Choosing where you want to work as a ski instructor
Our Complete guide to the pros and cons of becoming a ski instructor by country.
Working as a ski instructor is an incredibly rewarding experience. You get to spend your days in some of the most beautiful environments the world has to offer, you meet an incredibly diverse range of people and you help them achieve their goals and have fun.
Each country is slightly different though and working in Canada will be an incredibly different experience from working in France. Not only are the experiences different but the amount of money you will earn can vary wildly.
The following information focuses on pay, security, career progression and which qualifications are recognised. Depending on your Citizenship status you may also need to factor in the Right to Work in a given country. We are not experts on VISA’s but can give general advice. If you are accepted onto a course that requires you to have a VISA our team will organise this with you.
We have expanded on the details of Skiing in Northern American resorts under the Canadian section, so make sure you read on for more information about the general North American experience.
There are six main areas in America where you will find ski resorts; New England, mid-Atlantic, Southeast, Midwest, Rocky Mountains and the West Coast.
New England, South East and Mid Atlantic generally get lumped together under the umbrella East Coast Resorts. Very few of Americas famous resorts are found in this part of the country. While it is a vast generalisation, East Coast Resorts have a reputation for being quite icey and getting less fresh snow.
The Midwest, West Coast and the Rocky Mountains are home to some of Americas most famous resorts.
Utah specifically is renowned for getting lots of powder, while over the border in Colorado, you can find some of the most famous resorts in America, including Vail. Further north, Wyoming is home to Jackson Hole, a must for many freeride skiers.
On the west coast, you have resorts like Mammoth and Heavenly. Recently snowfall on the West Coast has been hit and miss, and many resorts have experienced increasing annual temperatures.
We would head to the west coast if you are looking to maximise earnings; for Powder days and the best terrain, we would look at the Rockies and Midwest. For easy access to the industry, we would suggest the north coast.
Many people see Austria as the birthplace of Alpine Skiing as we know it today. It was in Austria that skis changed from the more classic method of transportation used by the Scandinavian nations towards more modern Alpine Skis. It is also home to the first formal Ski Lessons and Ski School with Hannes Schneider launching the ski school Arlberg 100 years ago in 1921.
Austria is a great place to work and train as a ski instructor. There is a high demand for lessons and the Ski Schools are set up to support the ongoing development of young instructors. When not working it is quite likely that you will have the opportunity to train with one of the more experienced instructors on the team.
Many Austrian schools will place instructors on a contract that guarantees them a minimum number of hours, includes accommodation and your lift pass. This dramatically reduces the financial pressure, especially on a young instructor.
We do have a few words of warning though. While most schools look after their instructors incredibly well some are less supportive. We have heard stories about schools suspending contacts when work is quiet. This puts the cost of your accommodation up and means you have to pay for your lift pass if you want to continue skiing. It is worth talking to past instructors to hear their experiences.
Hourly rates vary dramatically depending on your qualification level.
These hourly rates are lower than instructors may find they are able to earn in the rest of Europe or Switzerland. The big difference is though that in Austria you are an employee and have all the normal benefits included with that, such as; sick pay, holiday pay, health care and so on. This is not the case in many other nations.
Recognition of qualifications in Austria is a complicated subject. All non-Austrian qualifications have to be approved and the holders have to apply for equivalence. For other EU qualification systems, this is mainly a formality. For 3rd Nation Systems like BASI, APSI, NZSIA and others it is a more complicated process but we have had individuals with qualifications in those systems work for us in the past.
Qualification recognition is only part of the challenge. You do also need to factor in the employability of your qualification. Many Austrian schools will favour the Austrian qualification system and its instructors. There is an element of national pride here but as we mentioned they are also set up to support the development of instructors within this pathway. Other more international schools are more open to other qualifications but may not be able to provide the same level of ongoing career support.
Skiing in Canada and, more generally, across North America will feel incredibly different if you are used to skiing in Europe.
The first thing to talk about is snowfall. Many people will say that they have experienced better, more consistent powder in Canada than in Europe. They are probably right. Whistler Blackcomb has an average annual snowfall of 11.38 metres. To put that in perspective, some of the most snow-sure resorts in France, Tignes and Val d’Isere, get 4.5 metres.
If thinking about taking a ski instructor job in Canada, do make sure you do your research. Not every resort is as snow sure as Whistler, and resorts on the East Coast can get very mixed reviews.
The big difference you will notice on snow is around the perception of off-piste skiing. In most European ski areas, you have marked pisted runs, which are patrolled and secured by Pisteurs. The remaining terrain that does not impact any marked runs is only lightly managed. Decisions on the safety of skiing this terrain are left entirely to the individual, and good knowledge of avalanche safety and rescue techniques are essential.
In most of North America, things are a little different. While the resort does have pisted/groomed runs and non-pisted areas, everything within the resort boundary is patrolled and secured. If parts of the resort are deemed unsafe due to avalanche or other risks, that part of the resort is closed. Theoretically, this means that you can ski anywhere within the resort boundary without avalanche safety gear. Accidents do still happen, and we would still encourage you to wear safety gear.
Outside of the resort boundary, you are on your own, and you must have a full avalanche safety kit and a high level of avalanche awareness.
The differences don’t stop there. In many North American resorts, the entire resort infrastructure is owned and operated by one company. This means there is only one ski school, and they will work closely with the resort management to create a great learning environment for clients. Generally, these schools are also better positioned to help with staff accommodation.
While there are many positives to one company owning and operating the entire resort, the lack of competition can have its downsides. Prices at some resorts are considerably higher than in Europe, and Instructor pay can be a lot lower.
On average, as a ski instructor in Canada, you can expect to earn.
In addition to your hourly pay, there is more of a tipping culture in North America, and you may find the cost of living is a little lower.
For many Europeans (often excluding Austrians), France is seen as the final rung on the ladder for becoming a ski instructor. The mountains are not necessarily any bigger. Some would argue the skiing is no better, but the pay is, without a doubt, much higher.
This high pay does come at a price, and that is a high barrier to entry.
Two main pathways will allow you to work as a ski instructor in France.
Once you are qualified to work in France, you will be among the world’s highest-paid Ski Instructors. While exact rates do vary from resort to resort, you can expect to be paid;
As the entry barriers are so high, you are unlikely to need to worry about the employability of the qualification you choose, and you will most likely find that you have offers from several schools.
If you have earned your qualification through the French State Diploma, it is likely that you will have been embedded in a ski school for the duration of your training. During this time, you will work your way up a priority list, helping you ensure more consistent hours.
Despite the high barriers to entry, there is a far higher level of commercial competition between Ski Schools and Instructors than in most countries. As a result, the quality of lessons and instructors is incredibly high.
So what are the downsides of working in France? There are very few, but you do need to prepare for slightly higher rent than you would expect to pay elsewhere.