Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Another new season

So we're coming up to yet another winter season, and while the Blog has been quiet, I've been pretty busy (maybe the two are related). In January I finished the final module of my BASI Level 4 ISTD, the top qualification in the BASI system, and the one that allows me to work in France. I had barely got used to the fact that I had finished my last exam before I was teaching three classes a day over February half term holiday week - the busiest week of the winter by far for British holiday skiers.

The rest of the winter was gone before I knew it. Spring was a mixture of ski touring, a brief trip home spent mostly in the Snowdonia hills, and a little building project for the ski school moving our meeting hut out of the way of the new piste that is being made in Les Deux Alpes. Summer was also spent in the resort, teaching skiing on the glacier, plus quite a bit of walking, climbing, running and an introduction to downhill mountain biking. We really have a fantastic playground in the Alps, with so much more to do besides my first love of skiing.

I'll post a few photos soon...

Friday, 7 February 2014


Good Luck to Team GB and all the athletes at the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

My Good News

Followers of my blog will know that I have been working towards my BASI Level 4 and the right to work in France for some time now. Last week I completed my last module - the Level 4 Technical Exam. It has been a long journey to reach this point, taking many, many weeks of training and courses and more money than I want to think about.

I'd like to thank all the coaches, trainers and instructors who have helped me get there from BASI, Podium, TDC, Ski Marmalade, ECAP and others.

Now to the future, I look forward to doing some skiing and teaching without the shadow of exams to pass.

Friday, 15 November 2013

In Praise of the Stem-Christie

There was a time when the stem-christie was an essential part of learning to ski. Over time both ski technique and ski vocabulary have changed and to many the stem-christie belongs in the skiing history book. The word christie has almost disappeared from the skiing lexicon, being largely replaced with more utilitarian words like 'parallel' or 'turn'.

Back in the day, when the stem-christie was part of
the skiing language
In my eyes this is a real shame since the word christie goes back to the very roots of modern skiing in 19th century Norway. In 1866 Sondre Norheim and his co-skiers demonstrated two radical new techniques in the Norwegian capital of Christiania (now Oslo). One was the Telemark turn, named for Norheim's home town. The other was a skid to stop which became known as the Christiania turn and later as the Christie - this formed the basis of the parallel turn in subsequent decades. The next major developments came in Austria with the invention of the stem and double stem turns. The latter became known as the snowplough and the former evolved into the stem christie with the addition of a vertical movement to unweight the skis. The stem part of the name refers to sliding the outside ski out into a plough or wedge shape. The christie part to bringing the skis parallel in the second part of the turn.

So what has happened to the technique, and why is it rarely taught in modern ski schools? Apart from the change of language giving us clarity at the expense of history, the basic ski progression has changed as well. A true stem involves putting an unweighted outside ski out to the side and then transferring the weight onto it. A modern snowplough or wedge turn is initiated with two skis, turning and weighting both of them at the start of the turn. This allows for an easier progression to the parallel turn as the skier is used to using both feet.

Where does this leave the stem-christie if it is not longer needed in the beginner progression? Many skiers see the parallel turn as the ultimate aim in skiing and any form of stem is therefore seen to detract from technical perfection. More practical skiers see good skiing as being about control - whether this means dealing effortlessly with difficult terrain off piste or skiing a race course as fast as possible. In both these situations the stem-christie is a useful technique to have in the toolbox. Mountain guides and ski mountaineers will have no reservations about using a stem to negotiate heavy snow on lightweight skis with a big rucksack. At the opposite extreme many a ski racer will automatically make a momentary stem at the start of a tight turn, placing the ski on its edge in the new turn before standing on it. This can easily be seen in slow motion footage of the best skiers in the world. Do they care if their skis aren't parallel? Not if it helps them go faster.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

2014 Season Under Way

After the summer hiatus the temperature is dropping and we approach the important part of the year again. The Alpine Ski World Cup got under way at the weekend with Ted Ligety and Lara Gut taking the top spots in the Soelden GS, and yesterday marked 100 days until the Winter Olympics begin in Sochi.

Most of us will not have hit the slopes yet but there has been plenty of early snow across the Alps and people have already started ski touring. Ski clubs, athletes and instructors are up on the glaciers of France, Switzerland and Austria for pre-season training.

My winter season will start the first week of December in Tignes with a week of bumps training. After that I will be in Les 2 Alpes again for the rest of the season, except for three weeks of BASI courses in January. For the moment I am waiting in England, working night shifts and counting down the days.

Monday, 10 June 2013

My New Blog - How I Became a Ski Instructor

For many ski instructors in Europe the road to full certification is a rocky one with many highs and lows along the way. There is hard work and sacrifice and long hours of training. This is interspersed with the euphoria of passing the Eurotest for example. For me the earliest exams were not too bad - I passed everything first time round as far as Level 3, although some of those were pretty close. Moving on to Level 4 has been a long and difficult journey. with many failed hurdles and returns to training with a renewed determination.

With this in mind I have decided to spend some time over this summer writing down the story of how I became a ski instructor. Hopefully this might provide some idea of what it involves for those thinking of embarking on the same path. I know I have touched on this in recent posts with some advice for those considering a ski teaching career, and this is what got me thinking that it might be a good idea to tell my story of the last ten years.

Given that this project will involve quite a lot of writing, I have created a new blog to keep those posts together, rather than writing them in this blog. Please do have a look and let me know what you think.

Friday, 7 June 2013

All Those Pesky Rules on Ski Teaching in Europe

There has been a fair bit in the British press this winter about resort staff, particularly in France, getting in trouble with the local authorities. As the dust settles with the end of the season it might be a good time to have a look at the current situation in European countries. Before that, for those who missed it, here is a quick summary of the main headlines on this subject.

Firstly - the ban on ski hosting. Many tour operators have offered a ski hosting service on their ski holidays in various European countries for many years. The host skis with the guests, showing them the best pistes and restaurants on the mountain. Although some hosts might be qualified instructors they are not allowed to teach nor to go off-piste. In February this year, a court in Albertville ruled that the practice violated French law and compromised safety, effectively banning ski hosts unless they are ski instructors who are qualified to work in France.

The second big story this winter was that of a British ski instructor in Megeve being arrested for allegedly teaching skiing illegally. He was working for Simon Butler Ski, a chalet based holiday company which has long used its own instructors to teach in France and which in the past has won victories in the French law courts allowing them to continue to do so, at least until recently.

There has been much outrage in the UK media over both these stories. Some of it has been reasonable and well reasoned whilst other stories have seen the predictable French-bashing xenophobia so common from the tabloids.

In an attempt to shed some more clarity on this matter for those not involved in European ski teaching, here is a run down of the current situation as I understand it for France, Italy, Switzerland and Austria. Those who are involved will have their own opinions on what is and what should be the case. I should add the disclaimer that I am no legal expert so I apologise for any errors.

France -

For a French person to qualify through the French system they must first pass the Test Technique - a fairly difficult slalom test where the course must be completed in the time of an opener plus 22%. For those who have not been brought up ski racing every weekend and school holiday this is a lot harder than it sounds and will normally require many weeks of training along with some luck to pass. Having passed this they then take the pre-formation course after which they can begin teaching as a trainee in an approved ski school. Usually these are ESF but there are others. After this they have three years to pass the Eurotest  (a GS exam with a pass time of 0 FIS + 18%). Usually the Test Technique and Eurotest have a pass rate of between 10% and 25% and candidates can have two attempts per year. After the Eurotest there are several more cycles of exams including teaching, technical and the Eurosecurit√© off-piste and mountain safety exam. After completion, typically taking five to ten years, the instructor is issued with a Diplome Moniteur National and the Carte Pro, which allows them to teach independently.

For a non-French qualified instructor, there is an agreement that EU nationals holding the highest level qualification from their own country can obtain the Carte Pro and work equivalently to a fully qualified French instructor as long as they have passed both the Eurotest and Eurosecurité. This agreement is not yet recognised in law but there are moves to write it into EU legislation on the free movement of workers.

For foreign instructors lacking the top qualification there are some possibilities to work as a stagiere but these vary depending on their country of origin. There are agreements between the French and different nations. Some countries' instructors can work with an ISIA level qualification, others need to pass the Test Technique. Whatever the rule for a particular country stagieres can only work for three years (sometimes extended to four) without gaining full equivalence.

There may be other opportunities for foreign instructors to work, including volunteer teaching,  coaching regular clients from your home country or schoolteachers working with their pupils, but the rules are a little grey in these areas.

Italy - 

The Italian system is quicker and more intensive than the French one but equally challenging. There is a very difficult entry test, including the Eurotest. Having passed this the instructor can gain the top (and only) qualification over a season.

Foreign instructors with a top European qualification can apply for equivalence and work full time in Italy. Other foreign qualified instructors were entitled to work in Italy for up to four weeks per season up to this winter, provided they had a suitable qualification such as BASI Level 2. There are strong rumours that this will be extended to seven weeks from next season. The rules may vary from region to region in Italy.

Switzerland - 

A ski school can employ whoever they want as long as they have a sufficient number of instructors holding the Swiss Patent (the top Swiss  ski instructor qualification - there are conversion courses available for top qualified instructors from other countries to gain this.)

Austria - 

Rules vary from region to region, but they do have a three tier system and it is definitely possible for BASI/CSIA/PSIA/NZSIA Level 2 or 3 instructors to work in some ski schools although they might have to take an Austrian conversion course.