Thursday, 6 June 2013

The Beginning - The Trainee Instructor Course

Arinsal Ski School - where I have spent
most of my teaching career to date.
I should start at the beginning, nearly ten years ago now. There have been a lot of ups and downs since then, and it is not finished yet, but back then things were simpler. I had the idea that it might be fun to teach skiing - maybe for a season, maybe part time at a local dry slope. I had yet to leave my home, career and girlfriend to spend every penny I had chasing this dream around the globe.

I did a little research then telephoned BASI to ask for their course directory. The web was younger then and online booking was not as ubiquitous as it is now. I found a Trainee Instructor course in July on an Italian glacier in Val Senales and booked myself on. Nowadays it is a Level 1 instructor course but back then it was just (obligatory) training and preparation for the Instructor course. Accommodation and lift pass were included, and transfers arranged for a fee, so all I had to do was book Easyjet flights to Milan and ask for a week off work. I remember Easyjet taking my baggage for free and a ski bag on top for free as well - how things have changed.

At Milan Malpensa Airport I saw another fresh faced BASI hopeful, easily recognised by the ski bag in his baggage in July. As we introduced each other more people appeared with skis until we had the whole group together for the transfer. We were a mixed group with ski racers, a semi-pro freestyler, an army ski instructor, myself with just two seasons under my belt and a couple of dry slope instructors, one of whom had only skied two weeks on snow.

In Val Senales we were organised into groups and met our Trainer, Steve Rickets. Steve was a real character with plenty of stories to tell and (we found out later) a party piece called the Sambuca hedgehog. Steve was the first BASI trainer I met, and he seemed at the time to be quite a legend. I have met many BASI trainers since, and some others have had that aura about them but many have not.

To me, Steve seemed an incredible skier, but more importantly he was a great teacher and the course was fantastic. The first three days we had our skiing pulled apart (at least I did) before having it put back together again. But more importantly than having our skiing improve, we learnt about how to learn and how to teach. There were theory sessions each evening and the biggest thing I took away from these was that ski teaching could be a proper job and a serious career.

On the snow I learnt more in that week than I think I have in any other week's skiing in my life. I completely changed my technique and began to lose my bad habits. I learnt about lateral separation, how to carve properly and how to ski bumps. I learnt that ten people can make a rut-line to practise bumps. I learnt the beginner progression that to me was lost in my earliest memories (and had changed somewhat since then). The weather was mostly good, but I remember one misty day when Steve gave us a lesson in a mystery style. He gradually up the suspense as to what the final piece of the puzzle would be (which was what the lesson was about), and the weather really added to the atmosphere.

The course was great, I was learning lots and enjoying most of it, but after a couple of days I began to feel quite down about my own skiing ability. I had always considered myself to be a pretty good skier, but now I was surrounded by much better skiers and was struggling to make the changes I needed to. I felt like I suddenly couldn't ski anymore. I know now that this is quite common when learning a new technique. The old way feels felt familiar and comfortable whilst the new way is awkward at first. There is a point in the transition from one to the other when it feels hard to do either well, but this is just part of the learning process. I was as if my skiing had been completely dismantled and not yet rebuilt.

Half way through the five day course we had a midweek debrief and a chat with the trainer. I was pretty unhappy with my skiing at this point as mentioned above, so I told Steve I wasn't sure if ski teaching was for me. He gave me a real pep talk which was the start of putting my skiing back together over the last two days. I have often looked back on that chat as being the moment I decided to pursue a career as a ski instructor. Over the next few years as I taught in Andorra I hoped to bump into Steve at some point, buy him a beer or two and say thanks for my career. At times more recently I hoped to bump into him so I could ask why he didn't tell me to stick to the real world and save all the disappointments and expense of the later exams, and occasionally I have wanted to curse the man for being such a good trainer back then and not putting me off as he could have done.

As it was not an exam as such when I did the course there was no passing or failing on the last day, just a debrief and a feedback form. I was advised to ski for four weeks before taking the Ski Instructor course (now Level 2), and I did exactly that. At some point early in my BASI career somebody told me to always do what the trainer says, and that was good advice.

Next post - Shadowing hours: getting my work experience at the dry slope.


  1. Hi, I've really enjoyed reading your original blog and now the new one too. I'm going to be embarking on my own instructor journey next winter and have found your posts very insightful and helpful in confirming im doing the right thing! Thanks and i look forward to the next updates

  2. Thank you for your kind words and best of luck with your ski teaching career. For me it really is the best job in the world.