For some people, being a ski instructor sounds like a dream job. After all, you’re out on the hill all day long, opening people’s eyes to the joys of skiing and sharing your passion with others. You get to wear a cool instructor jacket, go to the head of the lift line, and hey, you even get a free pass and plenty of discounts. Pretty sweet, right?
But maybe not. After all, being an instructor isn’t for everyone. Not that I don’t admire instructors. I do. It’s just something I don’t think would work for me. For one thing, I’m not very patient, and patience is very important in this line of work. Second, I’d rather ski where I want, when I want, with whom I want. For instructors, at least for part of the time, that isn’t possible.
Thankfully, there are loads of people who simply love teaching people how to ski. But as in any job, it’s important to know what you’re getting into before you sign up. So I recently asked some of the many instructors who belong to TheSkiDiva community what they like and don’t like about instructing. Here are some of their comments:
Things that have met or exceeded expectations:
• It’s the most beautiful office of my career;
• The whole teaching experience is absolutely wonderful: getting to share your passion with others, seeing a light bulb go on for someone or watching as they overcome a fear;
• The camaraderie of each day with fellow instructors has been great;
• Seeing the mountain every day is the best;
• The perks are great: free pass; discounts on equipment; discounts for friends and family etc.
Things that were disappointing or surprising (although they probably shouldn’t have been):
• A ski school is still a human organization so there are still office politics;
• There is an “in” crowd and an”out” crowd;
• Lots of huge egos;
• Still some greater difficulties for women instructors vs men;
• The clinics for instructors are very uneven in terms of quality;
• The certification process in our region is really messed up and doesn’t seem to be fairly applied. I’ve been very unimpressed with the examiners and the examination process;
• It doesn’t feel like we are all pulling in the same direction. There are different schools of thought about what and how to teach. Ski instructors are really just a bunch of independent contractors competing against each other for clients under the umbrella of the ski school.
So it looks like the list of disappointing things is longer than the list of good things. But really, the good stuff is SO WONDERFUL it way outweighs the little annoyances.
I enjoyed the vast improvements in my skiing (just in going through the selection process, much less the certification training), and understanding both the mechanics of learning/teaching and the importance of the correct equipment. Where else can you get generally weekly clinics for free? I also loved the ah ha moments and the look in the students eyes when they finally get it.
I hated the fact that my skiing then suffered greatly by spending 97% of my time on the bunny hill. Yup, I lost 10-20 lbs every year running up the bunny hill, but I actually only put skis on about twice a week, and that was as a Level 2 instructor. That may be different at the bigger areas in the East and West, but it’s the core business here at the feeder hills. Ugh.
The ugliest part was the pitiful amount of money I made at it as an hourly employee, while still being expected to maintain PSIA membership and certification along with the bi-annual 1 or 2 day clinics and the $$$ that required.
Overall, I’m really happy with how my first season went. I made some friends, learned a ton and really improved my skiing. I love many of the perks of being a PSIA member, so I joined as soon as I could and had my Level 1 cert by the end of my first season. Being very goal-oriented, I feel a strong desire to work towards my Level 2 and perhaps even Level 3 certification.
I’m still trying to balance that with my overall goals, though. This season, I did my best to make a schedule that would still allow me time to get into the mountains that I love this winter. Last season, I taught too much and ended up only climbing 2 pitches of ice all season!
On the con side, I did feel underprepared to work with children when I first started. I got better as the season went on, but I did feel at times that there was an unexpressed assumption that because I am the right age to be a mom, that I have kids of my own or must be good with children simply because I have a pelvic organ capable of birthing children. I am not a mom and would not consider myself good with children. Chicken or egg question, but regardless, I find working with children to be pretty exhausting in general. Even my nieces whom I love do that to me. Working all day with someone else’s children was quite draining at times. Even more so when the parents were ungrateful and even somewhat belligerent. I plan to take my CS1 this season and I hope that makes this part of my job easier for me, but who knows.
I did spend a lot of time on the bunny hill. That in and of itself didn’t bother me, but my right knee does NOT like skiing in a wedge all day. I’ve never yet had knee pain with skiing (maybe when I first started and was skiing in the back seat) but after those days on the bunny hill, my knee would ache the whole way home.
The pay can be a bit demoralizing. I certainly don’t know how people could afford to be full-time instructors unless they are retired and receiving a pension already! For the most part, the money I earned went to PSIA membership, clinics and some gear I needed to update. What was left, probably covered gas and food. I’m not sure how you are supposed to keep membership up or keep good instructors around when they are paid like pizza delivery guys.
• I have spent most of my time teaching Level 1-3 skiers. I had no idea how much I could learn by teaching beginner skiers. A proper wedge turn is not intuitive and many instructors do not do or teach a proper wedge turn. A proper wedge turn is the building block to better skiing everywhere on the mountain. There are so many opportunities to improve your own skiing by teaching beginners proper stance, leg rotation etc.
• I have been able to ski with some amazing clinicians. I have also realized that no matter how great the clinicians are, learning is my responsibility and ultimately, I have to decide what makes sense, what does not and what works for me. Just because someone is considered a great instructor, does not mean they are the best instructor for me.
• I have made more friends and become part of a community that is amazing. There are so many people who are now part of my life that I would never have met. Many people teach skiing because they love it and that is what makes these people special. I love the locker room banter, after ski school happy hours, parties and the many friends I have made through ski school.
• I have become not only a better skier but a better teacher. It is a constantly evolving process of learning/teaching finding some new way to explain things that makes every day new.
• I get to be fun and crazy with people. My attorney job is not all that fun. I love to help people have a good time, enjoy their vacation and learn to ski. I can do and say things that would never go in my full time environment. It is liberating and enjoyable.
• I learned to ski in my mid 30’s. I tell all the adults that I teach this fact. I want them to believe that skiing is something that they can do and when they believe that, it is amazing to watch the transformation. I am thrilled to be a part of it.
So there you have it: an inside look on what it’s like to be an instructor. I hope this helps, or at least gives you something to think about if you’re thinking about taking this path.
One more thing: I have to share something I found on Facebook. Yes, the first panel is ungodly sexist — but you get the idea: