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Interview with Digby Thomas, school director

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* Why do you choose to teach snowsports?
The fact is that, rather than choosing to teach skiing, skiing actually chose me. I dreamed about mountains and skiing as a child, and made my way to the Alps just as soon as I had finished school. Though at first I had no intention of staying in Switzerland for more than a season, people in my home resort, Château-d’Oex, were kind enough to keep offering jobs that allowed me to stay. Frankly it never occurred to me that I would in any way be better off back in London. By the age of twenty, I was instructing. And once started I couldn’t begin to imagine anything I would rather be doing. As time has gone by, I’ve found things to do that I like nearly as much, but not a single thing that I enjoy more, or that I’m better at. Though skiing is a passion for me, it’s skiing added to teaching that I love best. As one gets older, the thrill and satisfaction of ones own achievements on skis naturally diminish. But one never gets too old to enjoy the satisfaction of sharing other people’s excitement at feeling the perfect curve of a carved turn for the first time, especially if one’s part of the reason why they felt it.

* What do you do in the summer?
I bumble about in a shockingly ineffective way getting all of the ducks for upcoming into some semblance of a row. (Thank God for Nick, Dagmar, Julian and the others who are actually good at the organisational malarkey. Apart from that: I teach English literature at Lausanne University; I fiddle around the edges of an endless doctoral thesis that aims to definitively account for the epistemological sense and cultural significance of the mountain landscape; I work at things connected to the small communications agency that I run together with a partner in Lausanne; I write novels that absolutely no one will ever read and I DJ sixties, seventies and eighties music to anyone who wants to listen to it. (I do that in Zermatt too.)

* Favourite part of Verbier/Zermatt to ski/ride
In falling snow, when there’s no visibility, the tree runs down the various itineraries from Shwarzsee, or the itinerary from Petrullave to the village on the Sunegga side are perfect — good contrast from the trees so you can see (more or less) where your going and plenty of pitch so you don’t just grind to a halt. But be careful,They don’t close them because of avalanche risk just to be on the safe side. They can be seriously dangerous in the wrong conditions. In good weather and snow conditions, there are far too many good off-piste runs to mention them all. My very favourite, however, is a huge bowl that drops ten kilometres from the Testa Grigia to Plan Maison on the Cervinia side. This is not an itinerary, however, so either you really know what your doing concerning gauging avalanche risks or you go with someone who does.

* Favourite restaurant or mountain restaurant in Verbier/Zermatt
God there’s so many! Zermatt is absolutely the best ski resort in the world for eating, especially on the piste where three mountain restaurants are noted in the Gault and Millau guide. But if I had to pick one it would have to be “Chez Franz and Heidi” at the Findlerhof. Go on a sunny day when you can sit out on the terrace; you’ll be afforded the best possible view of the Matterhorn. The restaurant’s setting and decor is alpine and rustic, and the food too is straight-forward, but cooked to perfection. Most of their cooking is based on local produce, indeed the meat comes from stock raised especially for them. The Rosti, bacon and eggs is the best in the Alps. From the entrees, they contrive to always have impeccably fresh oysters and sashimi tuna. The home-made fresh pasta is superb and their world-famous veal cutlet hardly fits on the plate and melts in the mouth like foie-gras. On top of all that, the wine list is a veritable encyclopaedia of great wines. Though if you really want to push the boat out, you can significantly reduce the weight of your wallet, yet there are great things to eat and drink that won’t set you back any more than mountain restaurants. A good tip if your going to eat on the terrace: take an extra layer with you in a rucksack. No matter how warm it feels when you’re skiing, there’s almost never a day in the winter when one won’t get chilly after an hour or so sitting outside at an altitude of over 2,000 metres.

* Why did you choose Verbier/Zermatt?
Obvious isn’t it? Though there are arguably a couple of places in the Alps where the skiing might be better (Val d’Isère, Chamonix and even Verbier spring to mind), when it comes to the whole package, nothing compares to Zermatt. If you add its great skiing to the jaw-dropping grandeur of the scenery, the real alpine charm of the village to its first-rate night life and the truly world-class food, Zermatt is, without any doubt at all in my mind, simply the greatest ski resort in the world.

* What’s your top handy hint for anyone visiting Verbier/Zermatt
Four Tips: 1. There are no cars in Zermatt, so driving to the resort in your own or a hired car is pointless. Especially as the parking down in Taesch is eye-wateringly expensive. From Geneva, regular and frequent trains make the transfer relatively painless. But if you’re a party of three or four or more, hiring a mini bus from one of the taxi companies in Taesch will save you about an hour, reduce hassle to virtually zero and will actually cost you less. 2. Whatever your budget bracket, don’t come to Zermatt on a shoestring and then make yourself miserable moaning about the prices throughout your holiday. Zermatt’s the greatest ski resort in the world, of course it’s expensive, especially if you take proper advantage of the superlative eating and drinking. A word from the wise: life’s too short to drink bad wine (or eat mediocre food). I’d rather spend three days in some style in Zermatt, than a month in a shoe box in Tignes eating sandwiches on the lifts and rubber chicken in the flat. 3. Lunch late if you’re going to lunch properly. Get on the lifts as early as is convenient to you and do your skiing while you’re lean and mean. Then really enjoy your lunch and meander gently to the village. There are of course several great places to have a speciality coffee and just a touch of apfelstrudel mid-morning so as to keep your sugar level up. 4. Learn to ski! I promise you, you’re not as good as you think you are. My heart bleeds when I see posses of holiday makers thrashing down faster than I do, with their top-end carvers absolutely flat on the snow. They think they’re having fun, but they’re not having nearly as much as they might be. The real joy is in the aesthetic pleasure of getting the curve absolutely right. Feeling that, especially for the first time, is better than sex. But unless you’re cleverer than I am, you won’t ever find it by yourself.

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