The Ecole de Ski Francais, dubbed the Red Jumpers (les pulls rouges) because of their signature uniform, was established in 1937 by Georges Blanchon, Emile Allais, Charles Diebold, Paul Gignoux and Léo Lagrange, the then minister of sports. Although a private entreprise with individual schools organised on a franchise basis (a bit like McDonalds) it has long enjoyed close links with the state through the Fédération Française de Ski and the Minister of Sports.
Too close some think. In many resorts, especially the smaller ski areas, it is a de-facto monopoly. Forty ESF directors are also mayors in their ski resorts and another four hundred, councillors. The ESF also has a seat on the Association of Mountain Mayors, the Ecole Nationale de Ski et d’Alpinisme (ENSA) and the marketing organisations: Ski France and France Montagne as well as other local bodies such as the powerful “Hunting and Fishing” lobby.
Created in 1974 following a bust-up at l’Alpe d’Huez the Ecole de ski Internationale (ESI) is the smaller rival to the ESF with around 80 independent ski schools. Now there is another chink in the ESF armour. At Vars Eyssina new school (ENS) has been created this season to respond to what they say is a demand for smaller class sizes. 9! for adults and 5 for children. Eyssina, named after a local peak, is affliated l’Ecole de ski internationale (ESI) like many independents.
Quoted in today’s Dauphine Libere newspaper Pierre Jaubert, director of the ESF at Vars has lashed out at the independents claiming “the reds have 15000 instructors, the independents 1500. Most of them are rebel instructors, sometime excluded for discipline problems or poor teaching”. He thinks the independents respond to “youths who refuse their obligations and won’t wear a uniform”.
The ESI isn’t taking all this vitriol lying down. It has launched a court action against the ESF accusing them of misleading the public with their name and French national colours in the uniform. Philippe Camus, president of the ESI, explained to journalist Paul Molga that “the consumer thinks they are dealing with an official organism blessed by the French state when in fact that is not the case.”
Ski Instructors work as self-employed people but have to be affliated to a “union” structure – the Syndicat national des moniteurs de ski français for ESF instructors or the Syndicat international des moniteurs de ski for the ESI. They have to pay between 1 and 3% of their turnover to the ski school.
Members of the ESI have said the ESF runs a “mafia”, using “political obstruction” and “illegal agreements”. Worse they are accused of running “a campaign of terror in ski resorts under the guise of being an involved citizen”. As examples at Courchevel the ESF’s meeting points are clearly marked and at l’Alpe d’Huez the group has an office next to the bottom of the ski lifts.
Faced with these disadvantages the ESI has resorted to the courts. It won a battle against Val d’Isere which had passed a bye-law stopping Snow-Fun from running a storage shed on the ski slopes but lost a bigger battle against the October 2004 law which prevents schools of less than 10 instructors from employing trainees. The law was the result of lobbying by the ESF and seen as clear favoritism by the independents which often have smaller structures. According the the ESI, 17 of their schools have been badly affected.
ECOLES DE SKI : Le choix entre l’ESF et les structures affiliées à l’ESI - Dauphine Libere, 6 March 2007
Bataille entre écoles de ski sur les pistes, Paul MOLGA, 16 February 2007, les Echos
Ecole de ski Internationale