Ski instructing – my honest opinion
During the 2017 winter, I skied 64 days straight and 126 days total at eight resorts across Colorado and Utah. I didn’t pay for a single lift ticket. I got paid (modestly) to do things that my dream financial standing probably couldn’t justify. This is how it happened:
From an internet café in Perth, Western Australia, I applied to be a ski instructor with Vail Resorts. I had just hung up from a conversation with my dad that I’ll sum up here:
Me – I think I’m going to stay in Perth.
Dad – Ok, but remember, it’s always good to have options.
That made sense. I submitted applications to 5 of the 14 Vail Resorts. Within the following few days, I received an email to set up a phone interview, I stayed up to 3 a.m. (noon MST) for that 30-min phone interview (I’d like to note that the conversation had nothing to do with ski ability), and I was offered a job at the resort of my choice. I knew I wanted to be in Colorado. I was leaning towards Breckenridge, but I messaged a friend who was born and raised in Boulder to ask if he had a favorite Colorado mountain. He grew up skiing at Beaver Creek. His praise was so clearly genuine. I emailed the hiring manager that I wanted to work at Beaver Creek. I could start December 15th.
That was October. In November, I drove a van along Australia’s East Coast. At the end of that 32-day trip, I was torn: fly back to Perth or fly home and move to Colorado. It could only be described as a flip-a-coin decision. I flew home to Philadelphia on December 3rd, unpacked then repacked for a flight to Colorado on December 14th and started work at Beaver Creek on December 15th. I’ve been skiing since I was 3-years-old. I thought I was a good skier. I quickly learned I wasn’t. But that was fine.
The first eight days were called “new hire training,” but it became an eight-day private lesson with one of the industry’s best. When I took the job, I was unconvinced about the value of ski lessons. The stereotype that played in my mind was ‘ski school is a glorified day care – who gets lessons besides kids and first-timers?’ I immediately experienced the value. My skiing improved dramatically over those eight days. My trainer did teach me how to teach skiing, but he dissected and progressed my skiing beyond any expectation. I improved my skiing three levels to now be called advanced. I was addicted. If I wasn’t teaching, I was learning. If I wasn’t learning, I was free skiing. If I wasn’t free skiing, I was watching ski films. If I wasn’t watching ski films, I was sleeping.
Like any job, it was hard work. I count on one hand the number of nights I was awake past 10 p.m. – I was consistently tired from a days work like I’d never before experienced. It felt like being on stage. I like to describe instructors as quick-change artists – constantly adjusting and adapting to different people with different personalities, different learning styles, and different motivations. The audience is never the same but they pay for a ticket and expect a good show. It can be mentally and physically demanding, but the rewards heavily outweigh the work:
I met a lot of cool people. When the audience is never the same, you meet a lot of different people each day. Beaver Creek guests are global. I taught kids, adults, and families from you name it. The happiness inherent to learning new things on a mountain in Colorado created only great experiences with each person. Many of those relationships extend beyond just their vacation. My “clients” became friends.
I formed lifelong friendships. At new hire orientation, I sat at a table with Mike from Florida, Tyler from California, Sarah from Canada, Marshall from Texas, and Sam from Florida. All recent college graduates new to Colorado, all anxiously open to making new friends, and all living in the same employee housing, we made plans to hangout that night. That was that – we spent everyday of the next five months together. I then travelled to New Zealand with Tyler and Sarah. I talk to Mike and Sam weekly. And I now live with Marshall. We’re all unconvincing in our reasons for choosing Beaver Creek, but we’re all annoyingly reminiscent of our season at Beaver Creek.
I skied the best snow of my life. Beaver Creek’s tagline is, “The World’s Best Family Luxury Resort.” If you fly into Denver, to get to Beaver Creek, you drive past Breckenridge, Keystone, A-basin, and Vail. Locals don’t do that. Skiers don’t do that. And so, Beaver Creek attracts predominantly family vacationers, the majority of which are beginners. Deep snow is not conducive to learning how to ski. When it snows at Beaver Creek, most guests don’t bother. So every powder day, my friends and I got cut from work and had The World’s Best Family Luxury Resort to ourselves.
Ski instructing felt like thievery. The price for a day pass at a Vail resort on average is $150. I got 126 of those. A private lesson for a day at Beaver Creek is close to $1000. I got, I’ll safely estimate, a dozen of those. I worked a job with people in a place I could otherwise only wish to afford. Mike, after a few beers, would say, “we live their vacation.” To which, I’d say, “weird brag, Mike.” But in his defense, it did feel like that.