Blog 1 BASI Heads East – It’s like riding a bike!

Once you’ve done it once…………
Training people to become proficient snowsports instructors is what the British Association of Snowsport Instructors (BASI) does really well. So when a speculative email enquiry from China arrived in Tania Alliod’s inbox in February 2015, she thought – “No problem, we train instructors from many countries so why not China!”
Speculation is now reality and in November 2015 BASI Snowboard Trainer, Steph Wiehe and Tania are headed for the ski resort of Chongli (3 hours north west of Beijing) to deliver and oversee the first BASI courses in China. Thirty students will attend the first three BASI Snowboard Level 1 pilot courses which will run from the 23 November until the 14 December. These students will be the vanguard in BASI trained Chinese instructors who will attend 5 intensive days of training and assessment in order to begin to meet the needs of the exploding Chinese snowsports market. In this blog Tania talks about the preparations for the trip and how it compares to preparations for her first trip to China, over 31 years ago!

It’s taken a small army of colleagues, Members, friends, family and suppliers to get me to the start line for this trip to China on behalf of BASI. I say this trip, because I’ve been to China before. Admittedly it was over thirty one years ago but half the excitement and anticipation in planning this trip has been reading the travel diary I kept in 1984.

Tania on her bike in China in 1984
Tania on her bike in China in 1984

 The reasons and motivations for visiting today may be different but the challenges I suspect are going to be very similar.
My first visit to China was in the summer of 1984 and like all great adventures the idea was conceived on a skiing trip the winter before. The topic of conversation over a few beers turned to a high profile news story at that time – the British lease on Hong Kong was up and the date for the hand back to the Chinese was set for 1997.
China was at that time still an unknown entity to the western world, steeped in mystery with little or no foreign travel in or out of the second largest country on the planet. Change was definitely afoot and Bruce Simpson (an old neighbour from Glasgow, Cambridge international law graduate and coach to the English Ski Team at the time) and I decided it would be fun to see if we could go explore the sleeping dragon before “change” took place.
And that is exactly what we did – by mountain bike.  There really was only one mode of transport that was largely accessible to the Chinese population at the time and bikes were it. What better way to explore than with the locals?  We thought it would be the least inconspicuous and most flexible way to get around. We landed at Beijing Airport with 2 shiny new concepts in modern bike technology at the time – Saracen mountain bikes (red in case you had any doubt).
Carefully packed in cardboard boxes, we assembled them on the front steps of a deserted Beijing International Airport under a wicked sun, observed by a handful of bemused taxi drivers and a couple of red guard soldiers. Loaded up with overstuffed front and rear paniers we pedalled off towards downtown Beijing to the backing track of crickets.  Seven weeks and 2,000 miles later we arrived in Hong Kong with pictures to show and stories to tell – we even had a VHS video of us on Chinese television and a newspaper article from the Changsha Wanbao. I remember being asked on my return was there anything that we wished we’d had, but overlooked. The only item we instantly knew we’d overlooked was a bicycle bell! The Chinese had the same affinity for their bike bells as Italian drivers for their car horns. Apart from our bikes, a Vango Tent, primus stove, pin ying dictionary, Richards bicycle repair book, and the only map and visitor guide on China that was sold in the UK at the time we carried 5 picture postcards of Scotland (we thought they’d be useful to show the Chinese where we came from). We really did only wish we’d taken bells for our bikes!
One similarity between the 1984 trip and the one planned now was the preparation for each one has taken about the same amount of time! In 1984, with no internet or email to ease the way, letters were written to bike and tent sponsors, trips were made to the travel agents for flights, appointments were made at the family Doctors for jabs and our passports had to be sent to Hong Kong to get a Chinese tourist visa – but from idea to departure took no more than 6 months.  However, there the similarities seem to end…..
The preparation and planning for this trip has been delivered by technology that we so take for granted today.

Heading for China with skis in 2015
Heading for China with skis in 2015

Since that initial email there have been several conference calls and digital meetings, one face to face meeting in Hemel in the spring and a string of emails and phone calls. The time is nigh and for 72 hours, I’ve browsed the web, scanned Trip Advisor, got the App for everything Chinese and packed a small communications hub (with correct adaptors and cables) that NASA mission control would be proud of (I have no idea if it is going to function). On line chat implies that internet connection can be sketchy and social media sites like Facebook are blocked.  Thuraya Telecoms have kindly supported me with an alternative Plan B comms’ option and provided a very snazzy satellite sleeve (#satsleeve)  and Dogtag have my back with travel insurance. Tickets, passport, money, visa. Pile on top of that; skis, boots, helmet, Steph’s new Trainer uniform, BASI certificates, qualification badges, BASI sail flags and a quick handover for colleagues back at the office and I’m all set.
I’m looking at the pile of gadgets and “stuff “contemplating whether I should add my 1984 comms’ kit of pocket pin ying dictionary, Kummerley & Frey China map and 5 picture postcards of Scotland – just in case or maybe as Plan C…… watch this space!