How can something so familiar feel so alien? That's what I'm thinking as I stand in the pissing rain on my home mountain, far away from anything resembling my comfort zone.
How do you turn a snowboard? I've always thought the answer was 'you just turn a snowboard', but obviously, this is a long way from the truth. Posture, balance, body management, steering, control outcomes... These are all new concepts to a guy who's spent the best part of a decade simply screaming down slopes, jumping from edge to edge.
And now, not only am I having to force myself to make changes – and, more importantly, feel each of them – someone is also standing there, judging me for it. It's snowboarding alright, but it's not as fun as it usually is...
I came to snowboarding from skateboarding, and back then I'm pretty sure there was zero concept of being taught how to ride. You stood on it until you fell off, and repeat. Occasionally a mate would give you some advice, somewhere in the range from 'speed is your friend' to 'stop being a pussy'. When it came to sliding on snow I took a similar approach, lying about my proficiency to the good people at Calshot dry slope and repeatedly hurting myself until, well, now.
I got pretty good, I think. At least, good enough to forge a career based on snow, and sometimes even score a free board. But having decided this year that there's always more to learn, I booked a BASI (British Association of Snowsports Instructors) level 1 course and prepared to be humbled.
"When it came to sliding on snow I took a similar approach, lying about my proficiency to the good people at Calshot dry slope and repeatedly hurting myself until, well, now"
Which brings us back to day one: soaked by a typically wet Morzine spring storm and feeling utterly out of place on a snowboard, the centre of both my passion and job. I've had worse times, but not many. Being lost in familiarity is not fun.
What was giving me grief? About ten years of opening my shoulders to the fall line and initiating turns with my shoulders and hips. Whilst some schools around the world take elements from this, the BASI theory comes from using the torsional flex of the board as the building block of a turn, twisting or 'pedaling' it to maximise the bite and grip from a board's edge whilst keeping your shoulders as in-line as possible with the nose and tail of the board. If this sounds all too familiar to you, it's probably because you were taught by one of their instructors.
This style has given BASI a reputation for encouraging a robotic, Chuck Buddies style with a rider's arms locked in a perpetual hunch, though actually these days the opposite is true. With dedicated work from the likes of Ben Kinnear and Neil McNair, their new direction is all about encouraging style and flow, all the while using the same fundamental elements you would need to teach a beginner. You simply have to be able to switch on and demonstrate an exaggerated version of the correct technique in order to get your point across.
"BASI's new direction is all about encouraging style and flow, but all the while using the same fundamental elements you would need to teach a beginner"
Eventually, it all clicked into place. For me, the lightbulb moment came after sneaking off during one lunch break and hammering some pistes to clear my head - the 'correct' techniques had already started creeping into my actual riding and all of a sudden, the same turns I'd been doing for the last ten years started feeling cleaner, faster, stronger.
Literally, the most boring video ever to appear on Whitelines - some much improved 'standard turns', though still with some way to go... Fun fact, the last skier to enter the frame wiped me out seconds after the camera was turned off.
Yep, this definitely ain't the most thrilling story you've ever read on Whitelines ("Snowboard Journalist Learns To Snowboard A Bit Better"), but I think pretty much all of us must have had similar moments on the hill. From learning those first turns to railing out your first proper eurocarve or full-on rooster tail, snowboarding is as much about personal accomplishment and finding new sensations as it is scoring magazine covers and X Games medals.
But a teaching course isn't all about your own progress - you are there to learn to teach. Imbued with the stoke of actually learning something ourselves, the class was in the perfect mode to re-address the very basics or riding, from getting someone strapped in for the first time right up to linking turns.
You begin by running through each step in what BASI call the 'Central Theme' - a series of exercises and techniques you can tailor to students to give them the right building blocks to start snowboarding. These progress from simply skating around on the flat to linking 'standard' turns and getting someone moving around a mountain.
"The teaching sessions had me frothing to pass on the same feeling of achievement to a new generation of riders"
You're also coached in basic teaching methods, including straightforward demonstrations and self-discovery (using questions to lead students to the right answers independently). All of this leads up to an assessed lesson which you must give to a small group of other course participants. Whilst they were obviously nerve-inducing, the teaching sessions had me frothing to pass on the same feeling of achievement to a new generation of riders.
And at the end of the week, of course, each attendee is ultimately judged on whether or not they've reached an acceptable standard. Some handled the pressure well, others almost wilted, but thanks in part to the coaching skills of Dave Crozier from REAL Snowboarding a 100% success rate was achieved in our group.
So where does this stack in my league table of snowboarding experiences? Pretty high actually – the best week spent on baby slopes, that's for sure. Having a new horizon opened up and fundamentally changing the way I interact with a snowboard was a trip, to say the least.
Nonetheless, I'm not quite ready to teach in Morzine yet. In terms of opening doors, a BASI level 1 certificate only allows you teach on indoor and artificial slopes (subject to you gaining a few extra components – namely a first aid certificate, criminal background check, a 'safeguarding children' online module and 35 hours of lesson shadowing experience). Level 2 allows you teach seasonally as part of a recognised school in most parts of the world – with the notable exception of France. The much more elusive levels 3 and 4 respectively allow you to work full time in a school and independently. Level 4 is essential if you want to work in France.
Is BASI for you? Of course, that depends on what exactly you want to gain from having the qualification, as well as your existing ability – even the first stage requires good enough snowboard skills to be able to both make changes and feel them in action. You should be reasonably experienced too – after all, how would you feel about being taught by someone who's only had a few weeks experience themselves?
Ultimately, the best way to know is to take the plunge and try it for yourself. At worst, you'll find it's not for you but still come out having enjoyed a week of amazing training by some highly qualified coaches (at a fraction of their usual rate); at best, you'll see yourself at the start of a new road in your life.
As for me? Bring on level 2!