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The Swiss Snow League is the grading system recently put into place within the Swiss Snowsports association (The fancy name for Swiss Ski Schools). It ensures that the grading is consistent throughout Switzerland, so as to give children and their parents a better idea of their progress. If you read the blurb in the booklet, you will find out that the best thing about the Swiss Snow League is that you can only improve. You will also discover that it is there to help you become a Snow Sports Champion. The ranking is separated into a Ski League and a Snowboard League. These leagues are both further separated into the Blue League, Red League and Black League. For each of these, you can become Prince/Princess or King/Queen. Although it all comes with silly pictures and what the designers obviously intended to be a fun concept, the kids seem to have a healthy cynical disregard for the whole you're now a Red Princess thing. Even within the ski school, the groups for the collective kid's lessons are known as classes one through six.

Note that a lot of what I say is valid for both skiing in snowboarding. But for the skill sets, I am only familiar with skiing. I am not competent enough at snowboarding or snowboard instructing to do anything beyond copy-paste what can already be found on the website referenced at the bottom.

So this Swiss Snow League is a load of rubbish?

Not entirely. It does offer several improvements on the previous system and other ranking systems such as the one used in France:

  • It offers a total of 14 levels, both in skiing and snowboarding. This means that it is easier to know how well the kids ski when putting them into classes; for more advanced skiers, you know what ground they have covered in the past so as to review it and also do some new stuff. This is also a cover so that you have a better chance of promoting the kids by one level each year.
  • The level is given as an assessment over at least three days. This is to ensure that if you only come skiing once a year, you get time to find your ski legs before being graded as "No improvement".
  • The level is assigned in function of the skiers' ability, not their speed. It is a lot easier to grade people by how fast they can ski through a course. It is also a lot better for the instructors to have classes with people who ski at the same speed. But to have a group of people improve, they need to all have the same technical ability. Otherwise there is a danger in having fast skiers try to do things that are beyond their capabilities and to have slow skiers doing the same easy exercises year after year.
  • There are a clear set of skills defined for each level. This not only ensures consistency across the ski schools in Switzerland, but provides a common vocabulary to be used within the school; if I give a kid a lesson, but am not available the following day, I can refer him to a colleague saying that he is a Red King. My colleague will then know exactly where to take him and what exercises to do.

What does it mean that my kid's a Blue King Candidate?

The complete ranking system in the Ski League is as follows:

  • Snow Garden
  • Blue League (beginner):
    • Blue Prince
      1. Get used to the skis.
      2. Slide down the fall line with both skis parallel.
      3. Controlling speed with snowplough.
      4. First changes of direction with a snowplough turn.
      5. Information on ski equipment.
    • Blue King Candidate
    • Blue King
      1. Master a blue run.
      2. Snowplough turns.
      3. Agility exercises in the fall line, parallel skis on the traverse.
      4. Safely take a ski-lift.
      5. Information on safe use of lifts.
  • Red League (advanced):
    • Red Prince Candidate
    • Red Prince
      1. Master a red run.
      2. Parallel turns (skidded).
      3. Side-slip in the traverse and stop. Same down the fall line.
      4. Bumps and depressions.
      5. Information about warming up.
    • Red King Candidate
    • Red King
      1. Ski down a red run using varied parallel turns.
      2. Short turns on easy terrain.
      3. Skiing on one ski.
      4. Skating and skating turn.
      5. Information on the FIS safety rules.
  • Black League (expert):
    • Clinic 1 - Carving & Turns
      1. Free skiing with cut turns.
      2. Carved turns without poles.
      3. Crawl.
      4. Turns through carving buoys.
      5. Information on evolution of equipment.
    • Clinic 2 - Synchro & Tricks
      1. Synchronised formation skiing.
      2. Various formation patterns such as cross, diamond, v.
      3. Skiing fakie with parallel turns.
      4. Parallel turns through moguls and unprepared slopes.
      5. Information about the Swiss Demo Team.
    • Clinic 3 - Park & Pipe
      1. Introduction to skiing through gates. Slalom and Giant Slalom.
      2. Introduction to snowparks.
      3. Jumping and pre-jumping.
      4. Introduction to turns and jump in a half-pipe.
      5. Information on good behaviour in snowparks and half-pipe.
    • Black Prince
    • Clinic 4 - Freestyle & Air
      1. Variations on short turns: Norwegian, Swedish, Ollie, etc.
      2. Crab turn, body carve and 360°.
      3. Backscratcher, Zudnick, Twist, etc.
      4. Information on becoming a ski instructor.
    • Clinic 5 - Race & Cross
      1. Go down a black run with varied parallel turns.
      2. Competion: slalom, giant slalom, etc.
      3. Ski Cross.
      4. Creative jumps and turns in a half-pipe.
      5. Information on competitions and preparation of ski equipment.
    • Clinic 6 - Freeride & Moguls
      1. Creative skiing in unprepared snow.
      2. Short turns in moguls
      3. Advanced formation skiing.
      4. Powder skiing
      5. Information about avalanche and weather safety.
    • Black King

Usually, a complete level means mastery of the skill set, whereas being a candidate is an indication that the skills need to be perfected, either because the mastery is not complete, or because some of the skills are missing. In general, achieving a candidate ranking means that you have learnt something new, whereas being at a complete rank means that you are ready to start learning the next step.

The Blue and Red leagues are in a progression. The Black league is cut up into modules or clinics as they are called. Although the clinics can be completed in any order, we usually follow the order in which they are given. Once a skier has completed the Red league, it is no longer really possible to evaluate him and it is more a question of doing the required exercises until they are all mastered.

How do you actually grade the kids?

We have a few rules of the thumb which we use in order to quickly evaluate the level of a skier. The Snow Garden is for small children who do not yet know how to ski. Thereafter, the prime consideration is that kids get put into groups where we can actually work with them because they are all at a similar level. When we take several children in a class, it is important that they be at least able to follow us on an easy slope, to stop at will and to take a lift on their own. This means that they are Blue Princes. After this, it is usually a question of "do we promote to the next level or not?"

Blue Prince vs Blue King Candidate. When you are in a snowplough, it is a very stable position because you are on the inside edge of each ski. If the kid is unable to do the traverse part of the turn with both skis parallel and close together, he is still a Blue Prince. If he can still not quite be trusted to go up on an easy lift, or to control his speed and direction, Blue Prince. Otherwise, moving up to Blue King Candidate happens quite fast.

Blue King Candidate vs Blue King. A Blue King uses a snowplough turn, but always brings his skis together when crossing the slope. He is now confident of his abilities and can use any lift and ski on almost any piste. The Blue King Candidate will not be as consistent. Although the distinction is fine, it's very important not to promote the kids beyond their abilities. A Blue King is someone who can ski anywhere (so long as it's not too steep) but can't yet do parallel turns. If they don't look ready to learn how to do parallel turns, they're still candidates.

Blue King vs Red Prince Candidate. This is the biggest step to cross. It is really a question of getting the feel for what a parallel turn is. A Red Prince Candidate can ski any run; he will have difficulty if it is steep or icy, but you can take him all over a resort, provided you avoid bumpy terrain. He is starting to learn parallel turns but will revert back to a snowplough if it gets a bit steep. He still has trouble side-slipping, but can side-slip to some extent.

Red Prince Candidate vs Red Prince. The candidate's skiing will be a bit rigid, looking somewhat like a car with very poor suspensions, whereas the Red Prince will look a lot more smooth and secure. The Prince consistently does parallel turns, on all terrain. He can side-slip without drifting forwards or backwards. Someone who has trouble passing this bar may have acquired some bad habits earlier on. Sometimes it is important to review a few basics.

Red Prince vs Red King Candidate. The grading tends to get more difficult from now on. The difference is no longer as clear cut. In order to be candidate, the kid will have to be able to ski on one ski to some extent and do clearly marked short turns. There is no longer the slightest hint of insecurity. This is the stage where you are really no longer a beginner.

Red King Candidate vs Red King Again, a tough call. Usually, the candidate has not yet mastered either skiing on one ski or short turns. The short turns must be really well defined with plenty of movement in the legs. Ability to follow the instructor wherever he goes, including irregular and varied turns is also necessary.

The Black league is often just a question of doing rather than learning. Ski instructors really enjoy giving these lessons, because you can do lots of cool stuff. There are basically four types of skill which need teaching: carving turns, safe jumping, powder skiing, various variations on ordinary skiing, such as synchronisation, skiing backwards, etc. and racing.

Truth be told, many of the ski instructors are not particularly proficient at the exercises in this last league. But obviously you don't need someone who is a good racer to teach your kid to snowplough.


Sources:
http://www.snowsports.ch/f/ssl/
Giving ski lessons in Gryon the past few winters.

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