If you’re already getting excited about the start of the ski season, you’re probably dreaming of untouched pistes, hazy evenings enjoying some après-ski and the feeling of utter satisfaction when you feel your boots snugly click into your skis. Don’t tell us you’ve never thought about doing this for a living; we know that’s the dream.
We spoke to Chris from SnowSkool about how he became a skiing instructor, and how you can follow in his footsteps. Well, tracks. He qualified as an instructor four years ago, and he’s been working for SnowSkool for the past six months, but he’s also worked in France, Switzerland, New Zealand and Canada.
How did you know you wanted to be a skiing instructor?
“The first time I realised I wanted to become an instructor, I was 16, and in high school. I’ve been a keen skier ever since I was small, and I was lucky enough to go on skiing trips at school, so it’s always been a part of my life. However, I never banked on it being a career.
“I did plenty of outdoorsy things at uni, such as being a white water rafting guide, so I wanted to do something in the winter. I spent my first season in New Zealand - however, it wasn’t anything glamorous; I was a lift guide! There were perks; I was given a free lift pass, and I was up on the mountain 6-7 days a week. You do the role not for the actual job - it’s to get your foot in the door. It’s a way into the profession.”
How did you train?
“I enlisted on a 12-week course with SnowSkool in Banff, which is in Canada. The course included accommodation, food, a season pass, private transfers, training, exams, and flights.
“You don’t have to be the best skier in the world, but you do have to have a minimum of three weeks of on-snow experience. The course will help you find your feet - it’s where you do away with your bad habits. I thought I was a competent skier, but I was doing a lot of things incorrectly.
“You’re assessed on your practical and physical abilities, so it’s not all about perfect skiing. Can you teach well, and maintain attention while you’re talking to groups? Can you maintain eye contact, and explain something technical to someone who has problems grasping what you’re saying? Can you speak clearly? That’s what the examiners are looking for.
“You won’t learn to be the world’s best skier, but you will learn to be an efficient and careful one. You’ll learn how to take care of yourself and others on the slopes; for example, not stopping under ski lifts, that sort of thing.”
Was your training tough?
“There are different areas which are challenging; it can be tricky to get rid of bad habits which you may have had for years. It can be like learning to get rid of all the bad habits you’ve picked up if you’ve been a driver for several years, such as steering with one hand and riding the clutch. On your days off, you’re encouraged to go out and practice - you need to be dedicated. The course is about encouraging good lifelong habits, and continually being mindful of your technique and others around you.”
How easy was finding a job?
“I was lucky - I was offered a job in Canada while I was on the course. I was organised - I sorted myself out with a working visa in advance, so I was able to work for the next year, and SnowSkool knew this. If you’re really keen to get a job afterwards, the whole course is like an interview - the teaching staff can see what you’re about within a few days. You need to be a friendly, open person, a good communicator, and always willing to learn and improve.
“It’s a good idea to put the extra mile in while you’re training, so immerse yourself in the course totally, and ask your instructor if you can shadow them, so they can see you’re keen. You won’t be the world’s best instructor on your first season as and when you qualify, so relax - nobody expects perfection.”
Was the course a lot of fun?
“It’s the best decision I ever made. I met my girlfriend on the course, and I lived in Canada for two years; it was the best two years of my life. It was such an incredible experience, and I’m still friends with lots of people from the course.”
Can you train in the UK, if you don’t want to live abroad?
“You can train in the UK - but it’s tricky. You’ll have to sort your own accommodation, food and travel; you can do the exams with BASI in Hemel Hempstead, but they’re just over a period of five days or two weeks. All training is done on your own time.
“If you’re looking to live abroad, this is a great stepping stone. All your qualifications are recognised around the world and the lifestyle is so much fun. It was never about making money for me; it’s a great way to travel and build up transferable skills for other jobs.”
“We have courses to suit everyone in Canada, France, New Zealand and an internship in Switzerland. These are not just for gap years; they can be used as career breaks, to kick off the start of a new career or just to greatly improve your skiing. In regards to minimum ski experience, each of our courses has a slightly different minimum requirement, which is why we have something to suit almost everyone.”
Are there many downsides?
“If you’re looking to become an instructor for the money, get set for disappointment! For the first few years, you won’t earn a lot. You’ll be at the low end of the pecking order as a first year instructor.
“You have to gain experience and let people get to know you and trust you. I’d recommend that you start out at the smaller resorts.
“Smaller resorts are smaller businesses; you don’t get lost in the huge numbers that other resorts have. You will feel in demand, have much more work and gain a huge amount of experience. It’s harder to get work as a first year instructor in the larger resorts because they want to see you can actually instruct first, so it’s best to work at the smaller ones to gain that experience.
“Your earnings will increase as you get more experience, start to secure repeat customers, gain more qualifications and the longer you stay with one resort. Returning to the same resort each season will show the company a sign of respect and with that you will move up the ‘pecking order’, and thus gain more work that the ski school sends you.
“Resorts also value loyalty; if you return to the same place for a few years and make a name for yourself, people will get to know you and your client base will expand. They’ll return and ask for you if they like you; that’s really valuable, and will help you get your career off the ground.”
Want to train like Chris? SnowSkool’s 12-week training programme in Canada is what you need; you can find out more and book your place here.