The latest of our instructor articles comes from Paul Cooper, who bravely walked away from his accountancy career to become a ski instructor. Here’s part one of his story:
In 2004 I was 33 and working in East London for an accountancy firm. I was a qualified accountant, had a mortgage, good salary and a recent promotion but I wasn’t enjoying the work and probably not really doing my job that well either.
In August of that year, I came back from a mountain biking holiday in the Alps. I’d had a fantastic time slithering down downhill tracks in ankle deep mud at the beginning of the week and ripping up dusty trails into Switzerland toward the end. Every day ended with a beer on a sun deck while laughing and chatting over the days riding with my mates. I came home to a rainy commute into London on a packed train, nose pressed to the glass staring at the miserable vista before me.
Something clicked in my head and I thought “I should find a way to ski in the winter and bike in the summer and get the hell out of London!” As soon as I got to work I started planning my escape.
A friend of mine had spent the previous Winter in Canada doing some ski instructor training and seemed like the way to go for me too. I called him up and discussed his experiences. Turned out he’d travelled with a company called Nonstop Ski and Snowboard to Fernie, BC. His references were glowing and the plan continued to form.
By the end of the week I had extended my mortgage by £10k and been on the phone to Melissa at the Nonstop Ski and Snowboard offices discussing the relative merits of a season in Banff, Fernie or Red Mountain. I read everything I could find on all three resorts, and came to the conclusion that Red Mountain was the one for me. The funky former gold rush town sounded my kind of place and the mountain sounded amazing albeit pretty hardcore for my four weeks skiing experience at the time.
By the beginning of September everything was in place and I was just considering whether I should try and get a sabbatical from work or just go for it and quit. The decision was made when an annual review came around and my work, or lack of it in recent weeks, was brought up. I grasped the opportunity to explain that I was unhappy in my job and thought it best for everyone if I quit. I gave them three and a half months notice and returned to my desk happier than I had been for months, I felt a weight lifted and could see a new life opening up before me.
I spent the next few months organising jackets and ski pants, thermals and gloves, helmets and goggles and come 5th January 2005 I was at the airport and boarding a flight to what I hoped would be a great adventure and the changing point in my life.
How can I describe my experiences at Red Mountain? I arrived the least experienced skier of our group and probably left not as good as some had arrived! Despite that, in the 11 weeks I learnt the value of a decent boot, the benefits of different types of skis, I learnt to ski faster and on steeper runs than I dared to dream of and most importantly I learned a great deal about how to teach people to ski.
The season we were there the snow was pretty poor, an El Nino year meant the early season snow fall had been good with heavy snowfall up until our arrival but then almost nothing for the majority of February and March left us hunting for the best snow we could find. That said the mountain held up remarkably well and we skied bumps and trees all season despite the lack of fresh snow.
The snow conditions contributed to quiet days on the hill with few lift lines, although in my more recent visits to Red I have still yet to see a lift line even on powder days.
Aside from a few hours with an instructor in France, I’d had limited experience of ski instruction so I was pleasantly surprised when on day two on the mountain the ski teaching kicked in and the benefits were immediately felt. Our instructors were faultless in their enthusiasm, energy and the variety of techniques they employed to impart their knowledge. Because we were exposed to a variety of different instructors over the weeks we had the benefit of different techniques and methods to cover similar skills which was invaluable both for learning to teach others as well as improving our own skiing.
In the 11 weeks at Red Mountain I took my Level 1 instructor course, passing the teaching element but falling short on the skiing. After 2 weeks of further intensive tuition a retest saw me obtain my skiing element as well. With only a few weeks left of the course I had to then consider whether to go for my Level 2 as well, I had a frank conversation with one of our instructors and I remain grateful for his advice to go for it as my teaching was up to scratch even if my skiing probably was not. I left Canada with the teaching element of my Level 2 in place and some work to do on my skiing.
At the time, the Canadian government required Level 2 in order to obtain a sponsored visa to work in Canada so while I managed to secure a job I was unable to take it as I could not get a work permit and was outside of the BUNAC requirements. So, the year following my Nonstop course I was in a predicament as to what to do with my winter. I ended up applying to work for Crystal Holidays in France and was posted as a rep to Flaine. I skied 5-6 days a week, had a pretty good time and made a good few friends. The job included some ski guiding but as I watched processions of guests ski runs behind me with flawed technique and no opportunity to help improve them (the French ski schools take a dim view of that!) I knew what I wanted to do was to be teaching.
The following Summer, Nonstop released a new programme, a 6 week Level 2 specific instructor course running out of Fernie, BC. I had the money to pay for it from my summer work and decided it was my best bet to get the qualifications I need to ensure a position in Canada the following winter. So in January 2007 I boarded another plane to Canada and started working toward my Level 2. I spent six weeks in Fernie prior to the six week course starting, to find my feet and was lucky enough to meet a few other travellers to share a chairlift with prior to hooking up with Nonstop.
Fernie and Red Mountain share some characteristics as ski hills, both have a variety of steep challenging terrain, excellent snow records and beautiful tree skiing though for me Red wins on the trees and benefits from the lesser avalanche risk meaning on a good snow day more terrain is open immediately. Fernie as a town is considerably larger and more lively than Rossland, it still has a big mining community where Rossland’s gold rush era roots have long since dwindled and as a result benefits from more nightlife, an ice rink, a wider selection of stores and so on. The Nonstop crew there is also considerably larger and our six week course meshed in neatly with the eleven weekers following their Level 1 courses being completed.
I shared a house near the highway with four others, two were snowboarders on their Level 2 course and the other two were doing the Nonstop Master the Mountain course. We had breakfast laid on at one of the cafes in town, met the bus to the ski hill around the corner and generally had a pretty easy start to the day.
Once more, the instruction was exemplary with an even wider variety of instructors being on hand to give us the benefits of their experience. I’m not sure in the twelve weeks I spent there I was off the hill for more than a few days and arrived home with my full Level 2 in place.
To be continued…
If part one of Paul’s journey has already inspired you to change your career then find out more about ski instructor jobs with us.