There has been widespread coverage of the news that the EU is introducing a Europe wide employment card which includes 800 professions including ski instructors.

This prompted the French national daily Liberation to announce a headline comparing British ski instructors in France, to that of Polish plumbers.

There seems to be a voice that claims the introduction of the card will make it easier for British ski instructors to work in France. The reality is that becoming a qualified ski instructor in France is not easy, for any nationality including the French, and the new EU card will not change that.

Ski instructor teaching client

Photo: Travis Crawford (CC 2.0)

For several years, the governing body which overseas the training and assessing of British instructors (BASI, British Association of Snowsports Instructors) has been working with their European counterparts to streamline the qualification process to enable British ski instructors to reach the required standards in France, Austria and Italy. These Alpine nations have set a standard at a higher technical level than other countries. One of the main reasons for this is that there are more skiers wishing to become instructors than available places.

The requirements involved to reach the standard include a rigorous mountain safety exam which can take several weeks in total to complete and includes avalanche search and rescue and a notorious race on a giant slalom course that tests the very best skiers to their limits. This race has always been controversial as the argument that expert ski racers don’t necessarily make good teachers is a fair one. But the point is that the race is only a very small part of the overall training and insures only the dedicated and disciplined reach the required standard to teach skiing as they wish in France. The rewards for those instructors that attain this level are good and the 300 or so British instructors that are qualified to work in the France can do so without constraints.

There is a consensus that the French ski instructors working in the local ski schools are somehow there by birthright. This is not the case, they have had to work through the same system to qualify as anyone else. There is often much criticism aimed at French ski instructors by British skiers and this is why the demand for Instructors that are trained under the BASI system is so high. Of course this concerns the French but teaching skiing is a demanding job and requires many skills alongside those of being a great skier. Passion for your job and a love of the environment are crucial. Often British instructors are so happy to just be there doing what they love that their enthusiasm shines through.

Learning to be a qualified ski instructor takes several years of training and working as a trainee or a stagiaire in France. The new EU card will not change the qualification process, but the Polish plumber tag might just stick a little more. Hard working, loyal and spends their income in the local economy, I think British ski instructors will take that.

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Robert has extensive knowledge and experience of winter sports and has been qualified to instruct and teach Alpine Skiing for over 20 years. For several years Robert was a professional freestyle skier, competing in Freeride & Freestyle competitions, throughout the world. He is also an experienced off-piste or backcountry skier.

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