One of the first things you learn as an instructor is that group control and mountain safety are paramount. Being able to keep a bunch of kids (or adults) out of harms way whilst still having fun on the slopes is key, but sometimes difficult. Each time a group comes to a stop on the slopes the perfect scenario is that you are on the edge of the piste in a visible spot from above where they are able to stop comfortably and pay attention to the instructor. The best way to achieve this is to make the group stop behind and below one another by turning around the group to a stop. This is something that the group of kids this week have so far not been able to comprehend. The first couple of days have been shambolic as the mischievous kids failed to comply to the gentle reminders and ended up in anything but a well organised queue. I’ve had kids facing the wrong way, pairs well above the rest of the group or individuals sliding right past the rest of their peers. Some have tried to stop above the group and slid into a friend and some have been so far away they might as well have been in France. More often than not they come around from in front instead of from the back and end up trying to turnaround on the spot then falling over. On the odd occasion they’ve made it into a tight nit ensemble the trouble has been to try and make them remain quiet and attentive. Girls will natter to one another and boys will poke and push each other. Halfway through an explanation of a drill or of a plan someone would chirp up with a bizarre statement or just a random question such as “do you think snowflakes want to be in avalanches?” (genuine quote from this morning from a fourteen year old). Very rarely, but still an occurrence, a kid will have such a short span of attention that they will just flop to the floor, or in more extreme circumstances begin to try and lick their ski. All in all, getting a well formed and focused line has been tricky with this group.
Today, however, I had a plan. I would make the group of fairly good skiers practice the simple skill of stopping in a line every time they messed it up. Whenever someone went around the front, try again. Whenever someone faced the wrong way, try again. Whenever someone stopped above, try again. If they wouldn’t listen, try again. If they complained, try again. I had it all planned out as I got off the first lift of the morning and I was ready to get it sorted. I skied off the chairlift to the side of the piste, looked expectantly up at my group and prepared to reinforce the teaching of proper stopping and hoped that they’d start off well. The first girl came down, went behind and below, excellent. The next one followed and did the same. All is good. One of the boys came flying down in front of the group but saved it my spinning around into place and the next one inevitably ended up facing the wrong way. It wasn’t a terrible start and one that could be addressed.
And then the last person came down. Preceded by a high pitch howl and a panicking posture, this final girl didn’t do any of the usual errors, she took it to the next level. Rather than going behind and below or even any variation of that, she just tried to go through. Through me who was stood at the top of the queue. Claiming her ski couldn’t turn (the ski she controls) she went straight into me, bounced off and deflected herself across the slope, still yelling at a pitch accustomed to dogs and then finally came to a stop on the opposite side. It was moments like this that made practice a requirement for the first slope. We then spent a hundred metres of piste practicing. After about ten tedious attempts and various failures and complaints I finally had a well structured and quiet group. And that is how they lined up for the rest of the day.
The rest of the day was good all round. We covered a lot of ground, made some progress with their skiing and even got up the treacherous T bars without any trouble. Due to this improved behaviour I thought they deserved a small reward and a little bit of fun on the mountain. The snowboard cross seemed like the best idea for this as a relativity safe but enjoyable race down a wide weaving path and they were all happy to give it a go. So we set off and naturally I didn’t want to risk losing to one of my students so I hurtled down the track full pelt to seal victory, leaving the kids in my snowy wake. When I got to the bottom, the cluster of kids arrived soon after, but one was missing. It was revealed that as one of the boys had gone to overtake the other, he got ran off the track, caught a ski on the powder and flipped off the edge of the course. He finally arrived and blamed his friend for the tumble, who retorted that he had done no wrong and so to settle it in a more peaceful manner I suggested that we resolved it on the chairlift with a fair trial.
As we jumped onto the chair, like we had done many times before without any trouble, the drama unfolded. As one of the boys tried to sort out his ski poles he managed to pull it up and smack the girl next to him in the nose. This was the shrieking drama queen that had ran me over first thing this morning and if she could ski as well as she complains, she’d be in the Olympics. The small drops of blood which dripped from her nostrils might as well have been as powerful and plentiful as the River Amazon. She’d reacted as if she was about to make her own Red Sea or if she had just been the victim in the latest gory horror film. It took just a tissue and a few moments to stop the drip before the world could keep spinning again and for normality to resume on that lift up.
It also turned out to be that boys fault that his mate went cartwheeling off the side of the boarder cross track so he has to be today’s Jerry.