LACK OF snow may be a worry for Scotland's skiing industry, but it has injected a touch of European glamour into the career of one ambitious young Scot.
Lana Bourquin, from Grantown-on-Spey, feared she would have to sacrifice plans to fulfil her dream of becoming a snowboarding instructor because of a dearth of the white stuff in the Cairngorms this winter. But instead, she has flown to Andorra for a two-week working holiday in the Pyrenees. She hopes to gain her British Association of Snowsport Instructors'
qualification during her trip, which will allow her to teach around the world.
Key to following her chosen career has been funding. A new bursary scheme operated in the Cairngorms National Park has made her vision possible.
Cairn-gorms Action for Training and Skills (CATS) was set up to offer funding and support to young people who live in the park's boundaries to train in careers which could benefit the park in the future.
Lana's enthusiasm for returning after her course to work within the park on her favourite slopes at CairnGorm Mountain (the park's skiing area) no doubt helped her application. For the 16-year-old, the pound;1,000 bursary (which paid for her ski pass in Andorra and 80 per cent of her course fee) meant the difference between following her chosen path or a delay of years.
"I always wanted to be an instructor, since I started snowboarding, but I would have had to save up for a long time to do any of the courses. I would just have been helping out at CairnGorm Moun-tain, and would have been paid less if I wasn't qualified," she said.
The pilot scheme, which started in January, has so far spent pound;2,500 helping four people, including Lana, to do snowsport training. Interviews are now being set up for applicants who are keen to train in summer-based outdoor instruction.
CATS is open to park residents, aged 16 to 24, who wish to pursue careers related to the park, such as tourism, conservation and farming. With a budget of pound;8,000 a year for three years, it is hoped that 20 people can be given financial assistance each year.
In the future, it is hoped additional funding will be found to continue the scheme.
Without the bursary scheme, Lana says it would have taken her years to save the necessary money: "I wouldn't have been able to do it on my own. It is really good that the Cairngorms National Park Authority is helping to get people started in the careers they want."
And for Lana, no other career seemed right. She's been skiing since the age of three, when her skiing instructor parents first took her onto the slopes and a lifelong passion was born. By 10, she was attracted to the more "chilled out" world of snowboarding and the skis were mothballed. For her, an academic career was never an option. "I have always been an outdoors person," she says. "I have been helping with the ski-school in the past few years and love it. I want to teach people what I love to do."
Kate Christie is the CATS project leader and a member of the park's economic and social development team. She says Lana's case typifies what the scheme hopes to do: "She will be learning abroad and will be able to share good practice with another leading ski destination. She also wants to use the skills she learns to benefit the Cairngorms for future years. This is not only great for Lana, but for Cairngorms National Park too."
Fundamental to the scheme is helping the social and economic development of the park by keeping young people in the area. As well as paying towards fees, the bursary can assist with childcare and travel costs. CATS is also working with Careers Scotland to plan new individual vocational training programmes. Those in low-skilled work, unemployed or school leavers are most likely to be eligible, and as it encourages young people to develop a range of skills, applications can be made for funding for more than one course.
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On yer skis, mate
Although it is called the British Association of Snowsport Instructors, BASI is not limited to the United Kingdom. Its courses, which train people to become snowboarding, Alpine skiing and Nordic cross-country skiing teachers, can be completed in locations around the globe from Andorra, where Lana Bourquin is studying, to France, the United States, Switzerland, Italy and the UK.
BASI is part of the International Ski Instructors Association (ISIA) formed in 1957, which sets international standards for the training of snowsport teaching professionals and has 30 member countries. Its qualifications are recognised internationally and allow holders to teach snowsports in resorts and schools around the world.
Courses are made up of modules lasting at least three days, and contain a mix of on-snow training, lectures and seminars in small groups. Students are trained in evaluating the ability of learner skiers and snowboarders, leadership skills and navigation among other things.
Successful completion of a child protection module has become a mandatory part of becoming an instructor. Speed tests, in some courses, and written essays are used for assessment.
The courses vary in length - it takes five days to become a trainee instructor and three to five years to gain the International Ski Teacher Diploma qualification, which opens up employment opportunities.
As with most industries, qualifications raise earning potential. Being dual-qualified to teach skiing and snowboarding will help job seekers, because of the rapidly increasing popularity of the latter.