The life of a ski instructor has been glamorized over the years as a jet setting profession practiced by dashing people who get to work with super attractive individuals and sometimes get to teach the rich and famous how to turn on skis. The occupation was showcased this way in the film, Aspen Extreme, when T.J. Burke and Dexter Rutecki head off to Aspen to secure positions as ski instructors and along the way meet a couple of beauties in Bryce Harper and Robin Hand. So, if you are like many die hard skiers, or you have seen Aspen Extreme one too many times, you may aspire to become a ski instructor. However, in order to answer the question, you need to know what you really want out of becoming a ski instructor. Meaning, do you want to work at your local mountain, so you can get a pass, make a little money (e.g., $15/hr.) and ski as much as you want. Or, do you want to make skiing instructing a career and work where it pays really well (France) and then chase the snow to Chile, Argentina or New Zealand, so you work year round? They have two very different paths. Today, I’ll talk about how to become an instructor at your local mountain.
Become an Instructor at Your Local Mountain
Quite frankly, somebody who is a good (not great skier) with no previous racing, coaching or teaching experience can become a ski instructor at a local mountain (defined as non-resort - think West Mountain, Bolton Valley, Windham, Gore, etc.). Generally, these areas will post ski instructor positions on their websites in the fall and conduct clinics in late November and early December. During these clinics the Director of the Ski School and Sr. Instructors are evaluating the candidates in two main areas, which are:
How well you communicate
Can you talk in an entertaining fashion with strangers of all ages (3-103) and varying demographics?
Do you have the ability to deal with difficult people?
Can you explain the same thing nineteen ways from Sunday?
Can you provide clear, concise, and respectful instruction and feedback utilizing time effectively?
How well you can ski
You don’t need to be the second coming of Marcel Hirscher, the evaluators are looking for proper technique. With that said, you should be a confident double black diamond skier. During these clinics the evaluators will be looking to see if you can:
Control pressure from ski to ski, control edge angles through inclination and angulation and control your skis rotation (e.g., turning, pivoting, steering) with leg rotation.
Demonstrate an accurate visual representation of the specific movement being taught.
In the instructor clinics I have attended, the evaluators have had each participant free ski down a novice and/or intermediate trails using long and short radius turns with various turning and stopping techniques, but they have never asked the group to ski bumps, a race course or a park - those lessons are given to seasoned and certified instructors. Keep in mind, the largest population of ski school lessons are kids learning to ski and school programs that offer lessons. Therefore, most of the lessons rookie instructors teach are to newbies and novices. You will become very familiar with the magic carpet, red light/green light, pizza and french fries.
If you are hired, you will be expected to participate in clinics and free-skiing to constantly improve your personal skiing skills, attend PSIA (skiing) and AASI (snowboarding) clinics, and take appropriate exams, on an ongoing basis. Additionally, in some cases, the mountain requires instructors perform alternate functions from time to time, both within and outside of their assigned department, particularly during peak periods such as holiday weekends. Also, keep in mind that you will not get rich being a ski instructor, a rookie instructor will make about $15/hour and you only get paid for the hours you are instructing!
What you should do now:
If you are too young to be hired by the mountain (some areas require a H.S. diploma), investigate if the area has an instructor in training program. For example, Gore Mountain, has an instructor in training program that teaches 13-15 year old kids, the skills and knowledge required to become a ski or snowboard instructor. I would also assume going through a program like this would give you an inside track to getting hired.
Join PSIA (US) or CSIA (Canada) and begin reading their materials
Scour resort websites for job openings and tryout clinics