Unlock the Secrets to Becoming a Professional Ski Instructor: Here’s The Qualifications You Need
Building a career as a Ski Instructor is one of the most rewarding jobs in any ski town. Unlike other service industry jobs, teaching skiing doesn’t feel like a dead end.
To be a Ski Instructor, you must be qualified. First of all, there are certifications that will help you break into the industry and advance your career. You must have patience, a good nature, and the ability to work with children. Lastly, you must ski competently on intermediate terrain.
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Certifications and ski ability can be acquired over time, but patience and a good attitude toward teaching are harder to learn - often, you either have it or you don’t. In my experience, this is what separates those who choose to teach from those who don’t pursue this profession.
Most modern countries with ski resorts have implemented some form of standardization into the industry. This helps to ensure that people employed in this industry are qualified. After all, these instructors are the face of the ski industry, and this industry is a huge part of many countries GDP.
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. The most difficult part would be getting a visa to work legally in the States!
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. Once you pass, you still have to train for four years and pass the BASI Level 4 ISTD.
Needless to say, it is exponentially more difficult to become a Ski Instructor in France than in every other country. However, the instructors are well-trained and it fosters a high level of skiing in their society.
The three levels of PSIA as well as the other certifying bodies around the globe roughly correspond to the green, blue, and black slopes. Therefore, Level 1 gives the instructor the tools to familiarize new skiers with beginner and easy intermediate terrain.
The curriculum teaches elementary techniques like wedging and parallel skis. Level 1 instructors often work with first-time skiers, many of whom are young children.
In the U.S., you don’t need to have any formal certification to start as an instructor. Most mountains start the novice instructors off with novice skiers to get them exposed to teaching. Then they run an in-house Level 1 to get new staff their certification.
Ski Instructors are usually able to quickly work up to their Level 2 certification. At one end of the spectrum, the curriculum is designed for the intermediate skier who has progressed past the wedge and is ready to start making basic parallel turns.
Instructors will then bring linked turns and turning radius into the equation.
On the advanced end of the spectrum, instructors will work with skiers on manipulating the edge of the ski, navigating easy off-piste, and introducing carving techniques.
In most countries, this is the highest level of certification offered. It is exponentially harder to become certified L3 than 1 and 2.
Many years of experience teaching skiing is a prerequisite because your L3 examiner is trained to differentiate between a “training junkie” - somebody who pays to pursue the certifications without actually applying them to a career - and an experienced teacher.
Technically, an L3 should be able to instruct in any terrain on the mountain. But there is more to it than just harder trails.
Some L3s start their clients off doing drills on the flattest part of the mountain. The clients may be indignant about this alleged slight, but within five minutes, their instructor knows exactly what fundamentals need work.
Nobody is a perfect skier. A true L3 should be able to improve the skiing of any skier, including other L3s. Many L3 examiners have their students teach each one another during the exams - if you can pick out flaws and explain the technique to an advanced skier, you are ready to earn this internationally recognized certification.
Common Ski Certifications
|General Time to Complete
|Test Technique, BASI Level 4 ISTD
|Swiss Ski and Snowboard School
|Maestri di Sci
It is possible to buy your way into the industry, so to speak. Throughout the world, there are options for private courses offering an all-inclusive package: lodging, passes, instruction, training, and exam fees to pass Level 1,2, or (less commonly) 3.
Here is a guide to courses all around the world.
These courses are very expensive. They range from $6K to over $12K for the longest programs.
I’ve never actually met a ski instructor who has taken one of these courses, but I’m sure there are plenty who have. I have met wealthy and retired recreational skiers who took a course because they wanted to improve their skiing.
These folks had rave reviews about the intensity and quality of instruction in these courses. Having skied with several older gentlemen who took courses, I would say that each one of them could have been a great instructor had he chosen to pursue the career further.
In summation, this is probably a good way to pursue your career if you can afford it. It can also fast-track you into an L2; you can achieve this internationally recognized certification in about 12 weeks with most courses. It is not necessary though.
Most places will require some kind of first aid and CPR training as part of your employment, but this is almost always conducted in-house. The training doesn’t take more than a day or two to complete.
If you have more extensive training like a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certification, it can help your application but isn’t necessary. Resorts depend on expert Ski Patrollers, not Ski Instructors, to respond to anything beyond the most basic first aid.
Most Ski Instructors will work for a season or two and move on. But a few will stick with it, and every school has Instructors who have been there for several decades. Because you can start young (usually around 18) and teach well into your 70s, there are many Instructors with careers spanning more than half a century.
What sets these instructors apart is not a supernatural ability to ski at a high level or their performance on the certification exams.
Key Takeaway: The best Instructors in skiing are patient, good with kids, and exude positivity.
Previous teaching experience will look better on your application than expert ski ability or an L1 certification.
Teaching requires patience above all things. People learn at different speeds and it will be your job to accommodate their pace of learning.
Sometimes a client’s pace of learning will be very slow. Without patience, you will give up. If the client sees that you have given up, they will also give up and the lesson is a waste.
The best instructors understand that learning can be hard for some clients, and will dig deep into their repertoire of tools to facilitate their learning style. Then a breakthrough finally happens - there will always be breakthroughs because skiing isn’t rocket science, and everybody can learn how to do it. Not everybody will be great, but everybody can learn.
Good With Kids
Most clients at ski schools are children. Working with children can be great because they don’t have fear, which is a barrier to learning. Their brains are like sponges because it’s easy for them to form new neural connections.
However, working with children is also extremely challenging. Sometimes they don’t listen, get frustrated and throw temper tantrums, or complain.
Usually, you will have a mix. Some kids will be an absolute joy to work with; they’re learning so fast, and they possess that innocence and excitement about skiing that we can lose as adults. But others will be a nightmare, and you have to be ready to tolerate it.
As a Ski Instructor, you are the face of the ski resort. As the liaison between the customer and the management, it’s your job to keep a positive attitude.
Positivity is going to improve the experience for the guest. Clients didn’t just pay $1000 for a ski lesson to hear you complain about anything and everything.
Positivity is also going to improve your client’s learning capabilities. A positive attitude reduces the fear that every skier experiences when they are learning and seeing an Instructor’s confidence improves the confidence of the client.
Not to mention that staying positive can make your day a heck of a lot easier.
All this positivity is easier said than done, however. We all have down days, and Ski Instructors can’t take this to work.
It’s not just personal stuff, either. During bad seasons, all the locals start grumbling about the conditions. During good seasons, tourists grumble about the cold and poor visibility. You have to keep an upbeat attitude through all of it.
This one comes as a surprise - you’re going to have to know how to ski to be a Ski Instructor.
The real question is how well do you have to ski? The answer depends on what type of teaching you want to be doing.
At a bare minimum, you will need to be competent on “intermediate” terrain. This is more complicated than just the blue square designation, however.
It’s not just about getting down either. 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. Personally, I would say you should be able to competently ski any type of blue terrain, whether it’s off-piste or groomed, as well as 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 for the whole season and watch tutorials on YouTube, you could do it in one season. Growing up, it took me 10 years to ski 100 days.
Should I be Stressed About Becoming An Instructor?
The good news here is that you shouldn't be stressed at all. Getting a job as a Ski Instructor isn’t like getting a job at NASA - you don’t have to have a bunch of letters after your name. But you also can’t just roll in off the street. To get started, you need to be able to ski, teach, and pass your L1 and 2 within a year or two.
Key Takeaway: The biggest qualification of all experiences necessarily takes time and devotion.
Instructors who have been in the game for a long time are in demand because they know from experience how to convey important information about ski technique. Working with higher-level clients is ultimately more rewarding and lucrative, which allows these Instructors to devote their lives to this career.
Ski Certification Questions
Q: What qualifications are needed to become a ski instructor?
A: Most countries have implemented standardization into the industry to ensure instructors are qualified. This includes certifications such as the US PSIA, the British BASI, the New Zealand NZSIA, and the Canadian CSIA. In France, instructors must also pass a "Test Technique" and complete the BASI Level 4 ISTD.
Q: What are the different levels of certification for ski instructors?
A: There are typically three levels of certification: Level 1 for beginner and easy intermediate terrain, Level 2 for intermediate skiers and advanced techniques, and Level 3 for advanced skiers and teaching in any terrain.
Q: What qualities are important for ski instructors to have?
A: Ski instructors should have patience, a good nature, the ability to work with children, and competent skiing skills on intermediate terrain.
Q: How long does it take to become a ski instructor?
A: The length of time it takes to become a ski instructor depends on the country and level of certification. In some countries, it can take years of training and experience to achieve the highest level of certification.
Q: Is it difficult to become a ski instructor in France?
A: Yes, it is significantly more difficult to become a ski instructor in France due to the additional "Test Technique" and the requirement to pass the BASI Level 4 ISTD.
Q: What is the difference between a training junkie and an experienced teacher?
A: A training junkie is someone who pursues certifications without actually applying them to a career, while an experienced teacher has put their training into practice and has a significant amount of experience teaching skiing.