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.

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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.

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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 21 – Last day of 2008 @ Grouse Mountain (Video)

Song is Mos Def – Wylin Out

Day 21 – Last Day of 2008 @ Grouse Mountain

This morning started out with high winds so the chair was not open to the public until 10 am.

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Canceled Morning lessons due to High Wind

We all stood around the base waiting to hear whether the Tram will be open or not.  Some of the Instructors started shoveling and salting the ice on the ground.  Lots of customers decided not to wait and went home instead.

Instructors Shoveling

Great Team Effort !!

Instructors Shoveling

The staffs got to the top of the mountain right before 10 am, it was the most amazing view I have ever seen.

Grouse Mountain - The Cut @ 10 am December 31, 2008

Beautiful Scenery from the Tram

Grouse Mountain - The Cut @ 10 am December 31, 2008

Grouse Mountain @ 10 am December 31, 2008

Ally and Eileen

After the general public started getting on the mountain and the staffs finished setting up the signs, we decided to go for a run.  Since most of the general public went home instead of waited for the tram to open, the mountain was pretty empty the whole morning even though the tram was open to the public.

Fresh Tracks at Grouse Mountain

My friends and I went out and rode around for 2 hours.  We did the green run, the blue runs, and then the black and the double black diamond runs.  When we went down Purgatory (Double Black Diamond Run), the powder was so deep my friend C. decided to go for a big jump (see video).

Purgatory @ Grouse Mountain (Scott & Chrystal in the photo)

C. got really big air then landed right before a tree and banged her forehand on the tree.  Her forehead was pretty swollen afterward.  She also lost her goggles so we had to stop to look for it in the deep powder.

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Half way down purgatory, we decided to cut to the left to see what Outer Limit was like.  When we got down to the bottom of Outer Limits we saw beautiful untouched powder in the trees on the other side of the cattrack.  It was not roped off so we know the fresh powder in the trees is still considered inbound and there probably won’t be any avalanche danger.  We decided to go for it and it was amazing. We got to a part where the trees were too dense to board in and realized the only way back to the chair lift was to hike out.  My friends had one foot out and tried to skate out.  I made the mistake of taking off my board and stepping into the snow.  I sunk to my waist in the powder.  It took awhile to climb back onto my board and eventually climb back to the trails that led to the chair lift.

Grouse Mountain Snowboard Instructor teaching

Grouse Mountain Snowboard Instructor teaching against the beautiful backdrop of Vancouver

Grouse Mountain Snowboard Instructor teaching

Grouse Mountain Snowboard Instructor teaching

Grouse Mountain Snowboard Instructor teaching

Grouse Mountain Snowboard Instructor teaching

Grouse Mountain Snowboard Instructor teaching

Grouse Mountain Staff got onto the cover of the newspaper

My friend got onto the cover of a newspaper.

Pikachu visiting Grouse Mountain

and finally, Pikachu came for a visit of Grouse Mountain.

Day 10 – Sunny and Cold (-12 ºC / 10.4 ºF)

This morning as I was driving through Stanley Park, I saw that there were still so much snow on the trees and on the grass because of the cold temperature we’ve been having

Driving through Stanley Park (Dec 18, 2008)

I went to check out Cypress Mountain Cross Country Ski Area today before heading up for some snowboarding.  I figured I would take some photos of the area because of the beautiful Sunny temperature we’ve been having.  It is interesting to see how these fences were reinforced.  It must have been the result of yesterday’s strong winds.

Reinforce Fencing

The cross country ski area was chopping down a big tree today…maybe for firewood because of Recession?

Cypress Mountain - Chop Down Tree in XC

Cypress Mountain - Chop Down Tree in XC

Below are some photos I took of instructors teaching a class at the bottom of the Collins on Cypress Mountain.  If you look behind the snowboarders, there’s lots of plants showing through the snow.  For the last few years, there were enough snow to cover all those trees and shrubs before the first lesson has even been taught.  This year, however, the Black runs in the background of this picture are still closed.

Collins

Cypress Mountain - Collins

Some skiers, however, still venture into the out-of-bounds area in search of powder.  I am not sure if it is worth it to wreck your $1000 skis to enjoy a few minutes of powder with trees sticking out everywhere.

Cypress Mountain - Out-of-Bounds

It has been a good day, only 2 more days until my teaching starts.  Riding at Cypress Mountain again today.  the Terrain Park Staffs were working hard on the rails and setting up new funboxes.  There was supposed to be a Store Wars competition at Cypress tomorrow, but it has been moved because there simply was not enough snow.

Cypress Mountain - Terrain Park

Cypress Mountain - Chop Down Tree in XC

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Cypress Mounatin Terrain Park Staffs - Prep for Store Wars

Cypress Mounatin Terrain Park Staffs - Prep for Store Wars

Cypress Mounatin Terrain Park Staffs - Prep for Store Wars

Finally, below is a pic of the Mountain I am teaching at this year.  It is located in the middle right side where the lights are.

Grouse Mountain - Lights


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