Saturday, 29 December 2007

First Week Over

My first week's work for this season has finished. I had a group of 10 - 12 year olds in the mornings and private lessons in the afternoons. It has been really good to be teaching again, and it has been an easier than expected week with less people in resort. The downside is getting less money from what should be one of the busiest weeks of the season. I find private lessons give a really interesting mix of people to teach - you never know who will walk into the ski school office to book a lesson. On the other hand, teaching a group can be a real buzz as you get to know ev erybody over the week and watch them progress. The kids group were complete beginners on Monday and were flying around the mountain by Friday. Kids tend to be easier to teach than adults, as they just need a simple explanation or demonstration and will pick it up straight away. On the other hand, the children can take more class management skills, as they don't always do what they are told. An instructor's worst nightmare is losing a child on the mountain. When skiing with kids I am constantly counting heads and keeping an eye out for the one who spots a parent and disappears to say hello.

Friday, 28 December 2007

First 70s night of the winter

I seem to have been a bit slack with the blog this week - apologies to regular readers. This week the season has begun in earnest, although it is still quieter than usual, and there has been a series of Christmas parties and meals. I think I need to take a couple of days to recover and sober up, however tonight is the first El Cau 70s Night of the season, so I guess that won't happen. The 70s Night here is kind of the finale of the week - incredibly cheesy, and not normally my thing but always a lot of fun. Fridays are always busy, there are ski school presentations to do, where we meet our group to give out certificates and medals, often there is a meal out, then the walk up the road to the 70s Night usually turns into a pub crawl taking in various venus in town. The rest of the weekend should provide a chance to take it easy, as Saturdays here tend to be a lot quieter. Here are a couple of photos of the 70s Night. Normal service (more posts, more skiing) should resume next week.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

To Open a Piste or Not?

Back in Arinsal, nearly everything is open - all the major lifts and major runs are open as is the cable car over to Pal. The approach this year seems to have been very conservative - runs have been kept closed long after they have been ready to open. Snow has been made and pistes have been groomed, tended and prepared but only a limited area has been open until this week.

This is a marked contrast to the the Granvalira resorts on the other side of Andorra. I took a trip over there last weekend and all the links between resorts were open, and on paper at least a large proportion of the runs were open. However on most of the runs the grass was showing through the snow and my skis took a fair bit of damage from exposed rocks. On the other hand it was quite a pleasant change to be able to cover some ground and feel like we were travelling somewhere rather than just doing laps. I am not sure which is the better approach - I am sure both ski areas have their reasons but I would have thought the middle ground would be
more appropriate; opening all the runs that are ready whilst keeping the grassy, rocky ones shut.

5.5 Seconds

Well, I'm back from the Eurotest now and have a lot of time to make up. As the headline says, I was 5.5 seconds off the pass time, which might not sound a lot but will take a lot of work to knock off. My lack of race experience really became evident on the day.

All in all it was quite a mission for the sake of two runs. Eight hours across France on Tuesday, and the same on Wednesday to get back. Skiing wise I got two race runs, course inspections and a couple of warm ups. Still, I did get to ski in the Alps for a morning, which does not happen often considering I live in the Pyrenees.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Off to the Eurotest

Just a quick note today, as I am off to Alp D'Huez early in the moring for the Eurotest. I have spent the afternoon servicing and tuning my skis, so am as ready as I can be for my first attempt.

For those who are wondering what the test entails, it is a Giant Slalom (GS) race run to F.I.S. rules. The pass time is equivalent to a zero F.I.S. points time (i.e. World Cup winning time) plus 15 percent. In practice the actual time is arrived at by taking the times of a series of openers, and adjusting them downwards to arrive at the theoretical zero F.I.S. time. The fasted adjusted time of all the openers is the one used.

I'll be back Thursday, so I will report how I got on.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Parking Ticket in Tignes

I thought I would post this warning notice I recieved whilst in Tignes. I was struck by how politlely it was written, albeit with the picture of a car being towed away, just in case anyone didn't get the message. I was also quite impressed that I was given a warning, rather than just being towed and fined (as happened to me last year in Andorra, despite being parked legally at the time but that's another story).

The text reads:

You are committing an offence

We are most pleased that you have decided to visit Tignes ond we hope that you will enjoy your stay in our resort. However, we draw your attention on the fact that you are committing an offence. Your car is going to be towed away as stipulated in the municipal by-law of 20/11/2000 and article 417-10 of the highway code. For your comfort and pleasure, we ask you to go back to one of the 2700 indoor parking places or one of the 750 outdoor parking places that the resort puts at your disposal. Thank you for your co-operation.

It amused me somwhat to be thanked for my visit in a parking ticket - I cannot see that happening back in England somehow.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Don't let your water bottle freeze

Here are a couple of photos of my water bottle that I took to Tignes. I have posted them to demonstrate what happens when you leave a full bottle of water in the car overnight and the temperature drops to -20 degrees centigrade. In the close up, you can just see the ice coming out through the crack. This is a metal Sigg bottle by the way - the sort I thought was virtually indestructible.

Back in Arinsal, conditions on the mountain are already better than most of last season. We have been skiing powder all day, and despite a bit of wind last night, most of the snow has stuck and we seem to have a pretty good base for the time of year.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Snow, snow, snow!

Just a quick post as it is chucking it down with snow so I am heading out to the pub to plan tomorrow's skiing and then getting an early night. We had six inches of fresh snow in the village last night and it has carried on all day. I was itching to get out there, but I had my second immigration medical down in Andorra La Vella, which ate up the middle of the day. So I'm really looking forward to getting up there manana.

For the last week I have endured gloating messages from friends in France and Switzerland, so now finally it is our turn. Not that I'm at all excited about the first big snow of the season.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Stolen Ski Gear

As I mentioned in my post yesterday I am back in Arinsal and following the paper chase of getting a work permit. There is not a lot of interest to be written about that, so I will use the next few posts to write a bit more about my fortnight in Tignes race training. I keep hearing reports about how much snow there is there now, and how they have had to cancel the training and go skiing powder. How my heart bleeds for them...

Anyway, I thought I would share my thoughts on security in the mountains. Not in the European sense of mountain safety, but in the sense of avoiding having your gear stolen. This is prompted by the fact that I had a rucksack stolen last week, containing my trainers, sunglasses, spare clothes and lunch. The same day, I know of at least one person who had his skis stolen. Unfortunately the setup of most ski resorts makes things far too easy for the dishonest amongst us (this is where I'm ready to type a string of expletives, but I'm trying to keep the blog clean so I'll grit my teeth and continue). Everybody who goes up the mountain has at least one valuable item with them - a pair of skis - and most people will stop to eat or drink in a mountain restaurant at some point. Since mountain restaurants do not generally allow skis inside, large numbers of skis are left leaning against the wallsoutside, just waiting for some nasty so-and-so to walk off with them.

So, what can we do - the simplest way to make life a little more difficult for the thieves is simply to split pairs of skis. This takes a second to do but hardly anybody does it. Just swap one ski with a friend and put the two odd pairs in different racks. The would be thief then has to hunt for two pairs before they can steal one, and will most likely not bother. If everybody split their skis it would be a lot harder for the bad people (running out of polite synonyms now) to get away with anything. This doesn't help the snowboarders much - probably the best thing there is to invest in a cable lock and run it through the bindings. And if you are on a training course or camp and have to leave a bag somewhere (like me), the top of the lane or the bottom of the park might be a better place than the restaurant as more people from your group will be passing it.

So, back to Arinsal where tonight El Cau, a bar in the village, are having their second opening party for the season. The reason I mention this is that they have been advertising it on RTVA, the Andorran TV channel, all yesterday and today. It is not often that I get to go to a party advertised on national TV - never in England, but this is Andorra. I will leave you with a photo of the bar in question one (beach) party night last year.

Friday, 7 December 2007

I'm Back

Well, after three weeks of wi-fi hotspots I now have a steady internet connection again. In a remarkable example of Andorran efficiency, I ordered a phone and ADSL connection on Wednesday morning and had it switched on by Thursday afternoon. I even had a phone call from the phone company today, just to ask if everything was working. If only BT could match that when I'm back in England.

I am about half way through the immigration process here now - I have visited EFPEM (the governing body for all sports and mountain instructors here) twice, the ski school, the Vallnord office, immigration (twice) and the hospital for a blood test and chest X-ray. I just have two more trips to imigration now, once to see a doctor and once to hopefully pick up my green card. So it is all pretty straightforward really. The non-EU residents working here have even more hoops to jump through.

I am still lacking a USB lead for my phone, so no new photos until I can get one sent over. In the meantime here is an picture of the bar where I have been spending most of my evenings recently, since it is about 30 seconds' walk from my front door. There is not much to see here today anyway - it is grey and rainy, but hopefully snowing higher up. The slopes are crowded as only a few runs have opened so far and it is a bank holiday weekend in Spain. However things are better than this time last year, and snow is forecast so things should be looking good by the Christmas holidays.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Arrived in Tignes

Well, I've arrived in Tignes, and found a bar with wi-fi so I'm back online for the minute (as long as I keep buying drinks). We have had two days of race training so far - today would have been the third but the resort stayed shut due to the weather. The good news is that there is plenty of snow. The bad news is that there is a lot of wind as well. Still it is all looking a lot better than last year.

I would post some new photos here but I have forgotten my USB lead. D'oh. I have posted an old photo of me racing (ski school race, March 06) to illustrate where I need to improve (and hopefully have improved since then). You can see that my inside ski is turning but the outside one is heading away down the hill. This is because my weight is too far inside (notice the inside hand and shoulder dropping) so I cannot pressure the outside ski effectively. The principles are not that different from any other sort of skiing, but for someone unused to racing, the gates really do add a new dimension. Looking at a photo can help to analyse and pick out faults, but using a video is even better. If you get the chance to watch yourself skiing on video, especially with your instructor or coach, then it really is a useful learning tool.

Anyway, I had better sign off now. As I said previously, posts will be sporadic until the end of the month when I get to the flat in Andorra with steady Internet access, so please bear with me.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Off to Tignes

Well, for me the winter starts here. I am heading off to Tignes in about half an hour although I won't be there until Sunday night as I am taking something of a meandering route and visiting friends on the way. The plan is two weeks of training and then heading over to Andorra to organise my work permit for the winter. Posts will probably be quite sporadic over the next two weeks until I get to Andorra and a stable internet connection. It all depends on the wifi access in Tignes, so please bear with me. I will be back.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

More Resorts Opening Early

Well, snow is falling all over the Alps and more resorts are either open or planning to open well ahead of schedule. Part of this is no doubt for the publicity. Even with great conditions only a few people will travel to those resorts at this time of year. Most people just cannot drop everything to go skiing at short notice. There will of course be locals (those within a few hours drive) going up at the weekends, but the main benefit to the resorts is to shout out "we have snow, and plenty of it" loudly enough for all the doubters to hear. I imagine that if last year had not seen such a scarcity of early season snow, most resorts would wait until their scheduled opening dates.

Resorts open early include Schladming and Kitzbuhel, both in Austria, although the latter is just opening weekends at the moment. Verbier in Switzerland plans to open some lifts from Saturday onwards.

I am really looking forward to my trip to Tignes next week. Ten centimetres of snow has just fallen, and whilst at present only the Glacier is open the runs down to resort are due to open in just over a week's time, half way through the course. From next week, expect to see a bit more on my actual skiing experiences in the blog, as I will be skiing nearly every day from then until April.

Monday, 12 November 2007

How To Be A Ski Instructor. Part 4 - Networking

If you haven't been following this occasional series on becoming a ski instructor, you can catch up by reading Part 1 - The Gap Course, Part 2 - Individual Courses and Part 3 - Finding A Job.

The last part covered finding work in the UK and finding part time (e.g. peak season) work abroad. This was partly because it is very late to be looking for jobs abroad for this winter, and partly because jobs abroad can be hard to come by without experience. If you have found a job abroad as a newly qualified ski instructor, congratulations. If not, don't give up but don't be too disappointed if you do not find one this winter.

If you are a newly qualified or soon-to-be-qualified instructor, the best thing you can do is network (obviously this is important for experienced instructors too, but they should already know that). Talk to everybody. Get to know the staff at your local slope, many of them will have contacts in ski schools abroad. When you are on holiday, or on courses, talk to as many instructors as you can. Ask the ski schools about work (although this is difficult in France). Find out about recruitment processes and timescales. Collect email addresses and leave CVs. People are much more likely to give you a chance if they have met you and can put a face to the CV.

At the end of the winter you probably will not have a job offer yet, unless you are really lucky. What you will have is a pile of contacts to follow up on. The more the better as many might not materialise. Pay attention to each ski school's timescale for recruitment and apply for as many as you can until you have a firm offer. Even then it might be worth having a backup plan, just in case. This can be a fickle and transient industry after all.

The picture above is from the summer race training camp in Les 2 Alpes showing two happy ski instructors on a powder day.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Can Ski Instructors Ski Black Runs?

I thought I would address this question because I have often been asked "can you ski black runs?" by people I am teaching. It is usually children that ask, but adults do as well. I find this staggering really, considering what job I am doing. It is a bit like asking a driving instructor if they have ever been on the motorway, or a maths teacher if they can multiply.

To teach skiing you need to be able to demonstrate techniques accurately, which means performing them consistently even in difficult conditions. You also need to be able to take customers onto more difficult terrain when they are ready, and you need to be seen to be skiing well at all times. For all these reasons as well as safety issues of travelling around the mountain, yes you do need to be a good skier to instruct. That does not mean being a world class competitor, although many world class competitiors have gone on to be great instructors and coaches. It does mean (as a minimum) being comfortable skiing any marked run in resort at high or low speed.

There are many criteria on which instructors are tested, and the level increases for the higher qualifications. Of course good skiing is relative, and many a top instructor would look quite average beside a world class racer. However, to qualify to instruct you do have to reach a level that most recreational skiers would call 'good'. Personally I prefer the word competent, as in competent to do the job, or competent to ski the whole mountain.

I was looking for a photo of me on a black run to illustrate this post (and prove the point), but all I could find was this warning sign from the top of a double black diamond run in New Zealand. I remember taking the photo because you never see signs like this in Europe. For one thing, anything approaching extreme is off piste and unpatrolled, and for another, extreme is another pretty subjective word. If something is skied often enough to warrant a sign, some would say it is not really extreme.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Exercise for Skiing

The exercise illustrated to the left is often cited as the way to prepare for a skiing holiday. You adopt a sitting position (minus the seat) against a wall and hold it until your thighs cannot take any more. And this achieves? Well, not a lot really. It will make your quads burn a bit and possibly give some small strength boost. However the quadriceps are not the only muscles used in skiing, nor even the most important.

Skiing requires aerobic fitness, flexibility and physical strength. Improving these can help improve your skiing. Concentrating on one muscle will not.

If you want to be able to ski all day then regular aerobic exercise such as running, cycling or swimming is the best plan. Doing one of these three times a week is probably all the training most people need to get the most out of their skiing holiday.

If you want to do more to help your skiing you need to plan a program including both strength and flexibility straining. The strength training should concentrate on core strength and stability as well as all the leg muscles. Squats are ideal for this and should form a significant part of any weights programme for skiing. A programme of stretching should accompany the weight training, but static stretches should not be done before a weights session. The programme can also include plyometrics, interval training etc.

You can obviously take your training as far as you like - it depends what you want to get out of your skiing. World Cup racers train full time whilst one week a year skiers just need a basic level aerobic fitness.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

It's Snowing!

I'm not a big fan of using exclamation marks in titles - mainly because they are so overused these days. However I think I can justify one here. Several Austrian resorts have opened already - up to six weeks ahead of their officially scheduled openings - due to early snowfalls. French and Andorran resorts have received a dusting of snow so far - not enough to open but a hopeful indicator of more to come. After the poor snowfalls across European resorts last season, and the predictions of global warming related doom, it is important for the industry to get off to a good start this winter. Hopefully this will reassure the doubters that the snow will still come, and that last year was an exception - one of those bad winters we have every few years.

If this winter lives up to the early signs we could be seeing a season to remember for some time. Let's hope for all the snow we missed out on last year.

Let it snow...

Friday, 2 November 2007

Why does everybody else drive on the wrong side of the road?

It is only a couple of weeks until I head out to France and then Andorra. I am almost looking forward to the drive this year. For one thing, going to the Alps first means I can avoid Paris which is my least favourite part of France for driving. Mainly though it is the fact that once out of England, queues on the motorways become a rarity.

I get used to driving on the other side more easily recently, but I still wonder why most of the world drives on the right hand side. There are good reasons for driving on the left, such as it being easier for a right handed swordsman to mount a horse on the left hand side without the sword getting caught on the animal's back. More relevantly you could argue that driving on the left means keeping the right hand on the wheel while changing gear (or even changing the CD).

Until around two hundred years ago, people in most countries rode their horses and drove their carriages on the left. Then France switched to the right, along with all the countries ruled by the French at the time. Eventually most of the world followed suit. There are various theories about why the French switched. There is the idea that the common people (without horses or carriages) always walked on the left (to avoid being run over) and after the revolution nobody wanted to look like a member of the aristocracy so everyone travelled on the left. Or there is the theory that it was to spite the English, and I have also read a complicated argument about the differing ways French and English coaches were driven. My favourite theory though is the story that Napoleon was left-handed, and therefore preferred to mount his horse from the left. As a lefty myself I like the idea that a single bloody-minded left-hander could have forced almost the whole world to do something the left-handed way. Even better, the world is still doing it the left handed way two centuries later.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Can you buy an all-round ski?

My last post about how many skis I seem to cart about these days got me thinking, can you buy a real all-round ski these days? What would I use if I could only take one pair of skis with me? I'll leave anything race related out of the equation for the moment, since you would only really want race skis for racing.

That leaves piste, off piste and the park, for me at least. So the ideal ski for the piste, something stiff and shaped like a slalom or skiercross ski. The ideal off-piste ski would be fatter and usually softer, while for freestyle you want a twintip ski with not too much shape or width.

If you have no interest in jumps and tricks then a narrower freeride ski makes a good compromise between on and off piste. Some have a slightly raised tail allowing some switch manouvres as well. This type of ski has a bit of everything without really specialising in anything. Examples include the Salomon X-Wing Tornado and the Rossignol B74 (I'm not particularly endorsing those companies over all the rest, I just happen to have their catalogues to hand).

Until a year or so ago, my use-everyday-go-anywhere-skis were Dynastar Troublemakers; Twintips that were stiff enough to be fun on piste, soft enough to be good off it and my favourite ski that I've tried in the park. My other skis stayed in the ski rack most days and I thought for a while they were the perfect all-round ski. The downside was that while I was having fun, I lost out on the piste performance of a stiffer, more shaped ski. Like most twintips, they are all too easy to ski on with your hands in your pockets. Of course, twintip skis come in all kinds of width and stiffness, some better for powder, some for piste and some purely for the park. Most people with an interest in freestyle can find a twintip that will suit them out of the park as well.

I suppose my conclusion is that most people can find a reasonable all-round compromise ski to suit most aspects of their skiing. However, if you want to keep progressing you really need to spend some time on a high performance piste ski now and again. If you don't own a pair, rent some for a day on your next trip.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

How many pairs of skis does one person need?

I've been giving all my skis a bit of TLC today, ahead of travelling out to resort in a couple of weeks or so. I started thinking, does one person really need all this stuff? I have four pairs of skis here in England to take out with me, plus another pair of skis and a (whisper it) snowboard stored in Andorra over the summer. Back in the days of straight skis, I managed for years with one pair of skis that did everything, although I did travel with a couple of pairs towards the end of the straight ski era.

So could I make do with less? Well, I need the GS skis to train for the Eurotest, I need the slalom skis for any other ski courses I take this year, and for general training. I need the touring skis for the back country. I need the twintips for freestlye and skiing switch. The twintips are also a lot easier for teaching beginners, as they take less effort to snowplough and they go backwards easily. My other skis in Andorra, my old twintips, should probably be thrown out, I just keep them as a spare teaching set. The GS skis I have for a specific course, so I won't count them, but the other three pairs I really couldn't imagine doing without for a winter. If I didn't have the slalom skis I would quickly become a lazy skier (it has happened before), and my performance skiing would suffer. If I did not have the twintips I would not be able to go backwards, or do any of the tricks involving landing backwards. Also, I would have to teach on race skis or touring skis. If I left out the touring skis, well, I would have to stick to going downhill from the lifts. Until somebody invents a high performance ski that goes backwards too, and a touring binding that can cope with freestyle and racing, then it will have to be three pairs of skis.

So far this post just seems to be an attempt to justify my own extravagance, however, I want to make the point that the divergence of ski designs over the last few years has led to increasingly specialist skis. This means that a good skier either needs to specialise, or to have access to more than one pair of skis. For the recreational skier, this means that renting equipment is often a more attractive option as it gives the opportunity to try out different kit over the course of a holiday or two.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

The Skiing Postmen

I have just been researching an article on the history of skiing in Andorra for the Arinsal-Andorra website and I made the surprising discovery that the first skiers in the principality were neither tourists, nor ancient hunter gatherers as in other parts of the world. In fact, the first skier in Andorra was a Soldeu postman by the name of Miquel Farré.

Miquel and his colleagues originally used snowshoes to make their deliveries during the winter months. Once a week, he collected some mail from the French village of Porto, where the local inhabitants used long pieces of wood to travel over the snow. One day during the winter of 1924, Miquel returned to Soldeu on a pair of these contraptions. His collegues were duly impressed and adopted the idea. The Andorra Ski Club was founded in 1932 and the rest is history.

The only downside to this research is the discovery that Soldeu, and not Arinsal, was the birthplace of Andorran skiing. Oh well, we can't have everything.

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Back to the Espace Killy

Well, I am all set for my autumn race training session. I have a fortnight booked in Tignes - I would have liked to have spent longer, but time and money constraints precluded that. I am looking forward to returning to the Espace Killy area after a six year absence. My first ski season was spent working in a hotel in La Daille - the cheap end of Val D'Isere, just over the hill from Tignes - over the 99/2000 season. I returned to visit a couple of times the following season when I was working in Meribel, but have not been back since.

The ski area is truly world class - one of the best places I have ever skied. It has everything for the good to expert skier - fast reds, tough blacks, huge areas of accessible off-piste, steeps and couloirs as extreme as you want them and plenty of back country to explore. The lift system is excellent, with many high speed lifts. However the number of good and expert skiers in the area means you have to get up very early, or hike, if you want fresh lines and untracked powder. The nature of the terrain also means the avalanche risk is quite significant, and care is always needed when venturing even a short way off piste.

The town of Val D'Isere is not one of my favourites in the Alps. The nightlife is all there, including the legendary (according to them) Dick's Tea Bar and I did have a great season there, but I have found other resorts are friendlier, more down to earth and less cliquey. It will be interesting to see how Tignes compares - I have skied through it many times but never stayed there.

Friday, 26 October 2007

New widgets and buttons

You may have noticed a sudden proliferation of new bits and bobs down the right hand side of this page over the last few days. On the basis that a blog without readers is hardly a blog at all, I decided to try out a few promotion/directory strategies. If you have arrived here via one of the directories, well you already know all about them - welcome to the blog. None of these involve any paid advertising (unlike the Google Ads at the top), just mutual promotion between blogs. So if you are curious, or want to promote your own page, click on one of the buttons to the right and see where you end up. Top Blogs and BritBlogs are blog directories, LinkReferal is a directory/community for all types of site (with a couple of reviews of this blog already) and Blog Rush lists post titles from a selection of (hopefully) related blogs.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Who Wants to be a Ski Instructor?

If you have been following my occasional series of posts on how to be a ski instructor (see Part 1 - The Gap Course, Part 2 - Individual Courses and Part 3 - Finding a Job) you will have an idea of what it takes to gain a ski (or snowboard) instructor qualification and start looking for a job. The next question is: Is it for you?

For me, teaching skiing is the best job in the world. However it is not an easy way to make a living. My summer 'holiday' this year was a two week ski training course, since when I have been working six days a week to pay for november ski training before the season starts. If you just want to spend a season working in a ski resort (something I highly recommend and will talk about in a future post) then there are much easier ways to do it than instructing, unless you are already qualified. Working for a hotel, bar, shop or tour company you will have a great season with a lot more personal ski time than an instructor. If you simply want to ski, the chances are you will soon become frustrated with teaching beginners on the nursery slopes.

Teaching is something to look at if you want a longer seasonal career. The investment of time and money to be an instructor means that for most of us it is not worth pursuing for a season or two (although you can always continue teaching part time, either a week or two a year or on artificial slopes as mentioned in the previous post). Most instructors teach for several years to a lifetime, with many working two winters a year - the second in New Zealand, Australia or South America. In the school I work for, the oldest instructor is 67 and has taught there for fifteen years, many instructors have worked ten years or more and even the ski school photos from the seventies have a number of familiar faces on them.

In the Alpine nations ski instructing is usually seen as a long term career, often started as a teenager and ended at retirement age. While the British do not always see it this way, it is certainly to be regarded as more than a holiday job, if only because of the effort it takes to get the instructor license in the first place.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

How To Be A Ski Instructor. Part 3 - Finding A Job

Okay, so you've been on the courses and got yourself qualified as a ski instructor (see Part 1 - The Gap Course and Part 2 - Individual Courses). The next step is to find a job and be an actual ski instructor as well as qualified as one. If you passed last winter you have hopefully found a job for the winter. If you qualified in the summer, or if you hope to pass this autumn, it will be difficult (but not impossible) to find a full time instructor position abroad before the start of the season.

The problem facing newly qualified instructors, just like anyone newly qualified in any other profession, is that most employers are looking for people with experience. The work experience part of some qualifications and gap courses helps with this, but it is inescapable that you will be much more employable once you have some paid work experience on your CV.

If you are applying for jobs abroad, work at it hard and apply for as many as you can find. Look on the web, in the BASI news/course directory. Find contacts for as many ski schools as you can and phone them up. I will revisit overseas job applications in the spring, but for now I am going to look at other options to get the experience you need for your dream job in the Alps.

Firstly, look at the local artificial slopes. There are many indoor and dry ski slopes throughout the country and all of them employ ski instructors. Hours tend to be more evenings and weekends (though not exclusively) so can fit around other work or study. The busiest period runs from around October until March, as people visit before their winter holiday.

The second option is the peak week employer. There are a number of companies which employ instructors for a week or two at a time. These jobs are sometimes misleadingly advertised as part time instructor positions. The best known of these companies is Interski, who run a program of school ski trips in the Aosta Valley in Northern Italy throughout the winter. Interski and other companies offer a package including travel and half board accommodation, with lunches at mountain restaurants - basically a free trip with pay on top and around twenty five hours work. Many regular ski schools also take on extra staff at peak weeks (i.e. school holidays).

The final option I would suggest is Scottish skiing. There are five ski areas in Scotland, each with a ski school. My first season as an instructor was at Nevis Range (pictured above). I had a great winter and picked up a thorough grounding in every aspect of teaching skiing at instructor level. I taught private and group lessons of all abilities as well as school groups and adult ski club classes at the weekends. I also ran lifts when needed and helped in ski hire, skied with the patrollers in the mornings before work and had a much fuller experience of the mountain operation than in my subsequent seasons in New Zealand and Andorra.

So if you don't find yourself working in Verbier, Zermatt or St. Anton the winter after you qualify, stay positive. There are plenty of jobs out there and plenty of ways to gain the experience you need.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

More signs of winter

Today was another crisp clear day at the high ropes course where I'm working until the winter starts. I love the atmosphere at this time of year when the mist lies low on the ground and fills the hollows with dewy dampness until the sun drives it away. This week has seen the first frost and the first frozen windscreens in my part of the world, as well as the butter being to harder to spread. One by one the memories of a damp summer are banished into the past as we move into a glorious autumn. I know I've said it before, but this really is a great time of year. Time to prepare for winter, so I'll be getting out the waxing iron and giving all my skis some attention over the next few weeks, working out if I need any new kit and making sure everything is servicable and ready for action. Don't leave it all to the last minute.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

"People who sue ski resorts should be shot"

The above quote is by extreme skier Scott Schmidt in the seminal ski movie The Blizzard of Ahhhs. He was making the point that in many ski areas there were restrictions in where one could ski because the resorts were worried about getting sued if somebody hurt themselves on a dangerous run. The freedom to ski where and how you want was being eroded due to people not taking responsibility for their own actions. His comments were made nearly twenty years ago, but seem more relevant than ever in this age of blame culture, health and safety and no-win-no-fee lawyers.

Skiing, like any other sport, has inherent risks. Being in the mountain environment also has its own risks. Anybody going skiing, especially off piste, needs to accept the risk and take responsibility for themselves. I have been reading case reports of skiing court cases - there have been a number of cases where an out of control skier has been sued after colliding with another skier, and also a number where an out of control skier has sued the resort after crashing into something. Now if the skier is skiing within their ability level there is no reason why they should crash into a slow moving or stationary hazard like a cliff or a piste basher. If resorts are held responsible for the failures of their patrons it results in higher prices more restrictions for all of us.

A large part of the rewards of adventurous sports comes from managing the risk, pushing yourself without putting yourself in excessive danger, and co-existing with the mountain environment. Expecting to be wrapped in cotton wool and protected from all dangers removes the essence from the sport.

I believe we should have the freedom to challenge ourselves to do crazy things on skis (always concious of the safety of others of course). With that freedom must come the responsiblity to accept the blame when it all goes wrong. We cannot expect the ski area to pick up the pieces simply because they allowed us to do it.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Winter around the corner

It's getting colder. Even sunny days have a chill in the air now. The long wet British summer is finally over and Autumn is in full swing. To me this time of year has all the promise that others see in spring. I tick off the signs of winter approaching one by one. The days shorten, the leaves turn to gold. The mornings are clear and crisp and you can see your breath. Halloween is soon to be followed by bonfire night. For many it is a time of change - the start of the academic year, the end of summer breaks and a return to work proper. For me it is the build up to the winter and the next ski season. What will this one bring - a glut of snow with deep powder, great skiing and the attendant avalanche risk? Or a scarcity with sunshine, clear skies and snow cannon working overtime to keep the resorts open. Either way, or whatever in between we get, there will be skiing to be done. There is always good skiing somewhere, and always rewards for those who make the effort to find it. As they say, a bad day's skiing beats a good day in the office. So, good season or bad, I know it will be a hell of a lot better than staying at home.

See you on (or off) the piste

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Little and often

For years I treated ski servicing as a major chore to be done after a couple of weeks of use, or I would let the shop do it when they were in for repairs after I hit a rock. The problem with this approach is that (a) it takes a lot of work to get the edges sharp again, and (b) the skis don't perform at their best and the edges wear faster.

A better approach is to spend a little time servicing the skis after each day on the hill. The edges can be given a once over with a diamond file (and guide) to restore their sharpness. Leaving it until they are blunt means taking a lot more metal off with the file to get them sharp. Waxing the skis regularly makes the bases faster and does not take too long (but always scrape the wax off when you have finished or they will be slower than if they had not been waxed at all). It is not necessary to wax every day, but it should be done fairly often to get the best out of the skis. Ski racers will often wax their racing skis even if they have not been used, as each wax will make them a little quicker.

Obviously, if you have a ski shop service your skis it is not cost effective to send them in every day, but if you invest in a little equipment, and learn how to use it you can save a lot in shop services. The minimum you need is a file (and guide), an iron (an old clothes iron will do), some wax and a scraper. Ideally you also want a diamond file for finishing off the edges, some brushes for the bases and a vice to hold the skis. Learing how to use all this kit is beyond the scope of this post, but there are plenty of courses and books out there so go Google.

I really need to apply the 'little and often' maxim to this blog as well ;-)

Monday, 17 September 2007

The Importance of Play

This summer I have been working on high ropes courses as an instructor, whilst waiting for the winter to come back. There are places on the courses where people with shorter arms or legs need to swing a hanging element (a platform or a trapeze) in order to reach the next one. One thing I have noticed is that many children simply do not know how to swing - they pull on the ropes and flail their legs but never make the rhythmical movements needed to go a little further with each swing. It seems as if they have never learnt to use a simple playground swing.

When children play on swings and climbing frames - or climb trees, do cartwheels or kick a ball about - they learn a variety of movement skills that are invaluable in later life. Such activities give one an intuitive understanding of the mechanics of movement. Without this it takes Newton's equations for motion and gravity to predict the result of a given action. Suddenly a simple swing becomes a complicated problem - as illustrated by the inability of an apparently intelligent child to swing a platform suspended from ropes. If children lose the opportunity for physical play it affects not only their health, but also their kinaesthetic awareness and a part of their problem solving ability.

So, how is this relevant to winter sports? Well it is all too easy when skiing or snowboarding to focus on improving technique, or doing it the right way, to the exclusion of all else. For example, when making a snowplough turn you may try to follow a sequence: apply weight to both skis equally; start to stand up, stretching the legs; look where you want to go; steer the skis towards the fall line; feel for pressure building up under the outside ski; flex down keeping the pressure on the outside ski; continue to steer the skis and finish the turn across the slope (always keeping the shoulders and hips square to the skis, the knees apart and the ski tails pushed out into a wedge shape). This is all well and good, and will lead you to making a good solid snowplough turn, but as you progress you can become robotic and inflexible in your skiing if you only ever do things the 'right' way.

Good skiers are usually playful skiers - they mix up the turns they do, they try new things and most importantly they have fun with their skiing. Training for technique is important of course, but it is also important for your development to try things out and see what happens. For example, have a free run and see how many ways you can make the skis turn. Look for interesting terrain - bumps and jumps. On easy slopes try something different, always challenge yourself. In this way you will develop your skiing intuition as to what will happen when you use a particular movement. Above all though - keep it fun.

Friday, 14 September 2007

How to be healthy...

A certain major breakfast cereal manufacturer has just started an advertising campaign promoting the three steps to a healthier lifestyle. 1. Eat their cereal, 2. Eat more fruit and 3. Drink more water. I'm sure anyone living in the UK knows what I'm talking about and I can't help thinking they've missed out something pretty vital there. If you want to get/stay healthy - DO SOME EXERCISE.

An improved diet might well let you lose weight, and it is certainly a step in the right direction, but if you sit in an office all day and on the sofa all evening you will never really be fit and healthy. Food is often blamed (and rightly) for health problems, but the last few decades have also seen a decline in the amount of exercise that people, and particularly children, take. Walking to school or work, playing outside and manual jobs have all become less common and the result is a society growing outwards.

An active holiday of any kind can be great way to kick start a fitter lifestyle. You can exercise to prepare for the trip, exercise while you are there, e.g. by skiing every day, and when you come home full of energy it is easier to keep up the momentum and keep exercising. Skiing is one example, but there are hundreds of ways to be active - the important thing is to get into the habbit of being active regularly, even if only for twenty minutes or half an hour.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Carving Skis - A New Idea?

As every recreational skier knows, the big advance in ski technology over the last decade has been the introduction of carving skis. It has been said that ski manufacturers have taken ideas from snowboard technology to create these radically new designs. Carving itself is seen as a brand new technique by many skiers, and a lot seem to believe that simply using carving skis means that they are carving.

So what is it that makes a carving ski different from a ski of ten years ago? The image to the left shows a two year old slalom ski alongside a ten year old slalom ski. Side by side it is easy to see that the new ski is shorter with a wide tip and tail, whereas the old ski has sides that are close to parallel. In addition, the top-sheet of an old ski is usually flat whilst a new ski will have contours to concentrate the ski's energy where is is needed (or, speaking in English, to make it stiffer in certain places). Notice that although the older ski has sides that are closer to straight - it is not completely straight sided. Straight skis still had a sidecut, and it is still possible to carve on them. People have been carving since long before I started skiing (22 years ago) and new equipment simply makes it easier to master the technique.

Next time you are in a bar or restaurant in the mountains and there is a pair of ancient wooden skis on the wall, take a closer look at them. At first glance they will look a far cry from modern skis, but look at the sidecut, and the shape of the topsheet. More than likely there will be a pronounced sidecut, and the top will be contoured to increase stiffness where it is needed. The idea of a shaped ski was invented in the nineteenth century by Sondre Norheim, and ski makers refined these designs over subsequent decades. However such innovations were deemed unnecessary when modern materials were introduced to produce laminated wood and metal skis in the fifties. Perhaps there was an element of marketing in this - making the new metal topped skis straighter gave them a more radical in appearance compared to the all wood skis that went before. I suspect the push of radical ski designs onto the market in recent years has at least something to do with competition from snowboard makers. This has made it both easier and more desirable for the ski makers to market ever newer looking ski designs that the skiing public might previously have greeted with suspicion.

Don't get me wrong, there have been big advances in ski design over the last decade and new skis are easier to learn and progress on, easier in difficult conditions, easier off piste, easier to carve on and less physically taxing. However, the principles are not as new as some would have you believe.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

How To Be A Ski Instructor. Part 2 - Individual Courses

Continuing the series on how to be a ski instructor, I am going to discuss the pros and cons of taking the courses by themselves, rather than as part of a longer gap programme. This is the route I took to being a ski instructor, via the BASI (British) system.

The advantages are cost, and the chance to dip your toes in the water to find out if instructing is for you. You can also combine the courses with working a season in another role. The downside is that it can often take longer, you might not make as many contacts for when you are looking for a job, and you might find it harder to get the needed work experience.

All of the English speaking instructor qualifications follow a similar pattern (at least in the first stages). You take a first level instructor course which is basically a week long introduction, after which (if you pass) you can teach beginners in a controlled environment in the country whose course you have taken. After some work experience you can take the second instructor course which is one to two weeks long. This requires a very competent level of skiing. Some of the criteria include: skiing all pisted runs in control at an appropriate speed, high speed carving on reds (both skis carving cleanly), short radius turns on steeps, controlled turns in bumps, short and long radius off piste in variable conditions, near perfect demonstrations from plough to skidded parallels. All of the above are to be performed with recognised techniques. Your teaching ability will also be assessed, although it is much more common to fail on ski technique than teaching. If you pass the second instructor course you are able to teach in many ski areas around the world.

BASI courses are run in many locations throughout Europe. Canadian courses are obviously run in Canada and also, less obviously, in Andorra. New Zealand and US qualifications are run in their respective countries. Courses are often run in late November, before the season starts, and in April/May after it finishes. These courses may well be an option for those who have other plans during the season proper. There are also courses at this level run in the summer on glaciers, so there are plenty of options.

So to start with, get in touch with BASI, the CSIA, NZSIA etc. and ask for a copy of the course directory (a lot of information may be in the website, but the directory will be more comprehensive and also have useful adverts). Book that first course and get started - you will be likely to improve your skiing, have a good time and most importantly discover whether or not instructing is for you. Personally, taking the BASI Trainee Instructor course (as it was then) was the best thing I ever did.

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Gap courses, a note

In the article on Gap year courses you may have noticed that I didn't actually name any courses or tell you where to book on one. This was because there are many courses out there - some good, some less good, and I don't want to appear to endorse any particular course provider. Having said that, it is probably worth giving you a few pointers to where you can find information, but without any specific links - you can all use Google yourselves.

There are two types of Gap course providers - the official instructor organisations (e.g. BASI) and private companies or ski schools. There is no particular advantage to one or the other, as both put you through the same examination courses at the end of the day. It is worth considering where you want to work at the end of the course, as qualifications will be more readily accepted in the country where they are accredited. If you hope to work in France eventually, then BASI or another Eurogroup qualification (French, Austrian or Italian - all very difficult) will be best.

Look into as many gap courses as you can find. Try the instructing bodies' websites (BASI, CSIA, CASI, NZSIA, PSIA etc.) and also phone them and ask for the course directory - this will have lots of adverts for courses and is usually free. See winter/season workers websites like Natives, snowsport websites and ski school websites. Look at ski/snowboard magazines like Fall Line, Document and so on. As I say, there are lots of options so don't rush into booking the first course you see. Do your research thoroughly and bear in mind that the gap course is not the only way to become an instructor.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007


This is just a quick note to point out that all the posts relating to becoming a ski instructor are equally applicable to snowboard instructing. The only reason I use the term ski instructing is that I personally am a skier and ski instructor. I have never taught snowboarding (and it is probably safer for novice snowboarders if it stays that way).

Snowboard instructor courses offered by BASI and other organisations follow a very similar format to the ski qualifications (and the S in the name changed from 'Ski' to 'Snowsport' some years ago).

The only exception to this is regarding the right to work in France. At present, only those skiers who have passed the Eurotest or Test Technique (or have gained an exemption through having 80 FIS points or lower) can work in France as snowsport instructors. These tests only apply to skiers and there are no snowboard equivalents. Until recently, France simply did not recognise any snowboard qualifications. However, following pressure from other nations a few Snowboard instructors have been allowed to work in France legally. The current situation is quite complicated and still changing, as for skiers, qualifying to work in France is difficult and likely to remain so.

Why to be a Ski Instructor

Before continuing the series on how to become a ski instructor, I thought I would take a moment to discuss why you might want to, and why you might not. Many people start on the road to ski instructing because they enjoy skiing and think getting paid to ski every day sounds like a pretty good deal. Well, there are days when it is like that, but you can easily spend a week teaching without leaving the beginner slope. This is particularly when you are starting out, but almost all instructors spend a considerable amount of their time teaching beginners.

Bad reasons for becoming a ski instructor then - to ski a lot, or to make money. If these are your sole motivation then you may want to reconsider. Perhaps you could get an evening job in resort (there are always plenty of bars and restaurants), or look for a well paid job in a city near the mountains (Geneva, Milan, Vancouver etc.) and ski at weekends. If you are good enough, especially at freestyle you could try and get sponsored - then you really do get paid to ski, but are also expected to work hard and promote the sponsors properly.

Enjoying skiing and being outdoors are obviously important, but for me the biggest reason for doing the job is the reward of teaching someone else to do the sport I love, especially if they are surprised by their own progress. Those hours on the beginnger slope are well spent if at the end of it the pupil has improved their skiing and their confidence. If you do not get anything out of the teaching side of the job you will not last long as an instructor. Expect to spend a lot of time in a snowplough (or wedge) on the instructor courses, and if you cannot see why this is necessary, again you might want to consider other options.

Here are a few other reasons given by instructors I know (most tongue in cheek):

  • Working outdoors, living in the mountains
  • Keeping fit walking up and down the beginner slope
  • Being paid to talk rubbish all day
  • Being second only to God
  • Altitude is the best hangover cure*
  • Apres-ski drinking is mandatory
  • The neck up goggles down tan line
  • The oh so flattering uniform and the chance to appear in the photo above...

*I have paraphrased this from a long story about getting very drunk in Austria, the hangover melting away in the cable car, the moment of revelation about future career choice - I won't repeat it here as I won't do it justice

Sunday, 5 August 2007

How To Be A Ski Instructor. Part 1 - The Gap Course

A question I've been asked several times is how do you actually become a ski instructor? So I thought I'd answer it here. There is quite a lot to be said on the subject though, so I'll deal with it in several parts. Firstly though, I should dispell some myths, in particular the money. I have heard it said that ski instructors can make 25k in a winter, and this may be true for a select few instructors with an outstanding reputation and a client base built up over years. But nobody is in this business for the money, and a newly qualified instructor will do well to break even over a season.

I will begin this series of posts by considering the gap year courses offered by a number of organisations around the world. For those unfamiliar with the term, I am referring to those courses where you spend several months of a winter training to gain a ski (or snowboard) instructor qualification. This isn't the only, nor necessarily the best, route to an instructor qualification, but it is a very popular option. The biggest downside is the cost - around 5000 uk pounds as a rough figure. This gets you a winter's training with accomodation etc. and hopefully an instructor qualification at the end of it. I say hopefully since it is by no means guaranteed - you still have to pass the exam which means hard work. I have heard of several gap course candidates expecting to have a three month holiday and then being surprised to fail the end of course exam. So the moral is: expect to work hard if you want to pass. See this post for an explanation of the qualifications and acronyms mentioned below.

A typical course begins with a foundation level instructor course e.g. BASI Level 1 Instructor (previously Trainee Instructor) or CSIA 1. This will be followed by several weeks training and work experience with a local ski school. The course will finish with an instructor level course e.g. BASI Level 2 Instructor (previously Alpine Ski Instructor) or CSIA 2. Most courses last around ten weeks in total.

When shopping around for a gap course there are several questions you need to ask. You are writing them a sizable cheque after all. It pays to shop around and do your research thoroughly in order to ensure you get your money's worth.

Firstly, ask the company their average pass rate - for the real qualification at the end of the course not the foundation course at the start. Typical pass rates for an instructor course are about 75%, and with ten weeks to get you there, a gap course should have a significantly higher pass rate than this. There are three reasons why it might not however. Firstly, the selection criteria need to be stringent enough. You need to be a competent skier already to reach instructor level in a season, so a course taking on low intermediate skiers to boost the proffits will inevitably have a low pass rate. Secondly, as already mentioned, candidates may turn up expecting a ten week holiday and not put in the work (particularly if their parents are paying). Thirdly, the standard of training needs to be high enough to take you from foundation to instructor level (I'm deliberately using the old terminology for these courses as I find it clearer).

Secondly, ask how much work experience you will get. I would expect a ten week course to provide around 70 hours of ski school shadowing or supervised teaching. To gain the BASI Level 2 Instructor award 70 hours is a minimum (35 for Level 1 + 35 more for Level 2), but other countries may not have the same requirements. Regardless of whether shadowing is needed for your particular examination course, it will help you hugely in passing the teaching part of the exam. It will also be great preparatio for when you come to teach skiing for real.

Thirdly, to aid your budgeting, check exactly what is included and what you might have to pay extra for: food (including lunches), lift pass, transport etc. can all add to the cost, and don't forget to factor in beer money.

Lastly, you may want to look at the target market for the course - some will be filled with 18 - 21 year olds taking a year out before or after university, others with older people seeking a career change. Some will be a diverse mixture. If you don't mind being twice the age of your course mates then go along and enjoy the experience. If you think it could be a problem, look into the course demographics more carefully.

If you have the money, a gap course can be a great way into ski instructing. You will gain experience and contacts that other routes may miss out on, have a good introduction to the lifestyle, and possibly get a job offer from the school you are working with. You may also be able to get qualified in more than one country's sytem, which is an added bonus for your CV.

In the next post of this series I will look at the alternate approach of taking the courses separately. This is how I started, and is a cheaper option than a gap course.

Foot and mouth returns?

So, foot and mouth is back (maybe). The first new cases in the UK since 2001 have been discovered and farmers are waiting anxiously to see if it has spread. People are thinking back to the last outbreak and pictures of thousands of animals being incinerated.

Now this may seem to have little relevance to winter sports, but it does have a lot to do with outdoor tourism, which skiing is a part of. During the last outbreak for example, off-piste skiing was prohibited in the Scottish resorts, despite it being the best season in years, snow-wise. Irrespective of this, I think that everybody working in tourism needs to pay attention to what is happening in other parts of the industry.

I don't want to belittle the struggles of farmers, who will undoubtedly be hit hard if the disease spreads like last time. However, the plight of the farmers in 2001 was well publicised, and government compensation was given to help them re-establish their businesses. On the other hand, British tourism was also hit hard. Hardest hit was rural, outdoor and adventure tourism. Many businesses struggled or closed down that year, including hotels, B&Bs, outdoor centres, campsites, climbing instructors etc. These ventures lost out due to the British countryside being practically shut down in order to protect the farmers, yet no compensation and little publicity was given in this direction. For various reasons, farming is seen as a nationally important occupation, whereas tourism is not. In a lot of rural areas though, tourism is the growing industry, and the big employer, whereas in many places farming is in decline.

I don't want to see any further decline in rural agriculture, but lets hope that if there is another foot and mouth epidemic on the way, the powers that be will pay some attention to our rural tourism industry as well as to the farmers.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Eurotest Training

Well, it's somehow taken me over two months to write a post, so maybe the spring wasn't the best time to start a winter sports blog. Having said that, one of the reasons I've been less than productive is that I've been away skiing. A fortnight on the glacier in Les Deux Alpes helped to satisfy the snow addiction for the moment. As I've said elsewhere, summer skiing is a really nice way to spend time in the mountains, and the fact that the skiing finishes at one leaves the afternoons free for other activities or just chilling out.

Not that this was a holiday - it was all training towards the Eurotest, which is part of the ISTD - the top European ski instructor qualification. To pass the Eurotest a candidate has to ski a GS race within 18% of a zero FIS points time (equivalent to being within 18% of the World number one). The test is required by French, Austrian, Italian and British instructors to gain the highest qualification in those countries. To gain the right to teach in France (even temporarily), an instructor has to pass either the Eurotest or a similar
slalom test - the Test Technique .

The result of this is a lot of hard work for British instructors wanting to work in France, but it has also led to quite a lot of tension between the various governing bodies of skiing in Europe, particularly as the rules for working in different countries change regularly. Also, until recently, the only way to teach snowboarding or any other snowsport legally in France was to pass the Eurotest - on skis. This is a result of the French refusing to recognise 'Snowboard Instructor' as a separate profession to 'Ski Instructor'.

It is for these reasons that many (non-French) ski instructors loudly criticise the French system as elitist, nationalistic and with an inordinate bias towards racing (particularly as few customers of a typical ski school want to learn to race). However, it is their country and if we as foreigners wish to work there, it is only natural that we are expected to follow the local rules. So, I'll be in the gates doing GS training at every opportunity until I get through it.

The photo at the top right shows Steve W enjoying some summer powder after the day's race training had been abandoned due to too much snow.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Ski Instructor Qualifications

Please look at the updated version of this post here as a lot has changed since I wrote this overview of instructor qualifications.
As I said in the last post, I am going to look at the various levels of ski (and snowboard) instructor qualification and the letters you might see after people's names. I realise most people booking into ski school don't think about the qualifications of the instructor too much. However, advanced skiers/riders might want to look for a higher level instructor to fine tune your technique.

This is actually more pertinent over the summer months for many people, as this is the time when a lot of skiers and snowboarders book on summer camps on the various European glaciers. Often the adverts these camps have a barrage of qualifications to convince you how good the instructors are. Hopefully the info below will help make sense of things.

In general, there are three or four tiers of qualifications for ski or snowboard instructors. There are also separate schemes for coaching (race or freestyle) and in the UK there are dry slope qualifications as well. Each country has it's own instructors' organisation (or sometimes more than one). In addition, the ISIA exists to oversee the national organisations and allow the exchange of ideas.

Firstly then, abbreviations for the various instructing organisations you may see -

BASI - British Associoation of Snowsport Instructors
CSIA - Canadian Ski Instructors Alliance
CASI - Canadian Association of Snowboard Instructors
ISIA - International Ski Intructors Association
NZSIA - New Zealand Snowsport Instructors Association
PSIA - Professional Ski Instructors of America

Okay, so what are the levels and how do they compare? The following lists start with the most basic qualifications and work up to the most advanced, with Coaching qualifications tagged on the end. The list is not exhaustive, but hopefully it may clarify some confusion over the long list of instructor qualifications in existance. The qualifications listed under each heading may be considered roughly equivalent to one another, although the details will vary.

Foundation Level (able to teach beginners up to snowplough turns, including artificial slope qualifications)
BASI Level 1 Instructor (Formerly Foundation or Trainee), CSIA 1, NZSIA CSI, PSIA 1, ASSI

Instructor Level (able to teach parallel turns and beyond. Requires a good level of personal skiing and teaching)
BASI Level 2 Instructor (Formerly Instructor or Grade 3), CSIA 2, NZSIA 1, PSIA 2

ISIA Level (Internationally recognised standard. International minimum standards. Able to teach to a high level. Requires a high level of personal skiing and teaching. Should include off-piste awareness and a coaching element)
BASI Ski Teacher ISIA (formerly Grade 2), CSIA 3, NZSIA 2, PSIA 3, French Stagiere

ISTD or National Level (Highest level certification. Eurogroup recognition. Requires a very high level of personal skiing and teaching)
BASI ISTD (International Ski Teacher Diploma, formerly Grade 1), French National Diploma, Austrian National Diploma

Coaching Qualifications (Not strictly instructing qualifiacations, these are for race coaches etc.)
APC 1, APC 2, CSCF 1, CSCF 2 and others

Friday, 18 May 2007

ISIA Badge

Well, my ISIA badge came through the post this morning at last. That's probably of no interest to most readers but it's my blog so I'm tellig you anyway, since it took a lot of effort to get it. ISIA stands for International Ski Instructors Association, and the said association lay down minimum standards to achieve an ISIA level qualification. Meaning that the ISIA stamp or badge should be an equivalent internationally recognised qualification no matter which country you gain it in. It's taken three years and several thousand quid since passing my BASI Alpine Ski Instructor award, so you can understand I'm pretty happy.

I'm planning a more objective look at the various ski and snowboard qualifications in a future post, so watch out for that - I'll also cover how to become a ski instructor, as I am often asked this question.

Friday, 4 May 2007

Thoughts on spring skiing

Portella de Rialb

Following on from my last post where I mused about the advantages of booking a skiing holiday later rather than earlier in the season, another advantage recently occured to me. Skiing later in the season, after the clocks have gone forward, doesn't just mean that the sun goes down an hour later at night. It also means that the snow warms up an hour later as well. Meaning that you have an extra hour of good snow before it turns to slush in the mid afternoon, and also meaning that you don't have to be quite such an early bird to catch the best conditions.

The picture was taken from the Portella de Rialb near the Ordino-Arcalis Valley in Andorra the week after all the Andorran resorts had shut. As you can see, there is plenty of snow around still, and we enjoyed a fine day out ski touring with good spring conditions. I guess my main point is that April skiing can be just as good as February, so don't write off the end of the season and head for a cold wet beach. Looking at the weather reports its snowing in Andorra even as I write...

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Another one done

Well, that's about it for this winter. All the ski areas in Andorra have now closed for the season, in spite of the fact that there is still plenty of snow about. If you are lucky you might well be skiing in the Alps or North America where lots of areas are still open. It always seems strange to me that resorts shut up shop well before the snow goes - the deciding factor is the number of people I think; it seems that as soon as we hit April everbody forgets about skiing and heads to the beach. Even if it's raining there. So the resorts close simply because there aren't enough visitors to make it viable to open.

I'ts been a strange winter, the snow came later than it has in years and there were lots of dark mutterings about climate change and the end of skiing as we know it. Of course the snow did come, as it always does, and for the last four weeks of the season it snowed almost every day. The resort had the chance to demonstrate how good they are at making snow when they have to, and despite the many rumours bouncing around there was never any iminent danger of an early closure. In truth there have always been occasional late snow years, just as other years have seen monster snowfalls in early November - Mother Nature is ever fickle. To my mind if you want the best chance of the best snow then February and March are much more reliable than Christmas or January. If you want a week when the sun shines, the slopes are empty and the snow is still generally good look at early April.

So, is climate change really affecting the skiing? That's a pretty difficult one to answer, as each year is different from the last. There have been good and bad winters recently all over the world, and snow has fallen in some pretty unusual places. January here was cold in spite of the sunshine, April has been relatively warm in spite of the snow - as expected. Certainly people will speak of a golden age when snow fell by the bucketful year after year, and as a child I remember driving to Cairngorm (well my dad was doing the driving) with snow piled a couple of metres deep on each side of the road. However I also remember getting horribly sunburnt one roasting hot weekend skiing in Scotland as well. I think people always like to reminisce about better days when they were younger, but in truth the same amount of snow seems to be falling on the globe as always, although perhaps the patterns of where and when are a little more erratic. Left unchecked, of course a warmer planet cannot be good for the ski industry, nor for the world in general. For the moment, however, the skiing is still good, the snow is lasting well into April and beyond - so lets make the most of it while we can. And of course switch the lights off, walk instead of driving, put on an extra jumper and turn the heating down.

Sunday, 1 April 2007

Welcome to the Winter Wonderings Blog

Well, winter has almost finished so it might not seem like the best time to start a brand new blog about winter sports and winter life. However the Alps and the Pyrenees have both had what seems like a winter's worth of snow in the space of a couple of weeks, and that's after a season of blue skies and sunshine. And when winter does finally come to a close here, it's only a couple of months until the southern hemisphere winter kicks off. You've got a wide choice of resorts and ski fields across Australasia and South America, the fun is never over.

So, since it's my first post I'd better introduce myself; I am a ski instructor based in Arinsal, Andorra for the (Northern hemisphere) winter and planning to head south to New Zealand for the other winter. I am reaching the end of my second season here (fourth as an instructor, sixth altogether). The nickname Swedish Jan was coined last year when a couple of instructors decided to see how many people they could convice I was from Sweden. For the record, I was born in Manchester, England. Anyone wanting to know more can check out my website at I'll throw in a picture here so you can see what I look like in the oh so fetching ski school uniform...

Well enough about me, future posts will probably talk about ski instructing and the various qualifications, courses and organisations involved, travel around the world, my attempts to learn Spanish, global warming and its consequences for the ski industry, random rumours, the history of skiing and anything else I can think of. The way I see it a Blog site is just an outlet for all my musings - be prepared. For the rest of this post, I just want to say a little about where I am - the town of Arinsal.

Arinsal is one of the ski resorts in the Principality of Andorra - a small country perched in the Pyrenees on the border between France and Spain - population about 70 000, size - well it fits onto a single 1:25 000 scale map so its about 20 miles from one side to the other. The country is not part of the EU, so is an attractive duty free shopping destination for both the French and the Spanish. Tourism and banking are the main industries. The skiing is not huge in comparison to the Alps but is friendly and accessible. The Arinsal ski school makes a point of employing English speaking instructors (as well as speakers of French, Spanish, Catalan, Czech, Russian, Danish, Portugese, Hebrew, Dutch, Afrikaans etc.) and ensuring that people are taught in their own language. This is frequently not the case in local ski schools accross the Pyrenees and the Alps. Arinsal itself is the friendliest town I have ever lived in, and this is probably the reason so many people keep coming back year after year, either to holiday or to work. The town is small enough to feel homely but big enough to throw a damn good party. For me it ticks all the boxes as a great destination, and I know I'll be back next year. For more info about the town see our new website, and leave us a message in the forum ;-)

Hasta Luego