Simon Otten is the head of the Ischgl Ski School Children’s Land. He’s Dutch, but you’d never guess when he speaks, he sounds so Tyrolean. We listened to him for a while. Simon!
I hope it doesn’t bother you if I speak dialect with you, I can’t speak standard German. I always got a 5 (a very low mark) in German in the school, I never understood the whole einer, eine, eines business. I still don’t understand it today, actually. But in the Tyrolean dialect it’s just “ane” – I can do that. No problem, there are many people who don’t manage the dialect as well as you, and you’ve only been here eleven years.
Yes, eleven years. I couldn’t speak any German at all back then. During my first season and in the ski instructor exam I had a piece of paper where I’d written down all the phrases you need. But I was lucky enough to quickly find a couple of good mates, locals, who taught me a thing or two. Like Tyrolean. And a bit of skiing, too.
What brought you to Ischgl in the first place?
I wanted to work for a year as a ski instructor between finishing school and starting to study, and then I just got caught. Why Ischgl?
It was coincidence, really. I didn’t know Ischgl, I looked around online back then and wrote to a couple of places. The Ischgl Ski School was one of the ski schools which accepted me. And out of all the possibilities I had back then, I thought Ischgl was the best. Everything fits: there’s fantastic skiing both on the pistes and off piste. There’s a lot going on in the town but you can also have peace if you want to. I thought Ischgl was super as the full package back then, and I still think it is today. I’m not going to leave here now. Nowadays I dream in German and I think in German. I feel at home here.
And do the people of Ischgl also see you as a local now?
They ask me now where I belong and when I say that I’m originally from Holland, then they say, oh, it’s you. So they know me. But I do a lot, too. I am in several clubs, I play football, I train a kid’s team and I teach tennis. And I’m also here in the summer, when I work in a bar. We still find one thing fascinating: how does a Dutchman get into skiing? Shouldn’t you really be speed skating? Or playing football?
My grandparents had a house in South Tyrol, where I went every holiday, so I learnt to ski there. But of course I learnt a whole lot more afterwards, here in Ischgl, firstly to be a state-registered ski instructor and then a nationally-certified ski instructor. My friends here in Ischgl helped me then, like Sandro Kleinhans, he helped me a lot. And today I’m a nationally-certified ski instructor, last year I was the winner of the day at the Gastromeisterschaft ski championships. So I can ski. For a Dutchman, I’m pretty good even! And what exactly are you doing in the ski school now?
I’m the head of the Children’s Land. I place the kids and allocate the instructors to them. I oversee the instructors and tell them if they’re doing something wrong. It can be pretty challenging sometimes, especially in hard weeks like over Christmas, when we have 500 children in the ski courses. What do you need to be a good children’s ski instructor?
The most important thing is not to be shy. If you’re shy, you can perhaps give private lessons or teach adults. But with children, it doesn’t work at all. You have to be open, friendly, and make fun for the children. That’s something I can do, though.