by G. Kunkel
(This article was originally published on Helium.com on April 7, 2010)
Every ski season people inquire about working as a ski or snowboard instructor in ski schools around the USA. It may be a job opportunity at the small local ski hill or it could be at a destination ski resort somewhere in the Western USA. If you’ve never worked as a ski or snowboard instructor before or at a ski school in the USA, the whole process may be confusing or intimidating.
If you are looking for a position as a ski or snowboard instructor in a ski school in the USA there are a number of things to consider besides the pay rate. They can often determine if you have to find a second or third job while still working as a full-time ski or snowboard instructor. These are the questions you should ask when evaluating a job opportunity as a snowboard or ski instructor at any ski school in the USA.
What is the total compensation by the ski school?
The pay for inexperienced ski school instructors is often dismal at even large destination ski resorts. The pay can be worse at smaller ski hills. The clientele that visit the hill may not even know that tipping is standard practice for snowsport instructors.
Instructors are generally only paid for the time they are actually teaching in the ski school. You may only get five hours of teaching time in per day. Some days you may not get work at all. Some hills will pay 15 minutes of pay for showing up even if you do not get a class. Most hills do not give show up pay. A reputable ski resort will give show up pay or give organization pay for the time spent dividing people into different class levels.
Reputable ski schools at ski resorts will also pay head count pay in addition to the standard pay rate. This means they will pay the $7-12.00 US/hours worked pay rate and around $2.00/person in the class on top of that. If the ski resort believes in large class sizes, this is where you will be compensated for that. If there is no head count pay, the ski resort may load up classes and not pay you for all that additional work involved.
Request pay for private lessons is another lucrative area for income for ski school instructors. Find out what the ski resorts policy is for private request pay. You should be able to get at least half the price of the private lesson as pay. There should also be financial incentives for those who can convert a group lesson client into a later private lesson client.
Snowboard and ski instructors can also earn additional income by tipping clientele in the USA. Unfortunately, many non-USA cultures do not having tipping as standard practice. In some parts of the USA, tipping is also not standard practice or people are unfamiliar with skiing and snowboarding and do not know that tipping instructors is standard practice in the USA. Find out the tipping practices of the people who visit the ski resort you are considering working for.
Mandatory training pay
Ski schools at reputable ski resorts will also pay staff for any mandatory training such as new-hire training, annual orientation sessions or safety training. The resort may also offer food and socials during these activities.
Rookie or inexperienced training pay
Ski schools at top tier ski resorts will pay inexperienced instructors to become full-time seasonal employees while they are taking the in-house staff training. The Introductory Training Course (ITC) should be free. Some top tier ski resorts will also reimburse employees for certification fees incurred.
Small ski hills, especially those near college campuses will make people pay to take their ITC course. This is meant to discourage those just looking for a free season pass. A reputable ski hill should reimburse this fee and should definitely not charge experienced certified instructors this fee.
Ski schools at destination ski resorts in the Western USA should not require employees to buy or rent any part of the ski school uniform. They may legitimately require you to pay for uniform damage or pay a uniform damage deposit if you are inexperienced.
Ski schools in the Eastern USA sometimes require the purchase or rental of uniform parts. Carefully investigate these ski schools as the total pay and commute expenses may not be financially viable for the instructor.
What are the local housing costs? Does the resort have affordable employee housing? In the USA, some of the most expensive housing is around destination ski resorts. You may have a long commute, astronomical rent, or enough room-mates that the local zoning board may be notified of over-occupancy. Many resort communities do have free local bus systems.
Does the ski school have divisional examiners on staff for your discipline? The ski school pay rate is often determined by your level of snowsport certification. If you can’t get training to the standards of the local certifying organization, your ability to raise your pay will be hampered. Inquire if the ski school has examiners or frequently brings in guest training examiners to help train ski school staff in their snowsport discipline.
Teaching priority system
Does the ski school have a system for assigning work that rewards those that have higher levels of certification? In tough economic times, you need to be assigned work or there’s no money for food or rent. A reputable ski school will have a system in place that assigns work in order of certification level and experience teaching that level. If not, you may be left paying for certification and training that the ski resort will not reward you for.
Adults or children
Will the resort let you choose what clientele you get to coach? If you are an inexperienced instructor, you may not be able to choose. Most instructors want to coach adults and not children for a variety of reasons. Adults require less supervision, can leave a lesson early if they so choose, and they tip.
Children can cry, scream, poop in their pants, wander off without a moments notice, and they don’t tip instructors. Children ski school instructors have the highest burnout rate of all instructors for a reason. Reputable ski schools should offer extremely good wage incentives to work with 2 & 3 year old children. A head count of $5.00/child should be expected.
Ski school reputation
The ski industry is a small and well-connected industry in the USA. Phone calls and online connections are easy to make. Find out the reputation of the ski school you are interested in working for. Inquire about the ski school director, adult and children’s program managers, and the line supervisors. Find out the typical working conditions at that ski school. Your investigation results will directly influence where you eventually choose to work.
A good ski school will have good locker room facilities including clean bathrooms. Instructors should be assigned a locker and a boot dryer rack. The ski resort should have a laundry that will clean and mend your uniform for free.
Most destination ski resorts offer their employees free season passes. They may also give free passes to other ski resorts inside the state. The resort may also give employees discount on food, beverages, and clothing essential to snowsport instruction such as thermal underwear and socks.
Finding a job at a ski school in the USA is not dissimilar to finding any other job. The main challenge is knowing what questions to ask to find the perfect position for you. Pay should not be only consideration when looking at ski school positions. Working conditions, co-workers, and supervisors need to be closely investigated before making any final decision. Switching to a different resort is difficult once you’ve moved across the country and is nearly impossible for international visa workers.
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