You’ll get to the bottom one way or another. But if our appearance on two boards goes well, looks as it should, and is even fun, that's when an education at a ski school has doubtlessly made a difference. Like at LAAX!
First and foremost, ski schools have ski instructors to thank for their special position in winter sports. Tanned, unabashedly cool, idolised – these outdoorsmen were once the stars of the slopes. Ski instructors weren’t just purveyors of skiing technique, they were at the same time assistants, one-man shows, tour guides, and ladies’ men. They were available to their guests around the clock when necessary. One or two had even been known to travel with their guests on helicopter ski trips to North America. And some instructors paid a visit to a student in the summer. These days the life of a ski instructor isn’t quite as laid back as it was before, and his image is a bit more serious. One reason may be the increasing requirements for his capabilities and plenty of regulations and guidelines – and an employer landscape that has changed completely. Simple ski school organisations have transformed into professionally managed tourism companies.
It was 1931 when one of the first public ski schools in Switzerland was founded in Flims. At the time, over 80 years ago, a small handful of ski instructors were offering classes. In 1954 there were 15 trained ski instructors, in 1962 there were 35, and in 1966 there were 64 – almost twice as many. Approximately 380 ski instructors currently work for LAAX ski school. And another comparison further illustrates this impressive development.
In 1968, the Flims ski school saw earnings of 280,000 francs, but last season the revenue of the ski and snowboard school was around 6 million francs. About 70,000 half-day classes were held. Today, ski and snowboarding classes at this destination are provided solely by Mountain Adventures AG, a 100 percent affiliate of Weisse Arena Group. Hans Peter Casutt has been leading the ski school Flims Laax Falera since 2003. He is responsible for the entire ski area, while Ivan Capaul is responsible for the snowboarding school and the Freestyle Academy.
The online booking system is an important tool for a modern ski school. Hans Peter Casutt appreciates its advantages. “With our booking system, we organise the entire season and record all of the guest's relevant data. We know when they are coming and how advanced their skiing skills are. We know their age and mobile phone number.” Even aspects of health are part of the booking criteria. “For children with whom we will be having meals, we need to know if they have any allergies.”
Eight team directors assist Hans Peter Casutt and help him to organise and plan the everyday events of a skiing day at the school. Christian Sutter, who is responsible for sales and administration, is one of them. With his co-workers and experience, he ensures that bookings are forwarded correctly and ski school classes are assigned appropriately. Both slot pros are responsible for this. Nothing happens without Flims slot pro Dani Konrad and Laax slot pro Guido Tschuor.
They coordinate ski instructors and guests. They are the masters of the lists and work plans. When up to 1,300 registered guests are on the list in the high season, the ability to coordinate is indispensable. Then about 120 ski school classes must be composed – in Flims, Laax, and Falera. A challenge for the two slot pros. When putting together a class, not only do they take into account a student's skiing skill, age, language, and nationality, but they also try to accommodate the student’s special requests. This means seven-day work weeks and no time to “put your feet up” on the weekend for Dani Konrad and Guido Tschuor. The ski instructors receive their class assignments directly on their mobile phones on Sunday evening.
«We are an experienced team with plenty of dedication.»
– Hans Peter Casutt, Ski School Director in LAAX
The most important time at ski school is Monday morning. A quarter before nine. Before instruction starts, all ski instructors gather in the Legna in Flims or the Laax rock lounge for role call. This is said to be an informative gathering with certain militaristic conventions. The slot pros check that the entire team is there and take role to ensure that all of the ski instructors are there to take over the classes assigned to them. Specific instructions are given and organisational issues are discussed at role call. There is also always some discussion of lunch, which is among the responsibilities of the ski instructors leading full-day courses for children.
Organising this lunch in various restaurants in the skiing region or valley is one of the greatest challenges for the slot pros. Hans Peter Casutt knows what he's talking about. “During the high season, about 400 children are being cared for on the Crap Sogn Gion alone. We don't just organise lunch, we coordinate the menu. This way dishes can be avoided, for example, that have chicken with little bones that could be dangerous for the children.” The entire thing gets really tough when the weather is bad. That’s when several hundred children can’t eat lunch at the Crap as previously planned, but have to be distributed among multiple restaurants. Here too, the problem-solving expertise of the slot pros is indispensable.
Perhaps they are the new stars of ski school. These two men, who are on the go day in and day out in wind and weather with a tablet and printed lists, trying to find just the right thing on-site. Who work to satisfy the needs of the guests and ski instructors. With the necessary organisation and expertise, and plenty of energy. Luckily, the ski school director can keep up with the two multifaceted talents. Once the most work-intensive time of the seasonal planning is behind him, Hans Peter Casutt will jump in for the slot pros and take some of the load off. But the ski school director also knows he can count on his team: “Together with Christian Sutter, we are a tried and tested team that practically runs automatically. Of course this also includes those responsible for the snow wonderlands, which have been part of the whole thing for many years now.” And not to be forgotten: the six assistants from the day nursery also play an important role in everyday life at the ski school.
However, in the end it is the ski instructors who are central to making any ski class a success. In LAAX, 380 ski instructors will ensure that the guests are having a good time on the slopes this winter. Some of them are available the entire season and others only on certain weeks. During the largest onslaughts at Christmas and in February, up to 240 ski instructors are needed. About 75 percent of the ski instructors in LAAX are Swiss, with 32 percent of these coming from Graubünden and 22 percent coming from the surrounding region. Germans comprise the largest proportion of foreign ski instructors, followed by Brits. There are ski instructors from Italy, the Czech Republic, and the Netherlands. The one from New Zealand travels the furthest. Some are snow sport instructors with federal professional licenses, others are working toward that. Every newbie, many of them are students, receives ten days of basic training in LAAX. The new technical director, Basil Weber, and his people are responsible for training instructors. They ensure that guests receive the best possible teaching day in and day out. No matter if they’re a regular or greenhorn – all LAAX ski instructors master the most varied ski techniques and have the necessary pedagogical and psychological foundation. They are intimately familiar with the rules and know about such varied topics as transport, safety, and allergies. In spite of all their achievements, it may very well be that the more experienced among them are still dreaming of the good old days.