Take Two Part-Two – Over and Out

PDS Academy

Our BASI trainer and examiner for the Alpine Level 2 resit was the same trainer as the week before on the Alpine Level 2 Performance; James Bennett.

When not working for BASI, James is one of the directors at PDS Academy in Morzine. PDS Academy is a British Ski and Snowboard School founded in the Portes du Soleil and now operating in the 3 Valleys + Espace Killy including Sainte Foy.

Ever seeking gaps in the market, James and Craig started off by establishing JJC Training nearly 10 years ago, with the specific aim to create tailored programmes to help instructors pass their instructor qualifications. Using this deep-seated partnership and clever business acumen, James and Craig expanded JJC Training to the PDS Academy we see today.

The Academy is a modern take on the traditional ski school. Designed around you and your individual learning requirements, James, Craig and the team create unique lessons to cater for your every need. You can choose from small group sizes or a bespoke private ski lesson to guarantee your skiing is taken to the next level. You can even book a lesson at Hemel with one of the instructors and then carry on having teaching from them when you get to resort. For those, who like me, want a little bit more than recreational skiing, there is professional ski instructor training and race training.

Level 2 Resit – Over and Out

Certainly the level 2 performance training had been an interesting week and I was rather hoping the resit week would be less eventful.

The first day was lost due to poor weather. Hmm … not exactly getting off to a promising start then.

Tuesday was better. Gorgeous blue sky, lovely snow and all in all a good day. As I came to a stop when joining the group at the side of the piste I caught my left inside edge which whipped my ski around. Although it did release the damage was done. The instant the ski twisted around I felt the pain to my knee. I knew it wasn’t good.

“No … No … No …” as I sank to the snow holding my knee. One of the group was behind me. “Rosemary … are you ok ?” The answer to which was no. Our BASI trainer and examiner and seen what had happened and asked the same question to which he got the same answer. “No”. The person in the group behind me unclipped me from my other ski and James headed over to me. “I saw you do it” he said. I think he knew at the time that the outcome probably wasn’t going to be great.

My injury wasn’t the only problem. I’d injured myself on the last run of the day as the lifts were heading towards closing. Whilst the group had sufficient time to make the lifts back up to Klein Matterhorn anyone who stayed to help would miss the cut off time and end up stranded. Whilst John gave me his jacket to lie on, piste patrol was called and a message sent out to the group telling them to head for the lift. I apologised to the trainer. For the second time in 8 days he found himself waiting for piste rescue with me.

Trying to get comfortable in the snow proved difficult. It wasn’t the snow that was the problem, it was my knee that I couldn’t get comfortable. Lying on my left side was a no, lying on my right side or sitting up were slightly better so I alternated between the latter two shuffling between them to try and get comfortable. The jacket I was sat on was a potential toboggan. If it broke free and headed down the slope it would take me with it. James made sure he stood in front of me with his foot against me acting as a brake. The last thing he needed was me careering down the slope on somebody’s jacket !

It seemed to take forever for piste patrol to arrive. Admittedly we were beneath a roller at the side of the piste and this possibly made it difficult for me to be seen. Various ski-doo’s could be heard but none came our way. Finally one did.

Upon reaching me a quick assessment was done including which side of the border did I need to be on (Italian or Swiss) and what were my credit card details. Anyone who has ever been injured whilst out skiing will know you have to hand over money before you get anything so much as paracetamol let alone actually being taken off the mountain. I’d made sure to say that I didn’t need a helicopter, I just needed help getting back to the main lift station. Now it wasn’t just my knee hurting, my credit card was too.

Whilst I was entitled to rescue, courtesy of Barclaycard, our trainer and examiner wasn’t. He was required to make his own way down off a mountain that was now closed. I contemplated asking whether I could pay for him too. There were two options available to him. Ski down to Trockner-Steg across a melting glacier or, if that proved too difficult, ring piste patrol and they would collect him at the end of the day before they all went home but it was likely he’d have to wait some time. He opted for the descent across a melting glacier. At least he wouldn’t be on his own skis; they’d been
deliberately switched and taken in an episode of ski theft earlier on in the day.

If you’ve been on a ski-doo you will know there isn’t much to hold onto. The slope was too steep for the ski-doo to go straight up so we headed down before coming back up a gentler slope on the other side. The ski-doo struggled, my extra 45kg of weight not helping things. I wondered what would happen if I fell off and decided it was best if I didn’t (fall off that is). Once safely back up the top at Klein Matterhorn I was re-united with my group and met by more piste patrol who put my knee in a splint and transferred me to a wheelchair. It was then I discovered that as an injured skier I got priority travel. Whilst the group travelled down in a standard gondola I travelled in a crystal encrusted one with see-through floor; the Crystal Ride.

Embellished by thousands of Swarovski crystals the cabin glittered like fresh snowflakes caught in the sunlight. Three minutes into the journey, at a height of 170 metres above ground, the previously opaque glass floor turns clear giving a dramatic view down onto the glacial landscape below. I only realised it had a see through floor as it approached Trockner-Steg where I had to get off and onto the next gondola !

Sat waiting at Trockner-Steg was the trainer and examiner. He’d had an interesting ski down on glacial ice, flowing water and gravel. Occasionally a patch of snow could be found.

It’s quite a long ride down from Trockner-Steg to the valley station. As me and the piste patrol lady boarded the next gondola I decided I should probably inform my insurance company. Inevitably I found myself needing internet access. Awkward when you’re suspended mid-air in a metal bubble. There tends not to be much WiFi ! So that I wasn’t using my data the piste patrol lady created a WiFi hotspot for me and I telephoned back my insurance company.

As well as not wanting a helicopter to rescue me I didn’t want an ambulance meeting me either. When I had been given the choice by the piste patrol lady I had opted for a taxi. I’m the sort of person who doesn’t ski carrying vast amounts of money, enough for a hot drink, so I ended up borrowing some. Once at the bottom valley station my kit made its way to the Hotel Antares and I waited for the taxi that would take me to the medical centre. John came with me. It was quite funny when upon arriving at the medical centre they assumed John was my husband. Er … No … Friend. Clearly friend has a different meaning in Switzerland. The doctor who saw me was very excited when he discovered we shared the same birthday, albeit with him 10 years older than me. He told anyone and everyone that I was his birthday twin.

With the examination completed and my knee x-rayed my birthday twin gave me the news that I wasn’t to ski for the next 3 days and was to go back to the medical centre again in 2 days for a check up. In an instant my BASI Alpine Level 2 was gone. You are only allowed to miss 20% of the course which was the equivalent of one day. I was over and out on the second day.

John was still waiting for me. Issued with crutches and a knee brace another taxi was ordered and more money was borrowed. We had video feedback at the Hotel Antares. At least I could do that sitting down. Once in the hired room at the Antares the crutches were quickly ditched in the first available corner. With the video feedback over there came the small matter of how to get me home to my accommodation.

I was staying in Chalet Turbina, 20 minutes walk away, uphill and then along a riverside path. No road access. The nearest I could get by road was using the bus and getting off at the stop before the base gondola station where we were but the busses operated a one-way system so I would have to get on and do a full loop. One of the group flagged down the bus and persuaded the driver to stop and pick me up outside the Hotel Antares. Off I set down to the village in order to be able to come back up again and get off at the stop before. Once at the stop and off the bus I was faced with a steeply sloping path down to the river in order to get to the path up to Chalet Turbina. Not great with crutches ! My room mate met me.

I contemplated moving out of Chalet Turbina and closer to the village to make getting out and about easier. The only thing with this was that I could cook at Chalet Turbina. If I was in a hotel I would have to go out to eat. I opted to stay at Chalet Turbina.

The following day I occupied myself by taking the bus down into the village and going into Migros. Food shopping with a basket hanging from the handle of the crutch worked alright until the basket got heavy. Once outside I waited for the bus back up to the other end of the village.

My groups Whatsapp messages also provided a source of entertainment to stop me getting bored. There was a definite flurry of WhatsApp usage at midday. Presumably the group were in Rifigio Cervino having a coffee stop. I popped a message into the chat asking if anyone was actually skiing. When the next message came up as ‘20’ I was left perplexed. 20 … 20 what ? Surely there weren’t 20 people skiing. There were two BASI groups out on the hill plus other users. I sat looking at the message before finally it clicked what it was about. The group had gone over to a red run to ski short turns. 20 was the number of turns to aim for as you skied the pitch. Another message that had me amused was one where someone in the group had told the trainer and examiner to ‘Shhhh’. Whilst sending a message the individual had pressed the wrong emoticon and inadvertently told our trainer to shut up. The conversation that ensued between the two of them showed what a good sense of humour our trainer had.

When the group came down I joined them at a little cafe opposite the base station and then for video feedback at the Antares. I wanted to know what the plan for the group was for the following day. If they were going to have a midday stop at Rifigio Cervino I would go up, side slip down on my good leg before free running the skis along the flat to the Rifigio and then come back up the lifts to return to the village. It turned out they weren’t planning on a coffee stop.

When I got up the next morning my knee was much better. There was no swelling, not much pain and my knee seemed to work. I telephoned the clinic in the hope of getting an earlier appointment instead of the one I had for 10:00. Without medical clearance from the doctor I couldn’t ski. I was out of luck. I gambled that I would be able to sufficiently convince the doctor my knee was fine and packed a bag with my kit so that I could go straight from the clinic to the ski lift if told I could ski.

Every minute in the medical centre was a minute lost time wise on the course. I’d already missed the allowed 20% by not being able to ski the previous day. If I was to avoid a result of ‘Did not Complete’ I needed to be up on the mountain skiing with the group, not losing more time. Finally at 10:15 the doctor saw me. “Ah, my birthday twin … How is the knee ?” He pressed, flexed, extended, bent and straightened my knee checking it’s stability, looking for signs of problem. I gave him nothing. “Ok you can ski”.

I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. With the bill paid and the crutches returned I headed straight for the ski lift. It was 10:15. The group had started at 09:00. As long as I missed less than half the day and got to the group before 11:30 I might just avoid getting a ‘Did not Complete’. On my way to the lift I sent both my examiner and another trainer a message saying I was on my way. The time read 10:23.

Once on the gondola my ski gear went on over my shorts and t-shirt and my sports shoes were switched for my ski boots; all to the amusement of the people on the lift with me. I willed the lift system to go faster, getting me to the top quicker.

When I reached the top station of Klein Matterhorn it was 11:25. I reckoned I had 5 minutes to get to the ski area and locate the group before I reached the mid point of that days session and got timed out from the course. When I had messaged my trainer and examiner from the village he had given me the groups location “… on the bottom little t bar”.

As I left the lift station and eased my way down the grit and gravel to the snow my knee let me know it wasn’t enjoying the change in terrain. As I pushed off on my ski there was another reminder that perhaps all was not as well as it seemed. Maybe this really wasn’t a good idea. Once I was free running things were a little better. When I came to the steeper section down to the tunnel that led to the ski area I erred on the side of caution and side slid with my weight on my good leg. Once near enough to the tunnel I straightened the skis and free ran. There wasn’t enough speed to get me all the way on to the main ski area and as I pushed myself forward there was another reminder from my knee.

I gave a quick check of the area. The group weren’t in sight, they must still be at the bottom by the little t-bar. Cautiously I side slid down the steep before letting the skis run once I reached flatter terrain. As long as I stopped on my right leg it wasn’t too bad. I decided I had better at least try and turn. Gingerly I did a couple of turns and then with the group in sight and the knee holding up I did some proper skiing. It was great to be back on the snow with the group.

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With a quick coffee stop over we headed for the bumps. Our trainer and examiner handed out the strands he wanted us to ski. For me it was short turns. I had my eye on the bumps. The trainer and examiner was about to discover I have a stubborn streak. “Shorts” he said to me. “Perhaps” came my reply. This had him really confused, “Perhaps ?”. “Perhaps I’ll ski shorts, perhaps I won’t” I continued. “I really don’t think you should ski bumps, in fact I strongly recommend you don’t ski the bumps” replied the trainer. “Halfway, I’ll go from halfway” attempting to bargain with him. He knew.
He knew I was skiing bumps and it was pointless asking me to do anything different.

I cautiously side slid down to mid-way, dipped under the rope, set myself up and skied the pitch of bumps from halfway. It would have been nice if the trainer had watched but guess he had told me not to go in the bumps. Apart from some definite snowplough at times it wasn’t too bad. I got down. More importantly I was still intact!

As the group looped up and down the tow I continued in the bumps with some of them. At one point I stopped at the trainer, optimistically hoping there might be little, tiny bit of feedback. “Do you want to see your video ? I filmed you”. What I saw in that video was some of the best bumps skiing I have ever done. As long as I stayed on the bottom section from halfway I was ok. When the trainer suggested I tried from further up it didn’t go quite so well so I went back to going from the midway point. For me those runs were about getting the rhythm and confidence.

The final day of the course was one of sunshine skiing and fun. James Bennett, our trainer and examiner is part of the BASI National Education Team and as such is on the demo team. When he got us synchro skiing it was so much fun. Having someone at the front who is a good metronome is key. Whilst we nailed our first run with conventional layout our off-set synchro with clever start was dreadful. I don’t think I’ll be taking Bennett’s place in the demo team any time soon !

My two weeks in Zermatt doing both the Alpine Level 2 Performance Training and the Alpine Level 2 resit were an amazing two weeks. Finally, my stem at the start of my short turns had gone, I had started to get the hang of pedalling and short leg/long leg. Ultimately, it was a ‘Did not Complete’ that went on my course report form.

A constant theme in my skiing over the two weeks had been a noticeable weakness on my left side in my left footed turns to the right. The hip injury I sustained in Saas-Fee during the torchlit descent with the Swiss Ski School had not only left me in pain for 5 months but it had left me with permanent weakness to the left side of my hip. The BASI Alpine Level 2 resit that I did with James Bennett would be the last BASI course that I would do.

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