How Long Does It REALLY Take To Become A Ski Instructor? (Honest Truth)
I’ve heard many folks say they would love to be outside every day and exercise more, and I’ve been privy to hours of complaints about office life. Fortunately, it doesn’t take four years and an expensive degree to get a job as a Ski Instructor.
In the U.S., becoming a Ski Instructor only takes as long as learning how to ski. Most large ski schools will hire employees with no certifications and train them in-house. Over the next several years, Instructors go on to work and build their skills and certifications.
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Although you can start working immediately, you won’t start with advanced clients even if you're an expert skier. Becoming one of the most respected and sought-after instructors can take decades.
Learning How To Ski
I bet you didn’t guess that you need to know how to ski to become a Ski Instructor. At a bare minimum, you will need to be competent on “intermediate” terrain.
It’s not just about getting down, though. Ski Instructors must have good technique if they want to wear the uniform and represent the mountain.
Out west, many gladed or off-piste areas have a blue square designation if they are not steep, but the skiing is much different than a blue groomer. You should be able to competently ski any type of blue terrain, whether off-piste or groomed, plus easy black groomers. I’ve never met a Ski Instructor who couldn’t ski a black groomer.
We all learn at different paces, but for most people, this level of skiing is achievable in about 100 days of practice. If you ski every day and watch tutorials on YouTube, you could do it in one season. Growing up, it took me 10 years to ski for 100 days.
However, many folks learn to ski when they’re kids, and you can’t work as a ski instructor until you’re 18 in most places. Plus, skiing is fun! For these reasons, I wouldn’t say that “it takes 10 years to become a Ski Instructor.”
Getting any job at a ski resort in the U.S. is easy because there is a massive housing shortage in ski towns. Therefore, prospective employees don’t move to town because they can’t find a place to live.
It’s the same with Ski Instructors. Hopefully, you will be able to find some sort of housing; you may have to be willing to live in employee housing to become a Ski Instructor.
Tip: Applications themselves only take a few minutes. You’ll be asked about safety, previous teaching experience, and ski ability.
Most modern countries with ski resorts have implemented some form of standardization into the industry, which helps ensure that employees are qualified.
Almost all the major certifications in the world are transferable between different countries. That means that the U.S. PSIA is roughly the equivalent of the British BASI, the New Zealand NZSIA, and the Canadien CSIA (to name a few). Ski Instructors with a BASI Level 2 would come to the U.S. and be treated like a PSIA Level 2.
Usually, you can still get hired with no certification, but it means you’re going to spend a lot of time on the bunny slope with large groups of children.
Tip: Fortunately, your ski school will train you in-house, meaning another Ski Instructor at your school will teach the course for new employees. It’s easy to get you’re Level 1 and 2 within a season or two if you’re committed to it.
You can also take a course. These courses are expensive and not necessary to become a ski instructor, but they will put you on the fast track. You could have your L2 in less than one season.
However, these courses are very expensive. They range from $6K to over $12K for the longest programs.
Plus, I’ve never actually met a Ski Instructor who has talked about taking one of these courses. Most people just learn on the job.
Building Your Brand
If you want to become a career Ski Instructor, you must build your personal brand. This means developing relationships with clients who return year after year and take lessons with you to improve their experience on the mountain.
Considering how much it costs to take a private lesson ($1075/day in Telluride, CO), you might think that repeat customers would be rare. In the U.S., however, many wealthy people enjoy having a personal Instructor giving tips and showing them the best snow on the mountain.
When you rely on tips to make a living, clients like this are a necessity. But there is also a lot of competition to get the best clients.
First, the ski school will probably want you to have your Level 3. Then, over the course of years, you will start getting more private lessons and eventually accrue repeat clients. After decades, your calendar will be as booked as you can manage and you’ve officially made it as a Ski Instructor.
Your success is not guaranteed, however. Success depends on how well you are able to sell yourself and convince clients that they should ski with you again instead of another instructor at the school. That’s why I call it building your brand.
The French Exception
The infamous exception to this rule is France. Instructors in France must not only get their BASI Level 2 certification (or equivalent), they must then pass a rigorous “Test Technique.” This is a timed slalom in which aspiring instructors try to get within 20% of the time set by the course opener, who is on the National Ski Team.
Sometimes, it can take years of training just to pass the Test Technique. Most skiers are probably not capable of ever getting to this level, no matter how hard they train. You could be an expert park or big mountain skier but don’t have the race background, and it’s hard to train for racing if you’re not on a team.
Once you pass, you still have to train for four years and pass the BASI Level 4 ISTD.
Important: Therefore, the absolute minimum amount of time it could take to become a ski instructor in France is about 7 years: one year to get to BASI L2, four years of training (paid), then another year for the BASI L4. That’s only if you pass the Test Technique right away.
Even though it technically takes longer to become an instructor in France, it may not be as big of a difference as you think. That’s because it takes a similar amount of time in the U.S. to start getting private clients and to start making as much money as French Ski Instructors do.
Plus, once you start working as a full Instructor in France, your wage is excellent. You don’t have to rely on tips. This makes the dynamic completely different from a setting where you must earn tips to make a living.
Is It Too Late To Start?
It's never too late to start Ski Instructing. Assuming you are in good health, I think you could be 60 years old and still have a fulfilling late-stage career in Ski Instruction. After all, it doesn’t take much time to start teaching beginner group lessons and little kids.
Key Takeaway: However, building your career, honing the skills of private clients, and making good money takes several years no matter what country you’re in.
Like any career, it takes time to become a truly skilled Ski Instructor and it’s fair that you are required to put in your time. The greatest rewards in life are the ones that we must work for.