End Of The Road?

Rob Greatbach has spent 10 years working towards his goal of qualifying as a top level ski instructor to teach in France.  Covid-19 and Brexit could well have just conspired to put an end to his dream.

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Rob has just one hurdle left to get his top Level 4 BASI (British Association of Snowsport Instructors) qualification and earn him the right to set up as an independent instructor anywhere in the EU.

That one hurdle is to pass the speed trial known as the Eurotest.

Unfortunately for him, the final two Eurotests of 2020 have just been cancelled due to Covid-19 and, as the situation stands with Brexit, he may not get another chance.

We reported on why that’s the case in this earlier article:

Rob has written his personal story of his blood, sweat and tears journey towards a dream that may never be fulfilled.

We humbly suggest it is worth taking the time to read.

In The Beginning….

Having started skiing at the Gloucester dry slope at the age of four, and fallen in love with the sport at the age of 13 on a holiday to St Anton, my teenage years were spent trying to find ways to spend as much time as possible in the snowy mountains of Europe.

My ski trips were limited to school holidays and one week in January each year where I got permission to go skiing from my school (how times have changed).

In a good season I would get 20+ days on snow. However even though I was lucky enough to be able to continue to ski 3-4 times a season through university it just wasn’t enough for me.

Once I graduated and passed my professional exams to become an ophthalmic optician I started looking at ways to increase the amount of time I could spend skiing without breaking the bank.

I decided to apply to become a volunteer leader for the Ski Club of Great Britain, completing my training course in December 2010 with high marks.

Rob leading for SCGB in Tignes in April 2013

Over the next five seasons I went self-employed and was able to lead for the SCGB for more than 20 weeks in Tignes, Chamonix and Verbier. I realised I wanted more.

Unfortunately, as a 29 year old with an outstanding student loan, I knew that  if I wanted to be able to spend more time doing the thing I loved I needed to start getting paid for it.

Rob in 2012

Setting Out To Be An Instructor – BASI Level 1

In August 2015 I started on the BASI route, attending a week-long Alpine Level 1 course at the Snowdome in Tamworth in the UK, the entry-point to the BASI system.

After completing the course successfully I had to get an outdoor first aid qualification, do an online child protection module and spend 35 hours shadowing more senior instructors.

In December 2015, I was issued with my first BASI licence and could deliver my first lessons to paying clients.

Level 2

But to work in the real mountain environment I needed to be BASI Level 2 and for this I had to teach 35 hours of indoor lessons and then do a two-week course in the mountains, which I did in Val d’Isere in March 2016.

Once I’d passed the course, I could apply to work part-time as a ski instructor in various alpine nations and I was lucky enough to be offered some work in the Aosta Valley in Italy.

This was the job that changed everything as before I started working in Italy I loved skiing;  after this, I realised I loved teaching people to ski and sharing my passion with others.

During the summer of 2016 I decided that I wanted to be able to share not just my joy of skiing on the piste with people but also be able to help a wider range of clients and explore the whole mountain with them.

Rob in Chamonix in April 2016

Level 3

To do this I needed to attain the BASI Alpine Level 3 qualification. Unlike the previous two levels which consist of a single course, Level 3 is a modular qualification consisting at the time of eight separate courses and exams.

The first was a 5 day residential course in the Scottish Highlands that I attended in the autumn of 2016 called the common theory.

This course – both practical and classroom based –  covered a range of topics that are universal to all snow sports, strength and conditioning, diet, psychology as well as an introduction to navigation and mountain safety.

In  November 2016 I travelled to Zermatt in Switzerland to attend the BASI coaching course – another week long course designed to qualify as a race coach.

It covered all aspects of how to coach ski racing from how to set training courses for both Slalom and Giant Slalom to the fundamental techniques and tactics of both those disciplines to dry land training and periodisation to allow athletes to peak at the right time in the season.

That November I also completed what would turn out to be the last module of the Level 3 qualification that I would achieve for over a year when I passed the second language examination in French.  I had to demonstrate that I could teach, deal with an accident situation and make general chit chat with a client in French.

Unfortunately, while teaching in Italy just a few weeks after completing the coaching course, an old knee injury finally caught up with me and I was forced to undergo surgery back in the UK on my left knee to repair the ACL and also repair and remove parts of the meniscus.

I had surgery in January 2017 and was told it would be at least 12 months before I could ski again and that I would be lucky to get back to my previous level.

However, following 9 months of rehab for 2 hours a day after full days working as an optician, I managed to ski again in Tignes in France at the end of October 2017.

A month later I once again travelled to Zermatt for the BASI six-day mountain safety course, training and being examined on everything from snow science and navigation to how to recognise if we or our clients are getting hypothermic and how to manage an avalanche rescue situation.

Once I had passed this exam I was licensed to lead groups and teach on off piste terrain within the resort boundaries.

Throughout the rest of the 2017/18 season I was mainly teaching in the Aosta Valley to acquire the minimum 200 hours of teaching experience needed between the Level 2 exam and sitting the two most challenging modules of the Level 3 qualification: the technical and teaching exams.

Any spare time was devoted to working on my own skiing and running staff training sessions to work on my higher end teaching in preparation for these two exams.

At the end of the season in April 2018 I travelled to Hintertux, Austria to sit the two-week long exams.

For Level 3, the performance we were required to achieve was much higher than for Level 2 and on steeper slopes.  I had to give everything I had on every run over five days and was physically exhausted by the time I was told I had passed.

The following month I had the mentally toughest exam – the teaching one, which I was relieved to pass.

The final module of my BASI level 3 ISIA (International Ski Instructors’ Association) qualification involved teaching in a second discipline: snowboard, telemark, nordic or adaptive.

I had worked with disabled clients in my optical work so I chose adaptive skiing.

It meant that in August 2018, three years after my BASI journey started, I was back where it all began at the Snowdome for the week long course that would complete my Level 3 qualification.

It was full on with lots to learn about both mental and physical disability and also new skills to master such as how to help a client ski in a Bi-ski while giving them as much independence as possible.

After more than a few crashes I finally got the hang of it and was given both a BASI adaptive level 1 licence and my full BASI alpine level 3 ISIA licence.

Level 4 – the Holy Grail

I turned my attention to the BASI alpine level 4 ISTD qualification, the top level of the BASI system and the level which allows an instructor to work independently around the world including in France.

Again this is a modular qualification consisting of a two-part European mountain safety exam (EMS), a ski touring log book, a further 200 hours of teaching experience, technical and teaching exams, a written project and the “Eurotest”, a Giant Slalom race where the instructor must complete the course in 118% of the time of the theoretical time of the world number one.

If that’s difficult to grasp, it’s the equivalent of running a marathon in 2 hours 22 minutes or the 100 metres in 11.3 seconds.

Having never ski raced before I knew that to be able to ski fast enough to be in with a chance of passing this test I would need to put some serious time into it.

Rob with other students at Eurotest training

Over the summer and autumn of 2018 I switched my focus from technical skiing to ski racing and attended several training camps in both Tignes and Stelvio in Italy with the goal of entering the Eurotests scheduled in December 2018.

At my first attempt at Carezza in Italy my lack of racing experience got the better of me and I missed the time by around three seconds.

Two weeks later I had another opportunity in Alpe D’Huez, France, where I performed better but still not well enough, missing out by just over a second.

Rob Greatbach (4th from left) after failing his Eurotest in December 2018

I decided a change was as good as a rest and switched focus to the first part of the European Mountain Safety Exam, a four-day training course in Courchevel, France in January 2019.

It taught us how to safely lead groups outside the boundaries of a ski resort and also how to take clients ski touring. After completing this course we had to complete a log book where we recorded our experiences of ski touring.

To gain more experience of the mountain environment, put my newly learned skills into practice and to complete my log book, later in January I travelled to Chamonix to spend a week ski touring with friends where we completed a number of the classic day tours in the valley.

Ski touring

February 2019 saw me heading back to the Aosta Valley again to gain more teaching experience and put into practice what I had learned on the Level 3 teaching course by teaching both clients and fellow instructors who were themselves training for their own Level 3 exams.

In March 2019  I travelled to La Grave, France, for the three-day EMS exam.

We had to successfully locate two simulated avalanche victims within a time limit and demonstrate our navigation and route finding skills both in ascent and descent in some very challenging weather and snow conditions.

Once I had passed this exam I was qualified to lead groups of clients on day long ski tours outside of the confines of the resort.

Next up at the end of the season – after completing the further 200 hours teaching – I headed back to Hintertux  in May 2019 to sit the BASI Level 4 teaching examination.

Getting in the teaching hours with Interski in April 2019

This is the top teaching qualification in the BASI system and requires candidates to improve the knowledge and performance of their peers over a week long exam where the candidates already have a very high level of ability.

We had no prior warning of what we would be asked to teach and had to have the knowledge to improve skiers who had skied at a national level.

At the end of another mentally shattering week I was once again happy to have shown the skill required to have passed the course.

The summer of 2019 was spent back working as an optician and training hard in the gym with the focus firmly on the Eurotest and the Level 4 technical exam. I also managed to complete my research project into the risk factors that contribute to ACL injuries and what ski instructors can do to minimise the risks of ACL injury for themselves and their clients.

Autumn 2019 saw me once again training in Tignes for the Eurotest before heading back to Carezza for another crack at it.

Rob training for the Eurotest

Unfortunately, once again, a tough course got the better of me and for the second year running I had to endure the 9 hour drive back to Tignes knowing I needed to go faster.

Two weeks later came my 4th (and, although I didn’t know it at the time, currently last) attempt at the Eurotest in Alpe D’Huez.

Determined to have no regrets and to give it everything I had on the first run I over-cooked it in some flat light and fell. On the second run I was, I believe, on the pace needed when I got caught out by a change in rhythm in the course just a few gates from the finish line and missed a gate which resulted in instant disqualification.

So ended another six weeks of racing and training, with no reward.

After Christmas, I switched my focus from the Eurotest to the Level 4 technical exam.

This is the hardest technical examination in the BASI system and requires candidates to achieve excellence in all five performance strands on the steepest slopes and hardest snow.

After two weeks training in Val d’Isere I travelled to Morzine with high hopes for success in the week-long course. Despite all my best efforts I was unable to demonstrate the required level of proficiency and, for the first time in my journey, I failed a BASI course.

However, after a pep talk from my trainer, I committed to trying the exam again in Val d’Isere in March 2020.

This time all the hard work paid off and although it was a very stormy week with lots of poor vis and soft wet snow I was able to hit the required level across the board and get the job done.

Rob & fellow students after the Level 4 tech exam

Eight days after passing the Level 4 tech exam Covid caused the closure of the last ski lifts in the Alps and with it any chance of passing the Eurotest in what remained of the 19/20 season.

A lifting of the lockdown over the summer did allow me to get some training on the glacier in Tignes in July and since then I have been lucky enough to train in Stelvio in September.

I am currently in Zermatt where the ski season has started and I have been skiing for the last month.

December 2020 –  End Of The Road?

Unfortunately, the ongoing Covid crisis has now led to the cancellation of all the remaining Eurotests before the end of 2020, and the continuing Brexit issues mean that I am currently barred from entering any Eurotests after 31st December.

I may, in fact, be prevented from ever being able to enter another test again.

If that turns out to be the case, a dream to teach skiing in Tignes that has been my goal for 10 years, taking me to 5 different European countries, involved one major operation, more than  25 weeks of volunteering for SCGB, 18 separate BASI courses, 40+ weeks of training and 4 seasons of teaching totalling more than 90 weeks (more time than my degree took) will fall just 55 seconds of giant slalom racing away from been fulfilled.

If that is due to a lack of ability then so be it.

You can’t always achieve what you set out to do.

However to be in a situation where all that time and money may go to waste due to something completely out of my control is devastating.

Rob ski touring in Norway

All images c/o Rob Greatbach.

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