Skiing comes naturally to Andorrans. Just as Australians learn to swim, Brazilians play soccer and Canadians skate as a rite of passage.
Having a mountain view outside of almost every window means a ski hill outside every door. And with mountains in the backyard, learning to ski, often at a ski school, is part of growing up in Andorra.
The idea of ski education goes well beyond the lessons you might have your kids take at the resort while on vacation. Schools in Andorra include skiing as integral and much-loved part of the curriculum.
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How Universal is Skiing in the Andorran Education System?
The Andorra government requires that all students, at certain grade levels, get a certain number of hours of physical education. This proviso applies to students in all parts of the school system in Andorra, both public and private schools.
Skiing is a required part of the diversified phys ed curriculum.
When Do Students Start Learning to Ski?
Starting in first grade, students will participate in skiing as part of their gym classes, on special ski days. By later years, skiing will be an optional part of the curriculum that some parents choose to enroll their children in. Starting in second grade, skiing is no longer compulsory and there is more flexibility given to schools and students.
Objectives of Including Skiing in the Curriculum
Skiing comes naturally in Andorra since it’s so accessible and widely available. But the government is specific about the reasons for including it in the phys ed curriculum. They are:
- Create a holistic educational profile.
- Give younger students the physical skills and body awareness that will make it easier for them to participate in fitness activities later in life.
- Establish a foundation of skills that will make it possible for all students to master skiing (if they choose to.)
- Experience, respect and appreciate nature.
- Gain a respect for social attitudes, fellow Andorrans and public spaces.
History of Skiing as Part of the School System in Andorra
Skiing has been a vital part of growing up in Andorra for decades. This became especially true after the Second World War when resorts started to install more chairlifts and many more of Andorra’s mountain slopes were opened to skiing.
In 2003, the Andorran government formalized the requirements for how public schools make skiing a part of their curriculum. These were amended and updated in 2012.
Nordic Skiing as Well as Downhill
With so many mountains in Andorra, it’s no surprise that the focus for ski schools is heavily on the alpine type of skiing. That said, all students also get to try cross-country skiing and a part of the ski school curriculum is set aside to satisfy this requirement.
How Much Time is Given to Ski Schools
During the elementary school years, when ski school is part of the curriculum (whether mandatory in grade one, or optional after that) it is spread over eight days of the school year. One of these is usually devoted to nordic skiing and the rest is spent on slopes honing downhill skiing skills.
The days set aside for the national ski school championships are in addition to these eight days.
Schools have more flexibility for students in second grade and older. The Andorran government provides oversight for ski school trips of five days or less and provides monitors for up to two hours per day.
Supervision for Ski Schools
In Andorra, ski schools are overseen by trained monitors who evaluate a particular student’s progress and abilities. These evaluators are with the students for two hours of each ski day (three hours for nordic skiing). Ideally, a student has the same monitor assessing them throughout the school year.
For safety reasons, ski schools are also required to provide companions who are with students throughout the day.
Competition for Students in Ski Schools
Every year, Andorra’s best ski school students participate in a national ski school championship. In 2018, the friendly competitions were held in Arinsal and La Rabassa around the third week of March.
The competition was tough — for such a young age group, at least — and prizes were awarded for under-10 girls (separately for skiers who are part of a federation and those who aren’t) and under-12 boys.
Government-subsidized Lift Passes for Ski Schools
The Andorran government takes ski education seriously and offers a discounted lift pass season rate for those participating in ski schools. For the 2015-16 season these passes went for:
- Students (under 18) participating in extracurricular programmes: €98.
- A “University Pass” for those 20 – 25: €175.
- Companion Pass for adults (18 – 65) who work with ski schools: €156.
- Companion Pass for seniors (65 – 70) who are involved with ski schools: €52.
- Replacement fee for lost passes: €20.
Those prices are low enough that some of the facility operators in Andorra called on the government to raise them. For the 2017-18 season, the government bowed to this pressure and increased rates by 4% plus CPI.
Despite these price increases, for most expats moving to Andorra the cost of sending your child to ski school are laughably cheap.
Student passes go on sale between the beginning of November and the end of January. University and companion passes are available from December through the end of January.
Who Provides the Equipment for Ski Schools in Andorra?
Generally, students bring their own gear to ski school days. If a student’s family can show it would be impossible to buy equipment, the government will rent to them at a subsidised rate. Andorran children whose families receive social assistance have this rental fee waived.
All students must wear a helmet while participating in alpine skiing or snowboarding programming at a ski school.
Advanced Ski School Options
There are a few choices for keen students and their eager parents in Andorra.
In addition to the various ski lessons they offer to tourists or on a one-off basis, resorts also sometimes have ski school programmes for kids. These are outside of normal school hours. At Grandvalira, the programme is limited to about 170 pupils, ages five to 17.
Andorran residents are given the first crack at registration with a week’s headstart over non-residents and a significant discount on the tuition.
As well, Andorra’s longest-running and best-known international school, Agora International School puts a strong emphasis on skiing as part of the extra-curricular schedule.
During the season, the 100 or so participating students get to go skiing once a week. This is a fun activity that students look forward to but also geared to teach more advanced skiing skills and continue promoting the ideals (like teamwork and an appreciation of the outdoors) that are set out in the elementary school curriculum.
Many very talented Andorran athletes have passed through the ski school programme at Agora International School. This list includes participants in recent Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Sochi.
The Benefits of Ski School in Andorra
Expats and their children seem to all have a rosy outlook on Andorra’s ski school programme. It’s a break from the classroom, a chance for students to learn a sport together and something that feels especially Andorran. Plus, skiing is fun.
Do you have any questions about Andorra’s ski schools? Did I miss covering something you were interested in reading about? Or do you have your own fond memories of ski school? Get in touch and let us know!