Steven Wood: An expert lesson in motivation
Wednesday 23 January 2013
Say your young daughter is struggling to take her cycling to the next level, sobbing when you suggest removing the stabilisers from her bike. What do you do? Given that nothing is too good for your little girl, you call in Sir Bradley Wiggins to give her lessons.
Likewise, when your son's "dives" – he poses on the poolside with his arms outstretched but still enters the water feet-first – are causing embarrassment at the leisure centre, the go-to guy is obviously Tom Daley. Why not? When my six-year-old, Stanley, showed no interest in going skiing this winter, I called in Britain's fastest skier; and he solved the problem within an hour.
Stan has only skied once before, during a short family trip to Vermont. Winters in New England can be cruelly cold, and he didn't get much pleasure from his first freezing day at ski school. The après-ski – hot chocolate and an outdoor swimming pool that steamed like a geyser – was more to his taste. The morning after their lessons, my wife asked if he and his sister would prefer to go on the slopes or into the pool. They both started undressing.
Taking small children skiing is extremely hard work. On a first trip with Lily, our eight-year-old, we discovered that the time taken to kit her out for skiing exceeded her attention span: once she was ready to ski, she no longer wanted to. With Stan resistant to the whole project, I figured that the planned ski trip for myself and the children was a non-starter.
But then I got a call from the indoor Snow Centre at Hemel Hempstead. I was asked whether I would like to go there to meet Ed Drake, this country's leading downhill racer. Perhaps I would also do a few turns on the slopes with him? I had a better idea: the children would get on the snow with Drake, a tall, good-looking 26-year-old with long blond hair. And, with luck, skiing would become a more attractive prospect for both Lily and Stan.
It takes great dedication to become a World Cup and Olympic skier, especially if you're British (thanks to ski racing's low profile in the UK). By the time he was 12, Drake was already spending winter in the Alps, skiing six days a week. At the beginning of this season, he was rated the 46th best in the world.
In view of his total commitment to the sport, I did wonder whether Drake was the right person to enthuse a recalcitrant six-year-old. But he is used to working with children of that age at race camps, and confidently grappled with Stan, getting him up the Snow Centre's lifts and down its nursery slopes.
The exercise was a complete success. Stan decided he did like skiing after all and Lily, who got in a few relatively good descents, took her signed photograph of Drake to school with her the following day. I booked a late-season holiday in St Anton for the three of us with Esprit, the tour operator chosen by the Drake family for its regular trips to the Alps when Ed was a young child.
Faster feedback is better for everyone
At the end of the holiday we will do our duty and complete Esprit's customer satisfaction questionnaire. Known in the trade simply as a "CSQ", the document indicates what a tour operator is doing wrong, and right. Traditionally CSQs are sent directly to the tour operator, to be collated and sent for analysis in the spring so that any deficiencies revealed can be rectified for the season that follows. But Neilson is now breaking with tradition by having local managers collect and scan CSQs in-resort on a weekly basis. The result, says Simon Davies, Neilson's ski operations manager, is that "we don't have to wait until the following season to implement improvements".
Already adopted for the company's 2012 summer programme, the system has had an immediate impact this winter. Davies says, in the first week of the season, it revealed a glitch in the baggage handling airside at Grenoble airport and a problem at some accommodation in Les Deux Alpes. But for Davies, the new reporting system still isn't fast enough. "If there's a problem," he says, "we'd prefer guests to tell the local reps straight way rather than waiting to report it in the CSQ."
Snow Centre: 0845 258 9000; thesnowcentre.com Neilson: 0844 879 8155; neilson.co.uk
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