18 Dec, 2022 @ 16:15
3 mins read

It’s now two decades since intrepid expats Giles Birch and Jonathan Buzzard opened the British Ski Centre in Spain, which has conquered all peaks


STROLLING through the doors of the Crescendo bar at the foot of the slopes is like walking into a skiing resort in the 1970s.

Its retro furniture, mirrors and glitter ball give off the sensation that John Travolta might stroll in with Brigit Bardot on his arm and put in a couple of swift turns.

And this is appropriately where retro British Sierra Nevada legends Jonathan Buzzard and Giles Birch met well over two decades ago.

Now their second office, this is where you’ll find the pair propping up the wooden bar after a hard day’s teaching on the slopes, which they know like a fox in a fox hole.

British Ski School
British Sierra Nevada legends Jonathan Buzzard and Giles Birch are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the British Ski Center

Step back to the 1990s, a boom time in Spain, and Giles was looking for the ideal transport rep to help him grow his fledgling travel business, working with the likes of First Choice and Thompsons, that had just launched in Granada.

With his long flashers mac, ‘big hair’ and a friendly, outgoing persona, Jonathan had all the right traits. 

“I had no idea what was going on but had been told that Crescendo was the place to find the Brits and the reps-in-the know,” he recalls.

Johnathan and Giles have been giving skiing lessons on the Sierra Nevada slopes for twenty years now

“Next thing in walks Jonathan with just the right attitude and he was soon helping me deal with the three to four flights we regularly dealt with on a Sunday.”

“And so it made sense to get together, given that we were good mates, and we pooled resources.

“We weren’t treading on anybody’s toes, because we were focusing specifically on the English-speaking market, and in those days there were hardly any instructors who spoke English.”

The pair are still working together, collectively running the extremely successful British Ski Center (American spelling) from their base in the resort (next to Tia Maria).

They offer a complete package for a skiing holiday, including accommodation in the resort and tailored lessons

They still teach hundreds of students a month, as well as sort out numerous trips, each year.

“Of course things were completely different back then,” explains Jonathan, who lived in Marbella in the golden years before it was ruined by corrupt leader Jesus Gil.

“We used to bring in thousands of foreigners every week, but after a couple of dry years in the 1980s the resort’s reputation suffered badly and things all began to change.

“Luckily the snow came back, albeit not yet this year, but these days it is all independent travellers and the agencies have all but disappeared.”

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As one of Europe’s highest ski resorts, Sierra Nevada is very snowsure and typically has a long ski season which usually starts around the end of November and runs through to the first week of May.

Of course there have been some bad years such as 1995 when Jonathan recalls cycling up the Borreguiles slope in shorts on Christmas Day.

“But generally it is as good as most other international resorts and the range of skiing and schools is hard to beat,” explains Giles, who has three kids at school in nearby Granada.

Since arriving he has married a fellow ski instructor and their children are ‘basically in ski gloves every weekend and in the Christmas holiday’.

So what makes the Sierra Nevada so special, according to Giles?

Olympus Digital Camera
The ski village is larger than many expect and, with a year-round resident community, there are plenty of general facilities that you would find in any village or town, such as supermarkets and a pharmacy

“It’s just being in that environment; of being in the outdoors, the snow, the mountain, and the people you’re with. There’s quite a special vibe in a ski resort environment and it’s not something that has changed from the initial novelty as a kid, doing my first few seasons, the learning of the language and so forth. 

“Just becoming part of that mountain life – that’s where your heart is at the end of the day.

“Whether I’m teaching 20 hours, 50 hours or zero hours, it’s just a pleasure to be up here.”

The British Ski Center also boasts of longer seasons than other resorts, being open from late November and staying open until early May, while other resorts don’t open until mid December and end their season in March.

Last year alone, Johnathan and Giles gave over 5200 hours of skiing and snowboarding classes through the British Ski Center

This is partly due to the resort’s altitude and the quality of the snow which is constantly worked on during the night. 

In recent years the resort has added two new chairlifts – including a six-seater, a new user service centre and 105 new snow cannons.

“That’s why you’ll never see slush even in the latter part of the season,” he adds.

Visit www.britishskicenter.co.uk for more info.

All their instructors are qualified, experienced and they speak good English, ensuring you can take full advantage of your lessons to make maximum progress. They’re also friendly, knowledgeable, approachable and all round nice people!

Walter Finch

Walter - or Walt to most people - is a former and sometimes still photographer and filmmaker who likes to dig under the surface.
A NCTJ-trained journalist, he came to the Costa del Sol - Gibraltar hotspot from the Daily Mail in 2022 to report on organised crime, corruption, financial fraud and a little bit of whatever is going on.
Got a story? [email protected]

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