Instructor Story: Q&A with Abie Jackson
Have you ever wondered what a day in the life of a ski instructor looks like?
We recently caught up with Abie Jackson who is currently working in Canada as a ski instructor with EA Ski & Snowboard at Lake Louise in Alberta.
Abie hadn’t considered becoming a ski instructor until she saw an EA Ski & Snowboard ad pop up on Facebook. On a whim, she applied for a ski instructor internship program and a few weeks later her work permit for Canada arrived.
Before heading to Canada, Abie had spent roughly four weeks on the snow. Now, she's skiing double black diamond runs without poles - just to see what it feels like.
Abie's bubbly and friendly personality has made her a favourite among guests at Lake Louise. She has been working as a ski instructor since completing her Level 1 CSIA instructor certificates and is currently working towards her Level 2 exam.
Abie is proof that a positive attitude, a willingness to work hard, and a bubbly personality can take you far in the ski instructing industry.
We asked Abie a few questions about how she is finding her season so far.
Question: Can you tell us a bit more about who you are and your journey to becoming a ski instructor?
Abie: I'm Abie Jackson, and I'm currently a ski instructor at Lake Louise in Canada. But I’m originally from England.
Question: What were you doing before you became a ski instructor?
Abie: In my last year at school, I became very sick to the point where my grades were starting to suffer, and I was no longer enjoying my studies. So, I took a massive leap of faith and dropped a couple of my A-Levels which lead me to finish the sixth form quite early in the year. I took up a part-time job and started saving money until I decided what I was going to do next.
I started Googling volunteer programs abroad, and then one day an advert for EA came up on Facebook, and it caught my eye. The whole thing was just perfect timing - I was ready to go travelling, and I was just about to turn 18.
Question: Had you ever considered becoming a ski instructor before you saw the advert?
Abie: Not at all! I applied for the instructor course with EA on a whim - I didn't even think it would happen The whole thing was pretty hilarious - I basically submitted my email and started talking to a guy based out of New Zealand. Because of the time difference, we were talking at crazy hours; it all felt a little surreal. Next thing you know, I have a working holiday visa for Canada and I’m heading off.
Question: Had you done much skiing in the past?
Abie: I had spent roughly four weeks all up skiing. This was mainly through school trips during high school. Most of the other people on my course had a lot more experience than me. But I still passed my ski instructor qualifications.
Question: Can you tell me a little bit more about the exam?
Abie: The exam itself was so daunting. It felt like everyone else on my course either had a winter holiday house in France or had been skiing for a million years (laughs). I felt way out of my depth. But that also gave me the motivation to study hard.
Question: Did you think not having as much on-snow skiing experience disadvantaged you in any way?
Abie: Not really. The trainers would prefer you to arrive with less experience rather than a multitude of bad habits that need to be changed. While people on my course who had been skiing for years had a different kind of advantage, I didn't feel this disadvantaged me in any way.
Question: Why did you decide to go to Canada?
Abie: The culture in Canada is similar to England, and I wanted to go somewhere that was English speaking. This was my first time moving to a foreign country, and I didn't want to leave home only to struggle with a massive culture shock or language barrier - I wanted it to be relaxed, fun and friendly. Canada has been perfect for that.
Question: How did you decide on Lake Louise?
Abie: My training consultant recommended Lake Louise. I initially wanted to go to Big White, but I'm really grateful that in the end, I chose Lake Louise. The Lake Louise snow sports team is massive - there are 32 of us living in staff accommodation 10 minutes from the ski field. There are loads of fun winter activities to do, and loads of skiing. But there isn’t much of a nightlife where we live. Banff is only 40 minutes away and it costs us about $12 each to get a ride there for a night out.
Question: What were your first impressions of Canada?
Abie: It's bloody cold! But the people are lovely and the scenery is unlike anything I've ever seen. It's your literal notion of a winter wonderland.
Question: Would you recommend Lake Louise as a destination for becoming a ski instructor?
Abie: I'd highly recommend Lake Louise to become a ski instructor and work. There is so much to do in Banff and you’ll never get bored. We also get an employee lift pass which gives us access to several other mountains nearby we can ski at on our days off for free. The amount you save on lift passes and the training you have access to is incredible value for money. You can go out with a Level 4 instructor every day of the week to improve your skiing.
Question: How did you find the training and transition to work?
Abie: A training day starts at 10 am. We spent a lot of time doing terrain-based training. On a typical day, we would learn a technique in the morning, practice it a little on the groomed terrain, and then head out into the trees and steep slopes to practice.
Going from training to teaching was daunting. One of my supervisors picked me out as someone who would be good with the little children, so I spend a lot of time with kids in the kinder program. To prepare for my lessons, I turn to Youtube for inspiration and often adapt off-ski games so that they can be played with skis on.
Working over Christmas during peak season was full on. Typical kid and adult lessons are full or half day sessions for groups of up to six people. Then, there are kinder lessons which are for very young children.
I ended up picking up a private kinder client about four days after passing my exam for over the Christmas period. This was great not only because I got loads of working hours, but it was excellent practising teaching with just one client.
Question: And a great way to start building your own client base. Can you talk about how requests and private lessons work a bit more?
Abie: At Lake Louise, there's a point system. So the more lesson requests we get, the more points and subsequent work we get. This is because you’re generating more revenue for the snow school by encouraging people to book lessons.
Question: What do you find challenging about being a ski instructor?
Abie: I still get anxious teaching higher level students. A Level 1 lesson is very different from a Level 3 lesson, and it's hard to know when your clients are ready to go from the learning area to the hill. Time management can be challenging, and you need to think quickly on your feet a lot. People pay a lot of money for lessons so making sure everyone has a valuable experience is important, but challenging if you have a group of people with all different ability levels.
Question: What's your plan for when the season ends?
Abie: I've just applied to a couple of ski schools in New Zealand, so the plan is to head to the southern hemisphere for a winter season there. Ideally, I’ll spend the next few seasons going between New Zealand and Canada. Then, when my work permit runs out, I’ll look at doing back-to-back seasons in Australia and Japan.
Question: What advice would you give to someone considering becoming a ski instructor?
Abie: Skiing is expensive so I'd recommend buying all your gear when you get to the resort. Ski instructors have access to so many discounts and deals for good equipment and demo gear. You'll also learn so much through your work colleagues. Its all about making friends and connections.
I've also learned the first year is the hardest. Being an intern, being a beginner, being new to everything - you're not going to be getting all the lessons. I would remind people that your first year working as a ski instructor isn’t a realistic representation of what life as an instructor is like. Just like filling out the paperwork and getting the right qualifications, it's about getting you ready for a career in snow sports.