Working As A Ski Instructor In Banff - Daniel's Story
Daniel joined the 3 week ski instructor course in Banff last season and almost exactly a year on, he's now completed his first season as a ski instructor followed by a summer in Banff. We caught up with him to find out more about his first working season, as well as what it's like spending a summer in the beautiful National Park...
What were you doing before Banff and why did you decide to take a Nonstop course?
My life before Banff was pretty ordinary. I say this because I worked 40 hour weeks in a call centre, doing something that paid well but never brought me happiness, a job that I did not enjoy and lead to a dead end.
I first came to Banff seven years ago when I was 13, with my family on a ski holiday. Our first day of ski lessons was at Sunshine with Ski Big 3, ironically enough the same company I work for now. My first run down the hill I ate so much powder it was unreal and I also hit a shack in the process. However this did not deter me. I then proceeded to fall again, wiping out my whole group and the instructor! Quite a first day!
My instructors were awesome and within a day I was parallel skiing. They inspired me and after three days they had me wanting to be a ski instructor so that I too could one day inspire a thirteen year old to become an instructor. It was this and the help of good friends and family that made me decide to take a Nonstop course.
I had a family friend who had already taken the 11 week ski instructor course in Red Mountain with Nonstop. They pointed me in the direction of Max, whom I contacted within an hour to find out some more information. Max talked me through the options I could take and after speaking to him for a while over the phone I was sold on the idea of coming to Banff on the early season course and staying on for the rest of the season. And that was the best decision I ever made. Thanks to Max (who I still owe a pint) and to Nonstop, I was in Banff 8 months later and I am still here a year after that!
Tell us a bit about your Nonstop course experience? What are the days or experiences you particularly remember?
I was part of the 3 week Banff course, prior to this I had only skied roughly 20 days. I was eager to learn and experiment out on the slope, but before I could get skiing there was a lot to do when I got to Banff. Manuela was our rep but also our best friend, she and Nonstop had everything set up for us on arrival; Shuttle from Calgary, bank meetings, house keys, information on the best places to get drunk… and a lot of information on how to save money in Banff. She also took us on a tour around Banff and helped us get our ski passes sorted so we could hit the slope the next day! Manuela is awesome and will provide a lot of help if needed.
The course instructors are awesome too, they teach you everything you need to know for the level one exam. They also keep every day fun and different. The instructors help you improve your skiing, your confidence and also help you grow as a person. They become family and you can go to them about anything. They will also laugh at you… a lot...if you fall over whilst you’re standing still!
I remember every day of the course, it was an experience I won’t forget. However some of the best days of the three weeks were on and off the hill. We competed against a rival gap year at a game of dodgeball… we lost however we decided they had an unfair advantage. We were fewer in numbers, they had a Viking as their secret weapon, and we were having a lot more fun. I’m sure a rematch is in place for the coming season to try and win the trophy back.
Being able to ski every day of the week, at all the 3 hills in Banff, on our own and with instruction was also a highlight of the course. We experienced every weather condition possible too; Powder, ice, sun, cloud, negative five weather right up to negative 30, this really gets you prepared for the season ahead.
Finally passing my level one was a feeling I won’t forget. Everyone on the course passed, we headed out that night to celebrate and it’s a night I will never remember… but I guarantee it was a good one. A few days later I then got a job instructing thanks to Nonstop and Manuela who set up an interview with Ski Big 3. I then proceeded to pass my level two a month later, this was again thanks to the great training from Nonstop and all their continued support.
How did you get hired as an instructor? Was there an interview process?
A few days after I passed my level one exam Manuela approached myself and the guys I was living with in the seasonal accommodation. She gave us some great news that Ski Big 3 had agreed to interview us for their vacant instructing positions. There were six of us applying, and three of us got jobs with Ski Big 3. The other three all went on to get jobs at Norquay instructing. The interview process was arranged for us, we only had to turn up with a resume. We found out who got the job a week later, a couple of days before we had our first lesson.
What was your first lesson as an instructor like?
I was excited for my first lesson, I had a 6 year old girl who had never skied before. This was a great way to start as I was able to practice teaching someone from the very beginning and also I knew that I just had to make sure she had fun whilst learning too! We had so much fun together, she picked up skiing so quickly and was fearless… this made me feel a lot more confident and really helped teach me as much as I was teaching her.
The feeling of helping someone complete their first run ever, and watching them ski in control is an amazing one and to this day is still one I treasure. I felt like over the season I had a dozen first lessons as everybody is different, they all learn in different ways and learn at different speeds. I am positive I will have days when I still feel like I am teaching for the first time this coming season too.
What did you think of Banff as a town to live in?
Banff is a great place to live, it’s small enough that you can walk into the town centre in five minutes and at the same time it’s big enough that even a year later you will still find new things to do. Banff can be expensive to live but if you know the right days to go out for local’s prices or even the right places to go for locals prices you can still save money. In the winter everyone knows everyone… you will be recognised as a local if you go to the same bar often enough, you will constantly bump into people you know and everyone is extremely nice. (Remember to say hi if you walk past someone - unlike the UK, people actually talk to each other.)
You will constantly be amazed in Banff, I have seen elk, deer, coyotes, wolves and all sorts of animals wandering around town. I have also seen bear over this summer. If you’re lucky enough to see them, don’t feed any of them or get to close, they can be dangerous. Remember a fed bear is a dead bear - unfortunately if you feed a bear it will keep coming back and Parks Canada will have to shoot it. Amongst all the cool wildlife the scenery is amazing, it changes every day and you will definitely need an extra memory card for the amount of photos you will take!
The nightlife in Banff is awesome too, I have had a few nights I can’t remember. There are three nightclubs in town as well as lots of bars to go too. If this does not appeal to you don’t worry as you can always find bars or restaurants to visit with live music and events or even visit Wild Bills to try your luck on the bull.
Which of the 3 resorts is your favourite to ski at?
My favourite ski hill by far is Lake Louise, it has steeper and more challenging terrain, we had 40cm of snow on our last ski day there… so much fun! There is also a lot more varied terrain. However each hill has its positives!
Sunshine is a good hill for beginners to build confidence, it has a wide variety of terrain and some good beginner parks to enjoy. It’s not quite as steep in places, however if you’re feeling brave you have the ability to challenge yourself! For the brave and adventurous (also very skilled skier) you can attempt Wild West or Delirium Dive, however a group of you and avalanche equipment is a must.
Norquay is the smallest but can be a lot of fun! It’s 10 minutes from town and is usually very quiet, you can often spend all day there and see a handful of people. It’s good for getting the laps in and trying new things!
All three hills have a lot of POW days and have their positives but I can’t tell you the best hill to ski at, you will have to come here and find out for yourself!
What is there to do after the ski season?
After the ski season you can go home (not advised) or you can do as I did and stay all summer too. I worked at Lake Minnewanka (yes, this is actually the name), and have enjoyed every single day!
If that’s not your thing you can find many jobs in town, there is something for everyone. I experienced so many new things, bear sightings, cliff jumping, rope swinging, white water rafting, hiking mountains…the list is endless, but it is what makes this place so special. You will regret not staying on for the summer, it’s definitely worth it!
And finally, what advice do you have for people thinking of taking an instructor course or gap year?
Don’t think about it, just do it! The course alone will be something you will never forget, it gives you great life skills and awesome qualifications. You learn a lot about other cultures and about yourself, also you get a cool accent! Whether it’s the three week course, eleven weeks or for the season, you will never forget Banff.
I have met some awesome people and made friends from all over the world, Danish, Kiwis, Australians…lots of Australians actually! But all of them are people who have made this experience special.
Just remember before you come out to have everything organised, ski gear/boarding gear… you can buy it out here which may be cheaper but I found it a lot easier to bring it with me. It also meant I could go riding straight away! If you want to stay for the season and work, save some money beforehand as you may not work for about a month or so before you find a job. This will really help.
If you need clothes etc… don’t feel you need to buy expensive brand new items, there are thrift stores around town which can save you a ton of money. And have fun! You may only get to do this once so enjoy it now!!!
If you think that a career in the instructor industry is for you, be sure to check out our ski instructor courses or the snowboard instructor courses on offer. The 3 week ski instructor course in Banff that Dan joined, or its snowboard instructor course equivalent, are also a brilliant way or progressing your own skiing or snowboarding, even if you don’t plan to teach afterwards.
Plenty of our courses are also perfect for someone on a gap year. Whether you're looking for ski gap year courses or snowboard gap year courses, we have the perfect way for you to spend the time doing something you love!