Catedral's ski school jungle
Today was the first day of my life that I tried snowboarding. And as such, I was pretty keen on getting lessons. I'd heard that you can get group lesson and board hire combinations, up here at Cerro Catedral. Well, let's just say that the ski/snowboard school situation here at Catedral is nothing like what I'm used to, and nothing like what I was hoping for. It's an absolute mess, and an expensive one at that. There are almost 10 separate, privately-run ski schools operating at this place — there's no official, resort-run "Catedral ski school" (unlike what every ski resort in Australia has) — and none of these schools are cheap. None of them operate proper, public group lessons, either. Well, I'll be daymed if I'm shelling out megabucks for private snowboarding lessons — don't need them, and can't afford them.
The people at Patanuk recommended that I try Mountain Catedral, one of the bigger and cheaper schools in the resort, which claims to have group lessons in both skiing and snowboarding. So I went over to these guys this morning — and found out that their definition of "group lessons" is a bit different to mine. Sure, they do group lessons. That is, "group private lessons". Oh, so you wanna just turn up every day, and get whacked in a group and given an instructor, like it is back home? Sorry, they don't do that: you have to turn up in a group — they won't make one for you. Well, that's just great if you have a group, and if the group is all at the same skill level as you. But I'm just up here by myself, and I was hoping for some help on their part, for making up a group.
Anyway, it turns out that both Mountain Catedral and one other school do indeed have a group lesson and board hire combo; but they're only prepared to offer it to you for one day, to teach you the very elementary basics. One day?!? I was hoping for a whole week of group lessons! Anyway, I took what I could, and got the combo for today. Went with the other school, as they were slightly cheaper (they did the combo for 80 pesos, as opposed to 100), and as their lesson was a bit earlier (started at 1pm, as opposed to 2:30pm).
The lesson was 1½ hours, and it was a pretty reasonable introduction to snowboarding. I was with a family of 3 Venezuelans (2 sisters and their dad), and our instructor — a girl called Florencia — was very nice. We practiced spinning the board around with our front foot, "scooting" up small hills on the board, "boardploughing" (i.e. "the chicken way down") on gentle slopes, and doing some beginner turns to the left and right. The lesson was in Spanish (and Argentinian Spanish, at that), so I was struggling to take in everything that was said; but it certainly kick-started me on my way to learning how to snowboard. If possible, another similar lesson tomorrow would be really good.
The board hire was fine: tried on my hired snowboard boots, and they fitted nice and snug; and I was given a nice board with good, sharp edges. After years of plodding around in ski boots (which are otherwise known as "bricks"), and of drooling in envy at snowboarders and their much comfier-looking boots, I've finally gotten to wear a pair of these things! And I must say, they look as comfortable as they feel. That is to say, they're still boots — not mink slippers — but unlike ski boots, they do qualify as worthy of actually being called "footwear", as opposed to "brickwear". As far as snowboarding goes, I am digging the boots, bigtime.
I just cannot believe what an overpriced jungle they've got here, as far as schools go. I've really been spoiled in Australia: at every resort back home, you turn up at 9am each morning, along with a few hundred other skiers and boarders; and everyone gets chucked in a group, and given an instructor and a 3-hour lesson. At Thredbo, they even (used to) include the morning lessons for free with your lift pass! Here at Catedral, they simply have nothing like that. There's no massive morning gathering of instructors and lesson-seekers. There's no organised group lesson system. There are just a bunch of money-hungry independent schools, who only really offer private lessons, and who want at least $50/hour to give them to you. They really need to clean this place up, and set up a better lesson system. But in true South American tradition, the resort doesn't care about the mess: they've just let a whole bunch of third parties come in, and fill in their black hole of lesson offerings; and now they're happy to let those third parties try and rip you off.