First world instructor problems

Aaaah, ski and snowboard instructing. One minute you’re taking #myoffice selfies to post on Instagram on a stunning day and feeling smugger than a cat that just shat in its owners teapot. The next you’re a human slipping hazard, awkwardly positioned underneath a hand drier trying to get warm as your saturated uniform drips reservoir sized puddles onto the floor. But the weather is the least of an instructor’s worries.

An injury on a lesson is not an uncommon thing but that is not to say that it makes it any less difficult to deal with; unless you really hate the person you’re teaching. However, it can turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

When I was in year 9 we went on a school ski trip to Austria which involved a grueling 14 hour journey by coach. To make matters worse the cool kids, at the back, took it upon themselves to make sure nobody caught a wink of sleep by repeatedly shouting “hilarious” catch phrases at the top of their lungs for the entire journey.

I, at the time, was very much front seat material; aka, a teacher’s pet and prone to travel sickness so didn’t feel self-assured enough to tell them all to shut up without throwing up or having a panic attack from the confrontation. Instead I stuck my fingers in my ears and took solitude in imagining them breaking an arm whilst skiing as payback for depriving me of 14 hours-worth of sleep.

The next day one of the main culprits fell and broke her leg. The sedatives made the journey back blissfully quiet. After I stole them I passed out straight away, not even her screaming woke me up.

Since instructing snowboarding I am glad to say I have had limited injuries on my lessons. However, I did have an incident involving a very likable child so I feel much more guilty about what happened than I usually would.

We were skiing down a green run and came to a slightly steeper part, the girl stopped and told me she was nervous to go down this part of the run. After getting down to her eye level and telling her in my sincerest of voices that she would be fine and this was nothing to worry about I watched her rapidly pick up speed, panic, fall and use her face as a breaking mechanism.

I raced down the slope after her, looking for pieces of skin or perhaps an ear in the snow as I went. Luckily they were still attached to her face. After I’d duct taped them back on.

Teaching friends, a partner or family always seems like a great idea at the time. It’ll be so much fun, you can make a day of it and it will be totally free then you can all go and laugh together at après after a satisfying day of achievement.

In reality what usually happens is that both the teacher and the learner get incredibly frustrated with one another and vow that there is no one on Earth that you hate more than each other.

Teaching friends will make you realise that you have no friends, teaching family will make you realise that you would rather be an orphan and teaching your partner is a fast-track ticket to divorce.

I speak from experience as I am now a loner living with 24 cats. It was 48 but their owners found out where I lived and took them back.

Private lessons can be hard enough when spending 6 hours with a stranger, however when your client has the conversational skills of a tranquilised sloth, by the time the lesson has finished I find myself feeling like Robin Williams in Jumanji when he’s just got out of the game exclaiming “what year is it?”

In these cases I usually try and pace my standard conversational topics; what do you do for a living? Where are you from? Do you have any family? What other hobbies do you like to do? How long ago was it that you had the lobotomy? And so on and so forth.

However, pacing these questions can be an issue when they are returned with one word answers, making it feel like the conversational equivalent of trying to play tennis against a wall with a racket and a brick. I soon find that I have maxed out my conversation starters within the first seven minutes of the lesson. What follows is 5 hours and 52 painfully dull minutes of awkward silences broken only by the odd “well done” or “let’s try that again” or my involuntary snoring.

Lunch becomes a painful ordeal of listening to knives and forks screech on plates and when the situation reaches a point where it would lose to watching paint dry in a “which is most interesting” contest I take myself to the toilet and just sit in a cubicle. Preferring rather for people to think I have aggressive diarrhea than to endure anymore unbearable silences.

Last but by all means not least, the worst nightmare of mine as an instructor, worse even than losing a child on a lesson, is not being bought lunch by your client after tactfully pretending to forget your wallet. As I mentioned earlier, ski and snowboard instructing is a dream job but it can often leave you choosing between whether to buy toilet paper for the week or whether to buy food for the week.

Money can often be tight so it is always a treat when a client buys you lunch. However, this should never be an assumption. I myself have mistakenly made this assumption and ended up sat, noticeably salivating, whilst watching my guest eat as I nursed a glass of tap water, wondering if eating toilet paper would upset my digestive system then realising I am too hungry to care if it did.

Thankfully I have never had to resort to eating toilet paper but the children in ski school whose lunch I steal tell me it’s only hospitalised them a couple of times.

This blog post was originally published as “Nightmares Before Christmas” on Its All Downhill From Here.

To quote Sansa Stark; ”Winter is here”. With fewer zombies, more pant soiling but an equal amount of inner turmoil. Funny tales from an instructor working in a winter wonderland. Experienced and written from an altitude of 1,861 meters. Yes, I did have to Google that number.


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