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This website is about Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ). I'm a black belt who started in 2006, teaching and training at Artemis BJJ in Bristol, UK. All content ©Can Sönmez

13 September 2008

Skiing Lesson

SnowDome (Skiing), Andy, Tamworth, UK – 13/09/2008

I came down with some kind of flu this week, so wasn't able to make it to BJJ class (meaning that the below has absolutely nothing to do with BJJ: ignore if you're not interested in skiing ;p). However, I did still get some physical activity, as my girlfriend booked us in for a skiing lesson at the SnowDome in Tamworth. Normally that would be a hefty £57 each, but thanks to a voucher, it was a rather more affordable £15. As ever, I approached it like BJJ, so took plenty of notes (hence why I've written up this post). Also, given the normal cost, I wasn't sure when I was next going to get on a pair of skis, so I wanted to make sure I didn't forget anything.

Getting to the Snow Dome itself is fairly straightforward for Birmingham, as there is a train to Tamworth from Birmingham New Street. After that you head to the castle Pleasure Grounds, where there are signs to the SnowDome: huge leisure complex, over a bridge. Of course, the map I printed out took us on a completely different and much less scenic route: clearly going by the postcode wasn't the best plan! If I hadn't done that, probably would have only taken us about 15 minutes or so by foot.

Heading downstairs, I was immediately grateful my girlfriend had warned me about dressing up warm: there is an instant and steep drop in temperature (unsurprising given that the SnowDome gets its name from the actual snow slope in the middle). You pick up your skis and boots (no poles: I presume those are for more advanced skiiers?) from a desk, after which we waited for Andy, our instructor. There were six other people in the group, which Andy seemed to think was pretty small: however, any bigger and we wouldn't have had much time to all have a go. You can do private lessons, but they're obviously much more expensive.

Our session (lessons one and two, combined into a two hour chunk) was for absolute beginners: while my girlfriend had been skiing before (although that was a good ten years ago), this was my first time. That meant Andy went from the very basics, starting with how to put on a ski. There is a little contraption in the middle of the ski, which you slot your boot into, starting with the toe, then stamping down with your heel to fix it in place. There is an automatic release – apparently adjusted to the height and weight measurements you gave when you picked up the ski from the desk – or you can press down on a lever to free your boot.

Our two hours were mainly spent on a small corner of the slope, cordoned off by some foam barriers, learning about posture, balance and braking. The bottom of the ski is smooth, but around the edge there is a metal rim, which is used for grip. Pressing either the outer or inner edge (which Andy also referred to as "little toe" and "big toe" respectively") into the snow meant you could crab-walk sideways.

We did a great deal of crab-walking, as the format of the lesson was that the eight students lined up on the slope, with the one at the top walking forwards then skiing back down to the end of the line. It’s a bit hard on your knees standing with your feet slanted inwards and knee leaning to the side, so something my legs would need to get used to. Also, I assume that normally you don't do that sideways walk quite so much, as you'd be using ski lifts and the like to go higher up.

Once you're at the top of the line and have shuffled forward into place, pressing an edge into the snow to stop slipping, you take a sidestep with your right. This gives you the room to then take a big step with your left, swivelling your heel out and toes in: your left ski will now be perpendicular to your right. Then take a much smaller step with your right heel (towards your left), followed by another large step with your left.

The aim is to get your skis into a triangular position, with about a fist's width of space between the tips. This is called the 'snow-plough' (or snow plow, depending on your spelling), and is used for braking. Having got into the snow-plough, lean forward so that your nose is in front of your toes, with your hands on your knees, then shuffled forward until you start to slide down the slope. Make sure you keep the tips parallel: if one goes in front, you're liable to start spinning in that direction and veer off to the side.

To slow down, make a bigger triangle by moving your heels out. Don't give in to the natural inclination, which is leaning your body backwards: this will actually make you go faster. Keep leaning forward and slightly bend your knees, so you have some flex in your legs. You can also use the edges again for grip, pressing with either the inside or outside of your foot.

After we had practiced that a few times in our line up, also doing things like jumping up and down, or trying not to crash into Andy as he walked in front of us to practice braking, we went on to the main slope. There is a rope you hold onto which pulls you up the slope. However, as I discovered later, you need to be careful when turning off that slope to the point you want to exit. If your skis aren't completely facing towards the other side of the slope, you'll start sliding backwards.

By that point, I think I'd got the hang of sliding down the slope very slowly in a straight line, widening and narrowing the triangle of my skis to adjust my speed. If I want to ski without supervision, I'll need to attend lessons three and four, where they show you how to turn, improve your control and let you go from the top of the slope. I don't fancy spending £57, however, so may be waiting for the next voucher, or possibly look into options at university. Maybe they have a subsidised winter sports club or something?

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