What do ski and snowboard instructors do all day? Is it long hours and back-to-back lessons, or lazy lunches and off piste shredding?
Jimbo completed his Nonstop snowboard instructor course in Banff and went on to work at Sunshine Village. Here’s a taste of his typical day as an instructor in Canada – it involves more freeriding than you might think.
Name: James ‘Jimbo’ Harper-Lewis
Course: 11 week ski instructor course
Location: Banff, Canada
Qualifications: CASI level 2, park level 1
Worked at: Sunshine Village, Canada
The daily commute
Like most of the world's working day, mine starts early with a commute. From seven in the morning, the staff bus begins plucking all manner of bleary-eyed staff members from the darkened streets of Banff.
After a short snowy ride – largely composed of music induced sleep – we shuffle our way from bus to gondola and head on up to the main area of Sunshine Village. As daily commutes go, this one’s not so bad, and the views are pretty spectacular from where I sit.
As daily commutes go, this one’s not so bad, and the views are pretty spectacular from where I sit.
Inside the pro room
Once on the hill, the instructors file toward the ‘pro room’ – a slightly cramped dwelling bursting with boards, skis, drying boots and row after row of lockers.
As people flow in and change into the red jackets that make up the Sunshine Village uniform, it becomes a particularly sociable environment and a good place to draw knowledge on all things snow related – from snow forecasts to equipment reviews, edging tips to teaching tactics.
The room exudes a shared atmosphere of vibrancy, with backing tracks from whoever plugged their iPhone in first and stories from the night before. Even as a new instructor, I was warmly welcomed immediately.
The first official point of work for the day is 8.45 roll call, which is swiftly followed by a snow report, a grooming report and the titles for the day’s ‘sessions’ or training slots.
These sessions are perhaps one of the biggest perks of working as an instructor. They’re an opportunity to continually improve throughout the season, and they pick up where Nonstop left off – only now you get the added benefit of being paid for it.
For us snowboarders, session titles range from “Teaching Tactics” to the bizarre “Laughing at Lower Joints”. Though the titles seem trivial, the sessions are anything but. Run by senior instructors they introduce some of the most advanced riding and teaching theory around, while giving huge scope for individual feedback and improvement techniques. What’s more, they’re a hell of a lot of fun.
Lesson card time
With sessions over for the morning, the real work starts. A wall of red-suited instructors line up as our manager doles out the lesson cards. These are handed out in order of seniority, starting with the most highly qualified, followed by seasoned veterans, and finally onto the new staff intake or ‘rookies, of which I number.
Your lesson card details the group size, names, ages and ability level of your students. At a large ski school like Sunshine, new instructors don’t teach every day. So long as you understand that from the beginning, it works out as a positive – you get to improve your riding (or skiing), and still get paid for the privilege.
I’ve seen my own riding come on so much by heading out with higher level instructors who are only too happy to help with analysis, tips and tactics for improvement. It’s a great opportunity.
TEACHING A LESSON
Most lessons I teach run all day, 9.45 - 3.30, split by lunch with the clients. There are also half-day lessons. First up is a quick conversation about where they’re at with their riding – how much they’ve done, how recently, are they turning both ways, what they find difficult, what colour runs they feel comfortable on – this is a great way to get a basic understanding of the group, put a lesson plan together and break the ice.
Another important question to ask is what do they want to get out of the lesson – this expectation can often define the sense of achievement they walk away with at the end of the day.
The first run is all-important. It’s an opportunity to assess where your clients are and what will benefit the group most.
The first run is all-important. It’s an opportunity to assess where your clients are and what will benefit the group most. There may be a ‘split’ in abilities, which may mean a group change. But the onus is very much on the instructor to keep everyone going forward and tailor the day according.
During the lesson, you start to understand how each person takes in new information - a skill which improves with practice. Some people need to understand and visualise everything before putting it into practice. Others will just watch your demo then get on and do it themselves.
With lessons finished for the day I usually go for a few fast runs with some of the other instructors and then head down the mountain. Home usually means an immediate shower, dinner and the occasional quick nap, before heading out.
In a party town like Banff you’re never hard pushed to find something to do with your evenings, especially as working for Sunshine has the added bonus of a huge social group of almost 800 employees, 86 of which work for the ski/snowboard school.
How the Nonstop course helps
I’ve got Nonstop to thank for introducing me to a career I love. I take a huge amount of personal satisfaction seeing what effect I have had on people’s riding – it really is an incredible feeling getting someone to turn for the first time and seeing how ecstatic they are to be progressing.
My Nonstop course had so many benefits – from enjoying the best season of my life, to making lifelong friends and snowboarding with some of the best instructors out there. And there are some elements that truly carry forth into your own career as an instructor. I often think back to my time with Nonstop to glean the right tactic for a situation, or to help my client better understand an exercise.
Jimbo’s career began with our 11 week snowboard instructor course in Banff. To follow in his footsteps, get in touch with the Nonstop team or check out our ski instructor courses / snowboard instructor courses.
We look forward to speaking with you.