Life as a Snowsports Instructor – the good, bad and ugly!

Have you been dreaming of becoming a Snowsports Instructor? I was always a bit curious too before I became one! As I began my application process, I spoke with a few current instructors to get the inside scoop on what the business is actually like. Most of the information I received was dead on however, upon looking back, I would have loved to read an article full of the good, the bad and the ugly! With that said, read on for a true, personal description of life as a Snowsports Instructor.

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Life as a ski or snowboard instructor sure can seem glamorous, don’t let that fool you. It has it’s ups and downs. I’ve been in the industry for 4 years now and have plenty of reasons why and why not one would want to join a ski school.

My first year was full of wonderful memories and I was able to create some lasting, lifelong friendships with some pretty phenomenal people! I earned enough to make a living and not starve to death but definitely would not be making anything close to allow me to start that retirement fund I’ve heard about. I was so excited to be getting paid to snowboard and was obsessed with taking clinics (for the amateurs, a clinic is specific training provided by the company for the employees at no cost. They can be very fun and informative.) and learning everything I could possibly absorb. I was not the best snowboarder in the world but loved teaching and feel I have a real knack for it. People always told me, “I can teach you to ride but I can’t teach you to teach.” So there, that was a blessing. The riding part is still coming along and I thoroughly enjoy learning new skills everyday. (Please note, if you’re not the teaching type yet still strive to be the ultimate ski bum, there are many other positions within resorts for you to look into that don’t require as much guest interaction.)

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There were, however, a few things that I really didn’t understand prior to signing up for this adventure. For one, I full on thought I’d be getting 40 hours per week and making a decent paycheck to live a life of “semi-luxury” (my standards of luxury are pitifully low so don’t compare…). Second, I figured I’d be teaching a fair amount of green level classes or above and would get to ride the mountain on a regular basis. Third, I assumed I would only be teaching and lunch breaks would be my own time. Fourth, I don’t know why but I definitely pictured a nice locker room like something you see in sports movies. Finally, I thought my housing situation would be like senior year of college. Living in a nice house with a great bunch of girls and we were all going to be best friends! (Luckily, my housing situation was pretty rad and I still have some good friends from it!) Let me tell you the actual truth about all this…

1. 40 hours a week, my ass. That first year, sure, you can work quite often but don’t expect a full 40 and definitely get a second job to help compensate. Your starting pay will likely be anywhere from $9.00 an hour to $11.00 an hour if you don’t have certifications (see my other article on certifications here —> http://livingseasonal.com/?cat=36). Combine this with roughly 30-35 hours per week and you’re looking at a paycheck of approximately $350 a week. That’s $1,400 a month. Volunteers for Ameri-core make almost this much!! Some people say you’ll make great tips, but don’t count on it. For some, this is plenty and all you need. For me, with debt and student loans pilling up, it was not enough. Luckily I was coming from a seasonal summer gig and was able to collect unemployment but not all can do this so side work and night jobs are a must! Also, cut back on your spending habits. Keep in mind, being an instructor means you’ll be wearing beanies and long johns almost everyday. High heels are not necessary in mountain towns and makeup/blow dryers are just not that important. Simplify your wardrobe, learn to make healthy meals cheaply and try not to party every night (that’s a tough one but it’s doable! It’s called DISCIPLINE).

2. You WILL start out teaching first timers, all the time. You WILL become an expert teaching level 1. You WILL have class sizes ranging from 4-12 kids at a time. You WILL teach a 6 year old, an 8 year old, a 10 year old and a 14 year old all at the same time. Needless to say, you WILL need to learn patience if you don’t have it already! This may sound dreadful but I’m trying to make this cut and dry…no sugar coating here! It’s not that bad and now I welcome first time lessons from time to time because it usually means returners and a chance to build season long clientele! Not to mention, most resorts pay a head pay (extra money per child) and may give you priority points or additional cash for returns. There’s a way to increase those paychecks! Start working towards your clinic hours and look into getting certified through PSIA/AASI, depending on your discipline. Higher certified instructors get higher level lessons…get your cert and get on the hill! Another great chance to make extra cash is to be flexible with what you’re willing to teach. I can teach anything from little nuggets skiing to older adult snowboarding. I’m always willing to help out whether it be a 2 hour private lesson or an all day mountain camp. Being flexible not only helps your bank account but also improves your like-ability with the higher-ups (who are the people creating your line up and schedule so be nice to them).

3. Your job is SO much more than teaching. You will be asked to come in early to help set up fencing, signage, run kids to designated areas, run carpets, play games, fit equipment and even tech (tech equipment as in set up skis and snowboards). This will all be at a non-teaching pay rate. Again, a way to earn extra cash and earn brownie points with the supervisors. If you are a greeter at the front door you may even get a private request lesson out of it! Also, your lunch hours are generally spent with the kids (granted you teach kids, teaching adults is a whole different story!) The resort typically has a lunch menu set that you’re welcome to eat or you can bring your own but just know, you work a full 5.5 – 8 hours per day without a moment to yourself.

4. Locker rooms can be somewhat nice but certainly have their disgusting sides. Be sure to get into a locker row with a friend or make them as the season goes on. Keep your locker tidy – helpful tip, get a cheap plastic shoe holder that you can hang from a door (skinny enough with only 2-3 columns) and hang it on the inside of your locker. Keep extra gloves, socks, goggles, face masks, sun screen, lip balm, etc in there to have on hand. Some lockers may not have ventilation so be sure to clear off snow/water from your equipment before putting it in your locker to avoid rust and damaging your skis/board. (This has happened to my beloved board and it makes me very sad…) Wear long johns to work…please don’t be that dude that changes in his boxers or briefs in front of everyone. Really, no one wants to see that. Oh and keep an extra change of clothes in your locker or car…you’ll most likely always want to go to the bar for a beer after work…(Although I did say DISCIPLINE, shoot!!)

5. Housing can be either great or rough. Obviously, the more you spend the better it could be. Keep in mind though you aren’t making millionaire bucks with this gig so cutting back on rent may be beneficial in the long run. If you get a great roommate, your season will probably RULE! Bad roommates can really bring down the vibe. If you’re living in employee housing you can try and opt to switch roommates if it gets bad but if you find a place on Craigslist or elsewhere be sure to meet the people first and figure out what kind of lease you’re signing into. For a first season employee, shorter leases may be better with the option to extend should you decide you like the situation and want to stay. Don’t get yourself stuck!

All-in-all this has been an experience I wouldn’t change for the world. I’ve loved every minute, whether good or bad! If you’re really interested, seek out the HR department and get in touch with current instructors. Try it out for a season…you’ll learn quickly whether this gig is or isn’t for you. It’s worth the try and you may just find a new passion or better yet, a new, glorious lifestyle! Leading a life as an instructor comes with some great advantages – you’ll get discounts on gear, a free season pass and most likely free/discounted passes for other resorts. If you’re looking to be the ultimate ski bum, this is the life for you! AND REMEMBER, being the best first year instructor you can be will only lead into bigger and better opportunities.

Good luck! Cheers!

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*Please comment if you have anything to add or if I’ve missed something…everyone’s experience is different and I’d love to hear about yours!

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