This coming weekend will be my fourth week as a ski instructor. I teach just outside of Seattle at a little place called Snoqualmie. If you around and need a lesson, ask for me and I would be happy to learn ya for a day or two. With just a few weeks under my belt, I can already say this is the best job I have ever had. I am moving up the ranks and have taught many solo lessons with clients that like and request what I bring to the table. By day I spend my time sharing my passion with receptive individuals. By night I learn from teachers that have been in the game for years. Here in this post, I will be going over a few things to know if you are looking to become a ski instructor. First, the physical and mental requirements of the job. Second, the learning path and a bit about the different types of lessons you will be going through. Third and last will be a bit about the culture of the mountain and how much of a good time there is to be had in the elevated chill.
First, to be a ski instructor you don’t need to be the greatest skier in the world. In fact, most professional coaches are not the best at what they coach. Generally speaking, the best coaches are people that had to struggle just to get decent at the sport. Through struggle, they were forced to pay close attention to how the learning process goes. For me, I learned how to ski at a young age and can’t actually remember learning the simple things like turning and stopping. When one of the most common questions is, “How do I turn?” it’s not the most helpful thing to say, “You just do it”. To be able to answer a question like this has forced me to rethink how I ski and by doing so has made me a better skier. So, while you don’t need to be the best skier in the world, you are going to need to know the basics that will allow you to properly demonstrate skills to your students.
The other thing that you need is that attitude of the teacher. Patients is the first thing that comes to mind as attributes that come in handy the most. Some student will understand the lesson on the first try and continue to grow exactly as instructed. Other students are going to struggle to a point where you may never be able to teach them how to ski. Patients with each person’s learning style is essential to delivering a message free of frustration. Other traits that help with the teaching style are an assertive character that can calmly articulate the theory behind each lesson so that people understand. The trick is to grab their attention so that they need not spend effort listening but can are pulled into each lesson to find understanding and in the end, performance.
Second, there are many things that you can do on skis, and many lessons to teach these many things. Generally speaking, I start each class out with an overlay on the basic of stance- Jump once and notice your posture when you land. Legs bent, torso leaning slightly forward, arms out at the ready. I might talk about ski technology and drop a bit of mountain slang on the quality of snow we are riding that day. (Sugapow is the best you can hope for up at Snoqualmie, which isn’t the greatest of rides for all you gapers that have stumbled on to this post) With skiers that have never been on skis before I first hike them up the bunny hill and tell each of them to send it. We then work it out from there. I find it best to push people into the deep end and catch them if they start to sink, but I am not working for myself and must constrain my lesions within the safety confines of corporate mountain culture. In my opinion, learning happens at the fringes where shit gets uncomfortable. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” so let’s learn the basics and then hit the most gnarly stuff we can find, but that’s just me.
Lastly, the people of the mountain are people that understand the nature of skiing. It’s a sport meant to push your limits and the people that get this are to most awesome of people. On one side of this ticket you get people that are passionate about the outdoors and often fall into the category of granola hippy. These are the people that wake up at four in the morning just so they are sure to get first tracks down the sickest line the mountain has to offer. On the other hand, you have the party people that stay up all night drinking but still manage to wake up by sunrise finding that fresh track through light pow is the best way to cure a hangover. All of these people come together and sit side by side on the lift to create something to be a part of.
This lifestyle is something that I would die for. It’s something that has brought so much good to my life and if you think you would find even a fraction of what I get from it then you might want to think about getting it. There are many other jobs that all play a role in shaping the mountain. From the humble lifty, the shredders in the ski shop, admin officials, ticket office girls, cafeteria party girls, to the elite ski patrol. There is a place for everyone that wants it and everyday people get it. Year by year fresh pow will fall, new limits will be pushed, and as the bullwheel turns, you know where I will be.