EA Ski & Snowboard were formed by a small group of passionate skiers and snowboarders from around the world whose main aim was to help keen riders enter the snowsports industry as successful and capable instructors.
Ski & Snowboard Training began in 2006 when two ski instructors in the USA noticed how difficult it was to break into snowsports instruction. They decided to fix this problem by setting up a course combining instructor training, which focused on making it easy for people to become instructors, with a guaranteed job offer to teach in the same season.
The concept of the Instructor Internship was born and has changed the nature of the industry ever since. Over the years EA has built partnerships with the top resorts around the world and now offer ski instructor internship courses with 26 Ski Schools in over 5 Countries. Added to that no other company can match EA’s global resort networks spanning Canada, USA, Japan, New Zealand and Switzerland. This means more open doors for interns and trainees.
I opted for the Saas-Fee program. EA is one of the most expensive course providers and Saas-Fee has one of the lowest success rates not to mention the worst accommodation. The accommodation is shared apartments, sleeping in bunk beds above a noisy bar open until 02:00am. I measured the noise level one night: 77 decibels going up to 100 + decibels when there was a live band using the drum kit. How you can be expected to sleep through that noise level I have no idea. I quickly moved out. There is the massive advantage that on the Saas-Fee program you train with the Swiss Ski School and work for them as an instructor during peak weeks. I had approached EA previously. When my BASI Alpine Level 1 was cancelled at short notice I had contacted EA about the Saas-Fee program but couldn’t get my UK life put on hold in time so had pulled out. This time, I had been planning my Saas-Fee internship since April and had everything in place to be able to join the program in November. You don’t say no twice, this would be my last chance.
The program starts with an orientation night in Geneva. Despite the fact that I was already in Saas-Fee it was made clear to me by EA that it was an important part of the program and that I would be expected to attend. Why I couldn’t have met the group in Saas-Fee I don’t understand. Instead I was expected to travel 3 ½ hours across to Geneva for a night in a hotel. They even charged me an extra £215 the privilege !
There are three main ways of skiing; the right way, the wrong way and the BASI way. I was about to encounter a fourth; the Swiss way. Whilst most internships use coaches who are either BASI Level 4 ISTD or a BASI Trainer / Examiner this isn’t the case with EA. They use someone from the Swiss Ski School. Although that person is assessed by BASI Training Manager Roy Henderson it does mean you don’t get the same standard of BASI coaching as on other internship programs leading to a lower pass rate.
I would discover several other ‘interesting’ things about the program set-up. You pay for both BASI Alpine Level 1 and BASI Alpine Level 2 exams at the start of the program and are enrolled on both courses at the time of booking. Book through BASI and you can’t book onto the Alpine Level 2 until you have fully and successfully completed all of the Alpine Level 1 plus a further 35 hours of snowsport shadowing. This doesn’t apply when you book on the EA Internship. As long as you are likely to be at a good enough standard by the BASI Alpine Level 2 you will gain a pass for Level 1 even if you’re not at the technical criteria and the pre-requisites for BASI Alpine Level 2 don’t apply. Then there was the price difference for the Level 2. Book through BASI and you pay £670. EA charge you £785 for the Level 2. With 10 people booked on the Level 2 it was a tidy profit made by EA.
Out of the 10 booked on the Alpine Level 2, only half would pass. At one point it looked like I might be the only one eligible for the level 2; I was the only one with the pre-requisites (not that you needed them). Then, 10 days before the BASI Alpine Level 2 I sustained a serious injury whilst skiing with the ski school.
Advantages and Disadvantages
As with any internship program you do there are advantages and disadvantages to whatever you choose. EA was no exception and there were far fewer advantages than disadvantages.
For me, there were three main advantages. For a long time I have wanted to spend the winter in Switzerland and the EA program gave me this opportunity. The Saas-Fee program also comes with a guaranteed job offer with the Swiss Ski School and since the BASI Alpine Level 2 wasn’t until March I would get the on snow time I needed in order to improve. I signed up.
The disadvantages to the program became clear very quickly. EA insist you book travel and insurance through STA Travel. Despite repeated attempts to contact them via phone and email I couldn’t speak to anyone about flights and insurance. Booking a flight should have been easy but it proved impossible and with me due elsewhere in Switzerland with BASI before going to Saas-Fee I booked travel myself. Finally, weeks before I was due to fly out STA eventually got in contact.
Booking the travel insurance EA required was just as difficult. When you read the policy document it didn’t give enough cover for long enough and I met nearly every one of the exemption criteria. Again no-one got back to me and I ended up having to sort out my own insurance.
It quickly transpired that the accommodation details we had been sent made the accommodation look far better than it actually was. Pictures of spacious double rooms turned out to be rooms with bunk beds. When the group arrived there was no working washing machine or dryer and on one occasion we spent three days with blocked drains. Also the accommodation was above a ‘Café’. I knew Saas-Fee and I knew the accommodation was in fact above somewhere noisy, rowdy and open till 2am with live music several, if not, most nights a week. No way would I be staying in the group accommodation. I would use it until I found something else and then move out.
The training handbook EA send out before the program turned out to be almost as inaccurate as the description of the accommodation. In the program handbook you get given the training schedule plus a whole load of useful information such as where to get your mail sent. In reality, the program manager in resort doesn’t see this handbook and therefore you find the training schedule is actually very different. As for other information, such as where you get your mail sent to, that was also wrong.
We had been assured that we had weekends free and were encouraged to have second jobs. When you get to resort you find that no, you have training some weekends; either Ski School formation or ad-hoc sessions at short notice to make up for what has been lost due to poor weather.
Then there was communication. The program manager would only communicate with the group using Whatsapp. If you didn’t have Whatspp you didn’t get the messages for the group. If you are unable to make the start of training due to other commitments there is no attempt made to communicate with you where the groups location is and whether or not the coach looks at his phone is very much dependent up on who he thinks might be trying to contact him. On one occasion I missed training completely. I had asked the coach to inform me of where the group were heading so that I could join them. I sent the message between 11:00 and 11:30 knowing the coach would be able to pick it up at lunch time; this he did. However, there was no attempt made to tell me where the group were heading despite knowing I was joining them. The end result was that I missed that days training. I was furious. The discussion that followed highlighted everything that was wrong with the training program. Our coach certainly didn’t feel he needed to bother helping people locate the training group and I didn’t even get so much as ‘sorry you didn’t get to us’; what I got was very different.
When the resort closed early due to Covid-19 both BASI and EA sent out emails advising us to leave as soon as possible. Despite EA’s email stating STA would be in contact to discuss travel arrangements there was, once again, no contact from STA and once more I found myself having to make my own arrangements. As for assistance from the program manager, he wasn’t even in resort.
At least no-one was thrown off the program for skinny dipping.
To fracture or not to fracture ? – that is the question
Wednesday night was ski school show night and torchlit descent. The weather had been appalling all day. Strong gusting winds had shut the entire ski area down for the day. It was half-term too. The decision was made that the ski school show and torchlit descent would go ahead as planned but with a modified route. Instead of doing the descent down Spielboden we would do a descent down Staffelwald. Conditions were dreadful. As we stood at the top of the slope waiting to set off it was clear our torches were not going to stay lit; they just kept blowing out in the wind. We were told to ski with no gap between us, our skis touching those of the person in front. This close proximity to the skier in front was to prove disastrous. We set off in two lines, buffeted by the wind and weather. By halfway down most of the torches had blown out in the wind. Then, almost at the bottom, I was clipped by the person behind.
I had no chance of recovering it and slammed hard to the ground onto a patch of ice. The pain in my left hip and right knee was instant. I was in trouble, big trouble. My fellow instructors shouted to me asking if I was alright. It was clear I wasn’t. I waved them on ‘ keep going’ I shouted to them. We were right at the bottom in full view of the crowd. One broke from the line and came to my aid. I couldn’t put any weight through my right knee and my left hip was incredibly painful. I’d smacked to the ground bang on my femur. All I had to do was cross the bridge and I’d be back at the ski school meeting point on Kalbermatten. By the time I reached Kalbermatten I couldn’t put any weight through my left leg either and was in absolute agony. Had we been on Spielboden I would never have made it back without piste rescue. Once back at the ski school meeting point I was carried across to the locker room, dropped my kit off, then carried up to the road where a passing taxi was flagged down and helped into my apartment.
Trying to get comfortable in bed was almost impossible. Any contact to my left hip caused an unbelievable amount of pain. The only way I could get comfortable was to sleep on my back, knees bent up and together so there was nothing touching my femur.
In the morning I phoned the medical centre. Walking the short distance around the corner took me half an hour. Every few steps I would have to stop because of the pain. I knew one of the staff there. She took one look at me and I was straight through to xray. I had all the clinical sings of either a fractured hip or a fractured femur. Getting me comfortable enough for xray was tricky. At least I didn’t need to tell them where my injury was. There was a clear, distinct, red impact mark on my femur from when I’d hit the ice. A series of xrays were taken. I could tell there was something. A lot of discussion was taking place. More people arrived to look at my xrays. The first xray had given the suggestion that there might be an anomaly to my hip, but was it a fracture ? After much review and discussion I was told I had severe contusion to my hip, signed off work for the week and issued with crutches. I’d been the only one in the group with the level 2 pre-requisites and now there was a very real possibility I was out of the program.
Those of you who know me will know I’m stubborn. There was no way I was pulling out of the Alpine Level 2. Moving around the village on crutches was made easier by it being towards the end of February as there was no snow on the village streets. Sitting in my apartment was ok for short spells but I still couldn’t have anything touching my femur. Even when using crutches I couldn’t put any weight through my left leg. I had asked the ski school for the injury protocol and had been passed to EA. When I asked EA for the injury protocol it became clear there wasn’t one. A huge amount of confusion ensued and no-one gave me any information on the correct procedures to follow. The whole situation quickly turned into utter mess.
Unable to train due to mis-understandings by everyone about the procedures required and when I could ski again I enlisted the help of some of my BASI trainer / examiner friends. A week after my accident and armed with notes from my ‘useful’ friends I put the skis back on. I was still needing crutches on an evening or if I went any distance in the village but at least I was back skiing.
When I returned back to the UK I had repeat imaging done of my hip. It had been 6 months since my accident and it had taken 5 months for me to be pain free. The very first image that was taken showed what looked suspiciously like a fracture to the head of my femur. However, subsequent images failed to show the anomaly. Whether or not it was a fracture that the radiographer saw, I have been left with permanent weakness to my left hip which still gives me problems to this day.
Alpine Level 2
It’s rare I complete a BASI course without injury. On my BASI Alpine Level 1, somehow, I took a chunk out of my finger courtesy of a ski boot clip and was left dripping blood everywhere. On my BASI Alpine Level 1 resit there was a double whammy when I tore open my right knee and my right hand.
If you are a BASI trainer / examiner reading this and see me down as participating on a course you are delivering, run, run the opposite way !
Our trainer / examiner for the BASI Alpine Level 2 was Hannah Bryans. When I’d skied with Hannah in Zermatt prior to going to Saas-Fee she had dropped a heavy hint that it would be her delivering the level 2, and it was.
Having sustained a massive hip injury in the lead up to the course which had left me on crutches the week before I optimistically hoped that I had thwarted my injury jinx. I hadn’t. Whilst walking across a slippery terrace at lunchtime I slipped and landed heavily on my left side. It left me unable to ski the Central Theme and Hannah couldn’t assess me on anything that afternoon as, once again, I wasn’t putting weight through my left leg. There would be more injury to come.
Anyone who has done BASI Alpine Level 2 will know at some point you do synchro skiing. I’d been grouped with three others. There are various ways of synchro skiing but to keep it simple numbers 1 & 3 were synchro together and numbers 2 & 4 were off-set together. What could possibly go wrong ? Hannah watched from behind on a snow ledge below Morenia Restaurant. We pushed off, I went to make the first turn, and that’s the last thing I remember about our synchro.
The next thing I am aware of is trying to sit up in the snow, all dazed, feeling as if I’ve just woken up and wondering why the slope, mountains and sky are all spinning. More puzzling still was that I wasn’t wearing skis. Someone had placed them neatly beside me. Hannah wasn’t wearing her skis either. Instead she was knelt in the snow on one knee looking at me. With us were two of the other synchro group. My synchro group were nowhere to be seen. I still have no idea what happened and there is a definite memory gap.
Clearly concerned for my well-being I was sent down from Morenia in the gondola escorted by one of the group and sat out the rest of the afternoon. With no-one in the tea-rooms with me where I was sat I had to check-in with our trainer / examiner every 15 minutes to stop her worrying about me. At one point I moved outside and sat watching from a distance. At least that way the group could see I was alright.
At the end of the two week course, despite my hip pain, I managed to pass the teaching criteria and variables but needed a technical resit for short turns and long turns. I wasn’t surprised. It’s quite difficult to ski when you can only put weight fully on one side. Really, I should never have done the course but I’m too stubborn.
Out of the ski instructor internship programs I have spent time with, the EA program in Saas-Fee is by far the worst. Would I recommend it to someone ? Absolutely not. Would I recommend EA ? Yes but go to Zermatt !!
Take Two Part – One : Shocking Experience