Ski instructors either help individuals learn the basic techniques of skiing or help them improve their skills and increase their level of ability. They also make sure that the mountain is a safe environment for those using it for recreational activity.
Ski instructors are responsible for teaching people of all ages how to ski, or how to improve their skills. For many young ski instructors, the job is a seasonal one and provides a temporary income whilst studying. However, for other ski instructors, the job is the culmination of several years of hard work and the fulfilment of a lifelong ambition. Individuals may decide to follow the snow wherever it falls and work as a ski instructor throughout the year, whilst some take on alternative temporary jobs during the summer months. For example, they may become bar staff or resort guides. Work is also available in the UK at dry ski slope centres, which are scattered across the country.
Ski instructors may teach individuals in groups, which usually contain skiers of the same ability, or they may teach individuals on a one-to-one basis in private lessons. They assess the ability of the individual by observing their techniques prior to instruction and then draw up a plan of action, which is discussed with the individual. Ski instructors will pick up on any bad habits and help the individual develop a better skiing technique by singling out individual aspects which need to be improved.
As well as helping skiers develop their technical ability, ski instructors are also responsible for improving their confidence levels. Skiing successfully requires a high level of confidence. If an individual is nervous, this is likely to impact upon the manner in which they travel down the mountain and, if they are too cautious, they will be more likely to fall and hurt themselves. Ski instructors will not let individuals perform any moves which are above their ability level. Instead, they work on drills and techniques which will help their charges improve without putting them in risky situations.
Ski instructors sometimes teach groups of people with disabilities how to ski. Even people with severe physical disabilities including visual impairments can be taught how to ski and instructors will be expected to perform this teaching in a sensitive manner.
As well as the teaching side of the job, ski instructors must always be aware of slope safety. They are responsible for the safety of their pupils and must educate them about the risks of the mountain, including the potential for avalanches. They teach their pupils in safe areas in a manner which will not interfere with other mountain users. If they see other mountain users behaving irresponsibly, they will take appropriate action. They can also provide tips to individuals who are not officially in a lesson environment but require help.
The gender ratio in this career is relatively unbalanced, with more men than women choosing to become ski instructors. However, there is no reason why women should not choose to become ski instructors, since they are just as likely as men to enjoy both skiing and teaching.
It is fair to say that ski instructors are not very well paid. The precise salary will depend upon which ski school employs the instructor, as well as how many hours have been spent teaching and the qualification level an individual has reached. Most instructors are only paid for the hours spent teaching on the slopes, although tips are not uncommon. Instructors will often be paid more for individual lessons rather than for class lessons and if a customer returns and specifically requests a particular instructor, they may be prepared to pay an extra fee. As a general guide, even experienced ski instructors are unlikely to earn much more than eight or nine pounds per hour.
On the positive side, additional benefits usually include free accommodation, insurance, and transport to the resort, as well as discounts on numerous services and items on sale in the resort itself.
The typical tasks undertaken by ski instructors include:
- Attending meetings at the ski school in the morning to assign instructors to pre-booked lessons scheduled throughout the day
- Ensuring that personal equipment is well-maintained and ready for tackling a long day on the slopes
- Meeting with individuals and groups prior to the start of a lesson
- Making sure individuals are comfortable with their equipment
- Teaching familiarity with the ski lifts
- Teaching individuals new skills and techniques to help improve their skiing ability
- Helping raise confidence levels
- Answering the questions of individuals taking part in lessons and individuals at the resort as a whole
- Helping individuals who have fallen over
- Administering first aid if necessary
- Observing the weather conditions and halting lessons if appropriate
- Making sure every slope user is safe and having as good a time as possible
- Filling out paperwork and assessment forms after lessons have been completed
Whilst most ski schools provide a training course prior to the start of each ski season, training will need to be completed prior to a job application. The British Association of Snowsport Instructors offers courses which can be completed throughout the year and will allow you to work in Europe, Canada, and the United States. The association also runs a course which allows individuals to become qualified over the duration of a ski season. This course lasts for ten weeks and teaches individuals how to become a proficient instructor. Training takes place in resorts including Zermatt. A first aid course will also need to be completed prior to making an application.
Ski instructors will need to possess the following skills:
- Enjoyment of working with people
- Good communication skills
- Good interpersonal skills
- A love of skiing
- An outgoing nature and enthusiasm
- Fun-loving personality
- Good teaching skills
- Desire to keep improving own skills and techniques
- Organisational skills
- A good sense of humour
- The ability to use own initiative whilst following established drills and teaching techniques
- Ability to complete paperwork to deadline
- Ability to provide honest feedback to individuals in a tactful manner
- Good ability with children
- Stamina and desire to work long hours in tough conditions
Ski instructors are lucky enough to work in one of the most beautiful working environments that it is possible to find. Most of their time is spent on the slopes, although some paperwork must be completed as well. However, the hours can be long and, after a tiring day on the slopes, individuals may be expected to spend a couple of hours in a learning environment, since continual improvement with regards to the technical side of skiing and teaching skills is expected of all instructors. Although most ski instructors appreciate working outside, the physical effects of working outdoors in freezing conditions should not be underestimated.
There can be a stressful side to the job as well, since it is seasonal and therefore extremely unpredictable. You may feel as if you have built up a good reputation in a particular resort but when the work runs out during the summer season, you will have to either find another resort job or move to a different part of the world where winter conditions prevail.
Experience of skiing will obviously look good on a CV but experience of teaching people in any environment will look just as good. Skiing experience is actually unavoidable since you will need to gain a qualification in order to become a ski instructor. Often, the best ski instructors are not those who have been skiing since they were toddlers, since this can make it more difficult to empathise with clients who are having difficulties.
Most ski instructors work for ski schools at various resorts across the world. There are usually at least a couple of ski schools located in each resort, regardless of its size. Some ski instructors are self-employed but this is relatively rare because competing with established ski schools is difficult. In the UK, dry ski slope centres employ instructors who will be able to work there throughout the year.
After several years of working as a ski instructor, individuals may choose to become trainers of instructors working towards gaining a qualification. They may also become ski examiners or take on an administrative or management role at their ski school. There are also plenty of other jobs available in ski resorts, including resort guides and resort managers, which may prove attractive to ski instructors.
Also known as…
- Ski school representatives
- Ski coaches
- Waiting Staff
- Tour Operator
- Hotel Manager
- Fitness Instructor
- Teaching English as a Foreign Language
- Chalet Host
- Resort Representative
What’s it really like?
Adam Whale is 24 years of age and has been working as a ski instructor for two years. Prior to gaining his current position, Adam studied at Stirling University and then worked in public affairs for a short time. Last year he worked in Park City Mountain Resort, a popular ski resort in Utah. This season he will be at Zell am See working for an Austrian ski school. Previous seasons have taken him to Courchevel and Aosta. Although some of his colleagues travel to the southern hemisphere in the summer to continue ski instructing, Adam returns to the UK to catch up with friends and family and to earn some cash working in temporary employment.
The activities undertaken during a typical day as an instructor vary depending upon who is being taught and for how long. Sometimes Adam teaches groups of children for a whole day, whilst other days he teaches numerous different groups which contain both children and adults. Regardless of the type of lesson being undertaken, Adam is responsible for ensuring that clients have a safe and enjoyable experience whilst on the mountain.
Adam loves working outside and teaching the sport that he has loved for so many years. He also thinks that it is very rewarding to see people have so much fun and make real progress over the course of an hour or two. However, having to move from country to country depending on where the job opportunities can be tiresome. Adam had some useful advice for individuals wishing to become ski instructors. He believes that in order to get the most out of the job, you need to enjoy both skiing and teaching – it is not enough to love skiing on its own.
Furthermore, you need to be dedicated to the job because you will not have much free time to yourself, especially during peak season. As with many industries, Adam thinks that the best jobs are provided not always on merit but on the basis of luck. Much depends on who you know and the contacts you develop during your career. It is therefore very important to meet as many people as possible and stay in touch when you move to another country.
Before he became a ski instructor, Adam studied with the British Association of Snowsports Instructors. He took several exams as well as a first aid course and may sit further exams in the near future. With regards to career progression, Adam would like to run ski holidays in the future and has already started working towards this ambition.