Make a Living as a Ski Instructor and Live the Dream! (Or Ski Trying)
If you are passionate about skiing, few things will improve your quality of life as much as moving to a ski town. Working as a Ski Instructor is a common way to make the transition to this lifestyle. But can you really make a comfortable living as a ski instructor? [Written by Ski Instructor]
Yes, you can make an excellent living as a Ski Instructor. I know hundreds of career Ski Instructors living comfortably in ski towns from Telluride, CO, to Killington, VT, to Chamonix, France. However it certainly is not without its challenges.
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However, making a living as a ski instructor involves much more than just being a good skier. You must build your “personal brand” by engaging in the arts of networking and self-promotion, working hard every day, and being good with kids.
Lastly, you must be patient. Ski instruction is a career that takes years to come to fruition. Just as you can’t climb up the corporate ladder in a season, you can’t become the most valuable Ski Instructor on the mountain in a season.
Steps To Becoming A Ski Instructor
First, you should seek out a resort where you would want to live for an extended period. Once you’ve decided on a destination, open positions will be posted on the resort’s website.
When it comes to finding employment, you’re at an advantage. Nearly all resorts are chronically short-staffed and are eager to train new employees.
Who Should Consider?
You may be surprised to learn that the most important criterion for becoming a Ski Instructor isn’t your raw ski ability. Yes, you have to know how to ski, but to be a successful instructor, you must excel at teaching more than skiing.
In my experience, a successful Ski Instructor possesses most, if not all of the following traits:
- Good with children - this one is mandatory. I regret to inform you that if you are not good with children, you simply cannot become a Ski Instructor.
- A reasonable approach to safety is also mandatory.
- People Skills.
- Polite, intelligent disposition.
- Willingness to learn new things - you will be inundated with clinics, certifications, and other opportunities to improve your technique skiing and teaching.
You may struggle on steeper trails but want to start teaching this season. If you embody the traits I outlined above and you are confident on intermediate trails, there is a good chance that you will be a better instructor than most pro skiers.
When it comes time to write your cover letter and interview for jobs, make sure you elaborate on all of these traits. If you focus on these traits instead of bragging about how hard you shred, you will receive job offers.
Sample Cover Letter For Ski Instructors
Here's a sample cover letter we wrote which you can use as a basis for your cover letter when applyiing for ski instructor jobs. Be sure to customize it to your own experience.
Dear Hiring Manager,
I am writing to apply for the ski instructor position at your resort. I am a passionate skier with several years of experience on the slopes, and I am excited about the opportunity to share my love for the sport with others.
In my previous role as a ski instructor at XYZ resort, I consistently received positive feedback from students and fellow instructors for my ability to clearly communicate instruction and create a fun and safe learning environment. I am confident that my skills and experience make me a strong candidate for this position.
In addition to my experience as a ski instructor, I am also certified in first aid and CPR. I understand the importance of safety on the slopes, and I always prioritize the well-being of my students.
Thank you for considering my application. I am excited about the opportunity to join your team and help your guests have a memorable and enjoyable skiing experience. I look forward to the opportunity to discuss this position further.
Sincerely, [Your Name]
Where To Apply?
If you want to make a living as a Ski Instructor, you want to apply for jobs at resorts that fulfill certain criteria, such as:
- Reliable ski seasons - this doesn’t just mean powder, it could mean having great snowmaking infrastructure as well.
- Long ski seasons
- Opportunities for employee housing.
- Wealthy clientele.
- Other returning full-timers. If you commit to this career, you want to be part of a local community.
How To Get Dialed In Once You Arrive
You’ve applied to several jobs. If you exhibit the traits we’ve talked about during the application process, I can almost guarantee that you have received multiple job offers. So, what’s next?
Unless you have friends or family living in a ski town that can offer you a place to crash for the season, you will probably live in employee housing. The good news is you’ve got guaranteed housing (as an instructor for the resort, you’ll get first dibs), and…well, you're not going to die from exposure.
The bad news is that employee housing is notoriously rough. In Telluride, one of the nicknames for the employee housing is “the ghetto in the meadow”. If you can tolerate the din of late-night partying and the occasional mold outbreak, you’ll be stoked about $400 monthly rent.
Fortunately, dorm-style employee housing will be a temporary evil in your life. As you integrate into the fabric of your new ski town, you will meet people and discover new, better options for housing.
Your equipment is a significant cost to consider as a Ski Instructor. For the best comfort and performance at work, some of your wages must be re-invested into gear.
Pro tip: Don’t buy everything before you arrive. Your employer will provide you with some gear, usually a nice jacket with the resort’s logo at a minimum.
Better yet, you will get pro deals on websites like ExpertVoice where you can receive big discounts on top brands. Ski towns are also great places to score used gear; check out the local ski swap or Facebook group to get the inside scoop.
One of the best things about any ski town is the concentration of like-minded people, so get out there and make friends.
Social relationships are necessary for a healthy existence, and they will help you network and build your brand as a Ski Instructor. Teaching skiing is the same as any other industry; it’s competitive and all about who you know.
How To Start Earning As A Ski Instructor
Like in any industry, you aren’t going to start Ski Instructing as a kingpin. However, you have more free reign to boost your career rather than relying on promotions from your employer. This section will focus on building your career so that you can make a living out of teaching skiing.
Nearly every ski instructor in the developed world is certified by a government-approved institution. The certification process varies by country.
In America, the certification body is the PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America) and AASI (American Association of Snowboard Instructors). Here are the three levels of certification presented on their website:
“Level I certification is meant to affirm that the instructor is qualified to teach beginner/novice guests, primarily on beginner/novice terrain (typically identified as “green”).
Level II certification generally means that the instructor is qualified to teach through the intermediate zone, in which students are primarily on intermediate (blue) and some green terrain.
Level III certification generally means that the instructor is qualified to teach ALL students and on expert (black) terrain.”
Certification is not technically required to teach, but your employer will likely require you to have at least Level 1. The first level will suffice for your rookie year or two of teaching. Your employer will probably pay for this certification if you are employed while taking it.
Certification levels 2 and 3 are essential for career-oriented instructors looking for better lessons with more advanced skiers. Check out the PSIA’s manual to learn more about certification.
For those instructors keen on travel, PSIA can transfer over to many countries, and vice versa. France, renowned for having the most rigorous certification program, is an exception; here, ski instructors train for several years to get a certificate called BASI Level 4. No other nation’s certification is accepted.
Build A Base Of Returning Clients
When you start, you will mostly be teaching “Never-Evers,” the ubiquitous nickname given to those (mostly children) who have never skied before. Moreover, these clients are often packaged into large groups that you must manage.
If you are not cut out to be a Ski Instructor, you will quickly find out working with Never-Evers or large groups of children. However, working with these clients will also hone your teaching skills.
Once you have been certified, you will start getting more private lessons. You can build one-on-one relationships with your clients and showcase your teaching ability.
Clients often prefer to return to the instructors they like. This is a more efficient way for them to learn rather than starting over with a new instructor.
Resorts reward instructors who generate lesson sales by paying higher wages for requested lessons. Sometimes this is time and a half, meaning that if your wage is $20/hr, you will receive $30/hr for a returning client who requests you.
It is customary in the United States and Canada to tip on top of the hourly pay. This is another reason you want private lessons; in my experience, most private clients tip.
Group lessons where multiple people tip are lucrative, but individual clients from the group are less likely to tip than private clients. They are also hard work; you must be on your game to manage the group and shift your attention from one client to the other.
As your clients become more advanced, the tips get better. Your clients appreciate your cultivated expertise, plus they have been around the ski industry and learned that tipping is customary.
Key Takeaway: The better you perform as an instructor, the better your tips will be.
When instructing Never-Evers, I like to focus on positivity and enjoyment of the sport - we don’t want to drill in too much information on the first day. With advanced clients, widdling down their technique and focusing on one or two things to improve upon works well.
Obviously, most people enjoy their job as Ski Instructors and don’t work hard just for tips; they do it because it’s fun and rewarding. But, if you want to enjoy your job and make a living, tips are going to be important.
In swanky towns like Aspen, Telluride, and Jackson Hole, tips can exceed hourly wages with the right clients. You have to earn it though.
This is year five and onward in your career (at the same ski resort). At this point, many ski instructors can pull $30-40K a year. That’s darn good considering it is only four months out of the year. Plus, you still have Summer, an exciting and lucrative time in many ski towns.
Pitfalls To Avoid
Missing Powder Days
If you are a career Ski Instructor, there will come a time - many times - when it is an epic powder day and you are on the bunny slope with small, angry children. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Substance Abuse & Alcoholism
Ski towns are party towns by nature, and constant partying means substance abuse is a huge problem. Don’t allow yourself to get sucked into a scene that damages your health and livelihood.
Look up to the instructors who have been teaching for 30 or 40 years - and yes, there will be old-timers still teaching. They’re fit and happy, and they’ve survived in town for a long time. If you want to stay in a ski town and live a rewarding life, take lessons from them.
There are many aspects of ski towns that can wear on your soul. Seeing friends come and go, seeing millionaires pushing out long-time locals, and feeling like you are constantly catering to rich people are just a few of the things that can be hard about living in a ski town.
For others, the work-hard-play-hard lifestyle wears them out and they settle down in more conventional settings when they get older.
Whatever your reasons, you might eventually not enjoy living in your ski town. At this point, you may have become what is known as a “jaded local.”
Don’t worry, it happens all the time. If you worked hard as a Ski Instructor, you probably have skills that other employers in other places desire. Find a new home, and don’t get hung up.
Pro Tip: Full-time Ski Instructors will be deeply exhausted from working 100 days (or more) and maybe even skiing on their days off; they need a vacation to let their bodies recover. This will help you avoid becoming a jaded local.
Ski Instructors are in demand in every great ski town. Like other services in ski towns, guests are willing to pay top dollar for quality.
It won’t be easy. There will be times of frustration and hardship. But ski towns will still unlock their secret stash for the right people. If you’re willing to put in the hard work, you’ll be able to make a great living as a Ski Instructor.
Free Bonus: Sample Resume For Ski Instructors
This is a sample resume for a ski instructor:
[Your Name] [Your Address] [Your Phone Number] [Your Email Address]
Objective: To obtain a position as a ski instructor at a reputable resort where I can utilize my skills and experience to provide exceptional instruction and help guests have a fun and safe skiing experience.
- Bachelor of Science in Outdoor Education, ABC University, 20XX
- Level 1 Ski Instructor Certification, DEF Ski Resort, 20XX
- Level 2 Ski Instructor Certification, GHI Ski Resort, 20XX
Experience: Ski Instructor, XYZ Resort (20XX-Present)
- Provide ski instruction to guests of all ages and abilities
- Create personalized lesson plans to help students achieve their goals and improve their skills
- Demonstrate proper technique and safety measures
- Assist with ski rental and lift ticket sales
- Maintain a fun and safe learning environment
Outdoor Adventure Guide, JKL Outfitters (20XX-20XX)
- Led hiking, camping, and rafting trips for groups of up to 15 people
- Planned and prepared meals, set up camp, and led group activities
- Assisted with equipment rental and sales, and provided excellent customer service
- Maintained a clean and organized base camp, and ensured the safety of all guests
- Level 1 and Level 2 Ski Instructor Certification
- First Aid and CPR Certification
References: Available upon request.