The ESF Star system explained
The ski season is upon us once again! Thousands of holidaymakers are flocking to the French Alps to make the most of that lovely white stuff. Many of you will already have taken your first turns of the 2018/19 winter season, telling yourself that it’ll all come back after the first couple of runs!
Even though children find it much easier than adults to pick up the fundamentals of skiing, it’s important to make sure they establish good technique from the beginning. Bad habits that are left to set in take a lot of hard work to undo. Ski lessons with a reputable ski school are well worth considering to make sure your child gains the core skills needed to progress well.
With over 17,000 instructors (80% of whom speak English) and 250 schools in France, including La Clusaz, Le Grand Bornand, Manigod and Morzine, Ecole de Ski Français (ESF) is the largest ski school in the world. One of the great benefits of choosing a well-established and respected ski school is that even if you change resorts from one season to the next your children can stay on the same learning path.
ESF has a star level system to give structure to learning. Children will love working towards gaining their next badge and it is very helpful for parents to understand what level of skiing their children are at.
The ESF Star system
There are a number of different levels to help your learning – from the first time ever on snow all the way up to competitive racing. Here we will break down a few of the bigger milestones to help you understand the system. To see a fuller list of the ESF levels, and to view some helpful videos, visit the ESF website here.
Please note that the English version of the ESF website has a slightly reduced view on the levels but they cover most of them. To see the complete list of levels you will have to visit the French version of the website under ‘votre niveau’ here.
The Piou Piou Club
The Piou Piou Club is how young children are introduced to the world of skiing. Dedicated to young children, from three to six years old, the Piou Piou Club is a ski nursery for safe and fun learning.
Most of the lessons take place in secure nurseries with fun obstacles and toys, as well as tow ropes and conveyor belts to help the children get around. The children will begin to get the feel for being on skis and take their first glides in a gentle environment.
There are five levels within the Piou Piou Club; Piou Piou, Blanchot, Sifflote, Garolou and Titourson. As the children advance through the levels they will move from play learning in the nurseries to venturing out onto the uplifts and green pistes with their instructor. The final level, Titourson, finishes with the first test children will experience in the ESF system.
The Ourson badge is for children between seven and twelve years old, with the lessons taking place on beginner green runs. It is the first of the levels outside of the Piou Piou club. To be able to participate in the Ourson group your children must be able to do the following:
- recognise their ski equipment
- put on and take off their skis by themselves
- control their speed and make turns
- move around on skis in different ways over varied but almost flat terrain
- ski in a direct line facing down the slope and finish with a snowplough turn
To earn their Ourson medal children take a test to ensure they can complete the following:
- demonstrate a ‘snaking’ line of snowplough turns around four to five poles.
- ski with skis parallel straight downhill and stop using a snowplough turn
The Flocon group is immediately above Ourson. Children should meet the following criteria to take part:
- have obtained Ourson level
- can control their speed and traverse across the slope using snowplough turns
- can remain balanced while sliding faster, with skis parallel, both across and down the slope on both skis or from one ski to the other, over a smooth terrain on a gentle slope.
- brake, stop and start again by themselves
The test to get the Flocon medal involves:
- demonstrating a series of seven to eight snowplough turns with the skis brought back to the parallel position in between, over a marked out course
- being able to perform a parallel direct line across the slope following a roughly straight trajectory
- demonstrating the ability to balance when skiing while facing down the slope (with little jumps, from one foot to the other or over little bumps, etc.) on a gentle slope
1st Star (1ère étoile)
To join the 1st star group children should:
- have obtained the Flocon medal
- be able to link parallel sideslip turns taking into account external factors (terrain profile, other skiers, quality of snow, etc.)
- be balanced while traversing across low to medium slopes
- be able to parallel turn (maintaining the angle of edges).
The 1st Star Test involves:
- on a moderately steep slope, perform a series of parallel sideslip turns over a marked out course
- skiing in a direct traversing line following a curved trajectory
- perform step turns on a gentle slope (starting off at an angle)
2nd Star (2ème étoile)
Second star is for children who:
- have the 1st Star.
- can link refined basic turns
- can ski in a direct traversing line, following a curved trajectory
- can go through pitches and bumps, crossing or facing the slope, while remaining balanced.
The 2nd star test involves:
- performing a sequence of a dozen sharpened elementary turns, on a course laid out on an average slope
- performing a basic side-slip on a moderate slope
- performing basic skating steps
3rd star (3ème étoile)
To join the 3rd star group children should:
- have the 2nd Star
- be able to do basic short and medium radius parallel turns, taking into account and adapting to external factors (terrain profile, other skiers, quality of snow, etc.)
- Be able to balance in schuss (tuck) on varied terrain
The test to get the 3rd Star involves:
- performing a sequence of a dozen basic turns around 10 – 12 markers on an average slope
- performing festons – a zig-zagging track across a moderate slope using a parallel traverse and side slips
- performing a straight line down the hill in parallel finishing with a skid stop
To go for their Bronze Star, children should:
- have achieved the 3rd Star level
- have refined basic parallel turns by reducing sideslip
- demonstrate the ability to adapt their short and wide turns taking into account, and compensating for, external factors (terrain, skiers, type of snow, etc)
- control their balance in a schuss when taking off from rounded bumps, on piste or course such as skiercross.
- be comfortable skiing in all snow conditions.
The Bronze Star Test involves performing:
- non-timed line assessed by the child’s ability to complete perfect basic turns, with two changes of rhythm on a varied slope (alternating medium, short and medium-radius turns through 15 to 20 gates).
- basic Godille (short fast turns).
- a run over bumps with slight take-off on prepared piste or terrain (skier-cross type run).
To go for their final medal, the Gold Star, children should:
- have obtained the Bronze Star.
- have discovered alpine skiing in all its forms.
- be able to ski without stopping on steep pistes, on any type of snow, taking into account external factors and respecting rules of conduct of the skier.
- be confident in challenging terrains or areas: e.g. skiercross, halfpipe.
The test to achieve this final medal involves:
- a giant slalom, within a specified time, set on the day
- completing a series of technically perfect broad and high-speed turns over varied terrain.
After your child has been awarded the Gold Star medal they will have completed all of the ESF children’s levels and should be able to ski in all conditions confidently, competently and safely. Parents will have to keep practicing to keep up!
Working through all of the levels takes a good number of weeks of skiing so will take several years to complete. It is worth encouraging your children to complete the program as they will come out of the whole process as confident skiers and will be set up for a lifetime of skiing.
A final word from a couple of the Directors of the local ESF schools explaining why they love skiing and living locally….
Mr Jerome Pessey – Director of ESF La Clusaz
“La Clusaz has been home to my family and my wife’s family for several generations. My paternal grandparents were mountain farmers in the Col des Aravis and my maternal grandparents were mountain farmers in the Combe de Paccaly.
For me, La Clusaz is a village with incomparable charm, with a beautiful large ski area, a really friendly atmosphere and a great way of life. La Clusaz combines all the advantages of a big ski station with those of a small village.
The ESF ski school in La Clusaz has 264 instructors and gave 73,000 hours of ski lessons last winter”
M. Bernard Josserand – Director of ESF Manigod
“Manigod is my home village which is why I wanted to develop the ski school that I have been running for 34 years.
Over the years, many young people have joined the ski school and remained in France to work.
We keep a friendly, family spirit to make a welcoming atmosphere for our clients.”
To find your closest ESF school visit the OVO Network Insider’s Guide.