‘Cheap' Dutch ski instructor remains in demand in Austria

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‘Cheap’ Dutch ski instructor remains in demand in Austria

For a town famed for its après ski, there’s not much going on in Austria’s Gerlos this year. Bars are closed, restaurants are not – until 10pm. The Cin-Cin bar, popular among the Dutch, has not yet seen the inside of ski instructor Sanne Hoogveld (21). “That sucks, you also go to Gerlos a bit to party.”

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Austria did not only take corona measures for nightlife: it does not allow unvaccinated people at all. Until recently, unboosted Dutch people had to quarantine for ten days on arrival. A winter sport ‘as always’ is not an option for many this season.

According to the Dutch Ski Association, thousands of Dutch people, especially young people, travel to the mountains every year to work in, for example, the catering industry or as a ski instructor. Austria, of all places, which introduced additional entry restrictions for the Dutch around Christmas, is the most important destination. Will the pandemic and associated measures throw a spanner in the works for these winter workers this year?

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Austrians want themselves

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About 60 to 65 percent of Dutch winter sports enthusiasts go to Austria and 12 to 15 percent to France, says Arjen de Graaf on behalf of the Ski Association. Then come countries like Italy and Switzerland. The ratio is about the same for employees.

“In France you don’t get a job as a teacher, for that you have to follow a long training,” says De Graaf. „While you can get started in Austria with a Anwärter, a diploma that you obtain after a week or two of training and which you can use to teach beginners.” Young people in particular do this training, which consists of theory and practical lessons and exams in the Austrian mountains.

Just before the holidays, there was a moment of panic, says De Graaf, when the Austrian government introduced a quarantine obligation for unboosted people. “A lot of Dutch people didn’t have that extra shot yet. That has now been normalized. People know what conditions they have to meet to enter the country and are less hesitant to book a holiday.”

Nevertheless, according to the association, fewer Dutch people have traveled to work in the mountains. She does not have any figures on that. “Ski instructors are still very popular, but après-ski is no longer there. So many catering jobs are disappearing,” says De Graaf.

extra shot

Recognizable, says Toon Wouters, founder of recruitment company Werken in Austria. It recruits Dutch winter staff, such as ski instructors and employees for shops and catering in ski resorts. The company also arranges all necessary travel and work papers for them. Normally, it broadcasts about 900 Dutch people per ski season, about 60 percent of whom are ski instructors. This year, Wouters thinks that “with a bit of luck” it will be about half.

This is partly due to Austrian travel restrictions, says Wouters. In addition to the disappearance of après-ski, not all employees who planned to come around the holidays received a booster (on time). “And the varying measures create a lot of uncertainty,” says Wouters. “People who consider a season in the mountains are afraid that the rules change every week and then just cancel it completely.”

According to Wouters, the fact that he can send fewer employees this year is more due to the Dutch employees than to the Austrian employers. “The country is facing a major shortage of personnel. Austrians don’t want to become a ski instructor anymore, they don’t pay enough for that,” says Wouters. “I still receive requests from ski schools every day whether I can supply teachers. But we just don’t have those people, unfortunately.”

In addition, the sector is struggling with shortages caused by the virus itself: infections and quarantines keep teachers off the slopes. In Kirchberg, among others, well known among Dutch winter sports enthusiasts, a Dutch group of ski instructors made the news with a massive virus outbreak. Corona also keeps employees at home in other Austrian mountain areas.

This season, Wouters has already had to keep about 160 deployed employees at home for part of the time – because they became ill or had been in contact with someone who turned out to be infected. “Ski instructors all live together in staff houses,” he says. This can amount to dozens of teachers per house. “Once one teacher is sick, it spreads very quickly. Some schools even have to close for a few days.”

Visit prohibited

Ski instructor Hoogveld lives in a house with seven others this winter – during the high season, around Christmas, there were eleven. If one of them tests positive, everyone should stay home. Her ski school, Michi’s in Gerlos, is also strict with the approximately forty teachers who are currently employed there: receiving visitors at home is strictly prohibited. Hoogveld estimates that about 80 percent of her colleagues are Dutch.

Quarantine has not yet happened to Hoogveld and her housemates. Après-ski or not, she’s trying to make the most of it this season. “It is still very nice with the other teachers. And it’s better than being in the Netherlands: I was just completely done with the measures there.”

In fact, she is also happy that her boss is strict. “You hear drama stories of closed schools from other areas. At least we were able to continue skiing.”

Yuri Bartels, on the other hand, experienced the vagaries of the virus firsthand. He is the founder and owner of Snowlife, a company that annually trains several hundred Dutch young people to become ski instructors. This year there are about six hundred, spread over eleven to twelve groups of fifty to sixty teachers-to-be. The registrations are not disappointing, says Bartels. But making plans for such large groups and the varying measures make it “tough”.

Bartels: “In the third group we had this season, one person tested positive on the day of arrival in Austria. Because they had all been on the bus together, the whole group had to return immediately. Yep, super sour of course. Then I thought: what kind of season is this going to be?”

After that, it seemed to get even worse: Austria introduced a lockdown in November, after which another group had to return after a few days. “At first it seemed that everything was closed for three weeks and we were not allowed to give lessons,” says Bartels. “Fortunately, that was not that bad: we were soon informed that ski lessons were allowed and all training groups after that have hardly had any problems.”

A windfall for the Austrian winter sector. Bartels also says that he receives weekly calls from ski school owners who ask if he still has staff for them.

Does he see a reluctance among young people this year to sign up for ski instructor training? “It is quite difficult for young people that they have been braked for almost two years and are also allowed to go on winter sports much less. But in the end it works out. Winter sports are the last thing a winter sports enthusiast can take away. Fans will do anything for it!”

A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad on 29 January 2022

A version of this article also appeared in NRC on the morning of January 29, 2022

‘Cheap’ Dutch ski instructor remains in demand in Austria
Source link ‘Cheap’ Dutch ski instructor remains in demand in Austria

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