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.

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.

aspen-etreme2

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 30 – Teaching non-English Speaker Snowboarding

I had an interesting time teaching a non-English speaker on Saturday.  My snowboard student came to Vancouver for a 3 week vacation.  This particular student spoke a few basic English phrases and understood about half of what I was saying.  I understand how it is like not to understand or speak English because I was like that when I first move to Canada many years ago.  I had to think of creative methods in order to help this student understand my instructions.  The Canadian Association of Snowboard Instructors (CASI) Certification did not prepare us for teaching non-English speakers.

I tried many different methods in teaching this student.  At the beginning of the lesson, I did my usual instructions by the CASI text book and demonstrated on my snowboard how to do a side slip.  He stood up, lean on his back foot and started to turn but fell down every time he tried.  After he climbed back to the top of the bunny hill, he explained to me that he surfed for 3 years back in his country and he is trying to mimic his surfing style on the snowboard.  As I have surfed in Tofino in the past, I understood where he is coming from.  I then told him to show me how he stands when he surfed and then tweak his posture into the proper snowboarding posture.  when that didn’t work, I walked with him while he is on his snowboard, showing him every step of the turn and how to come to a stop after each turn.  I took him down the hill several times and adjusted his posture while he tried to turn on his own before he finally understood what I was trying to convey to him.

While on the chair lift, he asked me: “what to do to go to the mountains?”.  It took me awhile before I understood that he was asking me about the other ski resorts in the area.  I obviously couldn’t promote the other ski resorts because they are in competition with my ski resort.  I gave him some suggestions on where to track down those information himself but encouraged him to come back because the ski resort I work for is definitely the best in the area.

By the end of the lesson, this student was linking turns comfortable down the bunny hill without falling.  I was surprised myself not only because this was his first time snowboarding but the fact that he didn’t understand half of what I was saying but was able to learn was pretty amazing.  It turned out to be a good lesson afterall.

Day 26 – Wet Wet day at Cypress Mountain

I was originally planning to hit up both Grouse and Cypress today but my lesson at Grouse was canceled due to the rain, so I decided to stay at Cypress for the rest of the evening.  I took a lesson at Cypress Mountain with Matt from New Zealand.  He is a New Zealand Stage 2 Snowboard Instructor (SBINZ), which is the equivalent of CASI level 3 in the Canadian system.  Matt only teaches part-time at Cypress Mountain and works in construction full time.  I came into the lesson thinking I just need a few tips on my teaching, but turned out I actually got a big improvement on my own riding.  Watching my riding from a fresh set of eyes really helped.

Snowboard Lesson at Cypress Mountain

Taking a Snowboard Lesson at Cypress Mountain

I told Matt I wanted to work on my jumps.  I can do 180’s and 360’s easy but could never rotate enough to do a 540.  Matt pointed out I should be looking at the take off with my eye and have my hips squared to my board, which will give me more balance in spinning a 540.  With these tiny adjustments to my stance, I was spinning faster and getting more air.  Matt then demonstrated a 360 static jump with his board and a few 360’s riding on the flats.  It was amazing.  I have never seen anyone spin that fast in the air.

Matt taking me down Collins

I guess, even after ten years of riding, there’s still a lot I can improve on by learning from others from different backgrounds and higher certifications.  I’m really glad I took the lesson today.

It was raining the whole time I was up there so I was completely soaked after only an hour of riding, so I decided to go home.  I really wished I have brought my garbage bag to wear underneath my gortex jacket and plastic bags to wear over my gortex socks like I usually do when it is raining.

Raining on Cypress Mountain

Old Ski School office on Cypress Mountain

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 6 – Cypress Mountain Opening Weekend (Dec 14, 2008)

This morning I got up bright and early and headed up to Cypress Mountain, the home of the 2010 Winter Olympics Freestyle skiing and snowboarding venue.  The new Lodge is done; well…the outside and the offices anyway.

Cypress Mountain Lodge

Cypress Mountain Lodge

The washrooms are definitely an upgrade to the Black Mountain Lodge.  The Retail shop seem to be smaller than before and the items are exactly the same as before: Cypress Brand everything…plus some oakley googles and Heli Henson Ski wear.  I still like Grouse Mountain shop better because it has more varieties and it’s got popular brands for snowboarders such as Quicksilver and Burton. ( I enjoy window shopping in the warm shop when it is freezing outside.)

As expected, it was really crowded, I had to park in the second parking lot, and I was up on the Mountain pretty early.  By next week (Christmas Holidays) people will be parking almost all the way to the Cross Country area and beyond.  It will be an hour walk to the resort from the car, 2 hour wait to buy a ticket, another 2 hour wait to get on a chair lift, and if you need rentals, even longer waits.  There will still be tons and tons of people that go to ski resorts during the Christmas season because for a lot of people, that’s the only time they can enjoy the holiday season with their family and their kids.

There were some brave souls that came to Cypress Mountain not willing to line up with the crowd.  They brought their split boards and snowshoes, ready to tackle the fresh powder beyond the ropes.  They, however, were not properly prepared because only 3 out of 5 riders had back packs on, which means 2 people are without Avi gear.

Backcountry Skiers and Snowboarders at Cypress Mountain

As I expected, there was a huge line up at Eagle Express Quad Chair on Black Mountain.  The lines were about a 10-20 minutes wait, which is not too bad.

Cypress Mountain Opening Weekend 2008

Cypress Mountain Opening Weekend 2008

The one thing I noticed from the above picture is the clothing color choice is completely different from the ones from Grouse Mountain (Day 5 – Grouse Mountain Opening Day).  It seems like a completely different crowd because most people are wearing dark jacket with dark pants whereas at Grouse Mountain, most skiers and snowboarders were wearing bright color jackets and pants with lots of bold patterns.

It made me think…

“A) is the crowd at Cypress more conservative than Grouse with their color choice ?

or

B) does riders wear different choice of clothing for different occasions? (i.e bright color for the Park, dull color for the groomed run…)”.

feel free to comment below what you think.

I did photographed a few people with bold color clothing…very few.

Cypress Mountain Snowboarder

Cypress Mounatin Snowboarder

and a few more photos of snowboarders from Cypress Mountain…

Cypress Mountain Snowboarder

Cypress Mountain Snowboarder

Panorama and the Olympic Boarder-cross trails were open and pretty tracked out.  I was glad all the old jumps from last year were still there.  The side of the hill was completely untouched so I try to get my board to go on to the right hand side of Panorama to get some air.  Instead of getting air, my board sank into the powder, all 96 centimeters of it and I fell into waist deep powder.  It was amazing !! It just look a long time to swim back to the groomed run.

After a few hours at the green and blue run, I decided to go check out the park.  Since I had such a great time at the Grouse Mountain terrain Park yesterday, I figure Cypress must have set up the park as well.  I was disappointed when I saw the park crew coming out of their hut with shovels just going up for the first time to do some digging.

Cypress Mountain Terrain Park Staffs

Cypress Mountain Terrain Park Staffs

The Terrain Park Staff has new uniforms.  I hope their Park this year will be even better with the Olympics coming and all.  Cypress Mountain created a Media Volunteer Program, which is similar to Grouse Mountain’s blogospondents, but with videos instead of words.

Here’s another picture of the new Cypress Creek Lodge and Black Mountain where the Olympics will be held.

Cypress Creek Lodge

Instructors

As for the instructors, it’s very similar to Grouse, I only saw 2 lessons been taught today.  There were some trainings happening but there were not too much to do except putting up fences and helping beginners that were having trouble on the hill.  I hope they have been handing out their business cards.  It’s a perfect chance to promote themselves by giving free tips.  A friend of mine got a private lesson request on his first day of work 2 years ago simply because he saw a struggling beginner snowboarder and decided to stop and helped the beginner get down the hill safely.

Cypress Mountain Instructors

Cypress Mountain Instructors

Cypress Mountain Instructors

Cypress Mountain Instructors

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