How do you decide on a ski school? Will Roberts, Director and Ski Instructor, B.A.S.S. Megeve (British Alpine Ski School, Megeve), France, graciously answered my questions and shared his advice on how to choose a ski instructor in Europe.
Q. What factors should you consider when looking for a ski school?
A. To any English speaking skier heading to Europe, choosing which ski school to use is not quite as clear cut as just weighing up what is offered, the prices, sizes of groups, and availability, etc. There are few factors that are not common knowledge which determine the value of what you are paying for.
In short, we need to get the answers to a few questions. Will we get an acceptable standard of English? Is the Level of Instructor that I am paying for is high enough? Are facilities of the ski school will provide what I want and need? And are there extras available to me?
Q. When your non-native language skills are minimal, like mine, is language an issue?
A. Firstly, when you're an English speaking skier, look for English Tuition. As such we can have lessons available to us that are in English (possibly Instructors for whom English is a 2nd or 3rd language) or 'Native' English (A 1st language English Instructor) So depending on what you want when making inquiries it can be advisable to check on the level of English that your Instructor will be at.
Q. How about certifications and qualifications?
A. Just as in any profession there are various levels of training and qualification, and nearly every national governing body starts with a 'Trainee' level. A bench mark of qualification level is given by the International Ski Instructors Association (ISIA). Generally, a mid-level instructors will have an ISIA stamp on their license.
The major level of instructor is the highest qualification the world offers: the full Diploma (British - Diploma, French Diplome, Swiss Patton, or Austrian Staatlicher). If you are a good skier and want to be taken off piste or go touring - legally the only instructor allowed to do this is one who has qualified at the highest level and achieved their Diploma.
Ask your instructor when they last refreshed their qualifications, if they are up to date their license will show a Valid or Expiry Date on it. Every certified instructor is required to carry a valid first aid license (valid for 2-3 years).
Q. What should families look for when selecting a ski school for their children?
A. If you are considering putting your kids into ski school and they are under 5 years old, you really need to make sure that the school you are putting them into has kindergarten facilities. Young children simply don't have the physical or mental strength yet, to be out on the mountain for a long time without regular breaks.
So club des piou and schools with ski kindergarten provide your kids with all the food, warm drinks, entertainment activities and safe, fun, ski terrain that they could need. But if you are booking the kids into a lesson then ask if the school has these facilities as the younger kids tend to enjoy their time on snow more.
Now, if you are looking for kid's lessons for five year olds and above, ordinary ski school is where they need to be and there are normally events and awards that the kids can be involved in included in the lessons or for a very small additional cost. Simply ask the ski school if there are any included in the lesson(s) because they are great fun and your kids will have an even better time on snow.
For example British Alpine Ski School Megeve includes all kids in the British snow sports award system where the kids get awards, (badge and certification) to the level that they have achieved.
Q. Why should expert skiers use an instructor?
A. Instructors with the highest qualifications will also have an in depth understanding of terrain and snow to the extent where they can read weather variables and understand what snow will be like on different parts of the mountain without having to go there. Because it's not just down to luck, there is normally somewhere good to ski on the mountain. But if the snow is changing considerably every day, are you good enough to know where the good stuff will be? Your instructor should be!
Terrain and snow conditions can have a huge impact on your skiing and, as such, if your instructor is not as aware as they should be it can make what should be an easy progression in your lesson unnecessarily difficult.