Interview: How to become a professional snowboard instructor

by Fraser

For many passionate snowboarders the annual pilgrimage of 1-2 weeks of snow time each year is what you live for. Sadly, the trip usually passes in the blink of an eye and then it’s back to the daily grind of 9-5, and wishing the weeks away until the next trip. Have you ever considered the idea of trying to align your career with your passion? There are opportunities available that will allow you to spend not just weeks in the mountains, but months. Ever thought of training to become a professional snowboard instructor? 

We caught up with WE ARE SNO’s Operations Director, Adrian Gourlay for some insight on the subject . WE ARE SNO are an international provider of snowboard instructor training and over the last two decades Adrian has helped hundreds of passionate snowboarders (and skiers!) turn their hobby into a successful career. We asked him some questions to help understand the snowsports industry and how you can kick-start a new career in the most efficient way. 

1. What type of course is best for pursuing a career in snowsports?

If you’re serious about becoming a snowboard instructor and are hoping for a fasttrack way into the industry you really need to be looking at snowboard instructor internship courses. The snowboard internship, as it is often called, is a packaged course which will see you professionally trained, qualified and employed within a 3-4 week time period.

The key differentiator, and reason to choose an internship over a regular training course is the employment element of the package. Once qualified you will have the opportunity to take up a full time, fully paid snowboard instructors position in a reputable snowsports school and gain valuable work experience. Employers are strict when it comes to hiring new personnel and very reluctant to hire any qualified instructor with no prior work experience. 


2. What qualifications are recommended?

There are a number of different qualifications available worldwide. They are offered by a selection of national governing bodies and it usually depends on where you train as to which qualification system you will work towards. As long as the qualification is offered by a member state from the International Ski Instructor Association (ISIA) it will be recognised internationally and accepted by most major ski schools. 

I strongly recommend that all snowboarders aim to get both the level 1 and level 2 qualifications during their internship course. The level 2 is the minimum standard industry requirement when looking to work multiple seasons. Level 1 is an entry level qualification which is required to legally work as a snowboard instructor, the certification can usually be achieved with 3-4 weeks of training including a 4 day exam. Successful completion of the certification allows the holder to teach beginner snowboarders. Level 2 is the next step and more difficult to achieve. It requires an additional 3-4 weeks of specific training with a longer exam and allows the holder to teach intermediate level riders on varied terrain types.

There are additional qualifications that can also increase your chances of securing employment for future winters. They include freestyle specific courses, qualifications for teaching children and avalanche safety.


3. What are the best destinations for becoming a snowboard instructor?

There is no doubt that Canada has been really popular over the last decade, seen as a safe option with good snow and a laid back lifestyle. In recent years I have seen a shift in popularity towards Japan as a destination. Historically it was always a challenge to dispel the myth of the language being an issue. Certainly the larger resorts are now heavily westernised with an abundance of English speakers and many international snowsports schools. Quite frankly the snow is on another level, there is a lot of work for snowboarders, and it offers a completely unique travel experience. 

In terms of resorts, Niseko in Japan gets a lot of interest at the moment, and rightly so. It is the snowiest of the larger resort areas and located on the Northern island of Hokkaido, which has become a very popular international destination. However, you don’t need to be picky, Japan has hundreds of resorts to choose from and some of the smaller, quirky spots are packed with charm (and have no lift queues).

One of my favourite resources for understanding the many resorts is Snow Season Central. It’s a website that has some really detailed information on the different towns, terrain and set up of each. 


4. Are there any requirements or restrictions?

Generally speaking courses are made up of like minded individuals between the ages of 18-30. All with a passion for snowsports and with some prior knowledge of the sport. You don’t need to be a professional rider or have been on the slopes since you were a toddler to attend. 

Snowboard internships include training, qualification and employment all in the same season. The employment element of the course can be a restrictive component to some as it requires a working holiday visa to be granted. As mentioned applicants do need to have some prior on-snow experience. We require between 4-6 weeks for our level 1 internships and 6+ weeks for level 2 as a minimum. 


5. What qualities and experiences are useful when applying for a ski instructor internship?

When applying for a ski instructor internship the likelihood is that you will have a series of telephone conversations with the training provider. This is your chance to ask thoughtful questions about the course and the company and get an understanding of what is involved.

When interviewing candidates for positions on our courses I am looking for confident, inquisitive individuals who can hold a good conversation. Successful applicants are usually fun and energetic with a real passion for snowsports. It helps to have some experience in coaching, mentoring or tutoring, however basic. The Duke of Edinburgh award scheme or any volunteer work is also highly thought of. As is time spent living away from home, traveling, and language skills. 


6. On average, how much does instructor training cost?

There’s actually no definitive answer here as no two courses are the exact same. Usually the resort, qualification/s, accommodation and inclusions will all differ, that’s why it’s important to understand what you are getting for your money. A good starting point is around £5,000, for an entry level qualification course. That figure is likely to exceed £7,000 for a more comprehensive package with additional training and qualifications offered.

Be sure to complete thorough research when assessing which course might be the most suitable. Dig deep into the inclusions, compare courses and providers side-by-side and understand any differences. Most will not include flights, insurance and equipment, but will offer advice and assistance on these elements. 


7. Any top tips for securing an instructor job once qualified?

You’ll be in a great position to find future work after your first winter if you qualify as a level 2 instructor. Here are a few tips I give to our internship candidates who are hoping to work multiple seasons:

  1. Don’t be fussy when it comes to resorts. Of course the majority of newly qualified instructors want to work at the larger more glamorous resorts. The reality is that you have a far better chance of gaining employment at the smaller and lesser known areas.

  2. Make your application stand out.  Be sure to research any resort that you are applying to and personalise any covering letters you send out. Consider following up with a phone call to introduce yourself to make a lasting impression.

  3. Work as hard as you can. The internship is a fantastic opportunity to network and set up future work opportunities. Volunteer for extra shifts and help out in other departments, it will get noticed. The community is small and the industry rewards hard workers.


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