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Ski schools, what if you are dissatisfied ?

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
After reading a few threads on ski schools there are, as you may expect, both good and bad reports of how people have found them. I just wondered that if you were pretty hacked off with the quality of service they provided what chance you would have of changing instructors or even getting a refund.

It seems to me that in the UK at least, if you are not happy with the product or service you purchase you have an automatic right to get a refund or replacement. What are the rules as far as ski schools in Europe / North America concerned and has anyone been lucky enough to sort it out with the ski school?
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
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I changed class before as I was with a class of all Dutch speaking people, so it was no fun !! Plus the instructor mainly spoke in Dutch, with the odd bit of English thrown in for me.

I did change classes, but that was the top class, so ended up in a lower class which I found quite slow paced (although it was better fun!)

So although I did manage to change classes, it wasn't exactly ideal ... either be in class that was no fun but the right pace, or a class that was a bit of fun, but too slow !!

I didn't try to get a refund, so not sure how easy that would be. But I reckon with a biggish sized ski school you should be able to change classes/instructors relatively easily.
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Colin Vince wrote:

It seems to me that in the UK at least, if you are not happy with the product or service you purchase you have an automatic right to get a refund or replacement.


I think that you have to show that the goods or services are/were defective; not being happy is, regrettably, not enough. The difficulty with services is how to show that they were defective. my guess is that in your average European resort you'd have a hell of a job to get an apology out of a ski school, never mind a refund. I've never tried, 'though, so who knows?


Last edited by Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see? on Thu 18-11-04 11:09; edited 3 times in total
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Sonya, I had a similar experiience, they were of all different abilities too, and should really have booked a private instructor. Oh, yes ans the ski teacher got a bit too friendly, possibly because he was trying not to make me feel left out. I should have, and would have complained, but it was New Year, and very busy. I ended up missing the last day altogether. NOw, I would most definitely complain straight away.
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Hmmm, a tricky area. One person's good teacher could well be someone else's poor teacher. There are good instructors and less good instructors, in Europe some speak English well enough to really make a difference and others do not. It shouldn't be a lottery when you're paying good money

I suppose the thing to do is make sure at the outset that you clearly communicate what it is that you want. If a ski school subsequently falls well short, then maybe there is a case to be made. The only other thing is to seek out a Brit ski school if they operate in your resort and assure yourself of getting the most from your Euro. Best investment I made was in Eurekaski - expensive? A bit. Value for money? Invaluable.

I've never booked a lesson in a large group, believing that 1:1 or 2:1 for a couple of hours will deliver better value for money by virtue of the concentrated instruction. That said, I booked an Evo2 instructor for a friend and I last season, and I reckoned my skiing suffered. His command of English was nowhere near as good as had been suggested and he really didn't seem too interested. That said when we suggested going to the snow park and do some jumps, he noticeably brightened up and it turned into quite a laugh.
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I find it's really hard to persuade the teacher to move you into a different ski-group when you find that everyone who's in your group has over-estimated how good they were when the groups were formed.

This happened to me last year when every group was full to capacity so I couldn't move up until someone had had a nasty accident in the group above me, making a space for me. Shocked

It is quite bad when you've paid full whack for a lesson. I know they're trying to maximise profits, but unhappy customers won't return...
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I go with the same bunch of instructors 2 or 3 times a year. They know exactly how good/bad their regular customers are, all about their particular foibles, and what to work on next. It takes away the lottery element. Not much good if you like to visit lots of different resorts though.
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laundryman, "instructors"?! Wink
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Snowy, Everywhere I've taken lessons in Europe, there has always been a test on the first morning, so that you couldn't over (or under) estimate your level. I'm sure some people get mis-graded, but on the whole its quite accurate. Was it in the States that you 'estimated' your ability? I took lessons in Killington, and we had to self-grade, which I think is crazy!!

Mark Hunter, I agree that the first few years of ski-school, class sizes were generally big on day one (decreasing as the day/week went on !!).

But I've found that people generally stop taking ski school when they get to a certain level (either doing their own thing, or booking private lessons) ... so once you get to upper intermediate the class sizes are never more than 5 or 6 on morning 1. Which often means that you will end up in being in a class of 2 people for a large part of the week Very Happy

As for the private instructor .. well I booked one last year, fell on the last run down, broke my leg ... but the instructor was in such a hurry to get down that he made me ski the rest of the way down, with a broken leg Sad

Whereas I've seen people fall in group class, and just get a bump ... and the instructor arranges to have them ferried off the mountain!! So just cause you book a private instructor, doesn't mean they will look after you better than a group class!!
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Colin Vince - richmond is correct. Simply not wanting a product or service doesn't legally entitle you to a refund. As a matter of good customer service many retailers will however refund your money if you just decide you don't like the product you chose (which is where the confusion starts).

However the situation's a bit different if you specify to the retailer upfront that you want a product or service for a particular purpose, and they suggest a certain product or service which you then buy. If it doesn't meet your stated purpose you do then have recourse under law to have the retailer recify (replace, whatever) the product or service.

Bear in mind that the onus is on the you the customer to specify to the retailer up front what your particular requirements are - this is where most people fail.

If after the first day in ski school you think you're not getting what you paid for, you should definately complain firmly and politely - and specify how you want the situation rectified. Give the ski school the opportunity to put the problem right. They are legally obligated to do so - and bear in mind that under UK law refunding your money is the last resort.

If that fails, and you paid by credit card, you could ask your credit card company to cancel the payment to the ski school, based on the argument that you didn't receive the service you requested.

Same goes for ski schools as for any other service you pay for - complain as soon as you think you're not getting what you paid for - and complain directly to the service/product provider!!!!!! (not your friends on the car ride home!!!!!). You get what you pay for, and if you keep paying for bad service you'll keep getting it.
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Yep, but the problem laundryman is that most people only have 1 ski holiday per season so even if _you_ visit the resort and take lessons a few times per season, the rest of the group is likely to be new to the instructor and hence he/she won't know if they're in the right group or not.

Some people are really flaky on knowing their skiing level, especially those who want to go in a high group because they were skiing blacks when they last skied 15 years ago. Skullie Smile
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Sonya, I haven't really taken any lessons in Europe - just in Canada which sounds a similar situation to what you experienced in Killington.

They say that men usually overestimate their ability and women underestimate they're ability, as a general trend.

I find it hard to grade myself since I have good skiing technique but nerves of putty. Very Happy snowHead
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I agree with Manda that you have to make your requirements very clear at the outset, at risk of being labelled a stroppy punter. That usually has the desired effect.

Without naming name - especially at the start of the season - some ski schools have pretty inexperienced staff in the offices.
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 You know it makes sense.
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Snowy, You're right about estimating abilities !!

I spent a gruelling few weeks going through CVs and interviewing people for numerous IT jobs. Every person had to fill out a self-rating on various platforms.

Every single man rated themselves at 8/10 or higher. On quizzing them, if they had 8/10 it meant the knew NOTHING about the tool !!

Whereas the women rated themselves generally between 4 and 7 out of 10. If they did rate themselves at 8/10 then they were expert on the platform!!

It was v interesting, as I found I had to pick the male CVs which had 10/10, but the female CVs that had 7/10 to get someone who had some experience in platform.

I guess it would be no different for skiing estimation!! (or driving estimation ... over-estimation of ability is factor in many car accidents!)
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Snowy, It doesn't matter whether YOU can estimate your ability.

What matters is that you can (even just roughly) explain what what you think you can do on snow now, and also what you WANT to be able to achieve by the end of the week's lessons.

It's up to the ski school to estimate your ability, and if the ski school thinks you're being overly optomistic in your goals then it should tell you as much.

It's up to the ski school to determine this by listening to you, and by watching you ski.

If the school fails to tell you that your goal is optomistic, and also fails to have you achieving your goal by the end of the week, then you should complain - you are legally entitled to have the problem put right.

I haven't skied N America but I think that, when placing pupils in groups, any ski school that relies solely on a pupil's estimation of their own ability is shooting itself in the foot.

Quote:

some ski schools have pretty inexperienced staff in the offices.


Indeed. Common problem. But that's not the customer's fault and don't let it put you off!!! If the blobby behind the counter refuses to deal with your complaint in a professional and legal manner, then keep going up thru management. If all else fails, talk to your credit company about withdrawing payment!
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 Poster: A snowHead
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Manda, I understand your comment about making clear up front in order to qualify by the laws but we all must have heard of many instances of people not being able to swap classes. I guess to cover yourself you need to clarify things like "I am only a beginner, I dont want anything too steep etc etc". The trouble is as stated elswhere on this site people have not been able to swap. I guess you just need them to clarify before you part with any money that if the group is not suitable for you then you can change. The problem with that is its all very subjective. I suppose if you use a English run school you may have better luck in resolving the problem (not wishing to paint too bad a picture ESF etc).

I also agree about people over estimating their abilities causing problems later on, although the worst offender in my experience was female.
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Colin, you never know but you could get sitations where the odd-person-out in the group has correctly assessed their ability and the rest of the group have collectively under-assessed or over-assessed their abilities...but you're probably right - you just got a nutter in your ski-lesson!! Laughing

I find there is a subset of skiers that like to ski as fast as possible but many of them don't have the control (although they think they do) to handle it. I think these people often find themselves in ski groups that are above the level they should be in. Shocked

But then again, if you're paying for a lesson you shouldn't you go in whatever group you're comfortable in? After all it's your money. I'm not saying I do this, but this could be the attitude of some. Puzzled

I think if ski schools didn't fill each lesson to capacity, there'd be room for everyone to ski with whom they wanted - hint hint all ski schools listening in!

Sonya, I like your post. I guess this is why they often have women-only lessons at certain resorts. I should really attend one and see if there's any difference. It is a risk but you could still end up with Colin's nutter in the group... Smile
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
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Quote:

The trouble is as stated elswhere on this site people have not been able to swap. I guess you just need them to clarify before you part with any money that if the group is not suitable for you then you can change.


Exactly.

If you explain upfront what you want, and by the end of the first day you realise the school hasn't matched you properly with the right level of instruction, then the school is legally obligated to put things right.

If there's a place to swap into and they don't let you swap, then they're acting illegally.

If there's no space for you to swap into, then the school is obliged to offer you private lessons to the same value or refund your money - what they can't do is keep your money for a service they don't provide you with.

Bear in mind that none of this advice works if you've pottered around in the group for a few days, grumbled a bit to your mates (or to no-one at all!), and only later decide to get up the gumption to approach the ski school. The law only works in your favour if you act on the problem as soon as it arises, ideally BEFORE the end of the first day.
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When we trailed around the southern French resorts in the early days, visiting 20, 25 different resorts in a single season, between competition venues and training locations, we soon realised the wide divergence in standards between the ski schools' own instructors.

So I generally asked for a young, female instructor with plenty of race experience. A few eyebrows were raised, but tough! Youth - because generally speaking they had adopted the modern style (and could mostly ski faster than their trainees!) Female, because they were, in the main, more patient. Racers, because they wre especially aware of the different demands of race skiing.

On the whole we managed to get a good level of training as a result. But you do need to be a little 'forceful' at times, with the French!
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Manda wrote:
Quote:

The trouble is as stated elswhere on this site people have not been able to swap. I guess you just need them to clarify before you part with any money that if the group is not suitable for you then you can change.


Exactly.

If you explain upfront what you want, and by the end of the first day you realise the school hasn't matched you properly with the right level of instruction, then the school is legally obligated to put things right.

If there's a place to swap into and they don't let you swap, then they're acting illegally.

If there's no space for you to swap into, then the school is obliged to offer you private lessons to the same value or refund your money - what they can't do is keep your money for a service they don't provide you with.

Bear in mind that none of this advice works if you've pottered around in the group for a few days, grumbled a bit to your mates (or to no-one at all!), and only later decide to get up the gumption to approach the ski school. The law only works in your favour if you act on the problem as soon as it arises, ideally BEFORE the end of the first day.


I don't see how a mere complaint can oblige a ski school to do anything. It has to be a justified complaint and one which merits some action on the part of the ski school. I don't think that the idea that the ski school is acting 'illegally' is a helpful one; except in very specific (and one hopes unusual) circumstances, the ski school will not have broken the law; they may have broken their contract with you, and you may have some entitlement to have that corrected or even to compensation, but that's not the same thing.

It seems to me that as a practical matter you have to rely on the goodwill of the ski school, unless they've done something which is clearly dangerous, such as leaving a beginner on their own at the top of black run (which I'm sure has happenend to someone). Differences of opinion about which class is right for someone or the quality of teaching are unlikely to lead to successful caims for compensation. All you can do is to make your concerns known promptly and hope for the best.
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Manda, I agree, certainly in the UK this should be the case, though not too sure how the French would react (not meaning to insinuate they are/should be any different). Trouble is us Brits tend to think (or hope) that things will get better tomorrow and quite often dont.

My wife had a problem in La Tania a few years ago (her 1st week) with ESF. She was in quite a low ability group (as she certainly does not over exaggerate her abilities). She was not happy with the instructor and thought he was expecting too much and asked if she could drop down a level but was told it was not possible, as there were no spaces. On day 3 or 4 he wanted the group to do jumps, but she certainly was not that confident to risk falling and getting injured. Needles to say she skied around the jump, much to his disgust.
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Quote:

so once you get to upper intermediate the class sizes are never more than 5 or 6


You call that small? Shocked Where do you ski? Remind me never to take lessons there! Last lesson I had, the group had only 3 pupils, including my wife and me.

About 10 years ago, I had tuition bundled with a holiday package. With about 6 people in the class, I gave up - I learned more by getting in some serious skiing time on my own than I would ever have done watching the instructor shout encouragement at the class dunces.
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Colin Vince,
In general the French method of applying law is different to the English system, but the basic principles of consumer law are similar across most western nations (give or take yer local oddity, most of which are highly unlikely to apply in the kind of standard consumer transaction we're talking about here).

As to how compliant with the law a particular ski school feels it *should* be, is anyone's guess. ESF's reputation precedes it, and I need not add anything you didn't already know!

You may find the British run ski schools in the 3 Vallies are better for providing instruction to english-speaking learners - always worth hunting them out.
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richmond,
Breaking their contract with a customer IS exactly what is meant by "breaking the law"!

Quote:

you may have some entitlement to have that corrected or even to compensation, but that's not the same thing.


No, that is exactly what the legal remedy is.


Quote:

Differences of opinion about which class is right for someone or the quality of teaching are unlikely to lead to successful caims for compensation.


Yes - but only if you FAILED AT THE OUTSET to explain what you wanted.

Quote:

All you can do is to make your concerns known promptly and hope for the best.


No. Not at all. If you agree with a retailer as to the product/service you will be paying for, and the retailer then fails to provide it, you are in fact entitled by law to have it put right.

Feel like a stuck record, but am assuming this makes sense?
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It makes perfectly good sense, although I think you might be a bit optimistic about your legal rights (and I don't think that breaking a contract is the same as breaking the law, at least in UK - it might be in France, but I doubt it).

I'm just thinking about standing at the desk of a French (or any other) ski school one evening trying to persuade some leathery skinned ski instuctor that what he actually wants to do is to give me my money back because I think that he or one of his colleagues put me in the wrong class, or can't teach. If he says 'No!', what do I do? Threaten him with French consumer law or an action for breach of contract? Will he care if I do? I'm guessing no. I think that I have to rely on his goodwill, if any, if I want something to get anywhere.

Contracts and consumer law are great, but they have their limitations.
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Rule books are for "Les Parisiens" (creatures abhorred even more than foreigners). If you need something done in France you either get a mate who knows someone who knows someone to sort it out for you, or you demonstrate you are are the equal of any macho Latin by having a good argument - on condition that you leave your opponent sufficient room to retire AND save face, especially if others are present. Going behind people backs, appealing to authority, is considered very poor form, and usually rebounds on you. Even if you were right in the first place.

French people behind a desk (male or female) will argue the toss til they're blue in the face even if they haven't a clue what they're talking about, because to do otherwise is to admit weakness. Whether you're justified or not is irrelevant.

This makes it all the more important to get it right in the first place so you don't have to go back and complain.

Even if you have the sort of argument that in the UK would mean you weren't on speaking terms for years, in France the next day, it's usually all smiles, and forgotten.
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I see where you are comming from Manda but, I agree with richmond, no matter what the law may say, you still have to convince the people on the ground. Anyway when you book lessons what, if any paperwork do you get? In my experience I dont think I have never been given anything other than receipt, all they say is 'we meet under the clock at 9.30 see you there'.

You may well be right but I cant see that spouting off about international consumer law will get you very far.
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Quote:

breaking a contract is the same as breaking the law


Follow me here, please.

Yes. It. Is.

Without intending to being rude, but short of sending you off to law school, I don't think I can make it any clearer.

PG, I did suspect as much!

And PG's explanation indicates why, sadly, in reality some people feel it's too difficult to bring their complaints to some ski schools. However the fact that it can be difficult doesn't mean you shouldn't, guys!

I wonder, PG, can you be on hand to provide fluent french representation for snowheads when they need to complain????? Very Happy
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Colin Vince, actually, if you don't get yourself a receipt then it's caveat emptor.

Sorry, I'm not suggesting you "spout" any law at the ski school - the question was "What are the rules as far as ski schools in Europe / North America". You are legally entitled to demand to receive what you've agreed to pay for. I agree that putting it in action definately takes a lot of bottle in some resorts with some ski schools.
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Right. Here's some answers to the original question from the professional ski teacher's point of view.

Firstly: NEVER book through the Tour Operator. they only go to the ski school that gives them the biggest commission (usually the ESF, who do it throughout France). thus you have no choice of school.

Secondly: Go into EACH ski school office and see how you're received - it will be a good indicator of the way you'll be received by the instructors.

Thirdly: make it clear what you're looking for in your lessons. If you're nervous and want to increase your confidence, say so - you'll probably be put with someone who's good at that. If you want small groups then check on their numbers. You might be able to get together with a couple of other people of like ability to share a private lesson.

Fourthly: If you're unhappy for any reason, tell your instructor yourself straight away, tell the manager or whoever is arranging the groups as soon as you can, and arrange to go to the ski school office to discuss it if you don't like the response.

NEVER complain to a rep - they won't do anything. Your complaints won't even get to Head Office, most of whom think the ESF is wonderful because they never hear the complaints officially.

Apart from all this, you can ckeck out ski schools on the web. Go to the resort web page and they'll probably have links to all the ski schools in town. Write emails asking for information and see what sort of response you get. If all you get is a "standard" reply, then clearly that's their attitude to their clients.
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Manda wrote:
Quote:

breaking a contract is the same as breaking the law


Follow me here, please.

Yes. It. Is.

Without intending to being rude, but short of sending you off to law school, I don't think I can make it any clearer.



I'm in danger of getting into irrelevant ('though mildly interesting) semantic arguments here, but in England it isn't, although sometimes the action which breached the contract might also be breaking the law.

If I agree with you that I will mow your lawn for £10 next Saturday and then fail to show up, I am in breach of our contract and (in principle) liable for damages and specific performance. I have not broken any law.

At least we're all agreed that you need to sort out your problems with ski school as soon as possible, preferably before they happen, and that relying on the law is unlikely to be much help.
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easiski, very sound advice. Much better to get it right up-front than to try and get recompense later.
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Jonny Jones, no, I didn't say 5 or 6 was small rolling eyes what I did say was that was usually the MOST in the class on day one. I have also had less in the class than that on day one, but not more (for years).

Then you leave the class Madeye-Smiley and everyone else swaps in and out of class to ski with friends/have a rest etc, so I get to ski all week with instructor and maybe one other Very Happy
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Snowy, this particular operation is a small tour operator, with two chalet/hotels, specialising in instruction. They have 85% or so repeat business and most guests are known to each other as well as the staff. The problem you mention can and does happen, but it's not very frequent.

PG, I'm not going to rise to the bait Wink
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richmond as a wind-up, this could get longwinded .... For the sake of everyone else lets shorten it by meeting in the carpark for a punchup?

Sorted? Good. Embarassed (limps into a corner to lick her wounds)

Back on topic - yes, the point's now been made enough times (to bore the pants off everyone, sorry!!!) that the best way of dealing with ski school problems is to try to ensure they don't arise in the first place.
I'll just sneak in there the hope that more snowheads now understand the direction of the law that they can stand on...even if you never need to pull it out of the bag (how many metaphors can I mix???? Little Angel )
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Just to illustrate PG's point, I had cause to complain about something in France recently (won't bore with details) and only made any headway when I started remonstrating more loudly and gesticulating with my hands in a clearly more "assertive" manner. Worked a treat, the person backed down, provided compensation and we parted ammicably. You just have to persevere I suppose and have the courage of your convictions.
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Manda wrote:
richmond as a wind-up, this could get longwinded .... For the sake of everyone else lets shorten it by meeting in the carpark for a punchup?


I give in. In my experience whoever suggests sorting it out outside, wins.
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
easiski, makes a good point about commissions paid to TO's, most of the big operators insist on receiving a cut of their client's spend, interestingly, in our resort it's not the ESF who pays the biggest commissions. PG is also right about having a quiet word with someone with influence, you can always go to the Tourist Office, invariably they'll speak English and are usually not too happy about fielding complaints but invariably they will pass on compalints, usually at a Director level. It's inevitable that some people will be unhappy about ski instruction, but at lot depends on the resort itself, when the ESF had a monopoly in certain resorts invariably there were poor instructors who got away with giving poor service. Now, even in the smallest resorts there are alternatives. We always check with our guests if they're happy with their chosen ski school and we're prepared if there's a problem to have a chat with someone in authority. On the very rare occassions when this has been required, the issue has always been resolved amicably. One of the reasons I guess, is that, our village is quite small, we know most of the instructors and they know we won't recommend thenm if we get too many problems. Unfortunately most seasonaires working for TO's can't be bothered to sort out their client's problems, but you can bet their local manager will.
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 You'll get to see more forums and be part of the best ski club on the net.
You'll get to see more forums and be part of the best ski club on the net.
It's obviously different in Europe than it is here in California - Where I ski the group lessons are divided by self assesment, but the skills that you are expected to have, and those that will probably be worked on during the lesson are clearly posted. And the first few minutes of each lesson are spent with the instructor(s) evaluating each person's ability, and then each level of lesson can then be split further. There is always the opportunity to move up or down a level, and if you are not happy with the instructor then you swap (usually at the beginning of the second hour). I have found that all the instructors and the supervisors are there to do what it takes to make the clients happy. Part of this may be due to that fact that the ski school is run by the resort - I get the impression that resorts over here are more self contained than in Europe?
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