Most of you will have whiled away the two-hour flight home from Geneva or Chambery or Innsbruck asking yourself why on earth you are not living in the mountains, skiing or snowboarding every day. It is just the way it should be for you. Yeah, you’d be happy to wash pots, shovel snow or help people on and off lifts just to be out there but we all know that the Kings & Queens of the hill are the instructors.
But what is life actually like as a ski or snowboard instructor? Is it all glamour - sun tans, buns of steel and doe-eyed customers?! SnowSkool breaks it down for you…
It’s not about the money, of course, but you don’t want to have to moonlight as a prostitute/ gigolo just to make ends meet! In Europe pay is quite variable but rookie instructors should expect to start on EUR 20 (£16) per hour whereas over the pond in Canada and the USA, wages are a little lower and US $15 (£10) per hour is a good starting wage. Rookie instructors on the SnowSkool internships in Villars, Switzerland earn CHF 40 per hour - this is the equivalent of 37 euros per hour.
Down in the southern hemisphere, Aussie & Kiwi resorts will be likely to pay an hourly rate of around AU $20 (£14).
There are ways to earn more money – if you impress in a lesson and are personally requested for further lessons, you will be paid a bonus. In Canada and, particularly, the USA tipping is very common and there are stories of instructors being handsomely rewarded with incredible tips of over US $1000 (£650) and gifts of luxury watches and, in one case, a car!
Note: We've just put together a more detailed post on ski instructor salaries, so you can head over there if you want more detail on Money. The figures are also shown below (in $ per hour).
SNOWSKOOL TIP: Put your hand up for any work on offer…need snow shovelled off the Ski & Board School roof - where’s the shovel?! Need someone to put on a beaver outfit for Carnival…can you zip me up?! You’re paid by the hour and you’ll endear yourself to the School Director.
As a rookie (first year) instructor you are not going to be top of the pecking order when it comes to allocating instructors to customers. What makes you more employable is to build up a number of years’ experience (and ideally within one Ski & Board School) and to progress through the instructor levels. Generally, however, you should be guaranteed a minimum of twenty hours work per week. On average, 25-30 hours per week is more common and 40+ hours is the norm over the busier periods (Xmas, New Year, half-term and Easter).
SNOWSKOOL TIP: Bit underhand this one, but why not identify the person responsible for managing line-up (when instructors are assigned to customers – this is normally the Assistant Director of the Ski & Board School) and make sure he or she knows who you are, say good morning with a big smile on your face at the start of the day and then buy him/ her a beer at the end of the day!
On the SnowSkool course, every ski instructor or snowboard instructor will be trained to teach all manner of lessons but, as a rookie instructor, it is more than likely that you will spend a fair part of your first season teaching beginners and kids. For many, there is a bit of a stigma about teaching kids with the fear that you will spend more time wiping noses rather than teaching skiing or snowboarding! But it can be super-rewarding…kids' lessons can be great-fun especially if you get the adventurous ones that want to emulate their heroes and hit the jumps in the park! And one thing to remember…happy kids = happy parents and happy parents = big tips!
SNOWSKOOL TIP: The more qualifications you have the more work you will get…being qualified to teach both skiing & snowboarding is very sought-after. Freestyle and race qualifications also expand your repertoire and will get you more (and more varied) work.
The general rule of thumb is that you should qualify in the regulatory body of the country in which you want to work…so skiers hoping to work the slopes of Banff or Big White in Canada, should go for the exams of the CSIA (Canadian Ski Instructors’ Alliance) whereas snowboarders looking to work at Treble Cone would do best to go for the qualifications of the SBINZ (Snowboard Instruction of New Zealand). But to clarify the situation a little more, we have drawn up this simple table:
*To work in France, you will need additional qualifications
SNOWSKOOL TIP: If you want to work in Europe (where the pay is best) you are advised to get into the BASI system (on the SnowSkool Three Valleys course)
A lot of SnowSkool graduates want to work in Canada – It is a fantastic country, there is no language barrier and it is relatively easy to get a job (work visa permitting). But don’t limit your applications to resorts such as Whistler, Banff and Big White…these resorts are inundated with enquiries from job seekers and so you are going to struggle to stand-out. SnowSkool has built relationships with lots of small, less well-known Canadian resorts. A lot of these resorts are short-staffed which works in your favour in terms of amassing hours worked and you’ll often be drafted in to help out in the rental shop before and after work. It is not uncommon to be working 50+ hours per week. So whereas skiing on your day off at Whistler rather than Hidden Valley may be more fun, you have to think about your job
Give your customer what she wants!
A wise old Ski & Board School Director once told me that the most sought-after (and therefore financially successful) instructors are not those that have the highest qualifications and know the most drills to improve someone’s skiing. It is the instructor that can offer an experience which enables the customer to detach herself from life back at home. It is a holiday after all and, yes, paying punters want to tighten up their turns by the end of the week but more than that, they want to be charmed, they want to laugh and they want to forget about deadlines/ bosses/ stress. So if she fancies spending more time drinking hot chocolate and chatting about her children…SnowSkool’s advice is to drink along with her, laugh/ gasp/ cry when expected and hang on to her every word!
Good luck…SnowSkool will be there to help and will support you all the way!