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BASI 4 European Mountain Safety – A Candidates Perspective

Having completed the British Association of Snowsport Instructors (BASI) 3 European Mountain Safety (EMS) assessment, a few years ago and the Level 4 training last year in Courcheval, I thought it would be a good idea to complete the BASI 4 European Mountain Safety.

Ski touring and off piste skiing are what I enjoy most about snow sports. The mountains have always held a fascination for me and the physical effort involved along with the skills needed to safely travel in them are key to this.

Areches – The Venue

I arrived in Areches (1,000m) a few days before the course started so I could get my bearings. However, with the huge amount of snow that fell followed by rain and a category 5 avalanche forecast, this was limited. The ski resort itself was closed for two-days! Areche-Beaufort is a very small resort which is split between Areches and Le Planay (1,170m); which is in the Haute-Savoie and was part of Italy in medieval times. The locals are very proud of their heritage and make some amazing cheeses. The area is well known for its wildlife which includes Ibex, Chamois, Lynx, Ermine, Bearded Vultures, Golden Eagles and Wolves which come over the mountains from Italy. The village is home to roughly 3,000 people who live there year round and the majority are involved in farming of some sort or other. The resort’s big plus, compared to other places I have skied, is the amount of easily accessible backcountry skiing which is not glaciated. They have a race, the Pierre Menta, each year in April and in the summer, which sees thousands of teams skiing/running up the mountains and cols. It is truly is an all-year round resort. For those new to touring there are several skinning tracks which run close to the piste and are marked and graded. They offer very cheap single lift passes for those wishing to ski off piste or are heading further afield but want to make use of the up lift. The Ecole du Ski Français (ESF) offer instructor led day and half day tours. The instructor I met was Pierre-Eve and his mad collie which didn’t stop running all day. Other sports shops offer guided trips over more challenging terrain and privately guided trips.

ski touring skinning up
The gradient was at an easy angle and we were all very keen to impress, so the ascent didn’t take too long!

BASI 4 European Mountain Safety

The assessment started on the Tuesday evening with a short briefing about what to expect and what we needed to carry. Each morning we discussed the avalanche and weather forecast to test our knowledge and understanding relating to the areas we would be working in. We then set out to ski the resort and to check out our map reading, group control and route choice both up and down hill. As the day was so nice we took in the biggest local hill ‘Le Grand Mont’ (2,686m). The gradient was at an easy angle and we were all very keen to impress, so the ascent didn’t take too long! The views were jaw dropping in all directions with uninterrupted views north to Mont Blanc. The ski down was also great fun as the snow was so good. We did have to remember that we were being assessed and make sure we looked after the group, taking them down the best lines. Returning towards the piste we stopped to set up ski belays and then lower and belay back up our partners to demonstrate we were safe. A bit more skiing followed and the first day was behind us. That evening we had a theory paper which covered various areas including avalanche, weather, mountain knowledge, emergency procedures, flora & fauna, equipment, etc. We also had to complete a route plan for the following day with bearings, timings, distances and features to look out for. 

view of the mountains
The views were jaw dropping in all directions with uninterrupted views!

We woke the following day to blue skies and so could do our planned route. We took it in turns to lead and everyone had to keep track of our location as you could be asked at any point to show our location and to prove it. The ski in was very enjoyable through trees to start, then open fields, and mountain meadows later. Dropping over a ridge in to a bowl allowed us the chance to stretch our ski legs for a short distance before putting skins back on our skis and heading up to the Col de Roche Plane (2,094m), over 1,000m of ascent. Heading back down started really well and we all enjoyed the snow, however, this was not to last as the snow, which had been great up to this point, changed to become nearly un-skiable. The descent became slower and it was with huge relief that we eventually arrived back on the road, a short walk from Areches. With nothing planned for the evening we all went for a well earned pizza and a couple of beers before heading off to bed and to pack kit for our final day and our results!

Another glorious day greeted us and with only a few skills to be tested we were all looking forward to finishing. More off piste skiing, avalanche and weather quiz, and the dreaded transceiver search followed. The search was for two transceivers which had been buried to simulate an avalanche; which had to be found within eight minutes. Nerves play a big part in this, because so much depends on you passing. We all took our turn and even though some of the transceivers misbehaved we all completed in under the time allowed. 

With all the testing completed all that was left was to find out the results. I am glad to say we all completed the assessment successfully which was a great relief. It was great to meet new people who were doing the assessment for different reasons. Tim, Rupert and Alister were great company; and each offered the others support when they needed it. And thanks to Willie, our assessor, for his encouragement and good humour throughout. 

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How To Become A BASI Ski Instructor

The British Association of Snowsport Instructors (BASI) have a qualification structure for skiers who aspire to work, as a ski instructor,  in the ski industry. The Alpine Level 1 course would be the first step to enter into this type of career, and is aimed at experienced skiers who feel they are at a level where they can start to teach beginners of the sport.

Before You Start The Course

Your skiing level is the most important thing to work on before starting the course. I would recommend talking to someone you know who has passed the BASI Level 1 course, and getting them to have a look at your skiing and tell you if you are at the required level. If you don’t know anyone, book a private lesson at any of the dry ski slopes or snow domes in the UK (and make sure your instructor has at least the BASI Level 1 qualification).

You don’t need to own your own skis yet as it’s possible to hire a pair (this was the case at Milton Keynes SnoZone – it would be best to check with the slope before arriving). However, I would highly recommend buying your own boots. There is a huge difference between a hired pair and your own – your own boots can be heat moulded to the shape of your foot, and custom-made foot beds can be added, to give excellent performance and comfort.

Day One

Our group (nine of us) met our instructor in the cafe next to the ski slope at 9 am. The skiing kicked off immediately with some rider improvement exercises, which covered body positioning over the skis, different types of turns (short rotational turns and longer carved turns), and how to use the feet to push on the skis and improve turning.

After lunch, we were briefly shown the Central Theme, which is the name given to the steps BASI instructors use to teach new skiers from beginner level, up to turning using parallel turns. There are seven steps, which were explained to us, told why they were useful to the student, and shown how to demonstrate them. We also practised the demonstrations ourselves, which in my opinion also helped my own skiing.

For the last hour we continued with more rider improvement exercises, in which we focused on torso positioning in short radius turns – in which the torso must be facing downhill while our legs turn beneath us; and larger carved turns – in which we looked again at pushing down with our feet while turning.

The skiing finished at around 4:30 pm, at which time we went into a small classroom to discuss the day’s activities. We were then set a task of planning a very short lesson (around 15 minutes) to teach the next day, and given some questions to answer at home regarding class safety.

Day Two

We met again at 9 am in the classroom, where we talked through the homework questions given to us the day before, which took no more than half an hour. Straight afterwards, we went onto the slope, and each of us gave a 15 minute practice lesson to the rest of the group – the one we had planned the day before. My lesson was looking at turn sizes and how they affect speed: smaller turns make skiing slower whilst larger turns make skiing quicker.

We had some rider improvement, similar to day one, which was related to our short radius turns. For myself, the main aspects I was trying to improve were my posture and my upper body position. After going through a few drills, we each had a run of short radius turns filmed by our instructor. After lunch we watched the videos of our short radius turns, and the instructor slowed them down to give us detailed and personalised feedback.

The Central Theme was briefly run through again, with a few new possible tactics shown to us which could be used in lessons.

The rest of the day on the slope was used to practice the larger carved turns. The main parts of our turns worked on were keeping the skis the same width apart throughout the turns, and managing pressure with our legs during the turns. Again, we had some large carved turns filmed by the instructor, and the day was finished with some video analysis.

Day Three

Day three was much the same as day two: rider improvement, including video analysis, took up most of the day; running through the Central Theme aspects was also a major part of the day.

Near the end of the day we went into the classroom to plan the lessons that we were to give during day four. These lessons form the teaching portion of the assessment for our Level 1 Ski Instructor exam.

skier on indoor ski slope
Celebration! Jake passed BASI ski instructors course.

Day Four

This day was the teaching assessment day, in which we each “taught” our peers in a 20 to 30 minute session. We were given some time the day before to plan our lessons, which were to be any part of the Central Theme. I chose to teach snow-ploughing, which is the first step in learning speed control.

Most of us were quite nervous on this day as it’s quite daunting knowing you will be pretending to teach advanced skiers the basics. Even though I have been teaching snowboarding for a few months, I was still not looking forward to it. However everyone’s lesson went well enough to pass. When assessing the teaching sessions, the main criteria were that we understood the Central Theme; had an effective way in which we got the information across to the students; managed our students in a safe and efficient way; gave relevant feedback; and moved on to further exercises relevant to the feedback.

Day Five

The final day of the course! For myself this was the most important day, as it was the assessment for our skiing ability. At this point I was still ironing out some aspects of my short radius turns, however by the end of the day they were at the required level to pass – what a relief!

Other aspects of the the skiing ability we were assessed on were the longer radius, carved turns, and our demonstrations of beginner turns (for when teaching the Central Theme).

This day was the shortest of the week, and we finished at around 2 pm, once we had been given our results (all of us passed!). We went back into the classroom, where our instructor gave us a de-brief of the week. This included running through with us what we needed to do next for our BASI Level 1, possible future courses and training we could enrol on, and general information regarding life as a ski instructor.

After The Course

Once the course has been completed, there are a few other small things that are needed from BASI before you receive your Level 1 certificate:

35 hours of snowsport experience: this can include shadowing ski lessons, working in the ski hire area, or even on reception at a ski school.
First Aid Certificate: Must be a minimum of a 12 hour course
Working with Children module: an online course
Criminal Record Disclosure: available online

Jack ‘Jesus’ Thompson

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