From code yellows & code browns to being ridiculously good looking, Alex Parsons spills the beans on what it’s really like being a ski and snowboard instructor.
Believe it or not, being a ski or snowboard instructor isn’t all powder days and partying. Welcome to the secret world of instructing where we work hard, are frequently poor and have to deal with way too many bodily fluids.
Here are 20 things about us that you probably didn’t know:
1. We get paid shit all. You may be paying $800 for your full day private lesson but we’ll only see about 15% of that money. The truth is, most countries just don’t pay us much. Australia is one of the top paying countries with a starting rate of about $23 an hour, compared to places like Canada that will start you out at $13 an hour.
2. We really are ridiculously good looking. Most ski and snowboard instructors are young and fit, so it makes sense we’re a little bit more attractive than the average person. BUT…
3. Everyone looks better in snow gear. Seriously. People look way more attractive with their goggles on but as soon as you get them in the bar you’re sure to be disappointed. Don’t be fooled.
4. Our feet are probably gross. There are a few downsides to squishing our feet into damp boots every day, and this is one of them. Expect calluses, ingrown toenails, bruises and blisters.
5. We only get given our uniform. We must provide our own snowboard/skis, boots, bindings, helmets, goggles, gloves, thermal layers and a phone (easier said than done in foreign countries). These are all essential for us to do our jobs but we get no compensation for them. However, we usually get pretty good store discounts.
6. Our gear breaks all the time. The nature of our job means that we’re using our gear daily and it gets knocked around a lot by our clients – especially kids running over our skis and boards! For example, I’m only a month into the Canadian season and three of my binding straps have already snapped from the cold.
7. We feel sorry for you if you’re bad at skiing/snowboarding. We’ll try to help as much as we can but there’s only so much we can do.
8. We share stories of funny and stupid things we see in our lessons when we get back to the locker room. We see some pretty hilarious things from both kids and adults and can’t wait to tell our friends. Sorry.
9. We get very little time off. Most seasons are short so we work as much as we can. It’s normal for us to work 6 days a week with 1 day off for most of the season, plus a lot of us have second jobs at restaurants, bars and retail stores. In my first season I didn’t get any assigned days off so I’d usually work 2 weeks straight with one day off when I really needed it (while working as a freelance writer at night). But that’s nothing. I’ve heard instances of people working 30 days straight and more, often without a choice.
10. We have to deal with ‘code yellows’ and ‘code browns’. Ask any kid’s instructor and they will tell you of an instance where a child has urinated or defecated their pants in a lesson. We also have to deal with tears, broken bones, concussions and the odd bit of vomit.
11. Sometimes we feel sorry for your kids. If you bring your kids into the Snow School on a freezing -20 degree day with not enough layers on, or when it’s pouring rain, or for the 20th day in a row when they’re exhausted – we will secretly judge you for being bad parents. Your kid is going to have a terrible time, probably cry, and we’re going to have to force them to ski or snowboard. You see, we have to make your children go outside. We’re a Snow Sport School, not a daycare.
12. We’ll give you our gear if you lose or break yours. Instructors are generally kind people and will go to great lengths to help you. I know instructors who have traded their skis, snowboard or gloves to clients in need. I’ve given my gloves to a teenager in a lesson because his were soaking wet from falling so much in slushy Australian snow. I didn’t mind having freezing hands until he then gave them back sopping wet and didn’t even say thank you.
13. Getting tipped makes our day. A little bit of money on the side shows your appreciation and often means we can treat ourselves to a nice dinner or drinks. When I get tipped I usually spend it on delicious snacks!
14. We do a lot of yoga, stretching and gym work. Our jobs are very physical so we try to stay fit and flexible in order to prevent injuries. Most resorts are onboard with this and allow us free access to the gym or provide subsidised or free yoga, stretch and recovery sessions.
15. We take exams. And they’re really hard. There are a few different qualification systems to become instructors, such as the Canadian CASI, the Australian APSI and the New Zealand NZSIA. Most of these systems have 4 different levels and they take some serious hard work to pass them. The APSI system has 5 different components for an exam – your riding ability, your demonstrations, your teaching skills, a movement analysis part and theory exam. To give you an indication of how hard these are, in 2016 the pass rates for APSI snowboard exams were 96% for Level 1, 50% for Level 2, roughly 15% for Level 3 and 0% for Level 4.
16. Our exams are expensive! An APSI Level 2 exam is $465 while a Level 3 Exam is $650. And if you fail a component you have to pay a resit fee.
17. If no one turns up, we don’t get paid. We get paid per hour of teaching so if the resort is really quiet, or you book a lesson and don’t show, we get nothing. In fact, sometimes it costs us more to get to work than what we get paid in a day. For example, at one Australian resort we have four ‘line-ups’ during the day where we show up in uniform and stand around for 20 minutes each time, trying to get work. If we don’t get a lesson that day (which definitely happens) then we go home with nothing, having just spent money on food and petrol to get there.
18. Few of us party hard. We can’t afford it and we’re usually too tired! In fact, during peak season it’s pretty normal to go to bed at 8 or 9pm. The hungover instructor is a major stereotype that plagues our industry and should be more associated with new instructors and those who are doing a fun gap year. But as for us career instructors, we party as much as anyone else with a regular job.
19. We work rain, hail or shine. As well as in thunderstorms, blizzards, -30 degrees, and 10 degrees (this is sweltering in snow gear). And no, we don’t get paid extra for working in bad weather.
20. We do it all because we love our jobs. And we love to ride!