If you find yourself wondering what a season on our 11 week ski instructor course in Banff is like, we’ve got you covered. The headline: a season in the Rockies training to become a ski or snowboard instructor, but there’s a hell of a lot more that goes on. Banff Nonstopers James Hunt and Heather Bissix share some quickfire journals, tips and highlights from each week of the season.
Heather: I was told by my brother (a former Nonstoper of a decade or so ago) my season in Banff would be ‘the best 3 months of my life’ – a lot to live up to. I was naturally a little apprehensive to meet the people I’d be spending the winter with, but that quickly disappeared. Everyone was like-minded, super friendly and here to have blast. We were settled in with a tour of town and team meal, and Banff instantly felt like home – a beautiful setting, three ski resorts and a buzzy town we were straight involved with – karaoke and a bucking bull at Wild Bills firmly broke that ice.
Getting on snow for coaching was when it really hit. Our first day was at Sunshine Village – one of the three resorts we’d be skiing at, the others being Lake Louise and Mount Norquay. This first week was about meeting our coaches, finding our ski legs and getting a feel for what the season had in store for us, and we started by looking at stance and balance, playing around in different terrain.
We were also introduced to Nonstop’s MORE program and all the awesome trips and experiences we could get involved with. It’s like a menu of epic adventures with stuff like cat skiing and road trips in there. Nonstop give us $250 towards the MORE activities, but make sure you include enough in your budget to cover what you’d like to do, they are once in a lifetime kind of experiences.
Top tip: Don’t worry about getting all your gear before you arrive in Banff. The shops here are super knowledgeable and offer discounts for Nonstopers.
Highlight: Meeting the whole crew, 55+ of us
James: All settled into mountain life, coaching ramped up. Each week the groups are shuffled to shake things up and we rotate between the Nonstop coaching team – this is awesome as it means you get challenged by different coaching styles. Coaching began to really hone in on personal areas of improvement to iron out bad habits – I was working on using a greater range of motion in the knee joints. We skied at all three resorts – Sunshine, Lake Louise and Norquay – and are aready getting exposed to so much terrain. Every week Nonstop lay on some socials and this time we headed out to cheer on the Canmore Eagles, the local ice hockey team – first ever game and I loved it. We’re also getting pretty good at pool and watching ski films in the hang out room.
Top tip: Don’t have an ego – everyone comes in at different levels and needs to work on different things. And don’t get frustrated if things aren’t clicking right away. It can take time for skills to sink in but you’ll get there.
Highlight: Snowmobiling in Panorama, hitting speeds of 95km/h and BBQing in the mountains. Such an awesome feeling charging around on a sled in a massive bowl. The MORE program was underway.
J: The typical coaching structure with Nonstop is doing drills and working on technical aspects in the morning, with the afternoon for guided mileage and free skiing where we put new skills into practice on different terrain. This week we went back to fundamentals. With the Level 1 fast approaching, we worked on improving our demo technique and teaching for beginners. I got a lot out of the week as it showed us what being an instructor was really like. And this is no secret out here, working on your snowplough technique can improve your overall riding.
The week’s tech session was awesome – our coach Julian gave us a workshop on how to wax and edge our skis. I also opted for the Avalanche Safety Training course to boost my backcountry awareness. One day of theory and one day in the field. We learned about snowpack, how to use transceivers and practiced avalanche rescues – a lot of fun.
Top tip: Do the AST course – it gives you some fundamental mountain knowledge all skiers and snowboarders would benefit from.
Highlight: Realising that I wanted to be an instructor.
J: Final preparations for Level 1. We spent half the week at Lake Louise and the other half at Sunshine Village. In this week’s tech session, our coaches took us through ‘all things Level 1’, what to expect over the 3-day course at Lake Louise and a few tips as to what the CSIA are looking for. We had our first round of private coaching sessions, which was perfect prep for the Level 1 and focused on what I needed to improve – still access to knee joints. The rest of the coaching sessions revolved around practicing our Level 1 demos and teaching the group.
This week also featured what I imagine will be the highlight of my Nonstop experience – cat skiing. If you only do one of the MORE activities, do this. We headed out to an abandoned resort called ‘The Fortress’ where we got to ride a modified piste basher which took us up to untouched fresh powder. I honestly can’t put into words how fun this day was!
Top tip: Have a plan of what you want to work on in your private coaching session, you’ll get much more out of it.
Highlight: Cat skiing at ‘The Fortress’. This was the first time in my life where I got to shred some real pow and I will never forget it.
H: This was it! An early start on Monday morning to catch the 7.40am bus to Lake Louise – the location for our Level 1 assessment. I was feeling a little nervous but well prepared to face the 3-day exam head on. We were split into our groups and headed off with our CSIA examiners. They instantly made a point to make sure everyone felt comfortable and knew what to expect. Over the 3 days you’re assessed on two areas – teaching and skiing ability. For teaching, they’re looking to see that you can teach safely, communicate and engage with your students professionally, select suitable terrain, identify objectives and assess progress. For skiing, you need to be able to control your speed in a variety of terrain, use a variety of turn shapes, and show that you can demonstrate entry level to intermediate skiing.
The 3-days is a learning experience in itself, and my skiing continued to improve. Come 4pm on the last day, we were all handed our envelopes – and we all passed! Everyone was in the mood to celebrate. Nonstop had arranged a celebratory dinner at High Rollers, the local bowling bar for pizza and cocktails, then we headed to our favourite watering hole, Mel’s, for ski shots, lots of them…
Top tip: Don’t get too worked up over the Level 1, the whole vibe is so chill and the examiners want you to pass.
Highlight: Passing Level 1 with everyone and becoming an instructor.
J: We had the start of the week off post-Level 1 but the celebrations were…. nonstop! Everyone was feeling extra ‘sendy’ and so a group of us built a kicker in one of the bowls at Lake Louise, the first backflips were landed and, somehow, we all came out of it unharmed. If you’re into park riding, Banff is definitely the place you’ll want to be. There are parks at each resort with so many features from small to XL. Coaching resumed on Thursday and we were back exploring our favourite spots. This was the time to decide to continue training for the Level 2 certification or take part in AMP (All Mountain Pro) if you just want to focus on your performance.
Top tip: Take a few days off from the celebrations as this is a great time to recover and get ready for Level 2.
Highlight: Dogsledding through the Rockies – such a mood booster. Playing with the friendly huskies was an incredible moment.
H: This week we were fully back into the groove and developing our technique at a higher end. We know all the resorts well by now and training at three resorts exposes us to a lot of terrain. Lake Louise is huge, 45 minutes from Banff. There’s a World Cup downhill, and the powder bowls on the backside are epic freeriding zones. Sunshine Village has the best snow and some fun tree skiing. It’s high so the snow quality is awesome. And Norquay is the closest to Banff – smaller than the others but it’s got some real steep terrain and moguls to get your legs working.
For us doing AMP, we had our first weekly challenge – short turns on a black run. Complete all the weekly challenges and we ski Delirium Dive – a madly steep backcountry zone accessed from Sunshine Village.
We had a tech session on working as an instructor and a few former Nonstopers who work in snow schools in Banff came down to chat with us and offer some advice. It really hit home that by completing this course you are opening up a career path that will enable you to do something that you love, day in, day out, with the most amazing office views.
Top tip: Think about what you want out of the season. Level 2 and AMP are both awesome options.
Highlight: Charging through the Lake Louise back bowls.
J: I picked up a heel injury which side-lined me for a bit, but this week I was back on snow. Training for Level 2 stepped up and we started to work on teaching skills more. We all took about 15-20 minutes each day to instruct the rest of the group. I was quite nervous at first as it can be hard to know what to say. Once I realised everyone was in the same position, it was a lot of fun. Dodgeball went down at the end of the week. A group of us headed to the leisure centre to hurl balls at each other. Double points for a face shot.
The nightlife in Banff is awesome and there’s always something going on. There are a lot of bars and pubs and one nightclub, The Dancing Sasquatch. Tuesdays at Wild Bills is one of my favourite nights – and features a bucking bull and karaoke.
Top Tip: Don’t be afraid to look a little silly whilst teaching, making mistakes is the best thing you can do. I learned a lot from mine this week and my teaching improved so much because of it. And if you get injured like I did (it happens!), try not to get too frustrated, just give yourself some rest and don’t forget to ice!
Highlight: Learning how to be a better instructor. Once you get into the flow, teaching is awesome.
J: Since our Level 1 the season has been flying by. This week we really pushed our skiing in more challenging terrain, steeps and bumps. We're gearing up for the Level 2 CSIA Training which is a 2-day course you must take before the Assessed Training part. During the week we all headed to High Rollers for a bowing battle. It was competitive, we sucked, but totally hilarious, plus there are 30+ different beers to try. Friday was one of the best events Nonstop set up for us. We headed into the wild, built a bonfire and then a small kicker over it. It was unreal. The ‘undisclosed location’ was beautiful and a great place to sink a few beers under the stars.
Top tip: Try to stay focused during coaching sessions, there is so much you can learn from them, it will make your Level 2 that much easier.
Highlight: Wilderness bonfire in the Rockies with the crew. I even got to make and try S’mores (marshmallow with chocolate sandwiched between a cookie and heated over the fire with a stick) for the first time.
J: The week started off with our second round of private coaching sessions. With Level 2 only one week away this was a great opportunity to hone in on our skiing. The session was at Norquay, a great resort for working on technique – the Cascade lift is quick and the run off from it is probably the perfect pitch for working on all round ski improvement. On Friday a group of us hiked up Tunnel Mountain which overlooks Banff, it took around an hour to get to the top, and the views were beautiful. And don’t say we’re not committed. The nightlife was pretty much non-existent this week with everyone revising in the evenings to make sure they were prepared for the Level 2.
Top tip: Revise! You’ll thank yourself after the Level 2 as you do need to remember a few pieces of terminology.
Highlight: Chilling out at the top of Tunnel Mountain with the crew and looking out over the Rockies.
J: Due to my persistent heel injury, I was sadly unable to take my Level 2 this week. Everyone else was prepared and ready to tackle the Level 2 Assessed Training component – 2 days where both skiing and teaching are assessed. We had super high pass rate and it was awesome to see all my friends so stoked. Get ready for some big nights, Banff definitely broke a number of people by the time the week was over. On our last day we all got our fancy-dress game on at Sunshine Village and took over the hill. The sun was shining and the drinks were flowing at Trappers Bar by the end of the day. The best way we could’ve spent our last day all together. This was followed by the farewell presentation and awards evening which was a great way to end the season. I am staying in Banff post course and saying goodbye to everyone was much harder than I thought. You make some friends for life on this course and I would recommend it to anyone, you won’t regret it.
Top tip: It’s okay to cry.
Highlight: Seeing all my friends pass their Level 2.
We look forward to speaking with you.