Ski Club staff member Elliot Rose tells us about his experience of a Freshtracks Development holiday – the Season Start Up in Tignes.
I headed off to Tignes for the Freshtracks Season Start Up trip with a little uncertainty. Not that I wasn’t hugely excited to be going to one of my favourite ski areas to experience the best early season snow conditions we’ve had for several years – but I wasn’t sure how much I was going to enjoy skiing with instructors all day, every day for an entire week. Would it be like one never-ending course of ski school, with more standing around and talking than actual skiing?
I regard myself as a classic ‘intermediate plateau’ skier – I reached the stage long ago when I could make my way down most red runs, and the odd black in good conditions, and apart from a 2-hour private lesson from time-to-time, that’s where I’d stayed. Bad habits remained bad, and no real progress had been made for several years, but I could ski well enough to have plenty of fun on the snow in most resorts and I was a little reluctant to put myself entirely in the hands of instructors who might curtail my enjoyment in favour of tuition.
There were three instructors to look after us for the week – Darren Turner and Ben Birt from Insight Ski, based in Serre Chevalier, and Charlotte Markus, originally from Denmark and now working for ESF in Montgenèvre.
We were split into 3 groups of around 7 (there were 22 Ski Club members on the trip) – and were told that each group would ski with each of the instructors for 2 days.
One of the great things about the trip (a Ski Club Freshtracks Development holiday) is that the instructors ate with us in the accommodation each night (well, Darren and Ben did – Charlotte was staying with a friend in Val d’Isère so made her way over to Tignes each morning for our 9am start). This meant that by the time we were heading out to the gloriously sunny pistes on the first morning, we’d already shared a meal and a few glasses of wine with the instructors and had got to know them a little. It made a big difference compared to the usual lessons where you meet your instructor for the first time at the lifts.
My group started with 2 days’ skiing with Ben. I realised very quickly that I needn’t have worried about not doing enough skiing. Ben’s approach with intermediate skiers is very much about letting them ski, and stopping every now and then to have a quick chat about something, a bit of demonstration, and then a lot of opportunity to practice what we’d been shown. In fact we skied so much, the occasional stops to discuss an aspect of technique came as a bit of a relief, and a chance to let the legs recover.
The conditions lent themselves perfectly to carving, and that was what the group were keen to practice, so we spent much of our time with Ben really getting to grips with carving. It was immense fun, and Ben’s relaxed but helpful style of instruction made for an excellent start to the week. There was something very reassuring about Ben’s voice as he would say ‘let’s ski half way down this run, and then we’ll have a little look at something’.
Next up for the middle two days of the trip was Charlotte. Her approach was a little different to Ben’s – with more of a focus on technical information and definitely more talking. Some of the group found that the first day didn’t involve quite enough skiing, and maybe Charlotte gave us a little too much information for our brains to absorb over the course of the day. To be fair to Charlotte, she did ask us to tell her if she was talking too much, but of course we were all far too British and polite to say anything! However, the next morning we asked Charlotte if we could ski a little more and talk a little less, and she responded superbly. This resulted in a fantastic day’s skiing – perfecting our high-speed tight turns in the morning, followed by an afternoon lesson on moguls. There were loads of soft bumps to the sides of the pistes and we had a great time learning the best techniques for dealing with them.
Darren was definitely the joker of the trio of instructors – Freshtracks regulars will tell you that he has a cheesy joke for every chairlift. But behind the humour lies an excellent instructor with a great eye for seeing what each of the group needs to focus on. With me it’s always been keeping my hands, and my weight forward – and the super slow motion video that Darren took whilst skiing behind me showed that very clearly. Darren’s focus is very much on body position, balance and weight distribution, and above all getting us to relax and enjoy the trickier terrain. Unfortunately the glorious blue skies of the previous 5 days were replaced by an intense snow storm that rolled in to Tignes (and pretty much all of the Alps) on the last day, and our final day’s skiing was curtailed after a couple of hours due to high winds closing most of the lifts. But even a day skiing with Darren was enough to learn a huge amount about our skiing technique.
So, the big question is - did my skiing improve? Undoubtedly yes – I was comfortably skiing terrain by the end of the week that I would definitely have struggled with at the start of the trip. More importantly, I ended the week highly aware of the things I need to work on to continue improving. Whereas I already knew that I needed to improve my skiing in some vague way, this trip left me with a very specific plan of action for areas to focus on next time I’m in the mountains. Despite their different approaches and personalities, all three instructors shared a brilliant ability to pinpoint the areas that each individual needed to work on, and although we were skiing in groups, it felt like we were all on our own personalised lesson. The fact that the instructors were staying in the same accommodation, and ate dinner with us each evening, also made a huge difference – we were able to develop relationships that made the skiing so much more enjoyable. They weren’t just our instructors – they were people on holiday with us who happened to be really good teachers.
I’m a 6-day instruction convert, and I’d go on another Freshtracks Development holiday in a heartbeat.