An early December visit to the French ski resort of Tignes to ski with Phil Smith, Emma Carrick Anderson and Lee Townend of Snoworks proves to be a true all-mountain experience, even in the trickiest conditions.
Tignes is one of those resorts where the entire UK ski industry seems to congregate before the winter season really kicks off and for obvious reasons. Mainly that it’s actually open before many other ski areas. That’s because firstly its glacier guarantees snow from October onwards and secondly, if there is going to be any decent natural snowfall in the western Alps in the late autumn then it’s likely Tignes will bear the brunt of it, good news for anyone wanting to get some early turns in.
Snoworks, a ski course provider run by ski guru Phil Smith, four times Olympic ski racer Emma Carrick Anderson and BASI trainer Lee Townend has its roots firmly planted in this town that’s purely dedicated to the pursuit of alpine sports. With an another base just down the road in Courchevel and many other branches that provide interesting excursions throughout the year (like St Anton, Gressoney, Jackson Hole, Japan and southern Chile to name just a few) Snoworks operates virtually all year round.
My short trip of just a few days was hopefully going to provide an insight into what Snoworks was all about and why they claim to be different from what most skiers experience at ‘Ski School’. Their philosophy is based more about where you want to ski and not how you should ski and a large amount of courses focus on ‘all-mountain’ skiing, proving that enjoyment of the whole mountain can be found by all recreational skiers that aspire to explore beyond the confines of marked ski runs.
Blizzard conditions greeted my arrival in Tignes and I’d only just made it up the road in a hire vehicle without the need for snow chains. I found the well-known Aiguille Percee Hotel in Tignes Le Lac that’s run by Mark Warner Holidays. It’s part of their chalet hotel range and is staffed by very enthusiastic and friendly Mark Warner staff who seemed to be genuinely excited about their new guests arriving for a new week.
It’s also conveniently situated right by the slopes, although that’s pretty common in Tignes Le Lac generally…in fact, you can’t help feeling that you are part of the ski slopes when staying in Tignes – the upside to that is it certainly focuses your mind on the reason you’re there, to ski. The downside – you’re better off on the beach if skiing is not your thing.
But fortunately skiing is my thing and the next morning I’d joined in with Lee Townend and his group of GAP ski instructors. Snoworks run ski courses for people wanting to qualify as instructors before the winter season starts, so that once qualified you can get a job working as a ski instructor for the whole winter. The pupils were halfway through their 8 week program and had already qualified as BASI level one instructors and just had to get through the final hurdle of their grade 2 in mid-December.
Lee had clearly formed a great relationship with his group and the atmosphere was buzzing on this Monday morning despite the driving snow and freezing conditions. Most of the group members were between the ages of 18 and 25 with the exception of a 44 year old chap who had decided to try something different in life. The interesting thing was that he never stood out at any point as being different from the rest and clearly the age gap had no impact on his inclusion.
Lee took us through a series of drills that focused on our personal performance and encouraged us to think about what we were trying to achieve. This method of teaching meant more skiing and less standing around chatting on the slopes, but always with a challenge to conquer by discussing various topics together on the chairlift up – with six person chairlifts this could sometimes become a more complex debate.
Because the snow conditions were so good, there was an opportunity to ski some fantastic powder just on the open ski runs about the resort and with hardly anyone around, the group found fresh tracks over and over again. Cleverly combining lots of fun with some serious tips, Lee took advantage of the conditions to provide his pupils with an understanding of what’s involved when they might one day take their own groups down through similar terrain.
For more information on Snoworks GAP Year courses: GAP Course Overview
To be continued, Day Two: Snoworks All-Terrain course with Emma Carrick-Anderson.