A British ski instructor in the Alps has slammed French authorities for what he claims is a blatant ploy “to protect” the jobs of French ski instructors at the expense of foreign ones.
Simon Butler, who runs Simon Butler Skiing in the resort of Megève, was left furious after one of his instructors was arrested by French police earlier this month accused of giving skiing lessons without the necessary licence.
The move by the police was seen as an escalation in what has been dubbed the “piste wars” between foreign instructors working for private companies and French instructors working for the French Ski School (Ecole Ski Francaise, ESF).
Mr Butler is unhappy that lower qualified instructors are allowed to be employed as “trainees” (stagiares) at the ESF, but not at private companies like his and claims he is being driven off the slopes in a crackdown by French authorities.
“This is just protectionism, pure and simple,” Mr Butler told The Local. “It’s one rule for the French and one for everyone else.”
“They are simply not prepared to listen to any other point of view. They just want us stopped so that our clients go to the ESF instead.”
Foreign guides or instructors, known as "ski hosts", are a popular service among the thousands of Anglophones who ski in France every year and an alternative to ESF.
However under French rules instructors who want to give skiing lessons on the slopes of the Alps must be qualified up to the equivalent of Level 4 of the International Ski Teacher Diploma (ISTD).
To get the French equivalent would involve instructors passing a downhill "speed test", which Butler says is both dangerous and completely unnecessary.
“My instructors haven’t got this and they won’t get it. One of them who was training for it broke his leg so badly that he’ll walk with a limp for the rest of his life,” Butler said.
"It has no relevance at all to what makes a good ski instructor."
Tensions came to a head when his instructor Alex Casey was arrested on the slopes accused of teaching a lesson. The arrest sparked anger among the skiing community in Megève with around 100 people turning out to protest outside the police station.
Casey risks three months in jail if found guilty of teaching without a licence. Casey, Butler and another instructor Mark Gibbs have all been handed a summons to appear before a French court in June.
Butler's company is not the only British firm in the Alps to run into hot water with the French authorities.
Earlier this year a court in Albertville fined a British tour operator Le Ski more than €26,000 for employing unlicensed British ski resort guides and paying them below the minimum wage. The court also ordered the director of the Yorkshire-based firm, Nick Morgan, to pay €9,000 in damages to France's SNMSF ski instructors union and its training facility.
Butler says the bitter end to this year’s ski season has left him thinking of packing up and heading back to the UK, which he says would have a detrimental effect on the local community.
“We have spent millions of euros in this village. Everyone loves us here. The ski shops and even the mayor are very upset about this,” Butler said.
French police have denied Mr Butler's claims they are carrying out a crackdown against foreign ski instructors.
The Local put Mr Butler’s arguments to the relevant local authority – the prefecture of Haute Savoie in Annecy, but they declined to comment saying they "did not have the right".