National School Snowsports Week kicked off at The Snow Centre in Hemel Hempstead today, Friday 21st April, with over 30 children from Yewtree Primary School having their first ever ski lesson.
After hearing inspiring Winter sports tales from ambassador Olympians Aimee Fuller, Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards and Ski Sunday’s very own Graham Bell, the kids hit the slopes to give it a go themselves. We’re sure a few of them have caught the snow bug already.
The National School Snowsports Week rolls out across a total of 25 slopes around the UK with taster ski and snowboard sessions for as little as £1. Running from Monday April 23 – 30, school-aged kids can have a go at all sorts of mountain sports. As well as skiing and snowboarding there’s roller-skiing, luging and snow-tubing on offer.
Eddie the Eagle says, “I started skiing when I was 13 and have lived and breathed it for my whole life. I am proof that anyone – no matter what their age or background is – can get into snowsports. I am proud to support National Schools Snowsport Week and hope it brings lots of young people into our brilliant sport.”
To get involved and to find your nearest participating slopes, visit www.nssw.co.uk
Having just celebrated International Women’s Day and with the re-launch of the #ThisGirlCan campaign encouraging more women to take up sport, we got to thinking about women and snow sports. What ski training and courses are out there aimed specifically at women, and what makes them different? Here’s a look at five ‘women only’ ski courses we’ve heard good things about…
FREEFLO WOMEN’S SKI COURSES – TIGNES
FreeFlo offer courses aimed specifically at women and is run by Jocelyn Cockle (Floss) who now lives and works in Tignes. After 17 years of teaching skiing all over the world she really knows her stuff. Her courses are designed to offer female skiers the skills and the confidence to find their flow in the mountains, and to move from the pistes to off piste skiing. As well as in Tignes and Val d’Isere, FreeFlo also offer courses in the resorts of La Grave and St Foy.
Floss says, “Throughout my ski training I was rarely coached by women, and when I was I found myself more inspired and mentally on the same wavelength. From that moment I have always wanted to run women’s ski courses to pass on my experience, my passion for the backcountry, and to coach more women on how to enjoy the freedom of the mountains. “
Inspired to Ski offer a whole range of ski courses, including those aimed at women only. Held over three days in Morzine, France, the courses are run at specific ski levels, so women are always with skiers of similar ability. Groups are usually made up of six-seven skiers and an instructor and those attending receive two and a half days of instruction.
There is a selection of accommodation available so guests are able to book in to a hotel, or a chalet if they prefer to be in with a group. Courses run in Morzine each winter season in January and March. Even though they have been out for a few years, we really like Inspired to Ski’s ‘Pocket Instructor’ books, small enough to carry in your daypack and bring out for reading ski tips on the move!
The Ladies Ski Camp with British ski cross professional Emily Sarsfield is brilliant for intermediate skiers who want to be inspired by one of the best female skiers the UK has on the pro circuit.
Exploring the huge 3 Valleys area and with some yoga included in the course, after a week of skiing you will leave feeling strong and confident. This course is aimed specifically at intermediate ability skiers who are looking to progress.
Accommodation is in Chalet les Matines in Meribel. Course price £1295 (includes 20 hrs of tuition, daily yoga, chalet board, 3V lift pass and transfers).
There’s some last minute availability for this year’s April 2 departure.
Emily Sarsfield in action. Image courtesy of Dan Deckelbaum
SKI GODDESS SHORT COURSES – CHATEL
Based in Chatel, France, the ‘Ski Goddess’ 4-6 day courses, run throughout the season and are aimed specifically at women. The aim is to gain confidence and control and to work on technique through a combination of video analysis and instruction.
Katie from Ski Goddess is also qualified in Sophrology (the science of the mind in balance with the body) and this practice informs her teaching style. Katie also has an interest in psychology (especially women’s psychology), and biomechanics.
Ski Goddess also run courses combining yoga with ski, and we love the look of the free e-ski course – a series of exercises which Katie will send to you to practice before your ski holiday – sign us up!
If you can’t make it to the mountains or would like to train before a trip you can join a ladies only session every Monday and Wednesday morning at The Snow Centre in Hemel Hempstead. This is the perfect place to learn with like-minded women, either with a friend, or on your own. The Ladies Morning offers a friendly environment in which to develop new skills with qualified instructors taking small group lessons.
All Ladies Ski Mornings lessons run from 10.30am-12.30pm and include 2 hours of group instruction. Also covered are skis, snowboards, boots, helmets and poles, and a drink in The Lodge Bar & Kitchen. For more information, visit The Snow Centre website.
It is not always easy to choose a ski resort for the busiest week of the season – February Half Term. I was seriously worried that I had messed up. Not only had I chosen quite a small ski resort in the Pyrenees with only one main access point – a gondola – but also a resort whose closest city – Toulouse – was on the same February holiday period.
I’d envisioned long queues in the morning and packed terraces at lunchtime. As it turned out the worst queue was off the mountain, but I’ll come back to that!
Toulouse is just 1.5hrs from the town of Ax les Thermes in the French Pyrenees. Locals commute to Ax by train as the station is in the town centre, and over 800 people each weekend day arrive this way. However, we wanted to have the flexibility of a car so had rented a vehicle for our stay.
In an endeavour to be first in the lift queue, we breakfasted early only to be told by one of the hotel staff that all the lifts were shut due to high winds.
I’d heard of Ascou, a smaller local ski area reported to be open, but with fears of that being packed, on recommendation of the Tourist Office, we headed for the Col du Chioula for some cross-country skiing.
CROSS-COUNTRY IN COL DU CHIOULA
Tickets purchased and kit rented we spent a few minutes on the flat area getting to grips with the little, lightweight narrow skis and the soft boots. It’s over 15 years since I last tried cross-country skiing in Kimberley, BC and I had forgotten everything.
The front of the cross-country ski boots simply clip in to a toe piece on the ski. Our little group of seven (four children) were keen to get moving up the ‘green trail’. Following narrow cross-country tracks in the snow, we made good progress uphill, your heel lifts and helps to push and glide the skis along. Slightly longer ski poles with angled baskets are helpful for keeping the uphill momentum.
The downhill sections proved trickier for me, cue laughter from everyone, a lot of tumbles from me and a close encounter with a friend who decided he should fall over rather than be pushed.
After lunch I was persuaded to try again and this time we all conquered the longer ‘blue trail’. Opening up stunning panoramas across the Pyrenees, we headed up to 1600m. We felt so lucky to have had bad weather to give us all this experience. The children loved it; my youngest, just 8 years old, needed a bit of a ‘tow’ up the longer, uphill sections, but the downhill they mastered much more quickly than I did.
SECRET HOT SPRINGS
Day 2 and 90mph winds still blowing, we decided to find the ‘secret hot springs’, which a friend had told me about. Not promoted by the region, they are tucked away on the GR10, the main hiking route that spans the Pyrenees from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean.
After a 15-minute uphill hike we found them. All prepared with swimming costumes under our ski clothes, it didn’t take us long to submerge ourselves in the toasty sulphuric water. It was warm, not super-hot, and quite smelly (!) but on extracting ourselves suddenly the water felt a whole lot hotter! There are three small pools literally on the side of the mountain – an incredible experience to find them and one we will remember forever.
AX 3 DOMAINES
Finally we made it up to Ax. Overnight the winds had dropped leaving a drizzly morning that we knew was forecast to clear. There were no queues, so we hopped straight on the access gondola up to Bonascre – one of the three main areas of Ax 3 Domaines. From Bonascre we took the high-speed six chair ‘Lievre Blanc’, and then the ‘Tute’ six-man, and were treated to about half a foot of fresh snow. The early birds definitely catch the powder – although we managed to find fresh tracks across the whole area all day, and even on our second day there was still fresh snow to be found through the trees.
The ski area was busy, as expected, with a couple of bottlenecks at the Rebenty chair and the two-man ‘Savis’. With 25 million+ euros being invested in the next three years though, these queues will ease with the replacement of these slower chairs and with it the creation of several new runs. We discovered restaurant ‘Le Louzat’ – a fabulous spot for lunch tucked away in the woods, arriving early to get a table on the terrace.
ROAD TRIP TO ASCOU
We decided to head up to Ascou for our last ski day on the recommendation of a local friend. She said it is a special place, quiet and with runs through the forest. She was right. Just a twenty-minute drive from Ax – les -Thermes, Ascou-Pailheres sits just off the road up to the Col du Pailheres (closed in winter). There are only 15km of slopes and seven lifts, but for a day we loved it. The beginners’ area was very busy but on the higher draglifts we had the slopes almost to ourselves, not bad for the busiest week of the season!
The runs cut through the forest and feel a little like some of the smaller Canadian resorts I have skied in. Lots of small off-piste sections you can cut through and just one base café but with excellent coffee. The terrace overlooks the beginner ski area and we enjoyed a peaceful coffee in the sunshine while the children skied the beginner button lifts and little Fun Park.
DISCOVERING THE REGION
We all loved discovering this area of the French Pyrenees and having a car rental meant we could explore Chioula and Ascou as well as skiing the main ski area at Ax 3 Domaines. We tried to get in to the recreational spa after skiing – Les Bains du Couloubret, but this was where the real queues were.
After a 30-minute wait and no progress we decided to stick with the natural foot spa in the centre of the town. Each evening this becomes a focal point for people to sit and chat – we all loved it, the naturally occurring sulphuric water coming out at 77 degrees.
The town of Ax originated in approx. 800AD with the old hospital and foot spa alongside dating back to the 1200s. Spa tourism thrived during the 19th Century. Ax-les-Thermes is a town full of history with its narrow old streets to discover and quaint bars and restaurants.
Celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2018, this ski race combines downhill racing with uphill climbs… on race skis! Competitors are capped at 1850 with over 2500 applying to race each year. The answer to securing your place is to become a member of a ski club (such as the Kandahar Ski Club who founded the event). You’ll also need to ensure your entry is in before the deadline of September 15, 2017 (entries can be submitted from May 2017).
The main downhill event is 14.9km long and competitors are set off at approximately 10-second intervals (sometimes the course is shorter, depending on snow conditions). As well as this there’s a cross-country ski race around the town of Mürren and a GS event – both taking place earlier in the week. For the 75th anniversary there are plans for a mass start team event – the ‘Sir Arnold Lunn Cup’, where all competitors will start at the same time. Entry cost is £55 for the downhill race. Find out more on the Inferno website.
Ranging through the Inferno. Image courtesy of Robert Webb
THE AMATEUR INTERCLUB CHAMPIONSHIPS – ALPBACH
Founded in 2008, this year’s Amateur Inter-Club Championships will be held in Alpbach, Austria and hosted by the Alpbach Visitors Ski Club – March 9-12, 2017. The Championships are an annual team event, held in March every year, and taking place in the home of the host club.
Races can be Slalom, GS or Super-G, at the discretion of the club, with teams of four racing ladies or gents in each group. This fun team event offers the following age categories: Men and Women 60+, 45-59 and 18-45. The fastest time of three members of the team count towards the overall time clocked. Visit the Amateur Interclub Championships website to find out more.
CITY SKI CHAMPIONSHIPS – VERBIER
Originally this weekend of racing was aimed at skiers working in the City of London and their organisations, but the invite now extends to many more businesses. The championships take place in Verbier in early February with teams of four taking part in a dual slalom on the Friday and a main GS race on the Saturday.
The weekend is as much about networking and having fun, with a full entertainment programme thrown in on the après front. Entries are open now for the 2018 weekend taking place from February 1-4, 2018 . Entry price is from £750pp. Find out more on the City Ski website.
THE TWEED RUN – DAVOS
Dress up in old-fashioned tweed and take part in this fun one-day event in the Swiss resort of Davos. This year’s event takes place on February 25 if you happen to be in Davos, otherwise next season it will be held towards the end of February 2018. This event for locals and guests attracts young and old. Two runs take place from 12.30pm and an evening ceremony is held at 6pm at the Hotel Bellevue Wiesen. It costs 20 CHF to enter. Get your tweed on and find out more about the race.
IGO N60° – NORWAY
The IGO N60° is a cross-country, 4-stage event covering ski touring and cross-country skiing, alongside fat biking and running. The challenge is to cover one hundred miles between Hemsedal and Geilo in Norway. Home to the ‘Heroes of Telemark’ raid, the race takes place across a challenging snowy landscape that has earned the respect of countless polar explorers, as well as the British Special Forces.
Even so, IGO is not exclusively aimed at the super-fit (though it would certainly help) – instead it’s all about your attitude. Previous competitors include members of the Special Forces, but also businessmen in their 60s and many more up for the challenge.
The four stages:
Day 1: Touring and Downhill Ski | 15 miles | Race time 4-9 hours
Day 2: Fat Biking | 26.2 miles | Race time 3-8 hours (followed by husky dogsled)
Day 3: Cross Country Ski | 26.2 miles | Race time 4-9 hours
Day 4: Marathon Run | 26.2 miles | Race time 3-6 hours
Taking part in this Norwegian Challenge can be arranged through IGO Adventures and includes training, flights, food and all transport costing from £4,500 per person. The expedition will run from March 11-19, 2017 and deadline for entry this year is February 28, 2017. Find out more at IGO Adventures.
DHO MCMILLAN CUP – WENGEN
This race, organised by the Downhill Only Club, takes place in the resort of Wengen in Switzerland on the first Thursday of February and is a massed start downhill race. The McMillan Cup is awarded to the fastest skier and was donated to the DHO by the family of Flying Officer Douglas McMillan. McMillan enjoyed skiing in Wengen in the 1920s and sadly died in a flying accident in 1928. The race was first held in 1929 in his memory.
THE SUPER 3 – MURREN, SAAS-FEE, BEL ALP
Many skiers have heard of the Inferno (see above). But only a very few have competed in the Super 3 – a series of three ski races across Switzerland (including the Inferno). All three are aimed at amateur skiers and take place in Bel Alp, Murren, and Saas-Fee.
The main Bel Alp Hexe race ‘Hexenabfahrt’ is a 12km course where most of the 1500 skiers dress up as witches! The spooky 1790-metre descent finishes in the little village of Batten beneath the Aletsch Glacier. Next year’s race takes place on January 13, 2018 with fun events throughout the week before the main race. Open for entries from 27 August – 12 January 2018 costing CHF 35.
The 9km Saas-Fee Allalin Race is one of the highest races in the Alps and takes place at the end of March to complete the Super 3 series. The race covers over 1800m of descent and is priced at CHF 50 per entry. Only three British people took part in the full Super 3 in 2017 – so who’s up for the challenge? Find out more on the official website.
Something wicked this way comes… The Bel Alp Hexe race
THE PARSENN DERBY – DAVOS
First run in 1924, the Parsenn Derby is one of the oldest downhill races in the world and is open to experienced amateur skiers. The race was founded jointly by the Davos Ski Club and the Davos English Ski Club and was run from the Parsennfurka down to Kublis. In 1933 the start was moved to the Weissfluhjoch. With a length of 12.5km and a vertical descent of some 2000m it became one of the most important events in the international ski world before the founding of the Ski World Cup.
The race has been adapted to the modern day and no longer runs down to Kublis – modern equipment and safety requirements rendering this impractical. To take part in the race you should be a strong black run skier comfortable skiing at fast speeds. The team event takes place on the Saturday and the individual on the Sunday. Around 500 skiers take part each year. This year’s race is scheduled for March 24-26, 2017. Find out more on the Parsenn Derby website.
SKI 4 CANCER – SAALBACH
Become a World Record holder on Thursday 9 March 2017 by taking part in Ski 4 Cancer’s Everest Challenge. The Challenge will take place on the slopes of Saalbach. Skiers will descend the height of Mount Everest (29,029ft / 8,848m) as one large group and raise funds for Ski 4 Cancer at the same time.
Any competent skier can take part – most intermediate skiers should be able to complete the Everest Challenge in about 6 hours. Advanced skiers will need slightly less time.
Eddie the Eagle Edwards will be taking part, and this year also sees the launch of a special fund: The Wenche Hammond Fund. Wenche, a good friend to many in the ski world, died from cancer last year at the age of 42, leaving behind her husband and daughter. Find out how you can enter on the Ski 4 Cancer website.
A week before the Easter holidays we decided to book a last minute spring skiing break. A combination of points saved on Avios and cheap flights on off-peak days and times made it all possible. Then an apartment with a flexible booking period sealed the deal, allowing us to secure five days and nights on the slopes.Having a godfather who lives in a ski resort gave us the perfect excuse to visit. We knew the snow was still excellent in the Alps and there was a clear five-day window.
So we arrived in Wengen by train from Basel airport, laden with Easter chocolates and all the kit needed for a short (ish) ski holiday. The ‘godfather’ conveniently has a ski rental shop (Ski Set Wengen) in the resort centre, so kitted up early doors on our first morning we were swiftly heading up the Mannlichen cable car for our first runs of the day.
The snow cover was still perfect and all but two chair lifts in the immediate area were open. Skiing down to Brandegg, on the way towards Grindelwald, the runs were soft and we were excited to see the blue run down to Grund train station was also open. This became our secret ski run – each of the three days we skied the Wengen/Grindelwald area, we managed to ski right down to the resort, despite the valley looking beautiful and green.
We’d hoped to connect over to ‘First’ above Grindelwald and try out the ‘First Flyer‘, a lift that carries you from ‘First’ to Schreckfeld, 50m above the ground and at speeds of up to 84 kmph, but unfortunately that ski area had closed – one for our next visit.
On our hottest and last day, the highest pistes below the Eigernordwand chair were corrugated and bone shattering at 9am. Down our secret run, otherwise known as no 22, the pistes were just softening by 10am and super quiet, we loved it!
This hot spell over the Easter holidays was brought by southerly winds, which dropped Saharan dust across much of the Alps; we didn’t have the dust but we did have some very strong winds.
Our fourth day found us rushing to catch the 8.24am train to take part in the Junior AICC races (Amateur Interclub Team Championships). We had discovered these were taking place during our stay, and along with another family we combined our children to make two teams.
The event this spring was supposed to be hosted by the Kandahar Ski Club in Murren, but some confusion over dates meant that the Wengen based English Ski Club, the DHO(Downhill Only Club) stepped in.
Having arrived by train to Kleine Scheidegg above Wengen, all 36 children signed up were ushered into the restaurant along with accompanying parents. Once there we were told that due to the winds, most of the lifts in the resort were closed and that the proposed route on the top section of the famous Lauberhorn run would have to be moved.
An hour later and 12 teams skied down to the ‘Bumps lift’ (except the Bumps T-bar lift had been packed away over a week previously). Each team skied a short GS course in teams of three, and between runs had to walk back up the course. It was a funny sight, but everyone helped each other with the older skiers carrying the younger ones’ skis back up the mountain.
It was great fun and for a day, which looked like it would be scuppered by bad winds, our children said it was one of the best days of their holiday. They made new friends and were made to feel welcome by the many regular young ski racers taking part.
Each year a different English ski club takes on the organisation, so the events move around Europe with amateur ski racing for both adults and juniors. Next year it’s being hosted in Alpbach… fancy signing up?