Friday, 4 December 2009

Ski Instructor Qualifications

I originally wrote this overview of ski and snowboard instructor qualifications in June 2007, but as there have been some changes since then it seems worth publishing a revised version.

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.
Often the adverts for higher level ski or snowboard courses 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). 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. Currently the ISIA has 38 member states and sets minimum standards for obtaining the ISIA Stamp and Card

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
CSCF - Canadian Ski Coaches Federation

NZSIA - New Zealand Snowsport Instructors Association
PSIA - Professional Ski Instructors of America
ISIA - International Ski Intructors Association

And some non-English speaking organisations for comparison

EFPEM - Escola de Formació de Professions Esportives i de Muntanya d'Andorra
ENSA - Ecole National de Ski et d'Alpinism (France)
AADIDES - Asociación Argentina de Instructores de Esquí y Snowboard

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 existence. 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 1, PSIA 1

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 2, PSIA 2, EFPEM Nivell 1, AADIDES 1

ISIA Stamp 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 Level3 Instructor ISIA (formerly Grade 2), CSIA 3*, NZSIA 3, PSIA 3, French Stagiere, AADIDES 2, EFPEM 2

Note that although the CSIA 3 is considered to be at about this level only CSIA 4 holders now recieve the ISIA Stamp in the Canadian system

ISIA Card/Eurogroup Level (Highest level certification. Eurogroup recognition. Requires a very high level of personal skiing and teaching)
BASI Level 4 ISTD (International Ski Teacher Diploma, formerly Grade 1), French National Diploma, Austrian National Diploma, Italian Maestro de Sci

According to the ISIA, "Snow sports instructors with the highest national training from the following countries already meet the ISIA minimum standard for the ISIA card:

Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, Great Britain,
Italy, Holland, Spain, Switzerland."

However only the European countries on this list are fully recognised across Europe.

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

Updated 12th April 2011

Friday, 27 November 2009

Ski teaching - a viable career?

I was recently sent an email from a reader of this blog who is considering dropping his university course to pursue a career teaching skiing year round. He wanted to know how easy it would be to make a sustainable career as a ski instructor. I am sure plenty of other people have asked themselves the same question so I thought I would post my my answer below.

Firstly, to put it bluntly, it is not easy to make a sustainable living as a ski instructor, particularly if you plan to do two winters a year. It is very difficult to break even working in the Southern hemisphere when you consider the cost of a return flight. You should also consider that at most
you can work around 8 months a year - 5 in the Northern hemisphere and 3 in the Southern. Starting as a newly qualified instructor with a low level qualification will put you at the bottom of the priority list wherever you work, meaning less hours and a lower rate of pay.

All that said, it is possible to make a long term career out of skiing as long as you are prepared to work at it and don't expect it to be easy. You can have a lot of fun along the way as well.

Firstly, you have to like teaching - loving skiing is not enough if you find that you spend all you teaching hours wishing you were out skiing for yourself. You will spend a lot of time on the beginner slopes, particularly to start with, and there will not be too many days like the photo above. I find teaching beginners a lot of fun, and very rewarding, although it is good to teach higher level classes as well. If you don't get a buzz out of turning a first timer into a competent skier then ski teaching probably isn't for you. If you can, try and get some experience teaching or
shadowing at your local artificial slope before deciding to drop everything to be an instructor - until you have tried teaching you won't know if it is for you or not.

Secondly, it will really help if you have an alternate career you can fall back on, either for summers, or in between seasons in the spring and autumn. Most instructors here in Arinsal have another job in the summer, except for South Americans and an Australian who teach skiing back in their own countries. We have instructors who are electricians, hiking guides, a sound engineer, a retired policeman, some who work in Majorca or Ibiza in bars, one used to work in a chocolate factory - it doesn't matter what, but it has to be something you can do short term. Myself, I have worked on a building site in Chamonix, a high ropes course in Stoke, and for a care work agency for short term work in spring and autumn, as well as doing seasons in Argentina and New Zealand. Getting some other outdoor qualifications is also quite popular, allowing you to work in the mountains all year round, but be careful to check which ones are valid outside the UK if you want to live abroad. It is not too difficult to break even over a season in Europe, but you will need to save money for more instructor courses, start of season costs (in most resorts you will need to pay a sizable deposit towards your accomodation upfront for example, and might not get paid much until the end of January if you are paid monthly) transport to and from resort etc.

Thirdly, courses. It depends how good a skier you are, but the cheapest way to qualify is by doing the courses separately. This means you will need to be a pretty decent skier to start with (minimum 12 weeks, able to ski any piste competently, carve on reds, ski off piste and bumps to some degree). If you are a reasonable skier but not at the level a gap course is a good but
expensive way to get there. I wrote some blog posts on how to become a ski instructor a while back, which you might want to look at if you haven't already. If you are looking at this as a long term career option then you will not want to stop with the Level 2 qualification which you will get
after a gap course (or after doing 2 courses, work experience, first aid and child protection if you do the courses separately). Employment opportunites and pay improve considerably with a Level 3 ISIA qualification - a further 7 weeks of courses plus more work experience and a second language. For the best pay and opportunities (plus to right to work in either France or Italy)
you need Level 4 ISTD (I'm using the newest BASI names for the qualifications here) which is a further 3 - 4 weeks, plus the Eurotest, more work experience, written project and interview. This is all a lot of time and money, but if you plan to work in Europe you should plan on doing these courses sooner or later, but the good news is you can be working as an instructor from when you finish your Level 2 (Level 1 for artificial slopes). A few instructors working mainly in France manage to make very good money, but there are a lot more instructors out there (mainly outside France) who are just getting by. Your choice of course (i.e. which country's system) depends on where you want to work. Most countries will favour instructors with their own qualification, so for example if you wanted to work in the US, PSIA would be better for you. If you only speak English and want to work in Europe, then BASI is generally your best bet (although for Andorra, CSIA 3 is better paid than BASI 3 at the moment). If you speak good French or German (good enough both to sit the courses and to teach in) you might want to look at the French or Austrian systems, although the French system is difficult unless you have a racing background as the Test Technique slalom test is a pre-requisite.

Lastly, I wouldn't necessarily be in a hurry to drop your university course - you could do your BASI Level 1, teach some part time hours in a snowdome, then take your BASI Level 2 and work Christmas and Easter holidays in the Alps for Interski for example to gain experience and contacts. You could even do a season in Australia, New Zealand or South America (if you
speak Spanish) over the long summer holiday. That way you would still have your degree to fall back on. Obviously I don't know your situation as regards how long you have left, just how dissatisfied you are with the course, what the financial implications are if you drop the course or
continue with it, but it is possible to begin your ski teaching career whilst continuing your studies. It is also good to get some experience - your first full time instructing job will be the hardest to get, especially if the economic crisis continues, but if you have already gained part time experience it will be a lot easier. I did work experience at a dry slope, then a season in Scotland, before I managed to get a job abroad - my mistake was assuming it would be easy and applying to a couple of ski schools rather than dozens of them. That said, Scotland was a great experience and gave me a really good grounding in how to teach varied groups in very varied conditions.

Good luck, whichever route you decide on. Teaching skiing really is one of
the best jobs in the world in my opinion, but do be prepared to spend
several seasons gaining qualifications and experience.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

More photos from Cerro Catedral and surrounding area

I'm back home in snowless England now, for a few weeks. The upside is I have easy access to the internet again so have no excuse any more for the lengthy gaps between posts. Here are a few more photos from Argentina to begin with.

A stunning view and an ageing chairlift - two features that sum up this ski area

One of the large fleet of piste bashers hard at work

The River Limay, taken whilst rock climbing in the Valle Encantado, about an hour's drive from the ski area.

You can see from the photos that the landscape is pretty spectacular - to be honest the images don't really do it justice. It is well worth visiting the are just for this. Skiing wise, there are some good runds, and when the conditions allow some great off-piste possibilities. However the ageing lift system means it takes a long time to get up the mountain, and lack of snow making (and a reluctance to use the snow cannons they do have) means the lower runs returning to the base are often patchy.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Why leaning too far forward is bad as well

Its been a while since I did a ski lesson type post, which was the initial idea of the blog, so here goes with a post on being balanced over the middle of the ski. I have read posts on other sites about finding the sweet spot in the center of the ski. This is a fairly important idea when moving into advanced skiing, so I thought I would put my own spin on the concept.

A common misconception is that it is necessary to lean forwards when skiing. This is probably because many an instructor can be heard telling their clients to get their weight forward, or not to lean back. I have been guilty of this myself on numerous occasions, and as corrective feedback it is perfectly valid to tell somebody who is over the tails of their skis to bring their weight forward. The danger is that they will overcorrect and end up over the fronts of the skis unless it is made clear that they only need to move forward enough to find a balanced position.

In general beginner and intermediate skiers are much more likely to lean backwards than forwards, especially when nervous or tired. It is natural to try and lean uphill, keeping the body as upright as possible, but this translates into leaning back. It is also true that in a snowplough or basic parallel turn leaning back will make it much harder to turn the skis, whereas leaning too far forwards will not cause too many problems. Many skiers will therefore be told to move their weight forwards, while far fewer will be told to move their weight backwards.

The upshot of this is that good intermediate skiers can easliy find themselves leaning too far forward, without ever realising that this is a bad habit that will inhibit their progress towards advanced techniques.

The trouble is that in higher level skiing leaning too far forward is at least as big a problem as leaning too far back. The key is too stay more or less centered over the ski. I say more or less because the point of balance can move forward and back during a turn, but that is a subject for another post.

If the weight is too far back the skis will be sluggish and difficult to turn. When carving the skis will tend to go straight. If the weight is too far forward the skis will tend to pivot around their tips, meaning skidded turns will be less controlled and when trying to carve the tails will break away and skid sideways. In between these two, in the centre of the ski, is the balance point where the ski performs as it was designed to.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Cerro Catedral Views

I've been skiing at Cerro Catedral for a about a week now, and I have heard many times that the best thing about the mountain is the views. I have to agree with this. The skiing is okay but at currently needs much more snow. It looks like there should be some good posibilities off piste when we get a decent snowfall, but for now the views are indeed pretty spectacular.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Buenos Aires Photos

Well, I've been in Argentina for 3 weeks now, and I've discovered that at this time of year its rainier than the North of England. The mountain finally opened this week, a lack of snow having delayed it until now, and I had my first day's skiing yesterday. The visibility was pretty poor, so no photos yet. In the meantime here are some sightseeing photos of Buenos Aires from the journey over.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Off to Argentina

Well the ski season is over almost everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere. I stretched it out as long as I could with a few weeks in Chamonix after the season ended in the Pyrenees. I'm finally back in England though, with a pile of gear to sort out and skis to service. For those of you in the Southern hemisphere the new winter is just around the corner.

I plan to head south in a few weeks to Bariloche in Argentina. This will be a new experience for me as I have never skied anywhere in South America before. I was tempted to try Australia, but that will have to wait until another year. There are just so many places to ski in the world. So this time next month I'll be posting some photos and writing a few posts about skiing in the Andes.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Silly Places to Sit (or stand)

I don't know if it is just my observations but there seems to be a distinct lack of common sense in the mountains this year. One particular symptom is in the places people choose to stop and wait or even sit down for a picnic. This seems to apply to all situations from the beginner slope right the way into the off piste and back country. So here is my top 5 list of places not to sit down. None of these are made up - I have seen all of these done recently.

1. In the middle of a race course. Ok, if it was a major race the course would be well fenced off, but when the local ski club set a training course they will still be moving down it pretty fast, so sitting on the racing line is a really bad idea.

2. On the landing slope of a jump. The landing of most jumps cannot be seen from above, so sitting here is likely to lead to you being landed on by a skier or snowboarder. Yet people keep on doing it. This one has amazed me for as long as there have been freestyle parks.

3. On a crevasse. A crevasse covered by a weak snowbridge will look like a hollow in the snow. This might seem like an inviting place for a picnic, until the snowbridge collapses and dumps the picnicers into the bottom of the crevasse.

4. Below seracs and icefalls. These towers of ice at the feet of glaciers break away suddenly and without warning. Not good for the people sat below.

5. Directly below a group of beginners learning to ski or snowboard. Often beginners will lose control and people sitting below are prime targets - particularly as beginners tend to be drawn to any object they are trying to avoid.

The most important advice in the mountains is to be aware - aware of the surroundings and aware of the potential dangers. Treated with respect, ski slopes need not be particularly dangerous places. However it is important to remember that despite the ski holiday packaging, there is still a mountain environment to consider.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Saving Money During Your Skiing Holiday

When booking a ski holiday obviously most people are looking for the best deal they can find at the moment. However if you are booking a package it can be tricky to decipher what the tour operators are offering and what extras you need to buy. The tour operators can give out quite misleading information at times, and it is easy to get talked into buying unnecessary extras, either when booking, on the transfer bus, or on arrival in resort. The resort reps are your point of contact with the company and are often very helpful, but remember that part of their job description is to sell as many extras as they can.

Some extras are obviously important - ski pass, tuition and equipment hire are all essential for a beginner and many more advanced skiers will also need the full ski package. However, even here the options can be misleading - in this resort (Arinsal) several tour operators charge intermediate skiers a higher price than beginners for the ski pack. This is for the same ski pass, the same ski hire (upgrading the skis costs more again) but for intermediate rather than beginner lessons. Oddly though, the ski school charges exactly the same for lessons regardless of the level. So if a tour company asks for more money for the same product based on your skiing ability it is worth asking exactly why. In some resorts there might be a different ski pass for more advanced skiers, covering a larger area, but here it just seems to be a case of the companies charging more because they can.

Other extras you might find include trips to other resorts and all manner of excursions, plus various evening entertainments. Again it is worth looking at exactly what you get, especially if you are on a budget. If there is a trip to another resort could you get there for a fraction of the price on local public transport? And if you are a beginner is it suitable for your level of skiing? Are the night time activities really worth the money? The 10 (or more) Euro pub crawl is a favourite of the reps, but you could probably have a much better time finding the pubs yourself, and get the same drinks cheaper.

Of course some of the activities offered will be a lot of fun, but don't feel you have to sign up to everything that is offered to you as soon as you get there. Ask some of the locals for the real story about what is worth going to - your ski instructor or the bar staff are useful sources of information and are not generally trying to sell you anything other that a ski lesson or a pint of beer. If you do want to sign up for anything later, the reps will be only too happy to take your money then.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Powder Days

Regular readers have probably noticed this blog has been quiet for a while now. I'm afraid the only excuse I have is that it just keeps on snowing. We have the most snow I have seen in Andorra and it keeps on coming. Every run in Arinsal is open at the moment and there are new off-piste possiblities opening up all the time. Here are a few photos to show what I mean, with thanks to Matthew Boyer who took them on a recent afternoon in the powder after work.