A lot of folks think that being a ski instructor is a glamourous life. You work in a beautiful, mountainous, picturesque venue. You are perpetually tanned, athletic looking, have the best ski gear and clothing, get the pick of all the pretty girls/guys in your lessons. You get invited to all the trendy parties in the ski area. Everyone adores you because you are a ski instructor. People believe that you are paid well and that you only work in the summer as a supplement to your glamourous job. For some ski instructors, especially in Europe, this may be somewhat true to life. But for most guys and gals working as a ski instructor, the glamour is not so apparent.
In the major ski areas in this country, being a ski instructor is a full time job. In Europe, it is not only a full time job in the winter but it is respected by the public whose protocol is to always take a lesson when they are vacationing in the ski area. Skiing is a way of life in Europe but in the U.S. if you tell anyone you are a ski instructor, most likely it will be seen as a profession that is done until one finds a real job. In recent years, the Professional Ski Instructors of America have done a great job promoting the professionalism of those who are members of their organization that go through the rigorous testing of the certification program. Most of the professionals who work full time in a ski area take their job seriously and are in it for the love of the sport. Yes, you can earn a living but you have to be dilligent and establish a clientele especially in the major areas where families return year after year. But most likely, you will have to at least have a summer job to supplement your winter pastime. So is being a ski instructor all that it is cracked up to be?
I only worked one year as a full time instructor. The rest of my years teaching skiing were part time through college and on weekends at my local area for many years. I can remember driving my mom’s old car to West Virginia for my first PSIA clinic at Canaan Valley and became a registered member. I then racked up hours teaching in Maine and eventually went to my certification exam at Killington,Vermont which I have spoken about in past blog posts. When I ended my full time teaching, I continued to teach on the weekends locally and maintain my certification status by taking the required updates every two years. Similar to most ski instructors in this country, ski teaching is done out of a love for the sport with not much financial benefit. Certification helps the pay rate and also one can get benefits from manufacturers by way of Pro pricing discounts. When you visit a participating PSIA ski area, they give you either a comp ticket or a discounted lift ticket. But for the most part, most ski instructors are part time,are working towards their certification, and the life is anything but glamourous. Many of us who have taught part time have spent countless hours in the beginner bowl teaching new skiers in all kinds of weather. Private lessons and group lessons at night, in brutal cold temperature conditions, rain storms, ice storms, blizzards , are all par for the course in being a ski instructor especially on the east coast. Most of us have done it again out of the love for the sport and the willingness to pass on our knowledge to those who pay for the lessons. What is the upside?
Although most ski instructors teach part time and do it for the love of skiing, there is that wonderful feeling that you have especially if you like to teach, when the student “gets it.” That smile on their face as they master a maneuver is priceless and to most of us, that is worth the cost of the lesson. Most people who take the time to teach, work towards their PSIA Certification,and do it with no great financial expectations. They reap other benefits that can be measured in the smile of the student. Full time instructors work hard and even though they may work in a world class area, their hours are long and the lessons taught all day are taxing. Working with advanced skiers is always a plus because you can refine technique instead of teaching a new person from the beginning with a lot of physical work. But in the end, whether you teach full time or teach part time, if your heart is not in it, you will not be successful. A lot of ski teachers wear the jacket but are not willing to put in the time to develop their skills as a ski instructor. They don’t last long because they are trying to get more out of ski teaching and reap the benefits without a real heart for teaching others. I can say that anyone who takes the time to get registered and go through the 3 part certification process through PSIA is a dedicated teacher.
I remember many days teaching in Maine after college where the temperature was -40 and we were expected to be at the line up. We taught in the brutal cold and kept a close eye on our students to see that they were not experiencing discomfort and frostbite. We took many breaks. I remember teaching many lessons in the rain but the amazing thing was the enthusiasm of the student/students who wanted to learn no matter what. I said to myself,” If they want to learn that bad in these conditions, they are going to get their moneys worth.” I often went overtime to make sure they felt that they had learned something and could take something valuable away with them. This was especially true when I worked with our skiers who were visually impaired. They were always anxious to learn and to experience the exhilaration of skiing no matter what the weather conditions were like. When you have students like these, it makes all the work, little pay, and adverse working conditions worth it because they appreciate the effort that you make and you can see the fruits of your labor.
Lots of people have a negative experience when they first ski because they go with a friend or a relative who have no teaching experience and put the new skier in precarious positions. They often get hurt or at the very least humiliated, and never return. I always encourage people to take a lesson when they first start because the instructor is trained in the proper way to teach the sport of skiing. When you do take a lesson, ask for a PSIA Certified instructor. You will always be assured that you are getting a teacher who has taken the time to learn technique properly and has made the effort to be a part of an organization that fosters learning in a true educational environment. So, do you want to be a ski instructor? I did it for 40 years. Must be something rewarding about it. Thanks for reading and “Think Snow.”