Waking up in the morning, looking out the window to 8 inches of fresh powder, stepping into your boots, gliding to work and then getting paid to ski all day, everyday. Sounds like every snow bums dream. Right?
Being a ski instructor may sound like the most glamorous job in the world, (possibly second only to being a professional instagramer).
So, how much do you get paid as a ski instructor? In the early days of being a ski instructor, with a level 1 qualification, you can expect to earn between $9-$20 per hour depending on the country in which you teach. After years of hard work, training and exams – fully certified and experienced ski instructors often earn upwards of $60 per hour.
The answer is a little complicated as there are many, many different factors that all contribute to your seasonal income.
When you look at these salaries on a per hour basis, they don’t look half bad right? There are many more factors to take into consideration, such as the inflated cost of living found in most ski resorts, and the lack of consistency in work hours.
What determines how much you can earn as a ski instructor?
There are so many different variations on how your wage is calculated for a season from resort to resort, some of the main factors are as follows.
- Level/association of qualification
There are many different associations around the world who have qualifying bodies and exams for becoming a ski instructor. Although most of them all work on a 1-4 level rating, not all the levels are comparable.
- Country of employment
As with anything, different countries pay different rates in line with minimum wages and costs of living.
- Number of teaching hours/seasons worked
Not all resorts or even countries take this into consideration however some resorts offer a more progressive pay system for instructors in this sense. Once you have reached a certain milestone in number of teaching hours per season, you will receive a small pay increase. Similarly, some schools give an automatic pay increase, each season you return to work.
- Role within ski school
There are many roles within a ski school, ranging from rookie instructors to program managers and instructor trainers. In your first season you are normally ranked towards the bottom, however even with little experience, it is often possible to work your way up to level leaders. The more seasons and experience you have under your belt, the more opportunities to move up the ladder and start earning the big bucks will present themselves.
- Hours worked
Working hours as a ski instructor are probably the most unpredictable of any profession on, or off the slopes. In most cases, you are only paid for hours of lessons worked. This can vary from 0-8 hour each day, and again from week to week. Some ski schools offer a standby rate, meaning if you are called into work, you will be paid a minimum amount of hours for the day regardless of if you actually teach any lessons. This is generally 2 hours for part –timers, and 4 for full time, however only some offer this as part of their contract.
Another thing to look out for when searching for your first job is any bonuses that the school may offer. Types of bonuses can come in a range of different forms. Ski schools may give a once off bonus to reward a certain amount of hours worked per season, a pay increase once a milestone is reached or even gift vouchers to the instructors with the most hours.
Ski schools generally pay instructors commission on private lesson sales they help to generate. Usually, when a client books a private lesson and requests you by name, you receive a small percentage of the fee.
Do ski instructors get tips?
Yes and no, this is again dependent on who and where you are teaching. In countries like Australia and New Zealand where there is next to no tipping culture, it is pretty rare to be handed that sweet wad of cash at the end of a lesson.
On the other hand, in places like North America, it is much more common to be rewarded for your extra effort and service.
This is usually taken into consideration in your wages, meaning you will be paid a higher hourly rate in Australia to compensate for the lack of tips.
How does it work, when you work for a ski school?
In order to have enough staff to meet demand in the height of peak season, ski schools must over hire instructors.
You may have heard stories of instructors struggling to find work, this generally happens at the beginning and end of the season when the competition is tough.
Because of this, lessons are usually dealt out on a ranking system. Those with the highest qualifications will be given lessons first, followed by those with the most experience, moving onto the most recommended/hardworking instructors and so on until all the students and lessons for the day have been dealt.
Often there are more instructors than lessons being sold, in this case, the lowest ranking instructors will be sent away with no work.
As lessons take place at multiple different times, this process will be repeated 3-5 times throughout the day and more factors will be introduced, such as those who have not worked a sufficient amount of hours will be moved up in the ranking.
In order to be able to make a decent wage and earn your way up the ranking, it is extremely important to put in the extra effort and network both within your ski school and your client base.
Part time vs Full time Ski Instructor Wages
This is an important question that actually has a larger impact on your wage than you would think. With the lack of guaranteed hours, on first thought, you may think it would be best to work part time ski school and take on a second, more stable part time job.
For your season, this isn’t actually a very good idea. Thinking about the ranking system already mentioned, being a first season, level 1, part-time instructor would actually place you at the bottom of the ladder.
Being at the end of the pecking order and having reduced availability means you might not get many hours of lesson, resulting in a lot of skiing time, but not much income.
Part time can work great after you have spent a few seasons working for the same company, building your reputation and report with the school and building your client bass.
Personally, for your first season I would advise committing as a full time instructor. If you find you still need a little more income, you can always find after-hours part time work on the side.
What qualifications do you need?
To work as a ski instructor you do need to be qualified by a professional governing body however, finding courses/exams all over the world to get you started couldn’t be easier!
Gaining your level 1 qualification is designed to be a simple process to help get people started in the industry and you don’t have to register with your own country of nationality.
In most cases, the level 1 certification is an easy 3 day interactive course which both teaches you to teach, and assesses your skills as you go. A friendly way to gain a qualification that helps you make money from your passion.
Moving up to level 2, the process becomes a little more intense. Usually involving multiple days of courses and exams, for level 2 and above you really need to prove your worth.
To get started, look up the website for the instructor association in the country of your choice. Book a course and attend!
Here are some links to the most popular countries’ associations:
NEW ZEALAND: https://www.nzsia.org/
How good of a skier do I need to be?
It is a common misconception that you have to be the most amazing skier to become an instructor.
This is not true. Whilst it’s not suited to first timers, you only need to be at a high intermediate standard to start teaching beginners. In fact, I passed my level 1 exam just 2 years after learning to ski!
A good guide to your level of competency is to be highly proficient at parallel skiing on blue runs and comfortable skiing easy blacks. Everything from here on out you can easily learn through instructor training.
Can you make a career as a ski instructor?
Absolutely! A lot of my friends work full time, year round as professional ski instructors. Moving between the southern and northern hemisphere, it is easy to spend your whole life in the snow.
That being said, it is a lot of dedication, training and hard work to make a serious income from the profession. Due to the competitive nature and continually increasing standards of practice, passing the higher-level exams is getting harder and harder each year.
Above being a regular ski instructor, you can become an instructor trainer, course examiner or even a ski school director!
Is it really the dream job?
Being an instructor defiantly has its perks, as long as you are willing to put in the hard yards. Know that as a rookie ski instructor, you often get stuck with the worst lessons.
Ski instructing for kids is often seen as glorified babysitting. In your first season you will spend a lot of your time stuck on the baby slopes, whilst it dumps down powder on the peaks above you.
Standing at a line up 3+ times a day and then not getting paid a cent can suck and slogging through this is tough, but it can also be rewarding.
Think about if you are likely to spend multiple seasons building a life at the snow or just want to ski for one solid season. If you fall into the later category and don’t already have a burning desire to teach others about your passion, you are probably better off finding a night time job in hospitality, leaving you free to ride all day.
On the other hand, getting a free pass, an amazing community and a wealth of experience and training over a few years, being a ski instructor can be an extremely beneficial job.
Sometimes those 5 year olds will already be star skiers and you get to ride the slopes with a little ripper for a few hours. Sometimes you get given an adult private lesson with a figure skater, who picks it up so quickly you’re up the chair lift in no time. Sometimes, there’s just no work so you get sent to ride pow all day.
Advice For Your First Season
If snotty nosed 4 year olds, -30 degree temperatures and sporadic hours don’t scare you. Go and get your qualification, get hired, network and work hard.
This is basically all it comes down to if you want to stand out, get more lessons and make decent money from teaching others to enjoy your passion.
Remember, every student in every lesson you teach is the opportunity to book a private request, generating commission and boosting your reputation among the ranks.
Networking within the ski school is also important. Make yourself stand out to the supervisors and ski school management team by going above and beyond. Come early to line-ups, always volunteer for opportunities that present itself and be friendly to all your colleagues. You might not know it, but people are always watching, your attitude is being noted, and you can easily use this in your favor!
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Kate is a professional ski instructor who has been adventuring her way around the world since 2015. Whilst immersing herself in cultures from over 50 countries across 6 continents, she seeks the mountains where ever she goes. Explore the outdoor world with her as she hikes, climbs and skis through life on instagram @bagsalwayspacked. Visit www.bags-always-packed.com for off the beaten path hiking guides and backpacker travel budget secrets!