In part 1 of this series, I outlined the steps you need to take to get a place on the international equivalence course. Below I write about what the course was like and I will try to give you an idea of the level that you should be at if you want to pass the course
THE INTERNATIONAL EQUIVALENCE COURSE
The course itself is held twice annually in Zermatt, November and April. The skiing on our test was done on the red pistes that come off the top of the Fergsattel chairlift accessed from Trockener Steg. The pistes themselves aren’t that steep and and you are recommended to use slalom skis so you are never really going that fast. We were assessed by the head of Swiss Snowsports Eduction and a member of the Swiss Demo Team. The demo team member was one of the best skiers I’ve ever seen.
The first day is an introduction day to the Swiss Snowsports system and their teaching methodology. I found it quite complex compared to the British model but they are essentially talking about the same things, just using different words. Fortunately, with the exception of one Croatian who spoke 5 languages fluently and was the best skier there by miles, everyone on the course was British so Swiss Snowsports conducted the course in a mixture of Swiss German and English.
On the first day, we did nothing except learn about their learning system and freeski, with some individual feedback about our personal skiing. The Swiss like to see lots of energy and dynamism in their skiing and to them the British style can seem rather conservative. In the evening there was a theory section with a written test about the presentation. The questions were in English and we could answer in English. However the presentation was in German and I had to keep asking for translations as my textbook and preparations up to that point was in French.
The next day, we started with a general warm up and then we were straight into the skiing tests. Depending on the time available, you get 1 or 2 practice runs and then the test. You don’t find out your results on the day, the trainers just assess you, write down their marks in a notebook (out of 6, 4 is a pass) and move onto the next test.
There are 4 elements to the tests;
We did our short turns on the steep pitch on the left hand side of the chairlift as you go up. It’s reasonably steep but nothing like the steepness of the pitch that BASI uses for their level 4.
I was not aware of it going in but they want you to perform your short turns in the Swiss style. This means hips and everything pointing down the hill, slalom style with short pressure bursts to deflect the skis and lots of knee anglulation. This differs from the British System and it’s important to be flexible in your skiing style so you can show them what they want to see. A useful tip is to count the number of turns that the demo team guy does and try to match it. They are looking for high energy and dynamism.
The corridor test is also set on the red pitch but this time on the right side of the lift when you go up. The test is a real test of precision of carved turns of different types and your ability to transition between them.
The corridor is set with brushes and the widths of each section are at 4m, 6m or 8m apart and you have to get as close to the brushes as you can without touching them. The widths can vary in their sequence. Ours was set at 6m, then to 8m, then to 4m and back to 6m again.
The difficulty I found in practice and the real thing for this test was making sure that the turn was finished enough so that you didn’t carry too much speed into the next turn radius and managing the exit pressures from a fully carved longer turn into a shorter radius turn. The examiners expect all of your turns to be carved and that you make a good number of turns within each section. We had two or three practice runs at it and then the real thing.
It’s a great test of your skill as a skier and one that I’ve never seen before in all my experiences in the British system.
This section of the test is selected on the day by the Swiss experts and they choose between an off piste run or moguls. In our group, we had the first International Equivalence Test for around 8 years that were examined on Moguls.
It seems that normally, the examiners prefer to do off piste. I cannot comment on the off piste run itself but I can tell you that it would have been examined on the off piste to the left of the left red piste as you go up the chairlift. The gradient wasn’t that bad and we were on slalom skis so it shouldn’t present that much difficultly to do what is in effect a BASI style variables run of different turn types and mid air edge changes etc. I should also note that you have the option to change your skis to an more off piste focused set.
We were examined on moguls and many of the skiers in our group struggled with moguls in general, myself included. However, I had found a zip line in Saas Fee in October before the test and skiied it until I was comfortable in one. In hindsight, this training was invaluable.
During the test, we skied both zip lines that were just off to the right hand side of the right hand piste as you go up the chairlift. The top section was a steeper gradient but had better and more offset and organised bumps. The lower set was basically a straight line that got faster and faster as you went down. After much deliberation and looking at the level of the group, they decided to use the top steep section.
We made two or three practice runs and then skied the test. The examiner wanted to see moguls that were skied slow, prescisely and in control. This is something of a contrast to the usual BASI exam where moguls usually end up as some sort of contest to see who can smash them the hardest.
The free run was described to us an opportunity to show us what you can do or, ‘your business card’. The free run comprises long turns, medium turn, short turns and switch turns. There needs to be a minimum of 4 switch turns, ideally carved and the change from regular to switch turns ideally will be different going in to coming out, ie. 180 in, power slide out. Otherwise, you have complete freedom to show them what you can do.
We used the piste on the right hand side of the chairlift as you go up and started on the steep section and continued down until the flat.
Of course, everyone’s strengths are going to be different but personally, I started with short turns, worked into medium/long turns over the roller to get nice and low to the snow where the examiners were stationed , carved my switch turns out on the medium steepness and then finished with medium to short turns on the bottom
This is a difficult thing to make up on the spot so I would suggest finding a similar pitch and then working on a run that looks dynamic and has the appropriate turn shapes for the gradient. Also, learn how to carve switch. It’s not that difficult on slalom skis.
The day ended just after lunch and we were all told that we could leave. With the Swiss, you are sent the results by email about 2 weeks later so there is none of that last day exam pressure like with the British system.
In order to pass the test, you have to get marks of 4.0 out of 6.0 overall. That means that if you absolutely boss the moguls and you get a 5.5, then you could afford to be rubbish at short turns for example and get a 3.5. You lose 0.25 for each technical error they see starting from a 6.0. You should also note that the written exam is given a mark too.
The system to me seems fair and allows you to show your strengths and be rewarded for them. In addition, I found the overall atmosphere of the exam pretty relaxed and easy going and I’m sure that is something to do with the fact that you don’t find out your results on the last day. During our course there was a number of other courses going on such as technical director training and the demo team training. The overall level of skiing was very high and everyone seemed to be having fun.
In terms of the level that you would need to be at to pass the test comfortably, I would say that you need to be in the mix for a BASI level 4 technical pass or just slightly below that level. You need to be adaptable, dynamic and prepared. A couple of guys showed up to our course with no idea what to expect, despite the pre course information explaining what would happen . They couldn’t ski switch or zip line bumps and as such failed badly.
For those looking to take the course and who would be interested in training specifically, I will be in Saas Fee frequently in the Summer and Autumn and I am available to set up training sessions. I have video of the level and standards for the tests and can help with your preparation. You can contact me on +41 7862 45060, by email firstname.lastname@example.org or PM on Facebook.