Ben Scott is proof that a ski instructor doesn’t always have to make the choice between doing what they love or earning a really great wage…
Before I decided to take the Nonstop course I was studying sport and exercise science, along with sociology, in my hometown of South Kirkby. I finished my A Levels with good grades and got accepted to Leeds University to continue studying. Around this time I randomly came across a Nonstop online advertisement and immediately jumped on the idea. Up until this point I had only spent five weeks on snow, two of which came with instruction. I guess I loved it from the first time I clicked into my bindings and I must say I still love it just as much now. I decided to defer my placement at university for one year and enrolled on the 11 week instructor training program in Fernie BC, instead. I only had the summer and autumn to save so I got myself a job with a marquee company and worked every hour available to reach my target. I had no idea what to expect and the whole thing was quite a big leap for me. I knew nobody on the course and it was going to be my first time living away from home. What I did know was that I was about to spend almost three months on snow and the idea excited me a lot.
My Nonstop experience turned out to be life changing! I still remember the nerves when driving to Heathrow and I vividly remember meeting everyone in the departure lounge for the first time. From this moment on the fun times began. I don’t think anyone expected the season to turn out just as awesome as it did! I was lucky enough to live in the OGS with 9 fantastic people. We were the younger participants of the course and I think we were all in the same school year. This worked out perfectly and we ended up being really, really good friends. I am now currently on my 10th season, seven of which I have spent with my room mate from Fernie, Mr Jack Banfield. On to the skiing part: with only five weeks under my belt I expected to struggle a lot, especially as some guys had 40 weeks under theirs. This, however, was not the case and maybe even benefited me, as I had had no time to develop bad habits. Our instructors were great and so was the fact that we had a different instructor every week. As a result, my skiing came along a lot through out the season. The whole experience on and off of the snow blew my expectations out of the window. One of my fondest memories of the season was Hotdog Day. On this annual occasion everyone on the mountain dresses up in old school one pieces, fills up their hip flasks, and makes their most flamboyant turns possible directly under the chair! I think I speak for us all when saying it was really a memorable day. The feeling of waking up numerous times in the season to a meter of fresh snow, I will never forget. That season it just seemed to dump and then dump some more! Fernie is truly an incredible place.
I consider myself quite lucky in how I have found my instructing jobs so far. I owe many thanks to Chrisy Hill, a Nonstop instructor in Fernie. After the season finished, myself and three other friends from the course decided to chase the snow into the southern hemisphere and apply for jobs in NZ. Chrisy was also chasing winter and worked at Cardrona Alpine Resort, where she kindly put in a good word for us. That’s how I landed my first instructing job. Whilst in NZ I had to decide between university or doing another season. The answer was quite simple and I applied for a job the following season back at Fernie. The Ski school already knew me well and I had good references from Cardrona which helped me land a place in the Fernie team. During my second season in NZ I shared a flat with a girl who’s father runs the Ski School in Laax, Switzerland. He stayed with us for two weeks and in this time I managed to build up a good relationship with him. He offered me a job in Laax and that’s where I am today. I have found that you make a lot of connections during a ski season and in my experience, out of this there usually results a job offer.
My first lesson went really well although it was a little nerve racking. Like most Ski Schools, Cardrona has a mandatory training week where all new instructors learn about the resort along with the standards that are expected. My first working season however was quite challenging. I worked with the under sixes program for the first half which at times really challenged my patience. However by my third season there I was taking freestyle coaching lessons and the higher end levels of both adults and children. I think this is normal for most ski schools. It just takes a little time to work up the ladder. After 10 seasons I still really enjoy teaching; it’s amazing how much people can learn with just a day’s tuition and it’s an awesome feeling to be able to share what I love doing with others.
A typical day starts with having a cup of coffee with all my friends before putting boots on. Lessons normally begin at 9.30am with a one hour break at 12.00pm followed by another 2.5 hours in the afternoon. With private lessons it’s possible to work a maximum of seven hours in the day, although five hours is the normal amount. Now I teach pretty much only private lessons. This normally includes a hearty lunch accompanied with a nice glass of wine and an even nicer handshake at the end. Any free time is normally spent skiing privately. There is always somebody else free to go and shred with. I am still as enthusiastic now as I was at the start and I can’t say that I miss too many days on the mountain during a season. Here in Laax the ski school communicates efficiently with us and we receive a phone call in the evening telling us whether there is work the next day. It is possible to get walk in guests where we receive a call in the morning of the lesson but this happens rarely. No phone call normally means free time to go free-skiing.
This job offers a lot of perks! The pay varies depending on what qualification you have combined with the amount of seasons you have worked in the same resort. I have always managed to save during seasons and I think it’s a similar story for most people. Canada and NZ not as much, but here in Switzerland it’s possible to earn a lot. The starting wage for CSIA Level 2 is almost 33 CHF per hour (£23). The best way to increase pay though is to obtain further qualifications. The ski schools I have worked for so far have all offered in house training free of charge to help go on and reach the higher levels. Training aimed towards additional, resort specific qualifications (such as freestyle or adaptive coaching) is normally also available locally. This also is a good way to increase your salary. In Canada and NZ the tips came few and far between but here in Laax it seems like the norm to get a tip at the end of a lesson. This normally ranges between 20 and 200 CHF. Sometimes you might not get anything but other times it will be a lot! What I like most about the job is the people and friends you meet in a season. It doesn’t take too long to start feeling like a local and the fact that everyone shares the same passion for the mountains is uniting and inspiring.
During my seasons I would say I have had 200 weeks on snow, making it quite difficult to pin point something in particular. Every season is different and brings new people along with different snow conditions. I really have a lot of good memories from my time as a ski instructor. I guess not so many people can say that they have skied 1000m of vert, butt naked, in the middle of the night with a wind chill of -16. I received a grand total of 300 CHF for doing so, which I spent on the first round as we got to the bar. Quite an eventful evening! My best memories for sure are waking up early when there is a meter of fresh on the driveway and going to shred nipple deep pow with my buddies.
As I mentioned earlier it’s awesome to live in a place where everyone shares the same passion. It’s pretty easy to rock up into a new resort and immediately make friends. Also living in the mountains makes me feel pretty stoked on life! After 10 seasons I still really appreciate the view of the mountains. I often think I’m lucky to be doing what I’m doing and that it’s a pretty sweet lifestyle I’ve found for myself. Up until now I’ve lived in small town ski resorts and everyone knows everybody. Everyone also seems fit and healthy and for sure everyone seems to sport a wide smile. Ski towns host a young modern vibe which naturally includes lots of good parties. Winter sports seem to be the only sports present but as soon as spring takes hold this changes. It’s very nice to be able to ski in the morning, swim in the lake or river in the afternoon, and then have a game of football with a BBQ and a beer in the evening.
I have worked in three resorts so far. First, Fernie where I trained with Nonstop, it’s a fairly small town with a massive, steep and deep mountain! The locals are super friendly and the nightlife is very good. I would consider it to be more of a free riding resort as unfortunately it doesn’t have a terrain park anymore. However, it does have its own micro climate that seems to trap the clouds in the valley. When it snows it really does snow! I’ve seen days so deep that some of the older locals have been wearing snorkels. The best part is that it is inland and thoroughly cold, making the snow just amazing.
Then I worked at Cardona NZ. The town sits on Lake Wanaka which is not so high above sea level. You have to drive 30 minutes up to the resort where the snow starts. This can be seen as a negative but when you get back from the hill in spring, temperatures touching 25 degrees, and everyone is barbecuing at the lake, it’s not so much of a negative anymore. The mountain is not so big or steep which makes the freestyle scene huge. Cardrona has a massive park and just across the valley there is Snow Park which is solely a park. Again it doesn’t take long to feel like a local and the ski school is awesome and closely knit. If you like tree skiing though, you have only five trees to make turns around. There was six but my friend crashed into one of them. Despite that, I would definitely recommend a southern hemisphere season to everyone.
In Laax, it’s a perfect mix between Fernie and Cardrona which is why I think I love the place so much. The resort seems to have everything from pristine pistes, steep and deep high alpine, tree skiing along with having one of the biggest parks in Europe. It also has the only indoor freestyle training facility in Europe. The season is five months long and up until now the snow has been awesome. What beats the other two resorts hands down is the money and the tips! The parties are not so shabby either! The ski school is mainly Swiss and we have only 10 native English instructors working full time. However, peak weeks we are around 20. I believe it’s good to apply for a job early on, as like me, people tend to fall in love with the place and stick around.
As far as my future plans are concerned, that’s a bit of a tough one. At the minute I still love doing seasons as much as I loved my first season with Nonstop. However, I know I have to think about furthering my education at some point which is difficult. It’s tricky because it’s hard to imagine not living the life I’ve lived for the last seven years. I don’t at all consider deferring my university placement a mistake as I can’t imagine working in the field that I would have studied. I like to live my life for the now and up until now it’s been a pretty sweet ride!
I would definitely recommend taking a Nonstop course! Then I’d advise to take that course in Fernie. I had the best season and I’m not sure I will ever ski snow like that again without going back there. I would also recommend not to go too crazy with the packing! I remember my first season having around 60 Kilograms of luggage without owning any skis. As I look back now it was totally unnecessary. A good tip is to wait to buy your equipment in resort! The local shops make good deals with Nonstop and it’s much better to support the local community. It’s certainly important to take the training part seriously and try not to be too hung over. There is something happening every night which is normally very tempting. The course however is pretty intense and there is a lot to learn in not such a long time. Three months soon slip away and then it’s exam time. I think I’m being very honest in saying that any expectations you have are going to be blown out of the window, so prepare yourself for the time of your life!