• Caitlin Kennedy

Diary of a Rookie Ski Instructor

All names have been changed (so I don’t lose my instructors license!).

DAY 1 Having taught on dry slopes before, this is my first time teaching on snow. Seems I’m the only Megaski instructor virgin. I’m feeling the nerves.

A breakfast email arrives with my school group info. There will be ten of them… beginners as expected. 8 girls, 2 boys. 14/15 yr olds. TEN OF THEM! How long will it take to remember TEN names?

Rookies are lobbed in at the deep end and have to get their heads around the layout of the resort tout-seul. My velcro name badge won’t stick on my jacket. I’m sweating. It dawns on me that this had been a bad idea.

But suddenly I’m there, in front of them. Except, all is not well. One of them is vomiting. A teacher asks if Walker (the green looking one) can come up with us anyway? Well, if he can stop vomiting, perhaps.

Zara has strapped on a face mask and along with the other girls, isn’t keen on skiing with Walker – not while he’s throwing up. I’m with them on that. He is hit by a wave of nausea and staggers back to the meeting point where he slumps down on the snow and wretches. I suggest that Walker should sit out until he’s recovered- we don’t want everyone getting norovirus.

Finally we begin, with just 45 minutes until the lunch break. First up is learning to put skis on. It’s so warm everyone has balls of snow under their boots. No one can get their skis on. I’m grovelling around on the ground helping to scrape off the snow. After 10 mins of faffing, tripping over and grabbing each other, 7 girls and one boy each have one ski on. We scoot across the snow and see how it feels. That goes ok.

Now both skis on. A bit of sliding... then carnage. Students on the deck everywhere; sliding into the crash mat, sliding backwards, sliding into other groups. It’s not a good start. Perhaps I missed the bit about keeping the skis pointing across the slope. Emily keeps sliding off backwards. She seems a bright kid and I feel sure that at some point she’ll rejoin us from the crash barrier that she keeps reversing into. In the afternoon things move on swiftly. They’re soon performing proficient glides, ploughs and stops.

1530h and the first day is over. It’s been a good start. Jubilantly, I hand them back to their teachers. Success; no one dead, injured or lost. I’m exhausted.

DAY 2 After lunch, everyone is feeling confident; they’re desperate to move on. The nursery plateau is now rammed with groups and it’s hard to move. I take the executive decision to head to their first real slope. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to me, during the morning, the piste surface has been skied away leaving sheet ice underneath.

We clip in and set off. It’s a total disaster; they all turn into Bambis – sliding in every direction; hurtling down, yelling. Within seconds they are splattered across the piste like starfish. As each one slithers to a halt, they sit up, take their bloody skis off and crawl on hands and knees to the edge of the slope. They’ve now got huge balls of snow stuck to their boots and can’t get their skis back on; an exasperating scenario which repeats over and over.

I’m charging from one stricken starfish to the next, imploring each to keep their skis on. No one is listening anymore.

Phoebe is the first to chuck her toys out of the pram and refuses to put her skis back on. She bursts into tears; she hates skiing. After a lengthy negotiation, she acquiesces and the skis are back on. I park Phoebe and rush off to rescue the others.

Ewan has spun off miles away and is lying on his back near the side of the slope; Kirstee is spinning slowly round and round; Emily is sitting down, helmet off, complaining of aheadache and Walker is lying at the side of the piste, shell-shocked. Other instructors and their groups glide past in instructor-manual formation, observing the carnage. My incompetence as an instructor is hung out for all to see. Humiliation trumps concern for the students.

I take a deep breath and head over to Zara who declares that she is injured, bursts into tears and refuses to move. Does she want to go to the Medi centre? Yes, she does. This is duly arranged. I leave Zara sobbing, with the group leader who has just turned up.

Scooping up the others from where they are clinging to the slope, I charge back and forth, leading them, one by one, across the piste to softer snow and then slowly down. I am sweating profusely and announce that we are heading back up the travellator but haven’t spotted my mistake: the group left their coats at the top of the slope and everyone’s lift passes are in their coats. They can’t get back up the travellator. Groaning internally, I beg the liftie to let us up. He does (the man is a saint). Everyone is deflated. Motivation and morale rock bottom. I’m gutted.

I suggest we get back on our skis for a couple of final snake runs; Bella jumps up and encourages everyone else to get going. I could hug her. We do a couple of short snake runs. But back at the bottom, pale, sullen faces say it all; a disastrous afternoon.

First beer(s) of the trip tonight – much needed. I slink back to my room feeling traumatised.

DAY 3 At the instructor meeting, I’m singled out for a private chat with Queen Bee. Nightmare! So, I shouldn’t have left Zara and teacher waiting for rescue (despite my group being plastered all over the piste) and I should have included the puking child. Really?? Lastly, I’m berated for mentioning Coronavirus… Which I didn’t. Norovirus, yes. I accept everything and hope I’m looking suitably humble despite the desire to tell her to shove a ski pole up her arse. To make matters worse, an elderly male instructor asks where my name badge is. He points to his shiny, golden BASI badge – “I’m a life member you know”. I flash my best rictus grin – the one that’s plastered across my face for the week.

My group aren’t overjoyed to see me. However, I take them to a new beginner slope and their confidence returns. Huge relief; we’re moving forwards. Soon they’re thinking ahead: They want to go to ‘Narnia’. Fellow students have mentioned a magical place with snow sprinkled trees and they’re desperate to ski it.I’m on fire this evening – having managed to wrestle my self-esteem and instructor career back on track.

DAY 4 It’s time to tackle chairlifts with skis on. Ewan is the only casualty dismounting the chairlift. I’ve already bellowed at him to stop flapping his skis whilst on the lift. His skis have a life of their own; they detach from his boots regularly. On the next chair

he loses a ski; it was inevitable. I praise the stars that no one below is maimed. When he’s not separated from his skis, Ewan is Mr social. He’s got new mates everywhere; there are constant shrieks from the chairlifts overhead and he’s always busy fist-bumping with kids from other schools.

With trepidation we move straight down the piste of Tuesday’s carnage. Everyone nails it. I promise that we will head up the mountain and find Narnia. But first I need to figure out where on earth it is. The search is on and I’m looking for wardrobes….? A faun maybe?

DAY 5 Up on the top plateau it’s a busy ski area with loads of distractions. Keeping everyone’s attention is challenging. They forget to check up the slope before setting off despite constant reminders. Queen Bee is out and about and almost collides with my group as they are chirping across the piste. Another reprimand.

Sitting next to Walker (the sickly outcast) on the lift, I discover that he’s a keen musician. He’s even brought his harmonica out to keep the music ticking over. The girls stop giving him such a wide berth. By the end of a big day, I tell them they should be proud of themselves- their determination is impressive.

FINAL DAY After quite an expedition we reach the tree clad trails of Narnia with wide-eyed appreciation. Everyone is skiing confident plough turns, adapting to the terrain. At lunch Walker gives us a tune on his harmonica. The room stops and listens; his credibility skyrockets. Whilst not on Ewan’s level when it comes to networking, Walker is the star of the group: He had a crap start but through dogged determination he’s turned out to be a careful and competent skier.

Everyone’s worked hard and despite the constant banter, fist-bumping, bickering, social media etc, they’ve nailed their first week’s skiing. It’s been an exhausting week; an emotional roller coaster. The relief on finally handing the students back to their teachers is immense. As the memory of Tuesday’s calamity fades, I take solace in having taught 9 students to ski proficiently down the mountain.

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