Day 52 – Ski the Peak (Feb 7, 2009)

Today I had no lessons in the morning so I took both my snowboard and my skis up the gondola (Man ! is it Heavy !!). My friend Richard said I look like a traveling sports equipment salesman. There were not much new snow overnight so I was expecting everything to be icy.
Very Crowded at Grouse Mountain Feb 9, 2009 (taken from the top of Peak Chair)

On my first run I went down Centennial, there was a ski slolam race going on for the Tyee ski club so the left side of the run was closed. Buckhorn was also closed due to the race. Only the right half of Centennial was open so I went down it. It was just a sheet of ice. There was absolutely no soft snow covering it. I was glad my instructor at Cypress taught me how to carve on edge so I was able to go down it without too much problem. I wish I had sharpened my skis before coming down this run though. When I got up to the Peak via the Olympic Chair, I calmed myself and gathered enough courage to go down the Peak. If the Peak was as icy as Centennial, there was no way I was going down on skis; it will be on my butt instead like last time.

When I went down the peak, the snow was amazingly soft. It was still a bit crunchy, but there was half a foot of soft stuff on top. I lapped the peak a few times using the Peak Chair and that’s the first time I realized the advantage of the newly-built Peak Chair. Most people find the Peak Chair useless because it takes you up to the same place as Olympic Chair. When the Peak Chair was built, it was for the purpose of accessing more terrains in the tree, but we did not have enough snow this year to ski down through the trees. I think the Peak Chair is for skiers that just want to lap the Moguls and the Peak without going all the way down to the bottom of Olympic. There is also never any line ups at the Peak Chair so it is good for people who hates lining up for half an hour at the Olympic Chair. One more advantage of the Peak Chair is that it gives tourists access to the top of the Mountain (without forcing them to walk up) where the new Zip Line is.

In the afternoon, I taught two never-ever lessons back to back, walking up and down the bunny hill for 4 hours straight.

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Working as Ski / Snowboard Instructors (Part 2): Making a Living

2. Making a living

Instructor teaching Private Lesson

Many instructors make a living by having a full time job in areas such as accounting, Information technology, and construction in order to fuel their passion for teaching on weekends or week nights.  My friend Richard has a full time job as an “IT Manager in order to pay the bills [, and works as a] Ski Instructor at Grouse Mountain to feed the passion.” Some will move up to become supervisors or managers of a snow school, which many found out later they do not get to ski at all, it’s all about paper work and organizing other instructors.  Some instructors teach full time but have other part time jobs on nights and weekends.  Snocon sum it up quite well in his comment on my last post: “It’s definitely a job for someone with a passion for being on the mountain and spreading the stoke, not for anyone who is just in it for the money and a free lift pass.”


(Video Credit: VanRiders.com) James is a CASI 2 / CSIA 2 Instructor at Grouse Mountain teaching Private Request lessons.

An instructor can make a better living by marketing and promoting themselves in order to get private request lessons.  Private request lessons pays the instructors 3-4 times the hourly wage depending on the size of the private lesson and the resort an instructor is working for. The local mountains in Vancouver encourage private lessons because it make both the resort and the instructors more money.  It’s a win-win situation.  The resort will not have to do as much marketing and advertising for the Snow School because instructors will be out there promoting themselves to the public in order to make a living.  If every instructor is out there marketing the mountain’s products, then the mountain will have 40 to a couple hundred instructors promoting the mountain free of charge.

As I learned in my marketing class in university: it costs less money to keep an existing customer than it does to find a new ones.  If a student is pleased with the private lesson given by an instructor, they are more willing to come back year after year to learn from the same instructor.  In later articles, I will talk more about methods of attracting new students and keeping them.

Even if a potential customer finds private lessons too expensive, they might still take a drop-in lesson and pay for the lesson, lift pass, and rentals.  Every instructor at the ski resorts I’ve worked for is encouraged to hand out business cards to everyone they see on the street or on the hill and help out any beginner they see on the hill who are struggling in order to promote themselves.  I will talk about the demographic of the students and how the instructor should approach teaching in order to get repeat lessons in the next couple of articles.

Working as Ski / Snowboard Instructors (Part 1): Background

I’ve been thinking about writing on how to promote yourself as a ski or snowboard instructor for a while now, there are so many ideas that it might take several pages to finish writing, so I’ve decided to break it into different sections and write a bit each day.  Let’s start with the background on why we need to promote ourselves. (I might be editing it later as I write more or getting comments from readers)

1. Working in British Columbia

Ski and Snowboard instructors are seen as great career choice to the general public because of ski movies such as Aspen Extreme where instructors are portrayed as having great lifestyles.  In some countries, such as France, Instructors are respected and paid as much as lawyers and doctors.  Within a ski resort, instructors are disliked by other mountain staffs because staffs from other departments are under the misconceptions that instructors get paid for skiing or riding around.

aspen-etreme2

Where in reality, “instructors get paid peanuts”.  In British Columbia, part time instructors have to be on the hill for 8 hours (1 day) and gets paid a minimum of 2 hours, and full time instructors need to be on the hill for 40+ hours a week and gets paid a minimum of 20 hours a week.  Even though the hourly wage is great, but if you average out the time instructors spent on the hill, they actually get paid minimum wage or lower than minimum wage.  The free lift pass is a great benefit but if you need to pay rent, eat, or go to the movies, you probably do not make enough to cover it.

Lots of foreigners came over to Canada to teach in ski resorts for a ski holiday but finds out they do not make enough to cover rent and had to return home (source: WhistlerWatch).  In the previous years, if an instructor gets hurt at Whistler, they would get placed in restaurants or another desk job.  This year, because of recession, any instructor that gets hurt would get laid off.

Read on for ways to make a living as a ski / Snowboard Instructor…

Day 48 – Jumping and Spinning on Skis

Skier on Cypress Mountain

It’s been almost 2 weeks since my last post, I have been working everyday from 8am to 4pm and then go skiing after work until 10pm.  Although I did take Monday off work just to ski all day in warm sunny condition.  As I am preparing for my CSIA level 1 (Ski Instructor) certification, I’m putting most of my energy into practicing skiing.  I still teach snowboarding and train once a week on snowboards but my focus right now is to get my skiing techniques up to par before the exam.

After practicing on my own for a few weeks, I figure I better take a lesson to make sure I’m on the right track.  As Cypress Mountain offer ski instruction at night (Grouse doesn’t), I naturally came back here for another lesson tonight (Thursday night).  My instructor for tonight is Elias.  He is a CSIA level 3 (Ski), CASI level 2 (Snowboard) instructor.  He has taught at Cypress Mountain for the last 5 years.  He has been skiing and snowboarding for 25 years, and teaching for 18 of those years.  He was a cross country skier before he started alpine skiing.  He has skied and taught in quite a few countries in Europe when he first started teaching.  He has also taught in the United States and skied in South America.

skiing at Grouse Mountain (January 24, 2009)

His vast amount of experience really shown through in his teaching.

My goal for tonight was to learn 3 techniques.

1. learn pivot turns

2. learn spinning on the snow

3. learn to jump off small kickers.

We started the lesson off with him explaining the technical side of pivoting.  He showed me on a blue run how to point my skis down the fall line (really scary), count to three, then pivot until my skis are pointing up hills.  I thought that was scary until he told me to do the same thing backwards.  We then started working on side slipping (like snowboarding), and then falling leaf – forwards and backwards.  It got better after I practiced a few times but the pointing skis down the fall line for 3 seconds is still really scary.

We then went over to Collins (Green run) where he taught me to traverse across the hill until my skis are on the snowbank, then ski backwards until the back of my skis are pointing up the hill again.  We then went on to learn how to do pivot turns backwards and then moved onto spinning on skis without using poles.  It was so encouraging to be taught by a ski instructor who is also a snowboard instructor.  He knows how to relate skiing to snowboarding, explaining in a language I would understand.

The last thing we worked on was our jumps.  We started off with jumping on the snow while we do pivot turns, then we went up on the side banks of Collins where he showed me the different techniques of jumping and worked up to a 180 degree jump.  When we were skiing down the hill, he also pointed out to me what I am doing wrong in my carving and showed me the correct way of doing it and why we do it that way.  It made my carving much more stable.

I would say this is the best ski lesson I have ever had, and I have taken a lot of ski lessons over the years.  Elias was really knowledgeble and could explain the mechnics of skiing simple enough so that a snowboarder like me could understand.  Elias teaches on Thursday nights at Cypress Mountain, I highly recommand taking a lesson with him if you want to become a better skier.

Day 27 – Pizza turns on Skis & Down-Unweighting on Snowboard

I had a Twitter conversation this morning with an avid skier Gillian Shaw (@gillianshaw) from Vancouver Sun.  She wrote an article called “Google Snow Report” in which it states “Skiing is 30 per cent more popular as a search term than snowboarding” and “Canadians search for the word ‘snowboarding’ more than any other country in the world.”  Now I understand why the majority of my readers are from Canada, some from the United States of America, and few from overseas.  Although lots of great Snowboard videos do come from the United States of America.  The two I watched recently that I really liked are “I ride Park City” and “Bear Mountain’s A Walk in the Park”.

Since reading that skiing is becoming popular again, I decided to take my Rossignal Bandit B2’s out for a run.  When I got up on the mountain I was hungry so I had a Vegetarian Pizza in the Cafeteria.  I then headed out to the slopes doing “Pizza” turns with my skis.  Instructors refer to Snowplowing as “Pizza” so kids can understand it better.

Last year the once and only time I was on my skis I took a lesson.  During my first run of last season, the Instructor took my class down a steep Black Diamond Run, I got freaked out and basically slid down the hill on my butt.  I decided to start on green runs this year and work my way back up to Black runs by the end of the season.  I stayed at Paradise (Bunny Hill) for an hour practicing my pizza turns.  My legs were getting pretty tired after a few runs so I started doing parallel turns.  The Snow was “Bullet-Proof”.  It was basically ice because of the rain from the past few days and the freezing temperature tonight.  If you look carefully at the photo below, you will see footprints in the snow, the skis can basically slide over these footprints without leaving a mark in the snow.

"Bullet-Proof" Snow at Grouse Mountain

My feet were becoming numb after an hour in the hard-boots (ski boots) so I decided to change into my soft snowboard boots and go riding.  I took a snowboard lesson 2 days ago at Cypress which improved my riding quite a lot so I decided to take a lesson here at Grouse too.  My instructor is a CASI level 3 Instructor and an Evaluator.  We worked on down-unweighting turns to prepare me for CASI 3 that I will be taking eventually.  Since the snow was bulletproof, there wasn’t really much room for mistakes.  Falling down on ice means bruises and injuries.  I struggled with it at first but by the end of the lesson I was doing moguls on my snowboard.  It was the second great lesson I had this season. Now I just need lots of practice to familiarize myself with these new techniques.

Aside from the hard-packed snow, Grouse Mountain was beautiful, clear, and warm tonight.

Grouse Mountain was Beautiful, Clear, and Warm tonight

Where to Party in Vancouver for Ski Resort Employees

All the locals know this already, the answer to this question is none other than Mountain Madness Mondays at “The Royal” .  This is more for my fellow Australian, New Zealand, and English Instructors that were asking.  $9.75 Kokanee Pitchers and Mountain Staff gets in for free.  The Link is here – theroyal.ca. It is located at 1029 Granville street. There’s lots of different events and theme nights that take place there but my favorite is the indoor Rail Jam they have every year.  Below are the photos from last year’s Indoor Rail Jam. April 21, 2008.  Check out their Blog if you get a chance, it’s great to be able to meet other ski resorts employees from Vancouver :  Grouse Mountain, Cypress Mountain, and Mount Seymour.

Day 6 – Cypress Mountain Opening Weekend (Dec 14, 2008)

This morning I got up bright and early and headed up to Cypress Mountain, the home of the 2010 Winter Olympics Freestyle skiing and snowboarding venue.  The new Lodge is done; well…the outside and the offices anyway.

Cypress Mountain Lodge

Cypress Mountain Lodge

The washrooms are definitely an upgrade to the Black Mountain Lodge.  The Retail shop seem to be smaller than before and the items are exactly the same as before: Cypress Brand everything…plus some oakley googles and Heli Henson Ski wear.  I still like Grouse Mountain shop better because it has more varieties and it’s got popular brands for snowboarders such as Quicksilver and Burton. ( I enjoy window shopping in the warm shop when it is freezing outside.)

As expected, it was really crowded, I had to park in the second parking lot, and I was up on the Mountain pretty early.  By next week (Christmas Holidays) people will be parking almost all the way to the Cross Country area and beyond.  It will be an hour walk to the resort from the car, 2 hour wait to buy a ticket, another 2 hour wait to get on a chair lift, and if you need rentals, even longer waits.  There will still be tons and tons of people that go to ski resorts during the Christmas season because for a lot of people, that’s the only time they can enjoy the holiday season with their family and their kids.

There were some brave souls that came to Cypress Mountain not willing to line up with the crowd.  They brought their split boards and snowshoes, ready to tackle the fresh powder beyond the ropes.  They, however, were not properly prepared because only 3 out of 5 riders had back packs on, which means 2 people are without Avi gear.

Backcountry Skiers and Snowboarders at Cypress Mountain

As I expected, there was a huge line up at Eagle Express Quad Chair on Black Mountain.  The lines were about a 10-20 minutes wait, which is not too bad.

Cypress Mountain Opening Weekend 2008

Cypress Mountain Opening Weekend 2008

The one thing I noticed from the above picture is the clothing color choice is completely different from the ones from Grouse Mountain (Day 5 – Grouse Mountain Opening Day).  It seems like a completely different crowd because most people are wearing dark jacket with dark pants whereas at Grouse Mountain, most skiers and snowboarders were wearing bright color jackets and pants with lots of bold patterns.

It made me think…

“A) is the crowd at Cypress more conservative than Grouse with their color choice ?

or

B) does riders wear different choice of clothing for different occasions? (i.e bright color for the Park, dull color for the groomed run…)”.

feel free to comment below what you think.

I did photographed a few people with bold color clothing…very few.

Cypress Mountain Snowboarder

Cypress Mounatin Snowboarder

and a few more photos of snowboarders from Cypress Mountain…

Cypress Mountain Snowboarder

Cypress Mountain Snowboarder

Panorama and the Olympic Boarder-cross trails were open and pretty tracked out.  I was glad all the old jumps from last year were still there.  The side of the hill was completely untouched so I try to get my board to go on to the right hand side of Panorama to get some air.  Instead of getting air, my board sank into the powder, all 96 centimeters of it and I fell into waist deep powder.  It was amazing !! It just look a long time to swim back to the groomed run.

After a few hours at the green and blue run, I decided to go check out the park.  Since I had such a great time at the Grouse Mountain terrain Park yesterday, I figure Cypress must have set up the park as well.  I was disappointed when I saw the park crew coming out of their hut with shovels just going up for the first time to do some digging.

Cypress Mountain Terrain Park Staffs

Cypress Mountain Terrain Park Staffs

The Terrain Park Staff has new uniforms.  I hope their Park this year will be even better with the Olympics coming and all.  Cypress Mountain created a Media Volunteer Program, which is similar to Grouse Mountain’s blogospondents, but with videos instead of words.

Here’s another picture of the new Cypress Creek Lodge and Black Mountain where the Olympics will be held.

Cypress Creek Lodge

Instructors

As for the instructors, it’s very similar to Grouse, I only saw 2 lessons been taught today.  There were some trainings happening but there were not too much to do except putting up fences and helping beginners that were having trouble on the hill.  I hope they have been handing out their business cards.  It’s a perfect chance to promote themselves by giving free tips.  A friend of mine got a private lesson request on his first day of work 2 years ago simply because he saw a struggling beginner snowboarder and decided to stop and helped the beginner get down the hill safely.

Cypress Mountain Instructors

Cypress Mountain Instructors

Cypress Mountain Instructors

Cypress Mountain Instructors

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