How To Become A Ski or Snowboard Instructor – Your Questions Answered!

There are many attractive possibilities for your Gap Year and one of them is to become a ski or snowboard instructor. You’ll be picking up a skill, earning a qualification and getting a job, all whilst having a great time abroad!

So how do you go about doing this? We caught up with PJ who runs the courses for International Academy in Whistler to answer your questions!

Enjoying the views from Whistler Peak

Image: Tourism Whistler / Mike Crane

Thanks for taking the time out to speak to us. First off, can you explain the difference between the qualifications? There’s a CSIA and a BASI and then there’s one for New Zealand. How do they differ and does having one limit me from teaching in certain places?

Most skiing countries have their own qualification structure. Each is designed to suit their domestic demand & some have more emphasis on teaching & others highly weight their on-snow abilities. Some resorts have a greater percentage of beginner skiers & thus need a greater percentage of instructors with their low intermediate qualifications. We are all teaching skiing & with the technical innovations of equipment – from shaped skis & boot improvements, all countries have slightly different nuances & emphases to reach the same goal – improve the skier or snowboarder’s skills & thus make it easier & enjoyable for them to challenge the mountain.  Like with any teaching role there are slight differences in approaches – (even between 2 ski pros) & that is what makes skiing so wonderful because there is so much to learn out there – I have met instructors that have forgotten more about skiing that I will even learn – it is infinite! To work out the variations for every type of snow conditions, & slope gradient & if it has moguls or powder – it is a great challenge to harness all the variables into a smooth package! Most counties recognize the other countries’ qualifications – but they don’t’ give you absolute equivalency – they still want you to be knowledgeable with their domestic techniques & if you have been trained well you will be able to adapt to the differences with minimal effort. And that’s where YES comes in… the training we offer is superior to your average training course.

There’s also different levels, what do they mean? Will a Level 1 be enough?

Snowboarding Kids

Image: Tourism Whistler / Chad Chomlack

CSIA Level 1 qualifies you to teach children of all ages & beginner adults. Whilst this is an entry level qualification, it is very comprehensive & with additional training pre the exam it is a very good cross section of what ski teaching is all about.Is it enough to gain employment? – each resort have different demands. A place as popular & as large as Whistler needs very qualified, experienced instructors & thus only hires people with Level 2 and at least 2 years of teaching experience (apart from the WBSSU program that we offer in partnership with Whistler Blackcomb snow school). There are literally hundreds of resorts across Canada, the US & Europe, even Asia that are desperate for quality, well-trained instructors & they can gain valuable experience to then climb the instructor ladder & move to bigger resorts.

What kind of prior experience and fitness do I need to have before signing up to a course?

As long as you can turn parallel down intermediate slopes & have a good level of fitness we can turn you into a ski pro in 3-6 weeks. You don’t need to be an Olympic skier or boarder to participate in our programs, after all your coming on the program to improve your skills. There are very specific muscle groups that you can work on before you arrive that can make a big difference to your ability to make it through the first week (squat’s are awesome) – but we ease you into the program & don’t throw you in the deep end – so you will have time to get your snow legs back during the first week.

There’s a test at the end right. What does that involve? What’s the usual pass rate?

The exams are spread out throughout the 4, 7 and 11 week  programs. The CSIA Level 1 is a 3 day course & the Level 2 is a 5 day course. You have to pass both the teaching & the skiing portion of the exam to be successful. The CSIA Level 1 & Level 2 are set up as experiential in their approach, not just a line in the snow to pass the standard. You have a combination of improvement, teaching techniques & mock lessons. Each day is assessable & there are indoor sessions with further technical information & one on one progress reports. Generally the first days are more ski improvement based – making sure that your technique is showing the Canadian way & that you are balanced & in control. As the course progresses there is more emphasis on teaching & you are given specific tasks to teach in mock lessons in order to ascertain your teaching marks.

Once I’ve completed a course what are the job opportunities like?

I am constantly impressed with the ability of our successful participants to secure instructor positions around the world.  In some resorts they have to sit the hiring clinics & it is very common that they are picked in the top 3 of the prospective instructors.

What’s it like being an instructor? What are the perks and drawbacks?

Chris Winter on Whistler Mountain.

Image: Tourism Whistler / Eric Berger

Not a fair question for me to answer – I started my ski life at 3 years old & then professionally as a lowly ski instructor at 17 & have decided to make my living & home in the snow – so I am a total convert to the lifestyle!! The perks are the, outdoors, the mountains & constantly being around people on holidays, it’s infectious & their enthusiasm can be a drug that keeps you going for 6 months of winter.  Community is a big part of the draw – ski towns are inherently filled with people who want to put their lifestyle ahead of the corporate grind. If I had a dollar for every executive who has wanted my lifestyle – I’d be rich!! To get up in the am & have a ski session before breakfast & then ski all day helping others achieve new skiing highs is a very worthwhile job. There are pitfalls – the weather can be wintery – but we’re kinda weird bunch us skiers – we like the varied weather because that brings snow – of course we all dream of the nightly big dump & then endless powder & sunshine! I worked back to back seasons for 17 years from Northern to Southern hemispheres & I do now enjoy being in the summer of Whistler  – many locals move here for the skiing & then end up staying the rest of their lives for the summers – they are magical – the cherry on top of the winter cake!!

I’ve heard great things about Whistler. Why is it a great place to become an instructor? What about BC in general?

Skier on Harmony

Image: Steve Rogers

I’ve been here 27 years now & I must say that the mountain surprises me every year. Of course the on-piste can stay similar – depending on the summer grooming that they do – but the way the snow pack forms each year means that they upper bowls & the unnamed runs can be completely different from one season to another.  The sheer size & variety of terrain that Whistler has to offer is an instructor’s paradise. We can play in so many variations of the same theme that our guests can work through their technical changes in stages & then challenge themselves beyond their imaginations!! Being so close to Vancouver has many advantages so that we can enjoy the city fix with only a minimum of travel (now only 1.5hrs) so British Columbia has best of both worlds.

Answers from PJ O’Heany – who runs the courses in Whistler for International Academy.

  • Fiona Soper
    Posted at 14:50h, 04 April


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