When you hear about Brazil, you probably don’t think of snow….or mountains….or skiing. For that reason, many people find it quite strange that I, a Brazilian, somehow became a ski and snowboard instructor!
Now, I’m not beginning the article this way to demotivate you, but to encourage you to follow your dream. If a Brazilian found a way to spend his winters in spectacular snowy mountains teaching something that he loves to do, there’s no reason why you can’t either. You just need the focus, dedication, and sacrifice to save enough to invest in your dreams.
So, perhaps, the best way to start this article is to actually describe why I, someone from a definitely non-ski and snowboard friendly country, decided to be an instructor. If you’re in a hurry, you can skip past this part to find the pros and cons of being an instructor, the steps I actually took to become one, tips on finding jobs, as well as a list of various ski schools around the world.
How I Decided to Become a Ski and Snowboard Instructor
When I was young, I never imagined that I would one day be a ski and snowboard instructor. This desire, to teach others snowsports, emerged from several things:
- A passion and fascination for snow from a young age
As a child, my vacations were spent, the majority of the time, on the beach. I’d spend the whole day in the water, on the sand, or messing around in the rainforest that still exists along parts of São Paulo’s coast. Everything here was normal for me, nothing special. Quite different from what we call “gringos” (aka foreigners) who visit Brazil and are fascinated by the sea and the rainforest.
What was abnormal for me was the snow. I was captivated: the whiteness, the cold, the scenery, the texture.
I had a few opportunities during my childhood to go to places with snow and ski or snowboard, which combined two things that I love: sports and nature. But I wanted to stay for more than five days in a year. I wanted to live in a place with snow where I could pass my days enjoying the mountains, just like I did at the beach when I was a kid. But I had one problem: the cost. This brings me to my second reason…
2. The only way to be able to afford spending an entire season on the mountain skiing and snowboarding
As you probably already know, skiing and snowboarding is f*#$ing expensive!
And it’s not just the ski passes that are expensive; unless you live at the foot of the Swiss Alps, getting to the resort is expensive, the accommodation is expensive, the clothing is expensive, and the gear (your own or rented) is expensive. And if you’re into luxury, well, this can be almost one of the most expensive trips that exists.
However, it’s not impossible for a backpacker to go skiing. I’ve done a few ski “backpacking” trips (moving from ski resort to ski resort) in South America, The United States, Canada, New Zealand, and Europe where I’ve spent a fraction of the cost of a normal ski vacation. Nowadays, there are also many ski resorts in Central and Eastern Europe that are easy to access and much cheaper than your traditional American Rockies or European Alps. In the future, I’ll write an article about how to ski and snowboard cheaply (be sure to sign up for the newsletter on the right or bottom of the page so you know when it’s published!).
Anyways, the important thing here is that these backpacking trips gave me some good mileage, teaching me some “techniques” and giving me some experience in both skiing and snowboarding. Yet, this wasn’t sufficient to satisfy my “thirst” for snow. I decided that the only way I could do this was to work in a ski resort and do something I loved for as long as I wanted. Fortunately, there was one final thing that I knew would make me enjoy being an instructor.
3. I like helping others learn things
I think that you can easily see this on the blog itself. I’d say that 90% of my articles are about “how to do X.” I get pleasure from helping others learn something and seeing the satisfaction it brings them. It’s cool to see someone happy because they didn’t know company Y existed that can help them find such inexpensive flight tickets easily or that company Z sells travel insurance much more cheaply that they’d normally find it. The same thing goes for snow sports. It’s cool to see someone who begins the day not even being able to stand up on skis and ends the day making turns on a green with a huge smiles on their face.
However, as you can probably imagine, it’s not easy for a Brazilian to get a job as a snowsports instructor… especially without some type of accreditation. If you were born in a city in Utah and spend your youth skiing in the mountains, you could find a job, even with qualifications, just through word-of-mouth and connections. Unfortunately, this wouldn’t work for me.
Instead, I had to devise a plan of action to reach my goals that included the following:
- Learn what life was like as a ski and snowboard instructor
- Discover what I needed to do to become one (what courses I needed, etc.)
- Calculate how much it would cost me
- Find out how I would pay for it
- Figure out what my real chances of being an instructor would be once I had an accreditation
- Apply to various ski resorts… and begin working!
Once this was done, it was time for action.
Before I get into the exact steps I took, I think I ought to mention a bit about the Pros and Cons of this lifestyle so you can decide if this is right for you.
Pros and Cons of being a ski and snowboard instructor
- You will have the chance to constantly do a sport that you love and get paid for it!
- You will work in an incredible environment! One time, while going up the mountain at 7 AM during the sunrise with another instructor for some training, we commented about how our “office” now was way better than any other one we’d had before
- You will meet wonderful people with similar interests that you’ll keep as friends for the rest of your lives
- Saying you’re an instructor always impresses the ladies….or guys…
- If you like, there’s a LOT of chances to party. Of course, you’d never work hungover the next day
- -Sometimes, the school will give you free or discounted accommodation and even food
- If you work in different ski resorts, you will be able to travel around the world
- You can have a season pass for free (which is a HUGE saving)!!
- It will keep you in shape!
- In some places, especially The United States, you can make big tips
- It can be a career for the rest of your life…I’ve met instructors older than 70 that are still teaching.
- And finally, just between the two of us, it’s pretty cool to say that you’re a ski and snowboard instructor
- In your first few seasons, you’ll probably just give classes to kids and, let’s be real, this can really suck if they don’t behave well
- Also, in your first seasons you’ll probably just give classes to beginners, who have never seen snow in their lives. So, you’ll have to spend lots of time at the base of the mountain teaching them how to put the boot into the ski, go up in the chairlift, how to turn, stop, etc…
- It can become a bit of a weightlifting workout as you help those beginners stand up after they’ve fallen, position them there, bring them here, etc…. it’s tiring
- Sometimes, there are days with wonderful, fresh snow that you have to miss because you have to spend the day on the bunny hill teaching the basics
- In 90% of the cases, the salary will vary. You get paid by what you teach. So, if there’s no students… no money for you! And, depending on the school, you’ll still have to cover your accommodation and food costs… I’ve met people who’ve finished the season in the negative
- The parties are great, but you have to work almost every day, and it’ll be difficult to party until 5 AM and then be teaching by 8 or 9…. but this happens in ALL resorts around world (I’ve definitely seen instructors vomiting in the middle of classes before)
- The initial investment for courses and accreditation is expensive (and it might take a lot to paid back with what you actually earn)
- You have to study A LOT for the writing tests to pass your courses and exams
- You will definitely get a raccoon-eye tan line from the goggles….and there is nothing you can do about it (not even sunscreen can prevent it 100%)
- You will live in a place that you don’t know with strangers (although for some people this might be a benefit) and you’ll often be sharing rooms…. some people prefer privacy and familiarity.
- You won’t always have days when the sun is out and the snow is high. Sometimes, you’ll have to teach in the middle of a storm with freezing temperatures and a lot of ice… not very pleasant
- You are always living in different places that puts your far from your family, friends, and friends that you might meet during another season
- Some clients will treat you like a servant (I’n not going to mention nationalities here, but everybody in the industry knows where those who act like this are usually from)
- Realistically, you’ll probably not become rich as a ski and snowboard instructor. However, I think if becoming an instructor is one of your dreams, you probably have different priorities…
While the cons definitely make being an instructor sound less glamorous than people usually think it is (isn’t that true with all jobs?), I can absolutely say, without doubt, that the pros will make up for them. So, if I you haven’t been scared off yet, read on.
All of the steps I took to actually become a ski and snowboard instructor
Learn and organize
- The first thing that I did was spend a season in a ski resort in Australia, where I was living at the time, working in a restaurant at the top of the mountain during the day and in another at the base of the mountain at night. My objective was to learn about the environment of working in a ski resort to see if this was what I really wanted to do and make some contacts (truthfully, I think that most people can skip this step).
- Since I had made the decision to become an instructor, I was focusing on saving money because I knew that courses weren’t cheap. I already had a little saved and was trying to saving more with my various jobs in Australia.
- I began to search for different courses and places where I could complete my certification. Alongside this, I began learning about the workings of the system for level classification and the snowsport associations of different countries. The best site that I found explaining this is here: http://ski-instructor-courses.com/different-ski-instructor-qualifications-and-courses/
To simplify it, there are various snowsport federations around the world that all have different systems. In general, the level for instructors goes until 4 for skiing, snowboarding, and telemark skiing. As I said before, it’s difficult, though not impossible, if you have experience with kids and obviously know how to ski or snowboard to get a job without a certification. To be honest, as a level 1 your chances of getting a job don’t increase much. Once you arrive at level 2, you have good chances to find a job in a country where you can legally work already without a special visa.
To really be able to work around the world, where you are so valuable that they will offer you a contract and sponsor your visa, you’ll need to be at least a level 3 in the respective ski or snowboard organization that you are aiming for. This is because, normally, a level 3 gives you the internationally recognized qualification of the International Ski Instructors Organization (ISIA). This basically tells everyone in the snowsports sector that you are really effin’ good. And you can teach pretty much anywhere… once again, I recommend this site for more details about each system: http://ski-instructor-courses.com/different-ski-instructor-qualifications-and-courses/
In my case, after much research, I found a course that was accessible for me in terms of price, time, and location. I completed the CPIT (Coronet Peak Instructors Training Porgram) through the Coronet Peak ski school, a ski station close to Queenstown, New Zealand. I researched, but I could no longer find information about them online so I’ll give a large list of other instructor courses later on in the article.
Complete your course and pass your certification exams
- First, I did the basic 5 week course with the intention to arrive at a snowboard level 1 after the exam. They really were 5 incredible weeks, with incredible people, incredible instructors, an incredible mountain, and an incredible city (Queenstown), with incredible parties and a LOT of snowboarding. It’s truly an experience that will always stay with me. Of course, there actually was some learning involved during the course J. My course (and other courses) should cover a variety of things with the focuses being on improving your ridin’ (or skiing) skills, teaching techniques, safety, and customer service.
- During the course, I realized that would be difficult to find an instructor position around the world with my Brazilian passport… so I decided to do more courses. First I had to return to my studies in Australia for a time and work more to save more. I returned to New Zealand after one month and completed the level 2 course, a “crossover” (covering just basics) into skiing course, and a special course to teach children. It went way over my budget, but it was completely worth it. I left New Zealand with a level 2 certification in snowboarding plus the other courses I mentioned… now I just had to focus on finding a job the following year during winter in the Southern Hemisphere.
TIP: Being a good skier or snowboarder is very important to pass the exams, but it’s not everything. Professionalism, attitude, customer service, and knowing how to communicate to be able to teach are also fundamental. As my own technique is nothing special, I really made an effort to improve in the other areas.
Searching for and finding a job
- If you want to work during a specific season, you’ll need to begin organizing yourself and completing applications for ski resorts at least 6 months before the start of the season. This is what I did (okay well truthfully I started a bit late and 3 resorts had already closed the application). I basically applied for all of the possible choices in Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, and Chile… ALL OF THEM. But just like searching for any type of job, lack of experience, contacts, and other things made it difficult to find a position and I ended up with just two options: a small ski resort in New Zealand or a “large” ski resort in Australia called Thredbo.
The problem with the latter option is that I would have to go to the mountain without guaranteed employment. They would have a selection day where only around 20% of the candidates would be chosen to do a week of training and, if all goes well, would be employed. However, I was applying as a ski instructor (there was less competition) but I only had certification as a snowboard instructor. It was a gamble but I chose to try Thredbo… which ended up being a VERY good gamble. Thredbo is one of the few ski resorts that I know of where you can be hired without a certification. They give you the training you need and during your season you complete additional certifications. I completed a level 2 skiing certification from the Australian Federation, a basic telemark course, an avalanche safety course, and an adapted skiing course (for people with disabilities). Everything incredibly interesting.
- After an awesome and unforgettable season, I aimed for my ultimate goal as an instructor, by trying to teach in Switzerland. In my opinion, Switzerland is one of the most extraordinary countries in terms of mountains for snowsports. I arrived already hired by a school in Zermatt (which, for me, is the best place in the world to spend a winter for many factors). I was helping some other instructors during their classes, but there was a large problem: my Brazilian passport. It ended up being very expensive for the school to hire me and sponsor my visa with the Swiss government. Plus, there was a big chance that my visa would be rejected anyways because, well, it’s Switzerland and full of ski and snowboard instructors and probably doesn’t need a Brazilian there. After trying my luck for a month, I gave up. But it was still a great experience and the school really tried to help me.
- I knew that I would have trouble working in other places because of visa issues, so I focused my last season in a region where I knew I had no legal problems with working: South America. Once again, I applied for various snowsport centers (and some private schools) and ended up being hired by The Snowsports School in Las Leñas, Argentina. I was the first Brazilian ever to be hired by the school (it probably has something to do with, once again, the lack of snow in Brazil?) and I can say that I was incredibly well received by the Argentinians (forget about that silly football rivalry). They accepted me like a brother and I’ll never forget that. And, as a Brazilian, it was very easy to be able to work legally in Argentina for a season.
After yet another amazing season (those Argentinians really know how to party… Fernet Cola!!), I decided to “retire” as a ski and snowboard instructor. I had achieved my goal, had unimaginably wonderful experiences, and met some of the best and fun people in the world… but now it was time to pursue other challenges and dreams.
Some general tips so you can follow the same route and become a ski or snowboarding instructor
- Be careful when choosing what courses to do and which country’s qualification you will get (to be certain that the places where you want to work will accept your qualifications)
- Have an idea of what qualifications the ski resorts that you are applying to require. As I said before, some ask for more while others only ask that you know how to ski or snowboard at a certain level and be “professional”
- Know that these courses will be a large financial investment (although, hopefully, one that’ll pay itself off), so be prepared
- Do other complimentary courses like I did (teaching children, avalanche safety, etc.) if you can
- Ideally, become at least a level 2 (in either ski or snowboarding). To get a level 3, you need some experience by giving classes through several seasons
- In general, it’s easier to find jobs as a ski instructor than a snowboard instructor. This is because young children almost always begin with skiing (so there’s more demand) and more people want to be snowboard instructors (so there’s too much supply). There’s a joke that goes something like this: “What’s the difference between a snowboard instructor and a beginner snowboarder?….. two weeks!”
- Naturally, apply as early as you can…. at least 6 months before the season!
- Apply to the private schools that also give classes in a snowsports centers. For example, in Zermatt there is the “official” school of the mountain along with 3 additional private schools. They all compete with each other and, theoretically, you could work at any of them. Search the internet!
- Be professional! There are lots of guys who are great snowboarders and know everything about the park, but don’t know how to speak to their students politely and explain things clearly. Customer service is very important.
- Pay attention to work permits and visas. This will depend on your passport, of course. You’ll have much higher chances to be hired by a ski school if they don’t have to worry about arranging things with immigration for you. However, if you have a level 3 and above, it’s definitely possible to have the school sponsor your work visa.
- Take a look at this site, which focuses more on skiing than snowboarding, but have excellent information that works for both: http://ski-instructor-courses.com/
- Make a lot of friends and enjoy yourself!!!
Worldwide Instructor Course options
Here’s just a list of companies around that world that offer instructor certification. You can check out these ones but also be sure to do your own research. Almost all have courses, examinations, and certification in both skiing and snowboarding.
INSURANCE TIP: Check with the school you choose if you need some special insurance or if travel insurance is sufficient for you. HCC Medical is the cheapest travel insurance I’ve found and it accepts people from all over the world and covers skiing and snowboarding on track. If you are going to go off pist and park, I would advise you to use WorldNomads Explorer, which gives excellent coverage for the price and can be used for any nationality. To learn more, take a look at my page with the 3 best and cheapest travel insurance in the market.
If a school or company wants to be included on this list or if there are any errors, please let us know in the comments area below.
If you are from Brazil, take a look at the Portuguese version of this article here, since there is a course specific for Brazilians there.
Qualification: New Zealand
Location: New Zealand
Contact and information: http://www.sitco.co.nz
Company: The Winter Sports Company
Qualification: New Zealand Canada, British
Location: Canada, Italy, New Zealand
Contact and Information: http://www.wintersportscompany.com
Contact and Information: http://alltracksacademy.com
Company: Rookie Academy
Qualification: New Zealand, Canada, British, The United States
Location: Canada, The United States, New Zealand
Contact and Information: http://www.rookieacademy.com
Company: Snow Skool
Qualification: New Zealand, Canada, British
Location: New Zealand, Canada, France, Switzerland
Contact and Information: http://www.snowskool.com
Qualification: New Zealand, Canada, France
Location: New Zealand, Canada, France
Contact and Information: http://www.nonstopsnow.com/
Qualification: New Zealand, Canada, British, The United States
Location: New Zealand, Canada, Japan, Switzerland, The United States
Contact and Information: http://www.easkiandsnowboard.com/
Company: Yes Improvement
Contact and Information: https://www.yesimprovement.com
Company: Ski Instructor Academy
Contact and Information: http://www.siaaustria.com
Company: Peak Leaders
Qualification: Canada, British
Location: Canada, Argentina, France, Switzerland,
Contact and Information: http://peakleaders.com
Company: Flying Fish
Qualification: Canada, British
Contact and Information: https://www.flyingfishonline.com
Company: Base Camp
Location: New Zealand, Canada, France
Contact and Information: http://www.basecampgroup.com
Company: Instructor Academy
Contact and Information: http://www.instructor-academy.com
Company: Sunshine World
Contact and Information: http://www.cheapskiinstructortraining.com
Company: Ski Inspired
Contact and Information: http://ski-instructor-courses.com/go/becomeaskiinstructorinspain/
Contact and Information: http://www.snoworksgap.co.uk
Company: Altitude Futures
Contact and Information: http://www.altitude-futures.com
Company: New Generation Ski and Snowboard School
Location: France, Switzerland
Contact and Information: http://www.instructorcourses.skinewgen.com
Company: Snow Trainers
Qualification: New Zealand, The United States
Location: The United States, Japan, New Zealand
Contact and Information: http://www.snowtrainers.com
Company: Section 8 Snowsport Institute
Contact and Information: http://www.section8ski.com
Company: International Academy
Qualification: British, Austria, Canada, New Zealand
Location: France, Switzerland, Austria, Canada, New Zealand
Contact and Information: http://www.skiweekends.com/ski-weekends/skiweekends-snow-academy/
Contact and Information: https://www.nothinbutsnow.com
Contact and Information: http://www.icesi.org
Contact and Information: http://www.skiforce.org
Company: Warren Smith Ski Academy
Contact and Information: http://www.warrensmith-skiacademy.com
Company: The Snow Centre
Location: Reino Unido
Contact and Information: http://www.thesnowcentre.com/lessons/instructor-academy
Company: Inter Ski Snowsport School
Contact and Information: http://www.interskisnowsportschool.co.uk
Company: Canadian Rockies Academy
Contact and Information: http://www.canadianrockiesacademy.com
Company: Ski le Gap
Contact and Information: https://skilegap.com
Company: OnTheMountain Pro
Contact and Information: http://www.onthemountainpro.co.uk
Contact and Information: http://www.skivo2.co.uk
Contact and Information: http://www.gapski.com
Contact and Information: http://www.britishskischool.com
Qualification: British, France
Contact and Information: http://www.snoworks.co.uk
Here’s another good page, organized by dates and prices, of instructor courses. Unfortunately, it’s just for skiing : http://ski-instructor-courses.com/ski-course-database/
Okay, well, I know this article ended up pretty long with a little bit about my mini career as an instructor, how to begin, and other information to help you decide if this is something that you want to do…. hopefully, though, it’ll help someone out there!
So, do you think becoming an instructor is something you’d like to do? Do you still have any doubts? Did I miss any information that I should have included? Leave your opinions, questions, and suggestions in the comments area below.
And I wish you a lot of powder, always!!
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