Teaching skiing in Scotland taught me a lot, in fact I would recommend a season there to anybody starting out on an instructing career. It is a long way from the glamour of Switzerland for example, and conditions are often challenging. Learning the instructing trade in a Scottish ski area will prepare an instructor for teaching anywhere in the world. That said the Scottish Highlands are beautifully scenic, the people are friendly and when the conditions are right offer fantastic skiing.
A lesson I learnt early on was to take the customer's opinion of their own ability with a pinch of salt. One morning I turned up to work to be given a private lesson with a boy in his early teens. As usual I quizzed him about his experience, ability and what he wanted to learn. He told me he had spent a week in Switzerland with his school.
"So you know the snowplough?"
"And you can turn?"
On that basis I decided to start on a reasonably long blue run, giving us some space to work with. We took the Alpha T-Bar, and on the way up he told me that the week in Switzerland had only included three days actually skiing. I still was not too worried as he was confident he could snowplough and turn. At the top of the run I suggested he do a few turns while I watched before I gave him some feedback. He set off in a nice narrow plough position, making reasonable turns. His plough was the kind of gliding snowplough that makes turning easier but offers little speed control - the kind we teach when we have the luxury of a gentle enough beginner slope. The kind we never taught at Nevis Range where nothing was very gentle. The boy gathered speed, each turn moving faster than the one before. It only took a moment to realise he was out of control and I set off in pursuit. It was amazing how much speed he was gaining and I had to work hard to catch up. It was still early in the season and the snow cover was patchy. This meant the pistes were narrow strips of snow between Highland heather and it was difficult to overtake. I had a vague idea that if I could get in front of him I could spin round into a reverse snowplough and catch him. Before I managed to try this he finally fell over and tumbled into the soft heather beside the piste. Fortunately he was not hurt.
"So, on your week in Switzerland," I began to ask, "did they teach you to stop?"
"No. Just turning."
So a lesson was learnt (by me) and luckily nobody was hurt. It could have been worse.
|Thin early season snow at Nevis (this was 2005 - recent seasons have been snowier)|