Ski instructing is becoming an increasing popular career path for people from outside the usual mountain communities. Living in a ski resort and teaching people the sport we love is the most rewarding and enjoyable job. Also there is the advantage of getting to ski every day and living an active outdoor lifestyle. So how do we become instructors?
As with other professions ski instructing has governing bodies who administer exams and issue qualifications for those who meet the criteria. Each skiing nation has its own organisation; BASI for Britain, NZSIA for New Zealand and Swiss Snowsports for Switzerland. They all have differently structured qualifications, levels and progressions with slightly differing pedagogy however they all ultimately train and certify their members to teach snowsports to a level depending on their qualification. The main choice when looking at which system to enter is usually language as each will train people in the language of their nation. Also the location of exams has to be considered. If you are wanting to live in Canada then British exams are going to be rarer occasions and vice versa.
Many of us thought we were done with exams when we started our ski careers; we were very wrong. Most systems have varying levels of qualification with different exams at each. For example the British Association of Snowsports Instructors (BASI) has four levels for ski instructors with increasing difficulty of examination and other requirements. But what is involved in these exams? A simplification is that a specially qualified trainer will assess the candidates technical ski ability looking at their piste skiing, off piste skiing and demonstrations of the progression that a beginner would learn (that’s right we have to go back to the start and learn how to snowplough again). They will also look at teaching ability in a mock situation where we teach to the other candidates.
So you’ve decided you want to get qualified but you’re not sure you can ski to the level yet. What are you options? There are now many ski school that provide training at each level to get people to the technical level required for each set of exams. The most popular courses around the world for BASI qualifications are Gap courses. These are 10 or so week courses that train people for their first two levels and cover everything needed to meet the requirements. Ski schools will provide huge amounts of on snow training, accommodation and food, lift pass and bonus like socials and special course clothing. All this is included in one package. Most importantly they are some of the most enjoyable experiences anyone can have. I still remember my Gap course fondly.
While gap courses provide the best chance of passing exams, that is to say the pass rate for people on gap courses is generally much higher than those who try themselves, it is possible to attend exams without being part of a gap course. For example in BASI there are level 1 exams running in snow domes across the UK. It is an option to take a job in a ski resort work in a chalet, driving vans or working in shops and then use your free time to train for to be an instructor. It does take discipline to head out and train yourself and you would still need to find a knowledgable eye to check you are training in the right way.
What ever your choice of path to becoming an instructor I can promise you the end job will be worth it and the journey there fantastic.
Jon West, Director of Altitude Ski and Snowboard School Verbier