So you want to be a ski instructor?
Do you love the outdoors lifestyle? Do you have a passion for winter sports and consider yourself the next Bode Miller or Shaun White? Do you enjoy interacting with people in a professional work environment? Do you want a qualification that can potentially help you work abroad all year round?
If you can honestly answer yes to these questions then read on, as a career as a ski or snowboard instructor may just be right for you!
Imagine teaching people how to deal with two feet of fluffy champagne powder that has fallen overnight in Steamboat Springs, USA. Or helping some teens nail their first 180 at the terrain park in Whistler, Canada. Perhaps you would be more at home on the slopes of Valle Nevado, Chile, in July showing some beginners how addictive skiing can become. One thing’s for sure: being a ski or snowboard instructor will not only help you feed your winter sports addiction year round, but could also be a long term career for those willing to undergo the training and provide a source of income while you enjoy an unrivaled experience, working in the clean crisp mountain environment.
Ideally, you should really want to be an instructor and given it thought and consideration, as the associated costs and time it takes to become qualified are generally not worth it if all you want is to work in a ski resort.
You need an intermediate level of skiing or snowboarding experience with some weeks on the slopes under your belt – the length varies with individual training companies. If you want to find out what all the fuss is about and why people come back from ski seasons claiming ‘that was one of THE best experiences I’ve ever had’ without paying lots of money to become a qualified instructor, then you should consider other resort roles such as Rep, Kitchen Porter, Chalet Host or Bar Person. These will give you a much better taster of the highly addictive snow industry and once you have found your love for the slopes you could then pursue instructor qualifications. Check out the Working Abroad group on Facebook to find out more about these other roles.
Being responsible for a group of clients and working in what is essentially a customer service industry is not for everyone but it can be immensely rewarding and stacked with benefits. A great sense of achievement and satisfaction can be gained from teaching other people and no two days at ‘work’ will ever be the same; add to that more fun times than you can shake a ski at and you will hopefully enjoy a long-lasting and gratifying career that will take you round the world. As with any client-facing role you need a great deal of patience: beginners can be slow to learn so it is important to be relaxed and let people learn at their own pace in the initially grueling first days on the slopes. Motivational techniques are sometimes taught on instructor courses and these will come in very handy when your new bunch of recruits get despondent from falling over time after time after time.
Instructors enjoy a great sense of camaraderie in resort and your colleagues will become your temporary family and life-long friends. There is friendly competition on both the slopes and in resort bars and clients will often shout you drinks at the end of a hard days ski school, so it is easy to achieve a great work life balance. Instructors usually work between 9am and 4pm, allowing for plenty of social time but remember no one likes a hung-over instructor and you will be the face of your organisation again first thing in the morning!
If you investigate instructor qualifications, you are likely to come across BASI – the British Association of Snowsport Instructors: this is the governing body responsible for training and grading British Instructors and their courses are available throughout Europe, New Zealand and South America. Each country also has their own version of the BASI, such as PSIA – Professional Ski Instructors of America, and most of these are members of ISIA – The International Ski Instructors Association. These governing bodies are a great place to start your own research and most provide courses with their own qualifications, but many other companies offer these qualifications too, in different resorts and at different times of the year.
All qualifications are transferable so CASI qualifications (Canadian Association of Snowboard Instructors) are accepted in Europe and vice versa. However, one thing to bear in mind is that the level of qualification required to teach in Europe is generally much higher than in the rest of the world (opportunities in France can be even harder to find as the majority of jobs go to French nationals). There are separate qualifications for the whole range of winter disciplines including alpine (skiing), snowboarding, children, and telemark skiing so you should chose the one that most interests you. If you want to work in Europe it might be worth completing a Level 1 qualification with one of the major associations, then getting some practical teaching experience in New Zealand or the US before doing the higher-level qualifications required for European work. Gone are the days of ‘in the know’ locals pitching up early and offering lessons for ‘cash’; these days everything is highly regulated and rightly so.
Most of the instructor associations have two levels of qualification: it is possible to get employment after Level 1 but generally not in Europe. The courses usually run for 11/12 weeks, and cover a wide range of practical and theory based sessions. You can expect to learn more on your own individual skiing or boarding levels and techniques including video analysis, leadership, first aid, teaching skills, technique and of course snow! This will probably cost you upwards of £3,000 and will change depending on all the ‘extras’ offered by the company you chose, such as better accommodation, actual resort, help with CVs and securing employment, location and transport. Some companies such Peak Leaders offer guaranteed work upon completion, and nearly all operators will advise you and put you directly in touch with the right people to look for ski jobs, so do not be put off if a course cannot offer you guaranteed work!
Level 2 qualifications focus more on the precise techniques and teaching theory phases than Level 1 and it takes a great deal of motivation and mountain time to achieve. Like a Level 1 course, it runs over a number of weeks and it is possible to attend a course that incorporates both levels, which usually involves students achieving a Level 1 qualification in the first 4 – 5 weeks before continuing with the rest of the programme. Sadly, there is no escaping formal assessment as exams take place at the end of the programmes. A stand-alone Level 2 course is slightly more than a Level 1 course and a 12-week combination course will set you back more than £7,000.
Although becoming an instructor is highly rewarding on a personal level, do not expect to make your fortune doing this. Pay structures vary depending on location, experience, previous number of hours spent teaching and qualifications held. At entry level, you can expect to earn around £6/7 per hour but this can increase with experience and variables such as number of coaching hours accumulated. As your qualifications, recorded hours of teaching and experience grow, your earning potential will increase too, but accommodation is not usually provided with instructor jobs. Some resorts offer employee housing at a reduced rate or you will have to find your own digs at the start of the season; this can be fairly costly as ski resorts are not the cheapest places to live but the experience is unrivaled and so draws people back season after season. The initial investment required to become a qualified instructor is seen as just that – an investment. It would take you some time to make back the initial costs from your earnings but in return for this speculation, you have the chance to work in ski resorts year round. The more experienced you become, the more you earn, and this will improve your standard of living in resort once established.
As well as Level 1 and 2 courses, the three main instructor associations also offer a range of different levels or disciplines. The most notable ones are:
Canadian Ski Instructors’ Alliance (CSIA), Canadian Association of Snowboard Instructors (CASI), Canadian Ski Coaches Federation (CSCF)
• CSIA Level 1 and Level 2 Ski Instructor
• CASI Level 1 and Level 2 Snowboard Instructor
• CSCF Race Coach
• CSIA Park & Pipe Coach
• CASI Freestyle Instructor
• Avalanche Awareness Certification
• Winter First-Aid Qualification
New Zealand Snowsports Instructors Alliance:
• NZSIA CSI (Certificate Ski Instruction)
• NZSIA Stage One Ski Instructor
• NZSIA Stage One Snowboard Instructor
• Avalanche Awareness Certification
• Winter First-Aid Qualification
British Association of Snowsport Instructors:
• BASI Level 1 and Level 2 Ski Instructor
• BASI Level 1 and Level 2 Snowboard Instructor
• Test Technique
• BASI Child Protection Module
• BASP (British Association of Snowsport Patrollers) First Aid Certificate
Once you have studied hard and successfully passed your exams the next step will be to find work! Most companies that offer courses will also help you work on your CV and find a suitable position. Ski resorts in the US/Canada run their own ski and ride schools, so if you fancy heading stateside to rack up your teaching hours, check the resort websites as early as possible and get your applications in. Other far-flung destinations may require some degree of local language but this varies so once you have a list of desirable destinations to ply your new trade, it is a good idea to contact all the resorts directly and find out what their entry requirements are. In Europe, each resort will have a number of different ski school operators; a good source of information for this is www.j2ski.com. Alternatively, search the web for schools in your preferred resorts. The US, Canada, and NZ can be good places to kick-start your new profession as there are no language barriers and your teaching remit is only restricted by your level of certification.
One notable operation is Educating Adventures (www.educatingadventures.com). Their instructor internships offer full support, training, certification and instructor employment offer at Lake Tahoe and Whistler, Canada. They offer great value courses including accommodation but not travel costs, so remember to budget for that.
Worthwhile UK companies offering a range of courses and locations include:
So, if you have not already done so, start saving those pennies and dream about endless powder days! After all, if you are committed to work as a ski or ride instructor, then a life of adventure, good times, personal satisfaction and working abroad can be yours!