As with all countries France requires you to pass many tests and exams to become a ski instructor. Training to become a ski instructor is not something someone would do half heartedly due to the investment in time and indeed money required to complete the course.
In France (Including Val Thorens and the 3 Valleys) the main and National ski school is called ESF which stands for Ecole du Ski Francaise. Translated means School Ski France. The Ski Instructor exam is split into several modules representing different skills required for the role.
To become an instructor for the ESF there are many modules which you will need to pass, some of which are required to start teaching and some are to allow you to teach more advanced skiers (or snowboarders).
For example there is a module that allows you to take clients off-piste and another to teach race schools (this is a very simplistic run of these, it is more complicated). There is however one module that all ESF ski instructors must pass, it is known (to the English) as the ‘Speed Test’.
If you ask any would be ski instructor this is the module they fear the most.
The idea behind the speed test is quite straight forward, they setup a course on a fairly steep piste somewhere in the resort. They then send down a very good ski racer, this is often a French downhill ski team member local to the resort. They then decide how close to the professional skier you would need to be when you go down the course to pass. This would be something like you need to be within 2 seconds of the professional ski racer.
You only get a certain amount of tries (often only 3, however we have heard in some resorts it’s only 1). If you are outside the time you fail and would need to try again next year (or when there is another professional skier in the resort again).
As mentioned it is often the case you would need to be only 2 seconds off the professional skiers time, which is very hard to do and can be very frustrating if you miss out and have to wait another year to try again!
Bare this in mind when you next challenge a tubby 60 year old Ski instructor for a race, he was once very quick!