A dazzling, empty piste, its pristine corduroy shimmering in the sun, rolls ahead of me. As I rev up, I let Bruce Springsteen rip with "Born to Run" in my mind. My first turn is slick and precise, as I slice through the snow. I am a master of the universe. The intermediate plateau is in a galaxy far beyond.
A week ago this same slope might have instilled some hesitation. But now I am equipped with a whole new set of tools, not to mention confidence and mindset.
I have been taught by the Jedi Knights of the mountains, the instructors who train instructors at the British Alpine Ski School (BASS) in the French resort of Morzine - and its tree-lined slopes and well-groomed, mainly intermediate blue and red pistes have proved the ideal training ground.
The linchpins of BASS Morzine’s team are Jaz Lamb, who set up the school in 2000 and has been part of the training staff for the British Association of Snowsport Instructors (BASI) since 1996, and co-director Becci Malthouse, who’s been training instructors since 1998.
On my week, I am part of a group of six on a BASS Personal Performance Camp, with years of skier weeks between us. The first question put to us by instructor Marc Walton is, what do we want to achieve? To be better skiers, obviously!
But, when I nail it down there are a few things I have problems with. Skiing in tight trees for one, landing after a bit of air, jump turns on a steep slope. And carving the ultimate turn when your legs are so extended you could touch the snow with your bum.
To my surprise, what I learn over the next few days is that technically I already have all the skills needed for achieving my aims. But what I do not have is the right focus. Thankfully, there is a way of skiing that brings everything together, and the BASS plan over the course of this week is to make it happen.
Lessons usually fill me with horror. There’s that awful moment when you have to ski with everyone watching. The tension makes me hunch my shoulders up to my ears, and instead of feeling like a carefree powderhound, my mind races and I become almost rigid. Still, with the carrot – skiing perfection – dangling in front of me, I’m ready to embrace every word on this camp.
I follow Marc’s instruction to notice everything I do while skiing, and to notice how what I do, the snow conditions and the terrain change the outcome. It’s about being aware of everything that affects how I get down the mountain - and that also includes my posture, what my core muscles are doing, and how I react to difficult snow.
In a total eureka moment, I realise I need to turn my hip, and when I do that, the rhythm flows
By the time we’ve analysed every part of a turn and focused on adjusting our balance when initiating and finishing a turn, I’m acutely aware that I have weaker turn direction. This has stopped me from skiing with rhythm and fluidity, as I’m unable to steer my right ski around to finish a turn. I’d attributed it to my right leg being weaker, but in a total eureka moment I realise it has nothing to do with power – the problem is that I’m blocking the turn by not turning my hip. As soon as I start doing that, my turns even out and the rhythm flows.
But then, as I struggle to remember everything I’ve been told, the flow goes again - a classic case of over thinking. I seek advice from Becci Malthouse. “With all the best intentions, we create a list of things to do as we are skiing but our brain gets so busy with the list that we can’t ski to our full potential,” she tells me. “The BASS aim is to help you retrieve the knowledge you need when skiing as easily as you do when you make a cup of tea or walk along a pavement.”
So, to help us stop focusing on mechanical skills and become more intuitive, we’re told to sing as we ski, while following our instructors and making every turn they do. Immediately the slope seems irrelevant, whether it’s steep, off piste or a perfect cruiser – because we are so focused on singing and following.
As I follow Becci, short quick turns, formerly a stumbling block, are not a problem, and long tilting carving turns come naturally. In fact, with Bruce Springsteen thundering in my head (the suggested “Tea for Two” didn’t work for me), I can only describe myself as being in the zone.
“I wanted to make you realise you can do something you thought you couldn’t,” Becci tells me. “For example, you say you don’t really do short turns, and find keep an even rhythm difficult. But by following me and then by setting an internal theme tune, you managed to ski short turns easily and fluidly. So now you have the key to doing this on your own. It’s about directing your focus to a place where your ability can flourish.”
On my last day in Morzine, a reborn skier, I’m invited to ski with one of BASS Morzine’s most respected BASI instructors, Andy Jerram, who is training all levels of BASI instructors for their exams as part of the school’s programme for professionals.
It’s easy to see how he gets results. He has the gift of making everyone seem important, paying individual attention and pushing you to the next level. We have three hours of bumps training and, amazingly, with my new layer of confidence I am not intimidated at all by skiing with a group of qualified instructors. First we traverse the bumps, dropping into the gullies between them and jumping out over the top of each one, across an entire mogul field. Next we take a line turning only in the gullies. Then we sideslip on a diagonal across the top of each bump. Finally, we put it all together and use the three different techniques to follow the fall line. Straight away I choose a much better line, and don’t run out to the side of the piste because I’m going too fast.
In a moment of inspiration I find myself thinking that perhaps I should become a BASI instructor.
Need to know
BASS Morzine Personal Development Camps cost £330 per person for 15 hours Monday to Friday (three hours a day over five days), with four to six skiers in the group. Find out more about these and other BASS courses at britishskischool.com. Morzine is part of the huge cross-border Portes du Soleil ski area that also includes Avoriaz in France and Champéry in Switzerland. A six-day Portes du Soleil lift pass costs €260 for adults. Find out more at morzine-avoriaz.com. The Hotel Fleur des Neiges is a cosy family hotel close to the gondola, with an exceptional chef. Prices for the week start at €637 per person, half board, or €462 per person bed and breakfast. Four-day stays start at €390 per person half board. Visit hotel-fleurs-des-neiges.com.