The contradictions of the ski instructor life are perfectly summed up by James Cove, an instructor for almost a decade and now editor of the PlanetSKI website, planetski.eu: "My first piece of advice: don't do it," urges Cove, who goes on to describe the many downsides of making a career out of being a ski instructor in an October 2010 article in The Independent. These include long and expensive training, overly demanding clients, being stuck on the nursery slopes on great powder days, endlessly repeating the same instructions, the lousy pay and rare tips.
"Much of what the client pays goes to the ski school and the taxman," said Cove.
Despite these pitfalls, teaching ski lessons can turn your passion into a professional occupation. Just because you started off later in life as a novice skier, or it's been a while since you've covered the basics in a lesson, becoming an instructor is not necessarily beyond your reach.
Efficient ski instructors need to have great affection for the sport, the mountain and the environment. Strong people skills are as important as being able to ski well. I have seen many instructors who cannot ski as well as they can relate to people.
A few years back, and I do mean a few years back, when I was teaching skiing as a full-time instructor while attending the local community college, I was assigned to teach the ladies-only program. I had a group of four or five women, who were all skiing the ability of a novice skier. Most of the women were housewives who wanted to learn to ski better. They could all ride a chairlift and ski down a "Blue Square" (more difficult) marked trail without any problems. They were all below-average skiers at the beginning, but as the lessons progressed, the women's skills also progressed.
I can recall one woman in particular, who was slightly older than most of the other ladies in the group. She had a sparkling personality and was a fireball. She would ask about teaching skiing every week. What was it was like? Was it hard? What was involved? I told her, for me, it's not really work because I'm sharing something I have a great passion for with other people. I wasn't in it for the money, as the pay was not great. It was about making people happy, showing them that they can do something they thought they could not do.
She seemed to really like hearing it was possible to help people evolve in a sport that takes time and patience, and became one of my most attentive students.
During that ladies-only program, I learned a lot about myself and what it really meant to teach and help other adults learn the sport. This was one of the first times our ski school director had let me teach adults. My first few years teaching were spent with children on the bunny slopes.
As the final two lessons approached, she told me she wanted to become a ski instructor like myself. I was excited that she not only progressed in her skills, but also felt confident enough to become an instructor.
I continued to teach skiing for the next 25 years or so. My great admiration of teaching really came for me again while teaching the Development team for young skiers, mostly children, who want to be on the race team, but don't quite have the skill set required yet. Through this program, which I have been teaching for many years now, I have seen many of my students move on to the race team and even their high school race teams.
Some have even become ski instructors like myself.