Earlier this week an English ski instructor, Simon Butler, was arrested in the French resort of Megève along with six of his employees, for allegedly teaching without the correct paperwork. The proceedings already appear to have ignited long-smoldering resentments between local and UK business owners in the French Alps.
It’s quite hard to tell exactly what happened. Although The Daily Mail and Telegraph have both jumped on the story – gleaning quotes from excited UKIP politicians, Boris the Menace and the usual anti-EU brigade – there are so far no clues as to what documents the ski school was lacking or why precisely they were targeted.
What we can ascertain is that this isn’t the first of these incidents for Simon Butler and his business – he was fined €10,000 in 2004 and another €10,000 last winter plus a six-month jail sentence (though this is currently under review). Nevertheless, it would appear to be an isolated case: there are no reports of further arrests involving other ski schools, and The Telegraph’s headline of ‘War and piste in the last bastion of the French Alps‘ seems a bit inflammatory. Without knowing exactly what the defendants are accused of it also seems unlikely that, as the papers are claiming, the charges are a breach of EU law.
Nonetheless, the comments have been quick to fly in as the story blows open the age old debate on the French ski and snowboard instructing system, namely: the years of training required, banning ‘non-qualified’ guides from the pistes, an overall focus on alpine racing and the necessity for all instructors to be fluent in French – not to mention the forced crossover of teaching that sees red-jacketed instructors (who were obviously born to ski) leading groups of snowboarders of a higher ability than them.
There are a number of reasons why the French system is flawed, but it can be argued that a lot of the main points of contention are there to provide safe teaching at a high standard. Compared to the slightly more relaxed Austrian structure – which can see gap year students leading groups after only a couple of days on the hill themselves – there are some obvious benefits to being more rigorous. Plus, bar the language element (which the ESF insist is in place to ensure clear radio communication) it is seemingly no easier to qualify as a Frenchman or a Brit.
It’s clearly a complex argument that sums up our relationship with the French well, as our editor put it:
Our relationship with France is like having a brother; we love each other but we both know exactly how to wind the other one up.
So what do you think? Have your say on the French instructor system below.