Becoming a Ski Instructor – What’s it Really Like?

Written by Rob Stewart, Editor at Snow Guide and featuring BASI ISTD Marc Walton

Marc Walton has recently passed his full Level 4 ISTD (International Ski Teacher Diploma) through the BASI (British Association of Snowsports Instructors) system, which means he can work independently as a ski instructor in France.

It’s no mean feat and can take years of training and exams to get through to the very top tier of the system – but it’s what you have to do if you want to work in France where salaries are higher and work is readily available.

Marc now works for BASS (British Alpine Ski School) in Morzine and Snow.Guide Ski Editor, Rob Stewart, speaks to him about why he choose to teach and what it’s like to be a ski instructor during the first winter.

Rob: What drove you to become a ski instructor in the first place?

Marc: I started skiing before I can remember and always loved it, then I joined the local freestyle club and moved onto teaching freestyle and the basics of skiing. Helping people to improve their skiing skills and techniques is just an amazing and rewarding feeling, I just want to share my knowledge and passion on to others. I had always wanted to do a season out in the Alps somewhere, However, as I got to AS level at school I didn’t really want to go to University, especially as I didn’t know what I wanted to study at that time.

Rob: What was the biggest challenge to achieving your level 4 ISTD qualification?

Marc: My personal challenge was the French oral assessment as I am dyslexic and found this hard, as I was never given the opportunity to learn French at school. I also did an adaptive (disabled skiing) course, which I found satisfying and challenging in trying to understand the wide range of disabilities on both the physical and mental side.

Rob: What do you like best about being an instructor?

Marc: Working in the mountains; especially on the days when the skies are blue, skiing the fresh powder before anyone else skis it, working with all age groups – I get a real mix of learners from week to week, this is so satisfying for me personally.

Rob: and the worst thing?

Marc: There is no real worst thing for me, the only downside occasionally would be the weather when there is low visibility and bad snow conditions, as it makes it more challenging when developing clients.

Rob: Did you choose the resort you are working in and if so why?

Marc: I choose this area (Morzine) as it has one of the largest skiing areas in Europe (some 650kms), there is a wide range of ski terrain which suits all abilities and you can be skiing in France one minute, then skiing in Switzerland the next. I also like the friendly atmosphere of Morzine and the local people.

Rob: When you first started teaching skiers in a mountain environment, what was your number one priority with that group?

Marc: My number one priority after ensuring the safety of the group is getting them engaged in conversation with me about the forthcoming session whilst checking they have all their equipment – and it’s fit for purpose. Getting them to interact with me, then we can start to have fun and enjoy the session and ultimately we all build a team together.

Rob: What was your biggest challenge or incident that you had to deal with during your first season teaching and how did you deal with it?

Marc: I found one of the challenges was group dynamics; this at times was stretching my ability as I had to try to meet all expectations with a cross section of people with all different learning styles, emotions and commitments to skiing

Rob: Do you think that ski teaching is a good long-term career move for a young person into the sport, and why?

Marc: for me personally, yes it is a long term career being a young person in this sport, the lifestyle is very good as well as the good earning potential and career development on offer.

Rob: Who do you look up to in the sport of skiing in the UK?

Marc: I don’t really look up to anyone in principle in the snow sports world. Everyone has got different skills to offer. But saying that I do have an older brother who is a BASI trainer and got a younger brother who is newly qualified as an ISTD. All three of us push each other to the next level. I just try to be as good as I can.

Rob: What kind of other tools do you use with clients to get them to improve off the slopes?

Marc: I use several tools; some of the keys ones are using a Swiss Ball or balance board to work on core strength by balancing and testing balance by squatting or tucking on the ball or board. To fine tune the sensation of true balance I suggest the SkiA sweetspot trainer, a device which creates immediate awareness of how accurate the skier is balancing – once they feel in balance they can add in pivoting and lateral movements or move onto harder balancing blocks. Skiers can then take this sensation directly onto the snow.

Rob: What’s next for the summer and next winter?

Marc: I’m looking to get involved into the professional training program at our ski school, delivering sessions to up and coming instructors. I will be based in Morzine working with BASS Morzine & Les Gets. I’m also looking to pursue further snowboarding qualifications next winter.

Rob: If you weren’t a ski instructor then you’d be a ……?

Marc: to be perfectly honest I cannot think of wanting to do anything else other than skiing.