Keep learning – you know it makes sense

“Get your hands forward Perkins”

I’m a great believer in the power of learning. If you keep trying to take on new skills, whatever area of life you’re talking about, it keeps your mind fresh and your body renewed. I’ve got loads of things to work on, but above all skiing is something where I learn something new every day I go out on planks.

Early on day 2

So let’s first of all put paid to the idea that all guides in general ski like gods (ha ha!), and this one in particular. Even without watching the latest ski movies where top end athletes achieve the most amazing things, it’s clear that there are dimensions of skiing that will stay out of my reach for ever when I see some of the stuff being done around ski areas where I live and work.

Si lets me off the leash

Secondly, there’s a limit on how much you can teach yourself. I often work with folk who say they never had a ski lesson in their lives, or that they had a few when they started but haven’t been to an instructor for 20 years. Now driving a car is something that most reasonable folk would say requires an instructor, yet skiing is infinitely more complicated than that, even if we’re talking about on piste. Take all the vagaries and complications of off piste, and (to use the same analogy, we’re talking about off road or rally driving. If you want to do it well and get the joys of improvement, then a good instructor is well worth it.

Feels steep enough to me

I’ve always had a bit of a love-hate relationship with steep skiing. Coming from a climbing background, I really like steep exposed places when I have axes and crampons strapped on, but on skis I’ve never really felt the love despite wanting to get involved in some of the classic lines. I went on the Cosmiques Couloir a few years ago and was so tense on every turn that my legs were stiff for 3 days. I’ve tried dabbling with short sections of steep and tried to teach myself, but without success. as an excuse I convinced myself that steep skiing didn’t have the flow that I so love about lower angle terrain, so perhaps it wasn’t for me.


Get some crampons on…

But last year in Arabba with Pete B, an incorrigible Sheffield-based outdoor reprobate, we talked about his experience with the legendary Doug Coombs, and a little voice started whispering in my ear – “go on, you know you should”. So we hatched a plan to get some training, and for me the choice of instructor was clear (despite never having skied with him!). I met Simon Christy on a film course (hah – the training theme returns!) at Kendal Mountain Festival a few years ago, and we now work together as presenters there on an annual basis. We also made presentations at the Ski Symposium a couple of years ago and I had the feeling that here is a man who knows his stuff and puts it over in a way that I can understand.

So Pete, his mate Jim and I have just had 4 days with Simon, and the results are very satisfying indeed. We presented Simon on day 1 with the challenge of getting us onto steep terrain with a variety of different motivations, backgrounds and existing skiing styles. In those 4 days we’ve looked at basic stance, pressure control, edging and steering. These are all things that clients of mine will recognise, but Simon has definitely taken me to another level of comprehension. Without getting into the technicalities of it all (impossible to write down in any case) the proof of the pudding is this: I told him at the beginning of the course that I get gripped on terrain where I know that, if I fall, I’m just going to keep going. As a result, my skiing is tense and it all goes pear shaped in a vicious spiral where lack of confidence drags down technique and vice versa.

Pete getting stuck in

But on day 4, we slid into a couloir in conditions where the avalanche risk had to be carefully managed (we backed off the first couloir we saw as the entry looked pretty unjustifiable). On terrain where previously I’d have been gripped, I now felt super relaxed, 100% confident of making each turn, and each of those turns flowed nicely, one into the other, despite the gradient, the wind, the spidrift and the slab breaking away under me.

So the message is clear – learning is good, instruction is better.