Sunday, 5 August 2007

How To Be A Ski Instructor. Part 1 - The Gap Course

A question I've been asked several times is how do you actually become a ski instructor? So I thought I'd answer it here. There is quite a lot to be said on the subject though, so I'll deal with it in several parts. Firstly though, I should dispell some myths, in particular the money. I have heard it said that ski instructors can make 25k in a winter, and this may be true for a select few instructors with an outstanding reputation and a client base built up over years. But nobody is in this business for the money, and a newly qualified instructor will do well to break even over a season.

I will begin this series of posts by considering the gap year courses offered by a number of organisations around the world. For those unfamiliar with the term, I am referring to those courses where you spend several months of a winter training to gain a ski (or snowboard) instructor qualification. This isn't the only, nor necessarily the best, route to an instructor qualification, but it is a very popular option. The biggest downside is the cost - around 5000 uk pounds as a rough figure. This gets you a winter's training with accomodation etc. and hopefully an instructor qualification at the end of it. I say hopefully since it is by no means guaranteed - you still have to pass the exam which means hard work. I have heard of several gap course candidates expecting to have a three month holiday and then being surprised to fail the end of course exam. So the moral is: expect to work hard if you want to pass. See this post for an explanation of the qualifications and acronyms mentioned below.

A typical course begins with a foundation level instructor course e.g. BASI Level 1 Instructor (previously Trainee Instructor) or CSIA 1. This will be followed by several weeks training and work experience with a local ski school. The course will finish with an instructor level course e.g. BASI Level 2 Instructor (previously Alpine Ski Instructor) or CSIA 2. Most courses last around ten weeks in total.

When shopping around for a gap course there are several questions you need to ask. You are writing them a sizable cheque after all. It pays to shop around and do your research thoroughly in order to ensure you get your money's worth.

Firstly, ask the company their average pass rate - for the real qualification at the end of the course not the foundation course at the start. Typical pass rates for an instructor course are about 75%, and with ten weeks to get you there, a gap course should have a significantly higher pass rate than this. There are three reasons why it might not however. Firstly, the selection criteria need to be stringent enough. You need to be a competent skier already to reach instructor level in a season, so a course taking on low intermediate skiers to boost the proffits will inevitably have a low pass rate. Secondly, as already mentioned, candidates may turn up expecting a ten week holiday and not put in the work (particularly if their parents are paying). Thirdly, the standard of training needs to be high enough to take you from foundation to instructor level (I'm deliberately using the old terminology for these courses as I find it clearer).

Secondly, ask how much work experience you will get. I would expect a ten week course to provide around 70 hours of ski school shadowing or supervised teaching. To gain the BASI Level 2 Instructor award 70 hours is a minimum (35 for Level 1 + 35 more for Level 2), but other countries may not have the same requirements. Regardless of whether shadowing is needed for your particular examination course, it will help you hugely in passing the teaching part of the exam. It will also be great preparatio for when you come to teach skiing for real.

Thirdly, to aid your budgeting, check exactly what is included and what you might have to pay extra for: food (including lunches), lift pass, transport etc. can all add to the cost, and don't forget to factor in beer money.

Lastly, you may want to look at the target market for the course - some will be filled with 18 - 21 year olds taking a year out before or after university, others with older people seeking a career change. Some will be a diverse mixture. If you don't mind being twice the age of your course mates then go along and enjoy the experience. If you think it could be a problem, look into the course demographics more carefully.

If you have the money, a gap course can be a great way into ski instructing. You will gain experience and contacts that other routes may miss out on, have a good introduction to the lifestyle, and possibly get a job offer from the school you are working with. You may also be able to get qualified in more than one country's sytem, which is an added bonus for your CV.

In the next post of this series I will look at the alternate approach of taking the courses separately. This is how I started, and is a cheaper option than a gap course.

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