Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Dreaded Eurotest.

Andrea complete with race suit. Photo professionally taken as she travels in excess of 80kph.

In mid December I was in Alps d'Huez where a big dump of snow had made for some very good conditions both on and off the Piste.  I was there to support my eldest daughter  Andrea ,through the dreaded Euro-Test.  This is the the race that everyone must pass if they want to become a fully qualified ski instructor working in Europe.

The Eurotest is a timed Giant-Slalom race that compares competitors against the best skiers in the world. Men are required to come in within 18% of their time and women 24%.

The race organisers appoint representatives called “openers” to set the time at each race. Each of these openers must have scored sub 50 FIS points and are selected from various countries.

Each opener is calibrated and given a coefficient, this is then used to compare them to the world’s best.

For example Andrea made her first attempt to pass it exactly a year ago. She has been skiing and racing since the age of four.  Last year  she came straight from    Val Thorens where she had just won the oldest ski race in the world the Varsity, but still missed the required pass time for the Euro-Test.

This year she decided to not ski for Cambridge University, but instead sign up for a weeks dedicated race training and preparation on the same slope which she would have to do the timed race.  She worked very hard all week, through some horrible weather and viscous winds.

I was concerned that the weather was going to be against her and the race might be cancelled.  The other thing that is completely out side the skiers control is the start number you are given.  A high start number will give you the best chance on the first run, but if you don't get the time on the first run then on the second run the order is reversed and you will end up racing down a rutted course which will make it much much more difficult.  The worst scenario is a middle order start number.

The night before the race, Andrea prepared all her equipment.  She had brought two pairs of identical skis with her.  One pair to train on and one specially prepared by her coach Elly for the race and were untouched.  The edges were frighteningly sharp.  I thought you could cut your self badly just by looking at them.

The alarm went  off at 6.30am.  Andrea ate her breakfast slowly knowing that although she was very nervous it was key to fuel up.  Next there was the fight to get into her her race Cat Suit.  She then left for the morning meeting where she had to register and get her Bib with her start number. She said you could smell the fear and cut the atmosphere with a knife.  So much resting on this race for so many budding careers.  Many people from everywhere , some who had been trying for years.

I stayed in the flat to clear up and wrestle all her equipment out of flat and into the car.  It never ceases to amaze me exactly how much equipment ski racers need.

Andrea texted me with her Bib number:  It was 4.  A great number but it meant she had to go for it on her 1st run.

The weather was good.  far better than had been predicted .

By the time I arrived at the bottom of the race Andrea had run the course and her time had been written on a big white-board.

The time looked good , but until there had been a lot of people down the course it was impossible to tell and adding to the stress, the pass time had not yet been calculated.

We hung around and as more people finished it was becoming clear that Andrea's time was good.

Eventually the pass time was announced .  Not only had Andrea had got the time , she was the fastest women down the course.

If you pass the first race , under the rules you don't have to  run the second race.  It was just a question of waiting for Andrea's friend Emie to run the second race as she had not managed on the first.  Fortunately Emie got the time on her second run, which was a relief not least because it would have been difficult driving them back to Chamonix with one having passed and one having failed.

Emie & Andrea with their prized certificates.

So it is now on to the next stage of the Ski Instructor programme, where they will learn about off piste skiing , navigation and avalanche awareness.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Rock Climbing Masterclass

In the weekend that spans the start of December and with snow on the ground in Chamonix I joined  a group of my colleagues from the British Mountain Guides in Finale Liguria for a Steve McClure Master Class.
Steve McClure is considered one of the top rock climbers in the world having climbed  sport routes of 9b.  Plus traditional graded British climbs of E11.  Equally important he has gained a reputation as a renowned climbing coach.

Yet I was more than slightly sceptical that as a confirmed Alpinist straight from the school of anything goes as long as it's up I might be out of my depth.

The mover and shaker and general all round motivator for the trip , Mike Turner [Twid] said I would be just fine, and would learn a lot and it would improve my climbing technique and make me better able to coach climbing movement at all levels of ability.

Four of us drove down to Finale on the Friday evening and as we got closer we started  getting very excited about the beer and pizza's we would soon be enjoying.  This was not without factoring in the collapse of the autostrada this time  just out side Savona.  We arrived three hours later than planned.

Friday night in the piazza.  about 30c below summer temperatures.

The next morning all 14 of us convened for an introductory talk from Steve  where he was keen to state that unfortunately there would be no "Silver Bullet" in terms of a short cut to higher climbing grades.  I was disappointed to learn this so early on.  Anyway we then all headed out to one of the many local crags Finale has to offer.
Steve Mcclure
The aim of the day was to watch us all climb and then to give feed back individually.  While this , for me, was quite intimidating it was also illuminating.  The key things for me was I climbed too quickly and appeared rushed- The aim should be to slow all the movements down, try and be  a lot smoother and enjoy the movement of climbing.

Cathy Murphy climbs into the sunshine.
We climbed to about 5.00pm forgetting that in November it gets dark at around 4.30pm.

On the Sunday the weather was not Mediterranean.  It was lashing it down.  So we had to do what you would do in the UK - head for the climbing wall.

In fact as it turned out this was the ideal place for Steve to deliver his seminar and drill down on a lot of the coaching techniques.

In the morning Steve devised several different boulder problems.  This was probably the most eye opening part of the whole programme.  The group of Mountain Guides had some very talented climbers, climbers who operate at the cutting edge of the sport.  Even the best could not do all the problems.  Steve could do all the problems in his training shoes...

The afternoon was dedicated to profiling and isolating our strengths and weaknesses in an objective quantifiable set of tests.

These started from simple  things like press ups, then tests for finger strength with on arm weighted hangs

Tests for shoulder strength

Tests for maximum endurance
Leg strength and flexibility
Plus a load of other tests such as weighted pull ups.  ie what is the maximum amount of weight you can carry while  completing  a pull-up?

This information was then used in a feed back form that identified if you want to improve your grade to say 7a then you need to work on XYZ.

So for me the tests revealed that although I was quite strong, in the sense I could carry bags of coal, I was comparatively "climbing weak" and I would have to work on climbing specific strength training starting with my finger strength. Plus a list of other stuff which was rather too long.

It was a fascinating couple of days . More information about Steve McClure coaching can be found on his website.