Meet Guillaume. With over 20-years’ experience on the slopes, his work with disability skiing, in particular, has an outstanding impact on many people’s lives. Let’s find out more…
Meet Guillaume. Former Oxygene ski-instructor, he has over 20-years’ experience on the slopes and now injects his knowledge, enthusiasm and passion into the Three Valleys with sister company, Magic Ski & Snowboard School. As the Directeur Technique (that’s Director of All-Things-Ski-Instructor to you and me) in La Tania, he is responsible for ensuring that all students are given the necessary training and ski-assistance to achieve their ski goals.
Guillaume’s own goal is to provide the technique, encouragement and confidence in order to offer everyone the chance to enjoy the same ‘ski-sensations’ that brings him back to the mountains year after year. His work with disability skiing, in particular, has an outstanding impact on many people’s lives. Two decades on, and Guillaume is not only a helping hand to everyone who meets him, but also, recognised as an industry leader in providing specialist-ski-tuition to disability skiers.
It was an absolute pleasure talking to Guillaume, mostly due to the strikingly passionate enthusiasm he demonstrated for his job. The pride with which he spoke – not for what he achieves but for what his students accomplish – is truly inspiring.
Tell us about your experience as a ski instructor and the work you do with disability skiing.
I have been a ski instructor for 20 years now. I worked for 12 years in Valfrejus and after, I moved to Val d’Isere with Oxygene. Now I am managing Magic Ski & Snowboard School in La Tania.
I think my first experience teaching those with disabilities was with a little boy who wanted to learn to snowboard, but who only has one hand. Fortunately, because snowboarding doesn’t put a great deal of strain or pressure on the hands, this wasn’t much of a problem for him. Nonetheless, it was great to see how far he’d progressed throughout the week and it opened my eyes on a personal level to the benefits of adaptive skiing.
After that, I taught someone who is blind, as well as an autistic boy who we found some ski-solutions for. My brother actually taught him first; before I joined to help him enjoy skiing and even go on to tackle some of the steeper terrain. We wanted to try to go faster whilst remaining safe.
Louis is another autistic boy I teach in Val d’Isere. Because skiing and other extreme sports require a lot of concentration it can prove particularly difficult and potentially dangerous for some who have autism. We decided that there had to be a solution, and quickly came up with the idea of using a harness and some rope to help guide Louis down each piste, while keeping him and those around him safe.
Unfortunately, some people do not seem to show compassion or support for some adaptive ski methods and I’m afraid I’ve experienced this first hand with some bad experiences and comments on the lift. It’s amazing that just a harness and a rope can help us offer such freedom to the kids. As instructors, we are responsible for controlling the direction from behind and braking, which means that we can now go fast, we can ride steep and we can go everywhere!
It is true, it’s different for everyone and it’s not for everybody, but for Louis, it’s been life-changing. I’ve skied with him for 4 years like this – practising good technique and safety awareness – and last winter I’m proud to say we even started to ski without the rope. The future of adaptive skiing is all really encouraging.
Is this something you designed for Louis personally?
We have special equipment for the little children, but for Louis, we just used a rock climbing harness and rope. I proposed this solution as well as explained the safety benefits to Louis’ parents (who fortunately accepted), before talking with Louis and taking him out on the slopes to try for ourselves. Luckily, it was a success.
When I say I give him freedom with the ropes, I’m talking about the routes, variety of the runs and the pace. For example, for those who know Val d’Isere, we can actually ski La Face de Bellevarde faster than a lot of people. We usually travel really, really fast – faster and safer actually than most others on the pistes.
I love identifying and providing everyone with the right help they need to succeed – it’s really interesting. Well, everybody needs a ski lesson before they go skiing, right?
I have also had the pleasure of teaching a lot of children with cerebral palsy, who we assess individually, before determining the best ways to achieve their goals. It is important to adapt yourself to the people and find a good solution. We’ve found that the key is all about mixing flexibility with imagination.
I also teach a child who has trouble moving the left side of his body due to paralysis. He is alright when he turns with his right-side, but when he turns the other way I help him to turn using a long pole as a guide. He’s very independent and doesn’t even need a harness. I just help him. One turn is independent, while the other is guided – it’s simple, yet very effective!
It’s great to see such enthusiasm; you’re obviously very passionate about what you do. Is there any particular highlight that stands out for you?
I think maybe La Face with Louis for the first time. His dad was a bit worried about it at first, but after he saw how safe we were, he’s happy for Louis to do it everyday! Louis loves it so much that if we can’t do La Face, we don’t ski.
A ski instructor in a different valley teaches Louis, but we keep in touch and I’m always so proud to hear of what he’s achieving. I regularly talk to his other ski instructor and we exchange alternative solutions and techniques. This is so helpful and allows us to offer more comprehensive solutions to everyone. Sometimes, all it takes is a different perspective or another person’s input to find the solutions and experience something truly amazing.
Is there a lot of official training you do?
Our ski-instructor training includes official tuition for use of the ski chair. This normally lasts for one week and once we’ve passed, we are qualified and available to teach anyone. I don’t think there is a big difference between teaching someone who is disabled and anyone else. Lots of people start at the top of the slope and quickly find that it is scary.
Everyone has this feeling, in French we say ‘climb the mountain’. Some go down a green run, some a red run, and others a black run. Many people at the start think they can’t do it and I am just here to tell them it is possible. We are here to enjoy. Even just being able to enjoy a green run is something amazing.
And also, a sit-ski is so much fun. It’s always such a great feeling and it’s available to so many people. Take last year for example, when an 83-year-old friend of mine came to visit. He can ski a little bit, so he just wanted to go out and enjoy the mountains. He asked me if it is possible… It is possible! I took him out and he enjoyed skiing in the mountains so much that now when he talks about the sit-ski, he’s like a 3-year-old kid; so excited. And I enjoy it too; it’s like taking a go-kart on the snow!
Are you any good in a sit ski?
*Laughs*. I am not so bad, but I do have some amazing friends too who have more time to practice. It’s such a fantastic sensation, it’s hard to describe. We have one where we can just carry the people from behind and drive the sit ski. Whereas if you’d like to ride independently, we can change the seat so you can then control it yourself. Of course, everybody starts on a green slope but the development is really quick and it’s not long before most progress to the blues.
It is interesting to note that everyone starts at the same level, nervous, on a green run not knowing if it’s possible.
It is. No matter what, no matter who you are, whether you are 3 years old, 15 or 50, everybody has the exact same start. After this, you maybe don’t progress at the same speed but we all start in the same place. Even the ski teacher starts on the green run; it’s everybody together.
Want to see more of adaptive ski? Here is the recap of a night on the slopes with a 10-year-old boy, Justin, and his family, skiing with Guillaume in Courchevel 1850.