Swiss Snowsports International Equivalence Course – part 1

Since I successfully converted over from the British Skiing members organisation (BASI) to the Swiss Snowsports system, a lot of people have people have asked me about the process and the content of the practical conversion course that you have to pass.  Some people have one eye on Brexit and the implications of that.

I am one of 5 people in the group of 7 that took and passed the course in November 2016 so the information that follows is up to date and a fair reflection of what to expect when going through the process of converting over your qualifications from any other national system to the Swiss Snowsports system.

For those of you non ski instructors reading this blog, this may get a little nerdy.

THE PAPERWORK

The first part of the process is to fill in the form demanding an assessment of your qualifications.  This form can be found HERE and it’s in French , German or Italian.  If you can’t speak a second language and you cheated your way through the second language module in your home instructor system, you might struggle and I have no sympathy for you.

The Swiss Snowsports system has levels as follows (the kids instructor is optional);

Kids instructor > Aspirant > Instructor > Brevet Federale

In terms of the qualifications that these equate to, I can only relate you to the British system.  BASI 1 and 2 are worth nothing to the Swiss, the level isn’t good enough.  If you have the British level 3, that equates to the ISIA stamp which is what the Swiss get when they get the Instructor qualification.  If you apply with less than ISIA stamp, you will probably be asked to do the aspirant exam.  The Swiss give the ISIA Card with the Brevet Federale, the British give it on completion of the Level 4 because of their ties to the Eurotest countries.

Once you have submitted your request, Swiss Snowsports will give you their decision and ask you to pay 270frs to see it.  If you are happy to pay, they will send you a dossier with where they consider that you stand in their system and what to do next.  Most people who are applying are ISIA qualified as a minimum and will be asked if they wish to book onto the International Equivalence course.

Depending on the qualification that you hold, you may have to attend a tourism and law course and maybe 1 day of the off-piste mountain safety course.  Both of these will be in French, German or Italian.  Normally these and the practical tests will be sufficient for the Swiss to issue you with the Instructor qualification.  Sometimes this is called the ‘Patente’ but this is a Valais thing only and has a different issuing authority.

If you wish to continue with the system and get your Brevet Federale which allows you to teach off-piste and gives you the right of establishment of your own ski school then you have to go to Bern and sit a written test in French, German or Italian as well as defending a dissertation in front of a panel of experts, that you wrote and submitted previously.

In part 2 next week, I will outline the skiing tests, passing grades and skiing level needed in the International Equivalence course.

Season Review part 2

Hello from sunny Geneva.  I promised you more frequent blogging and the second part of the season so here we go.

Early January continued with teaching our lessons in Chatel.  There was sufficient snow to get the cold north facing Follieuse piste open in Morgins but for some reason, they didn’t get going until the middle of January which was a real pain in the arse for all those that work and teach skiing in the village.    When the big snow finally came in mid January, everyone was happy to finish skiing around dodging rocks and get into the swing of the ski season.

I had a really good day in mid January skiing around the Portes Du Soleil with my friend Scott Pleva of Inside Out Skiing.  I’ve done a few courses with Scott over the years and he’s a really great guy.  If you are looking to improve your skiing in the UK, you should definitely check out what he does at the indoor snowdomes.  We talked and skied a lot and plotted a few things in connection with bringing a group of his skiers out here to sample the delights of the Swiss side of the Portes Du Soleil.  You can check out the trip that we have planned here.

The ski season was a little disjointed for me this season because of the birth of my daughter Zoë.  For those of you that don’t know, she was born on 18 January and has been a delight every since she came into the world.  

I’ve noticed about this whole baby thing is that the pre-natal classes that you have to attend, which seem mainly to be spend waiting for them to end and listening to a whole bunch of stuff that doesn’t really seem that complicated (and indeed could just be condensed down to a one hour YouTube video that is obligatory to watch).  Compare this to the actual reality once the baby has arrived and you more or less are just left to get on with it without that much guidance at all.  I’ll never forget the time when I was left all alone with Zoe, just 10 mins after she was born, where I was on my own with her for an hour or so with no clue what to do.  It’s really very strange that you get all this chat before the event but very little after.

On another note, am I too premature in having bought her skis already?

Zoe’s pair already next to mine


After 10 days playing new Father, I was back on skis and into the guts of the International Schools Ski Race season.  These are great days, looking after groups of good young skiers racing for the glory of their schools against other schools in the region.  The fun bit from our perspective is not only skiing with these guys but also getting to visit other resorts and getting out of the Portes Du Soleil for a while.  This year, we visited Les Diablerets, Villars, Saanen and we would have gone to Gstaad too but it was cancelled due to bad weather.  The level of skiing was generally good and it was great to see so many kids that I knew through skiing or football at the races.

Once high season holidays were out of the way and the weeks of teaching in French and some basic Dutch (google translate is your friend here) were clear, the season evolved into teaching our own groups that we bring out to Morgins with Ski Morgins Schools, our company that runs Ski and Educational Trips to Morgins.  This year we had groups from The Middle East, Africa and the U.K.

Because these groups are often completely new to skiing, they are a big contrast to the groups on race days and it is sometimes exhausting having to think for 8 kids and yourself and everyone else on the slopes around you.  Sometimes it’s a question of limiting the amount of stupid decisions that kids make whilst remembering that they don’t see those decisions as stupid because they don’t realise or see the dangers that we see.

I had a couple of good groups over the course of these weeks and a couple of beginners groups.  The beginners are great fun and I’ve now become so comfortable with teaching groups like this that I’m now experimenting with different teaching styles, command, guided discovery, questioning approaches etc.  I have concluded that they reach the same level at the end of the week irrespective of what style I use..

The last group of the season from Africa were exceptional.  Because Morgins closed early this season (again, a lack of snow did for them) I got to ski my group around the Chatel Pre La Joux sector.  The group was comprised of the kids that had all skied before and frequently took skiing holidays with their parents.  I had the most amazing week with them, skiing on and off piste, moguls, jumps, ice and slush.  They took it all in their stride and skied in in the African style, which is fun, lots of laughing and supporting each other.

my african team elite

For the last 5 days of the season, I had my old business partner Steve and his excellent family out here to visit.  I was being Dave the tour operator this week as I had organised an apartment for them and showing them all the best restaurants and teaching their kids George and Rosie how to ski.   The kids took to skiing like ducks to water and I can see a ski holiday being a fixture of their family year for years to come.  The only question left is how long will it be before the parents need lessons to keep up with the kids.  About two years I reckon…

My next blog will be the Swiss Snowsports conversion equivalence course one.  

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Murmuration of Starlings

I posted this video on fb yesterday of these amazing birds and what they are up to.  According to the RSPB website, they are actually just having fun, just hanging out with their mates and flying about before settling down for the evening.  All along the riviera here, this video was taken in Aubonne, you see this spectacular show in the autumn.

From the RSPB website;

“What’s going on?

It’s basically a mass aerial stunt – thousands of birds all swooping and diving in unison. It’s completely breathtaking to witness.

We think that starlings do it for many reasons. Grouping together offers safety in numbers – predators such as peregrine falcons find it hard to target one bird in the middle of a hypnotising flock of thousands.

They also gather to keep warm at night and to exchange information, such as good feeding areas. 

They gather over their roosting site, and perform their wheeling stunts before they roost for the night. 

When and where?

  • Autumn roosts usually begin to form in November, though this varies from site to site and some can begin as early as September. 
  • More and more birds will flock together as the weeks go on, and the number of starlings in a roost can swell to around 100,000 in some places. 
  • Early evening, just before dusk, is the best time to see them across the UK. You don’t need any special equipment as it’s all visible by just looking to the skies.
  • They roost in places that are sheltered from harsh weather and predators, such as woodlands, but reedbeds, cliffs, buildings and industrial structures are also used. During the day, however, they form daytime roosts at exposed places such as treetops, where the birds have good all-round visibility.”

This is the start?

I woke up this morning for the first time to the magical sound of beeping and scraping snowploughs and the man downstairs at the Creperie, hard at work with his shovel, cleaning the snow from his terrace. This can only mean one thing, the big snow has arrived.

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Big snow?

I don’t particularly want to jinx the big snow as I know that it has snowed all the way down to Lac Leman which is never a good sign but it is forecast to stay cold, so at least the guys who look after the mountain can start making some more snow and generally get on with making a ski resort happen.

In this respect, it’s been a pretty disastrous start for some of the Portes du Soleil, with places like Morzine looking like summer up until today and my home resort of Morgins only able to open the top area for beginner lessons. Pretty much the whole of the Portes du Soleil was invading Chatel, Linderets, Mossettes and Avoriaz, resulting in Avoriaz having to impose quotas on lift ticket sales to preserve the pistes and ensure safety.

I managed to ski much of the French side this week in a desperate attempt to look like I can still actually ski for when our ski school formation weekend (skiing part anyway) finally happens. Personally, I’m skiing pretty well actually and I’m taking on board some of the lessons that I learned on my failed BASI (British Association of Snowsports Instructors) level 4 tech exam last year.

Personally this year, I’m taking a break from BASI and ski instructor exams. I came to the realisation last year that endless focus on exams and progressing through ‘the system’ was killing my enjoyment of skiing and so I’m having a year off with specific goals of finding enjoyment and pleasure in skiing again and skiing socially with friends.

It’s not all been sitting indoors looking out of the window looking for snow though. I’ve have a few trips to Saas Fee in the Autumn which were excellent as usual and I even got to finally visit Nesti’s Ski Bar which was on my list of things to do in Saas since I first went there in the summer of 2010. It didn’t disappoint and is well worth a visit if you are in the area. Loads of Appenzeller shots, no wifi and great music.  Say I sent you.

Remember I was telling you about my goal to ski with friends more? Well, for my birthday, I got a bunch of people together and went to ski in Cervina. The snow there at the start of December was amazing and everything was open, right from the top at about 3300m, down to village level at 1800m.

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Some high quality rental skis

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Beautiful Italy. Cervina.

Despite being on rental skis and very hungover (a long story for another time to do with getting a chef fired and a house party till 3am), I had an amazing day, skiing with my bosses, my friends, ex-Swiss team skiers and the coolest guy in Morgins, JD.

That day was all about social skiing and to see 8 Morginois, skiing with total freedom, tearing up the Italian pistes was a sight to remember.

Bring on winter.

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Flying

After a brief existential crisis last week, relating to questions about what direction my life was headed, why where I live is sometimes so much like an retirement home (someone said this to me recently and it really connected with how I was feeling at that time) and various other things I’m not prepared to share with the whole world yet, I was all but ready to give up on life here, move back to the UK and find a ‘real job’.

After a very strange day with many pieces of paper, a black marker pen and a room that ended up looking much like the projection room Howard Hughes locked himself into in ‘The Aviator’. I finally came to the conclusion that, although sometimes boring and often difficult, life is better here. Also, I’ve been looking at the psychological concept of re-framing things and I now realise that this coming year is actually full of possibility.

So in the two spare remaining weeks of summer that I have, I drew up a little list of stuff that I wanted to do which I may or may not share with you over the next weeks or so.

List item number 1. Fly like a bird.

So I can’t actually fly, I don’t have feathers and I have a very real and physical fear of heights. I do however, have on my doorstep here a couple of places where in exchange for money, you can strap yourself to a guy and jump off the side of a mountain with a parapente attached.  I booked myself in with ESI pro flying in Chatel, with a guy I know called Christophe. I think with this kind of thing and my fear of flying/heights it was good to do this with someone you know and trust.

After a trip up a couple of lifts to the top of the Morclan lift in Chatel at 1970m (you can see Mont Blanc, Dents du Midi, Dents Blanche, even the Eiger from up there) we walked over to the communications equipment on top of the hill and Christophe set up everything with no fuss.  Before i knew it and with no time to dwell on my fears, I was strapped in and we were running down the hill before the chute lifted us up and I settled into the seat.

Immediately we started going up on a thermal that we picked up just along the ridge line that goes down towards the La Chapelle ski area and just went up and up and up. It seemed windy but Christophe just said that this was the effect of the wind coming against us as we moved through the air.

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Up and up we went, you could feel the movement of the wind acting on us and bumping us gently from side to side, like waves in the ocean and as I started to relax, it was amazing to get an aerial view of Chatel, the Abondance valley, Morgins and further afield, like being a soaring eagle. I saw the sites and routes for the new lifts going in at Lac de Vonnes and all of the new pistes the commune are making for the new link between Super Chatel and Linga.

I’m pretty sure I was a terrible passenger for Christophe as every time there was a little sideways movement or slight drop in pressure to the wing, making for a slight falling motion, I would tense up again and make scared noises! I’m the same in an aeroplane so it’s not his fault 🙂

After a while and as we got closer to the ground, I became more and more relaxed and started to really enjoy myself and noticed that my good friend Neil had stopped to take some photos of me, the ones you see are his.

After seeing just how maneuverable the wing was on the way into land, we were soon down with a precise landing that was just like stepping off a bus. Incredible.

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It took me about 7 hours for my hands to stop shaking and I’m not sure that I would be ever able to do it again but if you don’t have the same fears and hang ups that I do, it’s something I would recommend to anyone. It’s magical.

Thank you so much to Christophe at ESI Pro Flying in Chatel for taking me and being so patient with me.

Next stop on my list.  Saas Fee for some Glacier skiing tomorrow morning.

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