Six months before the next Interski Congress in Levi/Finland, we remember the last Interski Congress in Bulgaria with Martin Obermayr's "travel report" in Insight Snowsports Magazine.
Text: Martin Obermayr | Photos: Martin Stanzel, Interski, Skiresort Pamporovo
The Interski Congress occurs only every four years. In the spring of 2019, 1100 international participants travelled to the Bulgarian ski area of Pamporovo. The program: impressive demo-shows, creative workshops on the piste and in the lecture hall, a lot of discussions and not to forget a really great party. My very personal travelogue.
A premier has the big advantage that it can’t be compared to anything, what was better before or what was worse. This is exactly how it was for me at my first Interski Congress. I did know that the whole international community of ski and snowboard instructors would be there, but how it would run, I could only guess. The theme however was promising ‘Future. Snowsports’. If I now look back on the events of these seven days of the Congress, then the Interski 2019 has achieved exactly what the organisers had set for themselves: to increase the importance and awareness of the future of winter sports in the minds of the participants.
What matters is the enthusiasm
Let’s start from the beginning. I trained as a national snowboard instructor a quarter of a century ago and my career as a snow trainer ended before the turn of the millennium. At the time I chose journalism and that’s why my following years were spent reporting on ski racing. My contact to teaching ebbed away. That all changed when the offer for the first „Insight – Snowsports Magazine“ came at the end of 2017. Since then I have reconnected myself with the ski and snowboard instructors.
Long story short. I was really surprised that at the Interski in Pamporovo I met such creative and progressive potential among young and already well-established people with one common goal: to carry their sport out into the world with enthusiasm and the joy of innovation. It was a rousing mood and I can only reiterate Jonathan Ballou’s words: „Everyone leaves this Interski with a dozen lifelong friends who share their passion for snow sports.“
The congress’s program was packed full, so much so you needed to make daily decisions on which workshops and lectures you wan- ted to attend. For example, the former snowboard world champion
Heidi Neururer from Austria spoke about „The Snowsport Instructor as Service Provider & Leader“ – garnished with many anecdotes from her professional career and the main message: „An athlete needs an encouraging relationship with their coach. That‘s also true of the winter sports guests and their instructor.“
The Slovenian sports university professor, Rado Pišot, in turn, called for a simpler and more consistent European ski and snowboard curriculum. The core message of his research: „Skiing is a Game!“ Exciting also was the entrance of Henrik Steen Jensen from Denmark, who spiced up his presentation with a „speed dating“ game with the audience and thus immediately provided a good conversation ice- breaker.
Just as variable were the daily practical workshops on the piste. The Hungarian instructors came up with the rather provocative theme „Does it help, or does it hurt? (Kill it or keep it!)”. Japan were about breaking boundaries: „The Borderless Beginner Lessons. The Fun Way!“ And the USA put special emphasis on the personal interaction with the guests with „People Skills Fundamentals“. The absolute highlights were the two demo-shows, where each nation had the opportunity to present their skills to a large audience. A spectacle that once again showed me why the Interski congress is such an international event. This was especially proven by the British, who candidly brought an EU flag to their show run.
Where the journey is headed
Fair and respectful was also the duel of the two candidates for the Interski 2023: Kitzbühel against Levi. Where the contrast couldn’t have been stronger. Kitzbühel travelled to Pamporovo with a delegation of 30 and invested more than one million euros in the campaign. At the valley station, a separate hut was rented, where daily delicious food and drinks in Tyrolean style was offered. There was also a huge party in the large conference hall with the excellent Tyrol Music Project.
The competitors from the Finnish resort Levi, however, were barely present during the Interski week – except for the official presentation of the applications on the third day of the congress. The former World Cup winner Tanja Poutianien was on the stage as a prominent ambassador.
The decision of who was awarded the contract followed two days later. It was really thrilling, on the one side it was clear that Kitzbühel had thrown everything it had into the ring, the other side Levi had spoken for the underdogs, especially the smaller organisations. At the secret ballot on the penultimate evening the atmosphere was electrifying in the big conference room. The result was quite clearly for Levi: 22 to 13 votes.
Ultimately, there were three factors that spoke in favor of the Finnish application. First, Levi was competing for the third time. Secondly, the Austrian Ski School Federation (ÖSSV) had left the ISIA (International Ski Instructors Association) in 2015. And thirdly, heard from smaller nations, the performance of Kitzbühel was probably a bit too powerful and intense for the rather informal character of the event.
Purely the magnitude of Kitzbühel would have spoken for the home of the world famous Hahnenkamm Race, as Rudi Lapper, Manager of the Austrian Demo-team, puts it, “It would of course have been a huge op- portunity for the entire Interski movement, if Kitzbühel had been able to collaborate permanently with them over the next four years – with all their media power.” Lapper, who is also the head instructor of the Austrian State Ski Instructors, not only sees it as patriotic, but that is his honest opinion. For this sincerity he is highly regarded internationally. Lappers‘ technical analysis of the demo shows is also pretty sober: „I thought we were already on our way, but only six, seven nations are doing really well – there is a big gap behind that.” But this is exactly where the big potential lies with Interski: that small nations in particular can still take big steps forward. Levi 2023 is the next chance. I hope to be there again.