How Do I Become a Ski Instructor?

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.

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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

    1. Can you talk in an entertaining fashion with strangers of all ages (3-103) and varying demographics?

    2. Do you have the ability to deal with difficult people?

    3. Can you explain the same thing nineteen ways from Sunday?

    4. 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

Good Luck!

Skiing Season Goals

The sport of skiing has brought me a great deal of happiness, satisfaction and achievement over the years.  I believe this is partly due to the fact that I set goals for each ski season. Some of the goals are goofy (slide a rail), some are expensive (take the family to Val d’Isere, France), some are physically demanding (ski La 42 at LeMassif non-stop), some take some time and travel (ski all 5 triple black diamond trails in Eastern North America), others take some skill (become a ski instructor, become a race coach) and others have been life changing (teach my four kids to ski).  Having goals for everything we do, whether big or small, is part of what makes life good. It gives us a sense of meaning and purpose, points us in the direction we want to go and gets us interested and engaged, all of which are good for our overall happiness and in this case our love for skiing. So, without further adieu, here is a list of ideas that may generate a few goals for your 2019/2020 ski season.

  1. Become ski instructor

  2. Become a ski patroller

  3. Win a NASTAR medal

  4. Enter the Bear Mountain Mogul Challenge

  5. Exhaust all the days on your IKON Pass

  6. Exhaust all the days on your EPIC Pass

  7. Ski the steepest trails in NY, VT, NH, ME and Quebec

  8. Teach your kids to ski

  9. Learn to telemark

  10. Skin up a trail

  11. Drop the ledges on Devil’s Fiddle

  12. Ski Upper Liftline at Smugg’s

  13. Ski DJ’s Tramline

  14. Enter a Master’s ski race

  15. Ski the Powder Highway

  16. Ski the Vallee Blanche

  17. Ski Opening Day and Closing Day at Killington

  18. Learn to do a 360

  19. Ski at least 40 days

  20. Start the long journey to become a certified French ski instructor

  21. Go to the World Cup at Killington and cheer for Mikela

  22. Go to Kitzbuhel during Hannekamm week

  23. Ski one or more of the bucket list trails: Corbet's Couloir, Delirium Dive, La Chavanette

  24. Ski the new trails at Magic Mountain and Catamount

  25. Ski every trail at your home mountain

  26. Call in sick on a powder day

  27. Ski the dry slope at Powder Ridge

  28. Go monoskiing

  29. Ski every double black diamond at a big resort (e.g., Stowe, Killington, Sugarloaf)

  30. Throw a bra on a “bra tree”

  31. Participate in a pond skimming contest

  32. Ski all 5 triple black diamonds in Eastern North America (Mont Sutton, Le Massif, Smuggler’s Notch)

  33. Ride the single chair at MRG

  34. Score GNAR points by yelling to someone you are the best skier on the mountain prior to pushing off

  35. Ski Tuckerman’s Ravine

  36. Learn to ski switch

  37. Launch yourself above the coping in a super pipe

  38. Visit Lahout’s in Littleton, NH - the oldest ski shop in America

  39. Learn how to butter on skis

  40. Learn some old school Glen Plake tricks 

  41. Ski 25 laps on Outer Limits or Stein’s Run when bumped up (see Gunbarrel 25

  42. Join a ski club

  43. Learn to snowboard if you ski and learn to ski if you snowboard

  44. Participate in a demo day

  45. Eat maple taffy at the base of Mont Tremblant

  46. Participate in the Sugar Slalom at Stowe, VT

  47. Go cat skiing in the Chic Chocs

  48. Go to a ski area/resort that you have never been to

  49. Go rodeling at Le Massif

  50. Ski the men’s and women’s downhill courses at Whiteface

  51. Ski the Slides at Whiteface

  52. Ski in every month of the year

  53. Go inverted

  54. Ski with your Dad and/or Mom

  55. Create a “sick” season edit

  56. Join R.A.S.T.A. and ski some backcountry lines

  57. Ride a T-Bar or Poma lift

  58. Take a lesson or clinic

  59. Get first chair on a powder day

  60. Enter a skier cross race

  61. Go kite skiing

  62. Go backcountry skiing in the Notch (between Smuggs and Stowe)

  63. Buy a pair of grass skis and ski on your local golf course

  64. Ski the “Front Four” (Stowe, VT)

  65. Feed the chickadees at the Loon Mountain “bird sanctuary”

  66. Become a shareholder at Mad River Glen

  67. Backcountry ski Wright Peak or Mt. Marcy in the Adirondacks

  68. Ski the Bruce Trail to the Matterhorn Bar (Stowe, VT)

  69. Participate in a torch light parade

  70. Buy shares of Vail Resorts (MTN) and become the owner of a ski resort

  71. Scout some tree lines before the season starts

  72. Take an avalanche safety course

  73. Ski Katahdin

  74. Drink a beer at the Wobbly Barn (Killington), The Matterhorn (Stowe) and Le P'tit Caribou (Mont Tremblant)

  75. Learn to tune your own skis

  76. Explore the Brackett Basin sidecountry at Sugarloaf 

  77. Ski without headphones and talk to people on the lifts

  78. Learn to self arrest with a ski pole

  79. Ski 24 hours straight at Ski Venture

  80. Ski and Golf in the same day

  81. Snow ski and waterski on the same day

  82. Ski Paradise at Mad River Glen

  83. Ski all the trails off the Castlerock chair at Sugarbush

  84. Tell someone on the chairlift how great of skier you are and then fall when getting off

  85. For 500 GNAR points, tell one of the World Cup racers at Killington - "I'm so much better than you"

  86. Join the Adirondack Powder Skier Alliance