Thankfully the man was conscious and talking but by the smell of electrical burning he had clearly taken a bigger hit. We unclipped him from skis, turned him onto his back and dragged him clear of the pylons fearing another strike.

Tending to the casualty

The lightning strike had taken out all mobile phone signal. No-one had any reception, 4G … nothing. We constantly kept trying our phones hoping signal would kick back in. I was quite visible in my bright orange jacket and bright blue helmet. A bonus when you need to be seen. I also had a whistle, a very loud whistle, attached to the chest strap of my rucksack. Up ahead I could see the lookout hut at the top of the lift. The lift had been shut down instantaneously when the lightning hit and it was known we are on it but I was more concerned about the fact that we were in a first aid situation needing piste rescue. I needn’t have worried about waving my arms and using my whistle to attract attention, the alarm had already been raised by others up ahead and help was on its way.

Battling for signal

First to arrive on the scene was a piste patrol ski-doo. The lady on it quickly got details of what happened, who was injured, how many were injured and what their injuries were. The man who had been ahead and taken the bigger hit was loaded onto the ski-doo first followed by me. We were wisked off up the slope and around the corner to the main lift station at quite some speed, there was no hanging around. James and the rest of group, with the exception of two who had made it off the lift and to safety, were picked up by a piste machine. Elsewhere on the mountain others were also being rescued. Further down the mountain were other BASI trainer/examiners with their groups. Hannah, Rob and Craig had all been out on the hill and all found themselves having to be rescued. Hannah confirmed in a message that her group was safe and awaiting rescue. The whole ski area was in shutdown. The only way to get people off the slopes was by ski-doo and piste machine in a co-ordinated response. 

With all my group safely at the top at the main lift station we re-grouped in the restaurant, bought ourselves hot drinks and waited for the lifts to re-open so that we could all download to the village. Whilst waiting one of the bergbahnen / piste patrol staff came to talk to us, made sure we were all ok and gave us advice.

Once down in the village I sought medical attention. I was given a thorough check-over. ECG, neurological function, reflexes, blood pressure, heart rate were all checked. Except for having a high heart rate I was fine. I’d been lucky, very lucky. Hannah had sent me a message asking if I was ok and as I left the medical centre I found her, James and Craig waiting outside.

That evening our BASI trainer and examiner searched the internet looking for information. Had he done the right thing in heading to the lift station to get us off the mountain ? Should he have done something different ? Would we have been better going lower down the mountain even if that point of safety lower down was further away ? If it happened again what would be the best thing to do ?

What happened was a freak incident and happened without warning. Our BASI trainer and examiner had taken the logical decision to head to the main lift station 10 minutes away and download. Not a single one of us in that group has disputed that decision and he has our full support. Certainly, being struck by lightning is an unusual way of becoming friends with someone and I hope me and James have many years of friendship ahead of us, minus any more lightning.

So what of the skier ahead of us? A few days later some of the group caught up with him on the mountain. He had suffered burns and spent four days in hospital. It was great to hear he was ok and back skiing. Thirty seconds or so later and that would have been me and James.

As if there hadn’t been enough drama for one week Zermatt had a richter 3.0 earthquake the following night !

Coming next :

Take Two Part-Two Over and Out

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