How I Learned to Love Skiing

By Andy Townsend, Head of Snowsports

andy-tI am a skiing obsessive, my wife is a little fanatical on skiing and my kids both dream of becoming ski racers. It is fair to say that the foundations of my family are skiing: all aspects nordic, alpine, racing, backcountry.  As long as it involves a couple of skis and some sliding I am happy.

But it wasn’t always like this. In fact my first week on skis were pretty awful and I could very easily not have bothered with all the hassle and faff of skiing. Like most British kids I learnt on a dry slope, a few lessons to get the ‘basics’ before the school ski trip to Kaprun in Austria.

Our school’s arrival in Austria coincided with a massive dump of snow, something now I would be all excited about but back then it made an already tricky learning curve much steeper. There was so much snow that our beginner lessons with ‘Hans’ our grumpy and very ‘shouty’ Austrian ski instructor took place under the ski station on a small slope that led to the garage where the piste machines were kept. In fact we spent 3 whole days on that dull slope, learning to bend and flex, to step and push. Three whole days of side stepping took its toll and I was losing interest rapidly.

On the fourth day our PE teacher Mr Lambell, decided to take some of the sporty kids up to the top of the mountain. Now I was not a sporty kid, so to be included was a bit of surprise. As the lift climbed so did my dwindling interest, almost instantly the lift popped out of the thick cloud that shrouded the mid station and the stunning vista of the Austrian alps was breath taking. Once at the top Mr Lambell did something that today would be frowned upon; he skied off and left us alone. Imagine the scene, a dozen 12 and 13 year olds, bored of drills on the improvised nursery slope and left alone to have an adventure  – and it was an adventure!

Blue skies, powder snow, big slopes, no supervision – it was complete carnage: but I loved it! This unsupervised ski run became a thing of legend, and the stories and tales were embellished more and more with each year but as a teaching model it was pure genius. Surviving was the name of the game and it meant I had to step and push, I had to bend and flex and suddenly those boring drills were useful and I was skiing.

From that tipping point things got better and better. That week was the catalyst and I was hooked/obsessed with skiing.

I now spend more than half the year on skis and it is my passion and profession. I don’t think Mr Lambell had intended me to make a career out of skiing but I am grateful to his foresight to inspire a group of bored and under challenged kids. Each winter I find myself being reminded of that first week, usually as I side step up a steep slope or step a turn in crusty spring snow and I have learnt, slowly, to appreciate those first torturous days under the ski station in Kaprun and value those foundation skills that were so diligently taught.

Skiing is a balance of ski technique or ability and desire. We have to look to the next horizon and dream of skiing untracked snow but we also have to spend the hours working on our technique on piste, developing the skills that will allow us to skin off and ski the pristine wild snow. If, as backcountry skiers we ignore those boring foundation skills we will eventually discover that we don’t have the skills to fulfil our dreams. So now when I think back to that first week I am grateful for Hans for his pedantic obsession for those foundation skills, so that I could pursue my passion.

Vielen dank Hans!

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