Where do I begin? What VISA do I need? How much experience and money I need to have?
We know there is a lot to consider when planning to become an instructor. To help get you started, EA Ski & Snowboard Training have created this must-read guide to becoming a ski or snowboard instructor that covers the key things you should consider before committing to a course, and some answers to common questions.
The industry guide to becoming a qualified ski or snowboard instructor
This guide has been put together by industry experts, examiners and qualified instructors. It is designed to help those thinking about becoming a ski or snowboard instructor, working in the industry and/or doing a ski or snowboard instructor training course.
The industry guide includes:
- Answers to common questions about ski or snowboard training programs
- 5 mistakes to avoid when choosing a ski or snowboard training program
- Choosing a course that suits your goals
- What is it like working as an instructor?
- Next steps to starting a course
Answers to some common questions...
1. Do all programs guarantee me a job?
This is a common misunderstanding. Completing a ski or snowboard training program and obtaining a teaching certificate is no guarantee you will gain a job as an instructor.
It is a harsh reality that most ski and snowboard schools require practical experience if you are to be considered for instructing work. In some cases, the particular qualification you have may not be held in high regard by the resort you are looking to work at. Some training organisations state they will be able to get you a job in the industry after completing their course. Unfortunately, this is typically not true, or possibly because the critical factor in gaining instructional work is having practical experience under your belt.
2. Are all qualifications made equal?
No, not all qualifications are made equal. The following table shows equivalency of some of the world’s most well-known ski and snowboard instructor qualifications. If you are looking for a career-break or gap year then level 1 training will give you a great start into the world of skiing or snowboarding as well as provide a structured platform to improve your own skills. If you are looking to establish a long-term career in the ski & snowboard industry we recommend you aim to obtain an ‘Intermediate’ level instructional certificate because this will greatly improve your chances of employment internationally.
The International Ski Instructors Association (ISIA) is the world body for professional ski instructors. The following table shows the level required to become a member of the ISIA. In general, it takes a minimum of three years training and teaching to reach ISIA level.
Table 2.1 International Instructor Organisations, ISIA and equivalent levels
3. Am I really guaranteed to pass?
Through most well-operated training programs the chances of passing your entry-level – level 1 qualification are high, however, there is no guarantee you will pass any instructional exam.
The philosophy behind instructor organisations is that all exams are equal – so don’t believe the hype if an instructor company tells you there is a higher chance of passing with them. The familiarity your trainers have with the exam organization material, and your relationship with the trainers are keys to your success in any exam.
Level 2 exams are a considerable step up from the level 1. Some organisations such as BASI require signed proof from a ski school that you have completed a certain number of hours teaching experience. All organisations recommend that you have some instructor work experience before attempting the level 2 exam.
By choosing an internship program which offers training and certifications in addition to a job offer to teach for the full season you have the opportunity to obtain this necessary experience which does give you more certainty of a pass result for the level 2 standard.
4. How much prior experience do I need?
For most programs, it’s not essential that you are an amazing or expert skier or snowboarder but you should be able to comfortably link turns on at least intermediate level terrain. Your prior experience will determine how easy or hard it will be for you to pass the skiing or snowboarding portion of an instructional exam. However, this is only one part of becoming a successful instructor and most entry-level instructor qualifications have a greater emphasis on a candidate’s ability to ‘teach’ others. For those with good interpersonal skills and an outgoing nature, this is easy!
5. How can I be sure I’m getting quality training?
It is essential that the training you receive is going to set you up to ensure you reach your goals. If these goals include passing an instructional exam (they should be J) then your course trainers need to be certified to an appropriate level. This should be level 3 or 4 in most circumstances (refer to table 2.1). It is also important that your trainers have experience in the same ski or snowboard organisation in which you will be sitting the exam.
The best way to ensure the training you receive will be to the standard you require to attain your goals, is to ask questions of the training provider such as “what level of certification do the trainers have”? and “how many training hours or days per week will there be?"
6. Are all training programs created equal?
There is a great deal of variety when it comes to instructor training courses and the price you pay. When comparing it is important that you look at what is included. Things to watch for:
- Accommodation, including the standard and location
- Transport to and from the mountain (if required)
- How many training days there will be per week
- Lift passes and whether a season pass is included
- Exam costs including affiliations to the national organisation
- Flight costs and any required domestic transfers
- The opportunity to earn money during the course (or after)
- What else is included; such as a resort job offer and/or opportunities to interview
- Support for the program – is there a designated company representative on the ground?
5 mistakes to avoid when choosing a ski or snowboard training program
1. Beware of hidden costs
You do not want to get caught short when funding your training program. There are many costs involved, so we advise being realistic and drawing up a budget. Refer to our budget planner in this guide. Be sure to include all costs such as program fees, flights, insurance, equipment and living costs. You can also include income you will earn if doing an internship program where you teach and earn money. Your course provider will be able to offer assistance here in terms of the amounts you should use as approximates.
2. Don’t pay too much!
Compare program options to determine what is on offer and the components you are paying for. As commented on above it is important to compare the program options you are looking at including all the inclusions and exclusions. It is more important to look at what you want out of a program rather than a price you want to pay, as some will offer on-the-job training and the chance to earn money during the season.
3. Don’t do a program if it doesn’t guarantee you a job offer!
The main focus of this guide is to give you insider secrets from the industry direct, ensuring you the best possible entry into the world of becoming a ski or snowboard instructor. If you think you may wish to instruct in a future season the first mistake you can make is signing up for a program that does not provide you with a guaranteed job offer.
Most programs on offer include training and certification opportunities however most fall short when it comes to ‘real’ on the job experience or even better – a job offer to instruct for a winter season.
Most ski and snowboard schools do not hire new instructors unless they have prior experience, which is why we are often asked: “but how do I get this experience in the first place?” Yes - a classic chicken and egg situation. However, it IS possible to have minimal experience and come through a program having obtained an instructing qualification (or two!) as well as a job instructing - all in the same season. This is the ultimate set up and you should not settle for anything less if this is your goal.
4. Always research the location you are going to
The program location is one of the most important factors to consider! If you want to ski or ride deep powder, hit up great parks, or get your tree skiing fix then you should ensure the destination you choose offers the best chance of this. You should talk to others who have been there, look at photos, blogs or videos and consider what other resorts are close to where you are training or working.
5. Ensure you set yourself up to achieve future goals or your next job
The best way to learn, improve and develop your skiing or snowboarding skills is ‘on the job’ experience. It is for this reason that many qualification organisations do not allow people to sit more than one certificate level without practical instructional work experience. Working as an instructor also provides valuable experience for any job you may go on to do. A written reference from an employer at an international Snow Sports School will go a long way to assist here.
The benefits of ski / snowboard instructing experience
Getting qualified is one thing, but getting experience as an instructor offers a range of additional benefits… Whether you plan to follow a career in the snow or not:
- Learning on the job is the ultimate training– no amount of instructor training can provide practical experience and experience is everything!
- You get to do a full winter season (and increase your chances of getting powder) and help to be able to afford it by earning money.
- Create an employment history and improve your resume for future jobs - in the snow sports industry or not.
- Get an inside look into the location you choose, be part of the culture and get to know the locals!
- Make friends with other instructors from all over the world
Words from a Ski School Director…
“Our Snow School receives hundreds of instructor applications every season but outside the EA Internship Program we don’t look at any unless they have a level 2 certification and at least one season experience behind them.”
Josh Foster – Big White Snow School, Canada
If you are really interested in following a career in the snow, doing a course with the guarantee of work is a no-brainer. It will ultimately give you the right connections and opportunities to fast-track your career and get the employment you want sooner.
Choosing an instructor course that suits your winter season goals and career aspirations
Ski instructor courses attract a range of different types of people for a different reason, here are some of the most common:
- Gap year after finishing school or university
- Career break to try something new
- Career change to do something different
Out of the different types of reasons for taking part in courses, there are two common scenarios which people tend to have in mind – see which suits your thinking:
You are not sure if you will ever work long-term in the industry…
If your goal is just to make the most of the time and money you invest in a ski or snowboard training program, you should ensure you will obtain ‘real’ experience as a ski or snowboard instructor. This shows to ANY future employer that you have put your skills to use and can handle the task you have trained to perform.
You want to work as an instructor for a number of years…
If you plan to be employed in the ski and snowboard industry many resorts require that you can show at least one season’s prior experience as an instructor. This can be a bit of a ‘catch 22’ situation because you cannot get a job instructing without experience but cannot get experience without the job! Instructor internship programs are perfect as they allow a streamlined path directly into training, certification and employment as an instructor.
Note: You don’t have to decide your career right now, as many people go into a ski instructor course planning to return home after and stay out for future seasons. However, it is important to consider what you want to achieve in your season so that you can pick the right one.
What is it like working as a ski or snowboard instructor?
Working as a ski or snowboard instructor is a road to riches for some - there are tales of those who have been tipped cars, holidays, wads of cash and slink effortlessly from the pow with their perfect goggle tan to pick up their next girlfriend from the après ski bar.
The reality for most is that as a new instructor there is lots of hard work and long days. We don’t like to sugar coat things here at EA. Ski towns are notoriously expensive to live in so being at the whim of the weather and ski school bookings can be tough at times, especially on the finances so we always recommend new instructors are prepared for this.
A word from an EA instructor…
“It is an incredibly rewarding job particularly when the people you are teaching make a very clear progression and when a 5 year old informs you that “you’re not half bad”… well my work is done really! Thankfully our boss had the foresight to let us have New Year’s Day off and Verbier really did live up to the hype, New Year’s Eve was a crazy night”
Ione Walker – Verbier, Europe
Earning and expected a salary as a qualified instructor
Like most careers, earning potential rises with experience and qualifications. This means in your first winter season you should not expect to make huge amounts of money but should see the longer-term potential benefits that the qualifications can bring. Earning and salaries are very dependent on location and demand, so it is hard to put a figure on it… However, if you are in a busy resort during school holidays you are likely to benefit from large amounts of work. As you gain your qualifications, increasing the types of customers you can teach, you will naturally earn a higher wage and be in more demand from the Ski School.
Next steps to become a qualified instructor in the ski industry
Good job! Taking the time to read through this guide shows great preparation and planning – an important skill for an instructor. This is the first step in ensuring you attain those dreams of becoming a real-life ski or snowboard instructor and/or a winter of epicness!
We hope this guide is useful and can provide assistance while you work through the decisions required to get the most out of your time in the ski and snowboard industry. Be sure to use all methods available to you; the internet, school careers advisors, friends and family and reputable organisations.