I was recently sent an email from a reader of this blog who is considering dropping his university course to pursue a career teaching skiing year round. He wanted to know how easy it would be to make a sustainable career as a ski instructor. I am sure plenty of other people have asked themselves the same question so I thought I would post my my answer below.
Firstly, to put it bluntly, it is not easy to make a sustainable living as a ski instructor, particularly if you plan to do two winters a year. It is very difficult to break even working in the Southern hemisphere when you consider the cost of a return flight. You should also consider that at most
you can work around 8 months a year - 5 in the Northern hemisphere and 3 in the Southern. Starting as a newly qualified instructor with a low level qualification will put you at the bottom of the priority list wherever you work, meaning less hours and a lower rate of pay.
All that said, it is possible to make a long term career out of skiing as long as you are prepared to work at it and don't expect it to be easy. You can have a lot of fun along the way as well.
Firstly, you have to like teaching - loving skiing is not enough if you find that you spend all you teaching hours wishing you were out skiing for yourself. You will spend a lot of time on the beginner slopes, particularly to start with, and there will not be too many days like the photo above. I find teaching beginners a lot of fun, and very rewarding, although it is good to teach higher level classes as well. If you don't get a buzz out of turning a first timer into a competent skier then ski teaching probably isn't for you. If you can, try and get some experience teaching or
shadowing at your local artificial slope before deciding to drop everything to be an instructor - until you have tried teaching you won't know if it is for you or not.
Secondly, it will really help if you have an alternate career you can fall back on, either for summers, or in between seasons in the spring and autumn. Most instructors here in Arinsal have another job in the summer, except for South Americans and an Australian who teach skiing back in their own countries. We have instructors who are electricians, hiking guides, a sound engineer, a retired policeman, some who work in Majorca or Ibiza in bars, one used to work in a chocolate factory - it doesn't matter what, but it has to be something you can do short term. Myself, I have worked on a building site in Chamonix, a high ropes course in Stoke, and for a care work agency for short term work in spring and autumn, as well as doing seasons in Argentina and New Zealand. Getting some other outdoor qualifications is also quite popular, allowing you to work in the mountains all year round, but be careful to check which ones are valid outside the UK if you want to live abroad. It is not too difficult to break even over a season in Europe, but you will need to save money for more instructor courses, start of season costs (in most resorts you will need to pay a sizable deposit towards your accomodation upfront for example, and might not get paid much until the end of January if you are paid monthly) transport to and from resort etc.
Thirdly, courses. It depends how good a skier you are, but the cheapest way to qualify is by doing the courses separately. This means you will need to be a pretty decent skier to start with (minimum 12 weeks, able to ski any piste competently, carve on reds, ski off piste and bumps to some degree). If you are a reasonable skier but not at the level a gap course is a good but
expensive way to get there. I wrote some blog posts on how to become a ski instructor a while back, which you might want to look at if you haven't already. If you are looking at this as a long term career option then you will not want to stop with the Level 2 qualification which you will get
after a gap course (or after doing 2 courses, work experience, first aid and child protection if you do the courses separately). Employment opportunites and pay improve considerably with a Level 3 ISIA qualification - a further 7 weeks of courses plus more work experience and a second language. For the best pay and opportunities (plus to right to work in either France or Italy)
you need Level 4 ISTD (I'm using the newest BASI names for the qualifications here) which is a further 3 - 4 weeks, plus the Eurotest, more work experience, written project and interview. This is all a lot of time and money, but if you plan to work in Europe you should plan on doing these courses sooner or later, but the good news is you can be working as an instructor from when you finish your Level 2 (Level 1 for artificial slopes). A few instructors working mainly in France manage to make very good money, but there are a lot more instructors out there (mainly outside France) who are just getting by. Your choice of course (i.e. which country's system) depends on where you want to work. Most countries will favour instructors with their own qualification, so for example if you wanted to work in the US, PSIA would be better for you. If you only speak English and want to work in Europe, then BASI is generally your best bet (although for Andorra, CSIA 3 is better paid than BASI 3 at the moment). If you speak good French or German (good enough both to sit the courses and to teach in) you might want to look at the French or Austrian systems, although the French system is difficult unless you have a racing background as the Test Technique slalom test is a pre-requisite.
Lastly, I wouldn't necessarily be in a hurry to drop your university course - you could do your BASI Level 1, teach some part time hours in a snowdome, then take your BASI Level 2 and work Christmas and Easter holidays in the Alps for Interski for example to gain experience and contacts. You could even do a season in Australia, New Zealand or South America (if you
speak Spanish) over the long summer holiday. That way you would still have your degree to fall back on. Obviously I don't know your situation as regards how long you have left, just how dissatisfied you are with the course, what the financial implications are if you drop the course or
continue with it, but it is possible to begin your ski teaching career whilst continuing your studies. It is also good to get some experience - your first full time instructing job will be the hardest to get, especially if the economic crisis continues, but if you have already gained part time experience it will be a lot easier. I did work experience at a dry slope, then a season in Scotland, before I managed to get a job abroad - my mistake was assuming it would be easy and applying to a couple of ski schools rather than dozens of them. That said, Scotland was a great experience and gave me a really good grounding in how to teach varied groups in very varied conditions.
Good luck, whichever route you decide on. Teaching skiing really is one of
the best jobs in the world in my opinion, but do be prepared to spend
several seasons gaining qualifications and experience.