Far from your typical nine-to-five office job, working as a ski instructor introduces you to a world of mountain air, endless ski days, fresh powder, sunshine, and endless opportunities to meet new people.
So how do you go about becoming a ski instructor?
Get the How to become a Ski Instructor Guide
Yes, once you are qualified, you can start to look for work straight away.
Depending on where you are based, you may find work in resort for the remainder of the season, you may choose to go elsewhere, or you may decide to wait until the next season before embarking on teaching.
In Verbier where we run our gap courses, we often recruit our trainees to work in the peak February half-term period straight after the course has finished.
This is a great way to consolidate everything you have learned and achieved during the 10-week course. Many of our students work for these two weeks and then stay in resort until the end of the season taking advantage of the season lift pass and the lovely spring weather.
After an intense 10 weeks training and then two weeks working, it is quite nice to have a few relaxing weeks before heading home.
The qualification required to teach in different countries varies considerably between nations. For instance, some countries such as France require high level qualifications before you can work as an instructor, but in Switzerland the requirements are set by the ski school you work for and you can work with lower-level qualifications.
There are various governing bodies around the world which examine ski instructors and issue qualifications to teach skiing
For example, BASI in the UK, NZSIA in New Zealand and CSIA in Canada. With the vast array of qualifications out there, it is possible to find something that suits you, and often the qualifications will be determined by where you choose to train and qualify.
In Switzerland, we recognise qualifications from around the world but many of our team hold the BASI qualification. This is also the system we have chosen to examine our Gap year students who will take the BASI levels 1 and 2 qualifications during the 10-week ski instructor course. This is mainly due to the BASI system being recognised very well around the world as well as the fact many of our team qualified through the same system.
Formally constituted in 1963, The British Association of Snowsport Instructors (BASI) is a UK based membership association responsible for the training and licensing of snowsport instructors and coaches. If you have had a ski lesson in the UK, chances are you were taught by a BASI qualified instructor.
BASI exists for the benefit of its members and works on their behalf to deliver:
- Training courses and professional qualifications for 5 disciplines (Alpine, Snowboard, Telemark, Adaptive and Nordic) in instructing and coaching
- Internationally recognised professional snowsports qualifications
- Working opportunities in snowsports instruction in countries throughout the world
- Continuous professional development programmes for members
- Membership value through a range of member benefits
- Most systems have their own structure & level system, each with a unique pedagogy.
- BASI is a well-recognised qualification as are CSIA and NZSIA allowing you to teach in most places around the world.
- The official qualifications received from a governing body reflect your skiing and teaching ability when applying for jobs within a ski school. Without them, you are unlikely to be able to teach anywhere.
The BASI Level system consists of 4 levels, with level 1 being the entry level and level 4 the highest but what do they allow you to do?
In short, the level 1 will allow you to teach in a controlled environment, for example indoor ski centres and snow domes. You’ll generally teach beginner and low intermediates of all ages.
To work in a ski school in the mountains, the level 2 is generally required (with France being the caveat where they require level 4).
Level 2 qualified instructors will be teaching beginner to intermediate levels, and this is what you will achieve if you pass all the modules of the 10-week ski instructor course in Verbier.
Once you have achieved level 2, often instructors who want to further their careers will continue to work towards levels 3 and 4. These reflect a higher level of teaching experience and knowledge thus will earn you a higher salary and generally mean that you teach intermediate to expert clients. Our ISIA and Level 4 courses include training towards achieving these advanced qualifications.
To find out more about the BASI Level system click here.
A decent pair of ski boots are key when joining a ski instructor course. If you need to buy boots, we recommend buying these in a ski resort rather than a shop in the UK. In resort, boot fitters tend to be far more experienced and knowledgeable., and you also have the benefit that purchasing your boots from an in-resort store means once you’ve tried them out on the hill, you can go back if they need adjusting without paying an additional fee for the service.
As well as these and your regular ski clothing you would take on holiday with you, we also strongly recommend helmets! These should be replaced after any major impact or an absolute maximum of 5 years, whichever comes first.
Some people choose to hire skis but if you wish to continue through the ski instructing system, investing in your own skis is far less expensive in the long run. As you develop your skiing ability, you’ll likely find that you lean towards a certain type of ski, perhaps even preferring them to be serviced a certain way! Instructors will also likely end up with different sets of skis for different conditions and types of skiing.
In Verbier, it is common for ski schools to sell lessons by half day or full day so you may work for example 9am-12pm if you have a morning lesson or maybe 9am-4pm if you have a full day lesson. Lessons usually run from 2 hours as a minimum.
Once working as a full-time instructor in Verbier you can average anywhere between 350-550 hours in the season. The difference in hours comes down to your experience, client base and how versatile you are as an instructor. You are likely to work more in busy holiday weeks of the season, and less in quieter weeks.
Some instructors with many languages or a specific skill may work a lot more and likewise if you have been here for a while and have built up a regular client base, you could be busy! We have some instructors that fill up most of their diary with repeat business alone.
In different resorts and different countries work can really vary, for example, in some places it may be more common to teach full days only and not half days.
BASI Level 1 exam = 5 days on snow / artificial slope training and assessment
BASI Level 2 exam = 10 days on snow training and assessment usually spanning 2 weeks running Monday to Friday.
You will also need to attend a 2 day first aid course, a child protection module (an online course), as well as show evidence of shadowing hours or teaching experience to be undertaken after the level 1 exam is completed.
To validate your level 1 and 2 you are also required to take a DBS check to show you have no criminal record,
You can take the exams individually at a time that suits you, or you can look at qualifying through an intensive course, for example a 10-week gap course. Here at Altitude Futures, we offer a 10-week course, providing a fast track to gaining both the level 1 and 2 whilst also developing your skiing. You can read more about our course here.
For Level 3 and 4
To obtain your level 3 and 4, there are more modules involved that are taken individually. These are on average 5 days each and you need all the modules to gain the qualification. You also need to provide evidence of a minimum of 200 teaching hours in order to obtain each of these qualifications. It is normal to take several years or more to work and train towards these levels.
For more information on the criteria for each level and how long it takes see here
Do these all apply to you?
- I can ski all pistes including black slopes
- I can make short rhythmical turns.
- I ski down the fall line (the way a ball would roll down the hill)
- I ski at a good speed
- I can (or am keen to try) ski off-piste and in the moguls
If so, you’re probably at a good level to join an instructor training course!
This mainly comes down to whether you wish to gain the level 1 only or work your way up through the ranks up to the highest level which in the BASI system is Level 4. It also depends on if you take the exams individually, maybe at home at a snowdome near you (level 1 only) or if you take them as part of a fast track course, for example a 10 week gap course.
As an idea, as of June 2020, a BASI Level 1 exam costs £435 and a BASI Level 2 exam costs £670.
If your skiing is at a good level and you can get hold of a BASI manual to study as well as ideally a few private lessons from someone BASI qualified, you’d be good to go and have a good chance of passing. For the level 2, it’s likely you would need to attend training to ensure you have the required knowledge and ability to demonstrate skiing to the required criteria to pass.
You have quite a few options here; some instructors look to stay in the resort they are in and pick up some summer work, others head back home and find a summer job, ideally something seasonal to return to each year, and others even follow the snow and head to the southern hemisphere for their winter!
Read more about what our team get up to in the summertime here.
There are now so many ski schools providing training to prepare you for your exams it can be tricky to decide who to train with and in which country!
A popular route for new instructors is to enrol on a gap course to obtain your first BASI qualifications. These are extremely popular within the UK market as they are run in English, and BASI have also established themselves as a well-regarded and recognised qualification around the world meaning work opportunities are great if you wish to change location in the future.
A big advantage with a BASI qualification is that you can pretty much work anywhere, the world is literally your oyster.
The only caveat to this is France, where you need the higher-level qualification and to do a speed test known as a Euro test (a timed race) to work but in France this is the case whichever system you follow.
Gap courses provide you the level 1 and 2 qualifications within a 10-week course. As you will usually qualify in February depending on your course start date, this gives you the opportunity to work afterwards too.
Ski schools running gap courses will provide lots of on snow training, your accommodation and food (usually on a half-board basis), your lift pass and other bonuses like socials and branded clothing. All this is included in one package, making it easy to organise especially as you are usually doing this from your home country. Most importantly they provide an incredible experience; I still look back on my own gap course fondly and it’s a great way to ensure you’ve got everything covered and organised as well as insuring you have support in-resort should anything happen.
Which country to train in is an important decision. For example, if you wish to go to Canada to train and to also work in Canada for the foreseeable future, the CSIA system may be well suited to you.
In Canada, a great course that we recommend is with the Winter Sports Company, likewise if you wish to train in New Zealand, they offer great courses there too!
We run our courses out of Verbier, Switzerland, and if you wish to train and work in Europe this may work well for you. The main advantage is that as you will qualify in the BASI system you can possibly move straight into employment after the course.
You can also look at summer courses or pre-season courses in Europe – these can be timed so that you are qualified for the season ahead which can be great if you wish to work the full season.
Just bear in mind that with no teaching experience, you’re likely to need to apply to lesser-known resorts and not big desirable resorts where more experience will often be required to bag a work contract.
A ski instructor salary will vary a lot depending on where you are working. On a dry slope the salary may not be huge but in Switzerland for example, a starting salary is approximately £18 an hour and you can also earn more if you roll lessons into repeat business.
The higher your qualification and the more repeat business you obtain then your potential to earn will also increase. Some schools will pay extra for certain skills such as a second discipline i.e. snowboarding, or additional languages. You can find out more about what you can earn here.
Finding a job can take a lot of work as most job hunters know, and the ski industry can be particularly difficult. Ideally you first want to work out which country you wish to work in, how much you want to work (full time, part time or peak season only) and any other requirements you have such as are you applying with a partner, or the dates you are available during the season.
To find jobs themselves you can look at individual schools’ jobs pages or you can also look at governing bodies. BASI for example have a jobs page here.
For some advice on how best to go about applying for jobs, see our advice in our blog here.