Vancouver regularly tops the charts as one of the world’s best cities. It has awesome culture and ski resorts on the doorstep.
After completing our 11 week ski instructor course in Fernie, Mike Barnes caught the winter bug on his gap year, moved to Vancouver and taught at a local mountain – what an awesome way to experience Canada.
Name: Mike Barnes
Course: 11 week ski instructor course
Location: Fernie, Canada
Qualifications: CSIA level 2
Worked in: Cypress Mountain, Canada
A taste of the lifestyle
I wanted to do something different with my life after school, and being passionate about skiing, spending more time in the snow appealed. A friend had qualified as a ski instructor through Nonstop, and recommended doing the same. He only had good things to say about the company, so I booked onto their 11 week instructor course in Fernie.
Our trainers were the most experienced instructors on the hill and pivotal to our development and ultimate success. As well as pushing our level and learning to teach, we got to enjoy countless powder days, build and camp under the stars in a snow cave, road trip to other resorts, snowmobile in the backcountry and learn about avalanche safety, all as part of the MORE program.
The social schedule was full-time too. Being surrounded by a huge group like-minded people, you’ve a ready-made social circle to take on the season with. Everyone lived to ski and there were always people keen to socialise after a day on the hill. Whether watching the local ice hockey team, meeting friends at a bar, or going to the cinema, we were never short of things to do off snow.
A new focus
During my season with Nonstop my eyes fully opened to world of winter. I knew that instructing was something I wanted to pursue further. Hell bent on making it happen, I was keen to land as many instructor qualifications as I could.
During my season with Nonstop my eyes fully opened to world of winter. I knew that instructing was something I wanted to pursue further.
I passed the first hurdle – CSIA level 1 – which is enough to get you a job in Canada, but of course level 2 was my aim and would make securing a job more likely in a competitive industry.
To make sure I was in a strong position for success, I really focused during the run up to my level 2 assessment. It meant so much to me to pass, and I was over the moon when I was awarded my certificate. I was ready to continue this life.
Discovering Cypress Mountain
Canadian ski qualifications are recognised worldwide but I wanted to work in Canada. When I applied for jobs, Cypress Mountain – one of the ski hills that overlooks Vancouver – stood out from the rest. A 30-minute drive from downtown Vancouver, Cypress gives you the opportunity to live and work near one of the world’s coolest cities.
Of the nearby ski mountains to Vancouver, Cypress has the most vertical drop and the most terrain, plus amazing views over Vancouver Island. It was also the official freestyle skiing and snowboarding venue for the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Doing a season here is as much about skiing as experiencing the city. When I found out what kind of place it was during my interview, it sounded perfect for me, so I took the job and started before Christmas.
The ski school director put me in touch with all the other instructors who would be travelling from the UK. We made contact and started bonding before we even arrived, which helped to ease any nerves.
Living in Vancouver
I rented a house in a North Vancouver suburb with three other Brits. Living here, you’ve got both wild spaces and bright city lights on your doorstep. A great small-town feel and downtown Vancouver minutes away on the SeaBus. Night markets, concerts, great bars and microbreweries made local life a dream.
Within a week or so we’d also bought an old 4x4 banger to get around in. It was a bit of wreck but it did the job.
Within a week or so we’d also bought an old 4x4 banger to get around in. It was a bit of wreck but it did the job. Having your own transport in Vancouver makes it easier to get up to work and back, and to explore the local area. With easy access to the ski hills, North Vancouver is a popular place to live with the instructor crowd, so there’s lots of like-minded people to hang out with.
Teaching at Cypress Mountain
Cypress Mountain is a super fun and chilled out place to work. You may not get the huge powder dumps of some BC resorts, but you get to experience one of the world’s best cities while also doing a ski season – which is a pretty cool way to spend a winter.
You may not get the huge powder dumps of some BC resorts, but you get to experience one of the world’s best cities while doing a ski season.
With a relatively small team of instructors, I got to teach quite a range of levels, from beginner adults to advanced kids. Being close to Vancouver, Cypress gets people from all over the world passing through.
With the occasional language barrier to handle, by the end of the season I was a dab hand at flailing my arms around and keeping verbal instruction to a minimum. I thoroughly enjoyed the teaching, and loved the feeling of helping someone to learn something new or improve.
The experienced instructors would run regular improvement sessions to help rookie instructors like myself train for the next level of certification. Over the course of the season the bond between everyone became extremely tight and the camaraderie was infectious. Work was often followed by a drink in the bar, or sometimes we'd have an organised social for everyone to enjoy.
Go for it
That first winter season with Nonstop was amazing and enabled me to live in Vancouver and do something I love. I'd recommend ski instructing to anyone who’s sociable and enjoys being in the mountains. I’ve met so many like-minded people along the way and now have a network of pals around the world.
I can’t wait to do it all again.
We look forward to speaking with you.