Ever wondered what it’s like training to become a BASI ski instructor?

Written by EA Ski & Snowboard

Ever wondered what it’s like training to become a BASI certified ski instructor? We caught up with Tom McGeoch, who is currently studying towards his BASI Level 1 and 2 instructor qualifications with EA Ski & Snowboard. Tom is working as a ski instructor at Saas Fee in Switzerland. Here’s his experience of becoming an instructor through the BASI system.

My name is Tom. I’m 23 years old, and I’m currently working as a ski instructor in Switzerland.

I’ve always loved skiing. But I had never considered a career as a ski instructor until I joined the Army Reserves while at Birmingham University. It was during my training with the Reserves that I realised I wanted to become a ski instructor in the army one day.

Towards the end of my final year at university, my plans to enter the army suddenly changed. This was due to a dispute over a natural lens enhancement surgery I had a few years ago. 

I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do now that my plans to enter the army had changed. A friend from university was heading to Canada with EA Ski & Snowboard to become an instructor. I thought this was a good idea, so I decided to get in touch.

I wanted to become an instructor and experience a winter season in an affordable way. But, because it was last minute and winter was about to start, my options were limited. Initially, I wanted to do a ski season outside the EU. But, in the end, I ‘settled’ for a small resort in Switzerland called Saas Fee. 

Now, I say ‘settled’ because, within a few days of arriving, my preconceived opinions of Saas Fee changed. Saas Fee is a small resort compared to Meribel or Val d’Isere. But I quickly learned that working for a smaller ski resort had its advantages. 

Saas Fee itself is breathtakingly beautiful, and the village is free of cars. It didn’t take long to become part of the local community and make friends with the other resort staff, which doesn’t always happen at larger resorts.

A typical day of BASI training depends on the level you’re preparing for.  

Training sessions are between 3 to 6 hours longs. Level 1 training covers the technical aspects of ‘The Central Theme’. You’ll also learn how to perform shorts and longs at a professional level. I have already gained my BASI Level 1 qualification, and I’m currently part way towards gaining my Level 2. 

At the end of each session, the trainer will give you pointers to work on before the next training session. In the BASI system, self-training between sessions is strongly encouraged.  

The BASI exam format was more constructive than scary. While the technical standard is high, my trainers were approachable, friendly and helpful.

So far, in Level 2 training we’ve covered how to perform long turns to a professional standard at varying difficulty levels. But there is still so much left to cover. The training is tough but seeing my progression over the last few months has been very rewarding. 

If you want to sit your BASI exams, I recommend you first get comfortable on blue and black runs before you start the system. If you can’t complete black races with some form of control and confidence; the training will be a lot harder. 

The BASI system provides a straightforward, practical framework for new instructors. In Saas Fee, once you pass your level 1 exam, you’ll shadow a trainer. When your trainer thinks you’re ready, you’ll start working as an instructor at the ski school. 

Teaching my first lesson was when I felt like all my hard work had paid off. My first client had never touched skiing equipment in their life. Luckily, they were a quick learner and within five hours my client was doing turns down a blue in parallel. 

To see this progression in such a short amount of time, was extremely rewarding. 

A valuable lesson I’ve learned since becoming an instructor is that patience is essential when teaching a client. No two clients are the same, and what might work for one client, may not work with the other. 

I’ve also learned that humour is a great teaching method. No matter the language barrier or age difference between clients. This was super helpful when one day I had to teach a burly 6.5ft Russian client who had never skied before. At the start of the lesson, he was struggling to grasp the developed plough turn.  His English wasn’t great, and we were struggling to communicate. After a few runs, I had him do the kid’s slalom on the beginner’s slope. By the end of his first run, he had a massive smile on his face and everyone around us was cheering for him. By using humour and making it fun, he had a great first lesson. This was super rewarding. 

The most challenging part of living abroad has been learning a new language. Although we try to learn the local language (German), most locals speak Swiss German and do so very quickly. This can be tough at times.

If you’re considering becoming an instructor through the BASI system, I highly recommend it. I did four years at University and believed it to be the best time of my life. Nine weeks into my first season as an instructor, and I’ve already starting to change my mind on that. I definitely plan on returning to Saas Fee next season.