Ski pass promotions

There are a few promotions around from different ski areas at the moment, all of them trying to get you to commit to buying season passes in their region.

I thought that I would summarise the ones in the local area that are relevant to the areas that we teach in for SnowPros Ski School.

Of course the promotion that started it all last year was the Saas Fee season pass.  Under a bit of pressure to pay for a new lift that they had installed, they decided to go for a sort of crowd funding campaign and offered ski passes for the season at just 299frs.  This was an amazing deal but was only available for the people that had pre-ordered assuming that Saas Fee sold 100,000 of them.

Anecdotally, they got to around 80/90,000 and then asked all of the local hotels, ski schools and other businesses to make up the rest so that they could trigger the promo.  Obviously this brought in a tremendous amount into Saas Fee both in cash terms (30m frs) as well as generating a tremendous buzz about this new way of doing things.

This obviously put a bit of pressure on other ski resorts who would have been feeling the pressure of trying to sell their ski passes at prices above 1000frs when the snow is more sure at the other end of the Valais with their 3500m+ mountains and glaciers.  When you combine this with a pretty average winter last year, it’s no surprise that some of the resorts in the Swiss Romande have come up with promos of their own.

Magic Pass

The Magic Pass has generated a lot of interest with access to 25 ski stations for just 399frs.  This includes Villars, Gryon, Diablerets, Crans Montana, Leysin, Zinalski, Grimentz and a whole bunch of little places you won’t have heard of.  Kids born after 2002 can get their season passes for 249frs.

The pass is valid from 1 November until 30 April, however that’s a bit cheeky because you won’t be skiing at any of the stations on 1 November unless it’s Glacier 3000 and access to the glacier on the Magic pass is 100frs extra.

In general it looks like a good deal and something that we will be taking advantage of for sure.

Portes du Soleil

Jumping on the bandwagon also is the Portes du Soleil who have taken a slightly different approach.

They propose for the under 25’s a season pass for 400frs for the whole Portes du Soleil ski area, giving you access to 12 ski stations, most of them linked and about 650kms of pistes to ski.

Their second promotion is more family orientated in that if an adult buys a season pass, they get a free one for their child who would be under 10 years old.  At the time of writing an adult season pass is about 900 frs.

The pass also offers some days skiing in the 4 valleys, Verbier etc and some other stations further into the Valais.

Verbier

Also interested in the under 25’s market and encouraging the next generation of skiers and bikers is the Mont4card, which gives access summer and winter for 400frs.  For those that use the lifts year round and fit the right age category, this seems like an amazing promo.

Otherwise, there isn’t much the 4 valleys is offering other than their usual variable pricing, which is from 1399 – 1599frs for an adult depending on when you book it.

To it’s credit the annual Verbier pass offers some exceptional skiing and is open very early and closes late for a resort this close to the Swiss Riviera and there are coupons for those wishing to ski other areas such as Chamonix, the Aosta Valley and some resorts in the USA.

Is it worth it? 

It depends on what skiing you are planning to do in a season.  Obviously for those who ski every day, like us, it’s essential and in fact we will probably have season passes for a number of different regions depending on where our clients want to ski this year.

Many of our clients however, don’t want to go to the same resort every weekend and wish to explore new places.  In that regard, season passes probably aren’t for them.

I would calculate how much skiing you plan to do, how many days you actually have available and decide from there.  Often there are group on style promos aound and people reselling day ski passes on Facebook during the season.  Often people don’t ski as much as they think they will and for them buying day by day is better.

A quick note to those with very small kids, most resorts don’t charge for kids under 5 so don’t buy ski passes if you don’t need to.  Often kids having a lesson with a Ski School like ours, kids go free.

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Swiss Snowsports International Equivalence – Part 2

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;

Short turns

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.  

Corridor Test

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.

Off Piste/Moguls

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.

Free Run

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.

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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.

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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 dave@snow-pros.ski or PM on Facebook.

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.  

-X-

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.

-x-