20 Things You Didn’t Know About Snowboard & Ski Instructors

Believe it or not, being a ski or snowboard instructor isn’t all powder days and partying. Welcome to the secret world of instructing where we work hard, are frequently poor and have to deal with way too many bodily fluids. Here are 20 things about us that you probably didn’t know:

1. We get paid shit all. You may be paying $800 for your full day private lesson but we’ll only see about 15% of that money. The truth is, most countries just don’t pay us much. Australia is one of the top paying countries with a starting rate of about $23 an hour, compared to places like Canada that will start you out at $13 an hour.

imag53202. We really are ridiculously good looking. Most ski and snowboard instructors are young and fit, so it makes sense we’re a little bit more attractive than the average person. BUT…

3. Everyone looks better in snow gear. Seriously. People look way more attractive with their goggles on but as soon as you get them in the bar you’re sure to be disappointed. Don’t be fooled. Plus…

4. Our feet are probably gross. There are a few downsides to squishing our feet into damp boots every day, and this is one of them. Expect calluses, ingrown toenails, bruises and blisters.

5. We only get given our uniform. We must provide our own snowboard/skis, boots, bindings, helmets, goggles, gloves, thermal layers and a phone (easier said than done in foreign countries). These are all essential for us to do our jobs but we get no compensation for them. However, we usually get pretty good store discounts.

5dc6eec33780afa2455602bc491692726. Our gear breaks all the time. The nature of our job means that we’re using our gear daily and it gets knocked around a lot by our clients – especially kids running over our skis and boards! For example, I’m only a month into the Canadian season and three of my binding straps have already snapped from the cold.

7. We feel sorry for you if you’re bad at skiing/snowboarding. We’ll try to help as much as we can but there’s only so much we can do. So then…

8. We share stories of funny and stupid things we see in our lessons when we get back to the locker room. We see some pretty hilarious things from both kids and adults and can’t wait to tell our friends. Sorry.

9. We get very little time off. Most seasons are short so we work as much as we can. It’s normal for us to work 6 days a week with 1 day off for most of the season, plus a lot of us have second jobs at restaurants, bars and retail stores. In my first season I didn’t get any assigned days off so I’d usually work 2 weeks straight with one day off when I really needed it (while working as a freelance writer at night). But that’s nothing. I’ve heard instances of people working 30 days straight and more, often without a choice.

imag546210. We have to deal with ‘code yellows’ and ‘code browns’. Ask any kid’s instructor and they will tell you of an instance where a child has urinated or defecated their pants in a lesson. We also have to deal with tears, broken bones, concussions and the odd bit of vomit.

11. Sometimes we feel sorry for your kids. If you bring your kids into the Snow School on a freezing -20 degree day with not enough layers on, or when it’s pouring rain, or for the 20th day in a row when they’re exhausted – we will secretly judge you for being bad parents. Your kid is going to have a terrible time, probably cry, and we’re going to have to force them to ski or snowboard. You see, we have to make your children go outside. We’re a Snow Sport School, not a daycare.

12. We’ll give you our gear if you lose or break yours. Instructors are generally kind people and will go to great lengths to help you. I know instructors who have traded their skis, snowboard or gloves to clients in need. I’ve given my gloves to a teenager in a lesson because his were soaking wet from falling so much in slushy Australian snow. I didn’t mind having freezing hands until he then gave them back sopping wet and didn’t even say thank you.

imag502913. Getting tipped makes our day. A little bit of money on the side shows your appreciation and often means we can treat ourselves to a nice dinner or drinks. When I get tipped I usually spend it on delicious snacks!

14. We do a lot of yoga, stretching and gym work. Our jobs are very physical so we try to stay fit and flexible in order to prevent injuries. Most resorts are onboard with this and allow us free access to the gym or provide subsidised or free yoga, stretch and recovery sessions.

15. We take exams. And they’re really hard. There are a few different qualification systems to become instructors, such as the Canadian CASI, the Australian APSI and the New Zealand NZSIA. Most of these systems have 4 different levels and they take some serious hard work to pass them. The APSI system has 5 different components for an exam – your riding ability, your demonstrations, your teaching skills, a movement analysis part and theory exam. To give you an indication of how hard these are, in 2016 the pass rates for APSI snowboard exams were 96% for Level 1, 50% for Level 2, roughly 15% for Level 3 and 0% for Level 4.

16. Our exams are expensive! An APSI Level 2 exam is $465 while a Level 3 Exam is $650. And if you fail a component you have to pay a resit fee.

17. If no one turns up, we don’t get paid. We get paid per hour of teaching so if the resort is really quiet, or you book a lesson and don’t show, we get nothing. In fact, sometimes it costs us more to get to work than what we get paid in a day. For example, at one Australian resort we have four ‘line-ups’ during the day where we show up in uniform and stand around for 20 minutes each time, trying to get work. If we don’t get a lesson that day (which definitely happens) then we go home with nothing, having just spent money on food and petrol to get there.

fb_img_148310113199918. Few of us party hard. We can’t afford it and we’re usually too tired! In fact, during peak season it’s pretty normal to go to bed at 8 or 9pm. The hungover instructor is a major stereotype that plagues our industry and should be more associated with new instructors and those who are doing a fun gap year. But as for us career instructors, we party as much as anyone else with a regular job.

19. We work rain, hail or shine. As well as in thunderstorms, blizzards, -30 degrees, and 10 degrees (this is sweltering in snow gear). And no, we don’t get paid extra for working in bad weather.

20. We do it all because we love our jobs. And we love to ride!


Keep riding,

Little Cat


p.s. This post has since been published on Snows Best here.

16 thoughts on “20 Things You Didn’t Know About Snowboard & Ski Instructors

  1. Just as well you all love it or it might be hard to find enough instructors to do such a poorly paid and often challenging job.

  2. Haha! On my 7th back to back season (currently in Canada) and every single word of this is true.

  3. 21 In Switzerland you actually have to pay for the Seasonpass at a discounted price.
    22 Some Snowsport School make you pay for under layer like soft-shells and baselayer plus you have to rent the Uniform.
    23 Instructors often travel all around the world to have a season in an interesting new place.
    24 Some of us do back to back winters traveling from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern Hemisphere so we can do it twice.
    25 There are actually instructors working indoors in a big fridge or on carpets outdoor on a small hill the whole year or parts of it to make the season longer.
    26 In Switzerland you pay for a Coupon to get your Instructors discount on one set of hardware.
    27 Every couple of years we have to do a course so that the Instructor Association knows we still can do our job.
    28 Most Snowsport Schools give us free, but non payed training which we have to attend to to either get the job or keep it.
    29 We go through hundreds of pages to receive a visa for the job we want.
    30 Most instructor are trained for first aid, avalanche rescue, ski and snowboard rentals, lift operator and more.

    • Hi Bjorn, thanks for commenting. A lot of this I didn’t know, especially about Switzerland. Can’t believe they have to pay for their Season pass! Wow.
      Little Cat

  4. Sounds like a tough time , thanks for Bjorns comments , very enlightening , lucky you have the passion to do your job , awesome sceenery and mostly nice people to teach – you are worth more money , but the companies make the money !

    • It can be tough but we find it worth it, especially to be helping people and being active in such beautiful surroundings! Thanks for reading Squid man!
      Little Cat

      • In Switzerland the salary starts around 30 SFr. / hour and can rise up to 85 depending in which Ressort or Scool you’re working. But the living costs are quite expensive though.

  5. As a frequent flyer of lessons for myself and my son I believe and have heard every word of the above and know it to be true in the US. Despite challenging working conditions the pay is shockingly low as is the gratitude for instructors teaching you and your kids amazing skills. I always make sure to tip generously no matter what and guilt other clients into doing the same when I can. Also, I always ask the instructor if they are pursuing accredition and acknowledge their efforts for doing so in order to be a good instructor. #1 in my book is respect to anyone who is trying hard to expand the snow sports community and bring their love of snowboarding/skiing to others. You rock!

    • Hi Anne, thank you so much for your kind words. It is nice to know us instructors have an ally! Thank you for trying to make our lives a little easier through tipping and showing such respect. Wish there were more like you.
      Little Cat

  6. In about a month I will embark on my first season as an instructor. I understand it will be a challenge and a new lifestyle but it seems like despite all the setbacks and low pay, it is worth it. I am excited for it. (plus it is in one of my favorite places(Killington)

    • Hi Phil, that’s great to hear! You’re right, while it’s not always the party everyone thinks it is, if you have passion for snow sports I think you’ll love it. I hope Killington has a good season this year, looks like you’ll be riding in no time!
      Little Cat

  7. Hey I’m looking to take a career break.
    I’m 25 and a physiotherapist keen to work a season as an instructor – currently not qualified.
    Which qualification would you reccomend? And with which company?

    Even better do you know any companies that pay to train you up?

    I’m not a gap year 18yo have worked full time for 4 years and work weekend as a sailing instructor because I love it!
    Been teaching sailing since I was 16 to all ages.

    Thanks for the advice

    • Hey Al!

      Thanks for getting in touch. I’m happy to give out advice :)

      Being an instructor for a season or more is a fantastic career break and if you decide you love the mountains then most resorts hire physiotherapists on the hill so you can combine your passions. As for qualifications, I recommend doing one in the country that you would like to do most seasons in, or your home country. The reason being that it makes it way easier to be recognised as qualified in your home country and you’ll never run out of visas there either! So if you’re an Aussie look into APSI, Canadian CASI, New Zealand NZSIA and so on. CASI is the biggest and most established group of all.

      Most companies require you to pay them in order to get trained, but there are some exceptions. Some places have “hiring clinics” where, if you’re lucky enough to be selected, they hire you and give you training for free while you are working there. You then sit your exam, having saved a lot of money on training fees. That’s how I got my start, but there can be limited spots available. However, if you feel like you need to get your riding up to scratch then training companies are a good way to go.

      Teaching sailing will definitely give you a leg up in the instructor world.

      I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any more questions.

      Little Cat

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