10 Things Ski & Snowboard Exams Don’t Teach You

Booked on your gap year or career break. Turned up. Tuned in. Partied hard but skied or snowboarded harder. Passed the exams. Now surely that first day in uniform with your group will be easy.

Or maybe not… 

Here’s a guide to 10 Things Ski & Snowboard Exams Don’t Teach You 

1) The Number One Question to Ask at the Start of a Lesson

How good a skier? What are we improving today? Do you have any goals? No, none of these are the number one question. Even though that’s the textbook stuff exams are passed with. Why? Because as a new instructor you’re likely to have a group of kids. Kids who are always gonna need to go to the loo. Just hopefully not on themselves, or worse, you. So the number one question to ask at the start of a lesson is: “Has he/she been to the toilet?” Quickly followed by: “Can he/she go themselves?” Oh and if the kiddie is struggling after a bout of diarrhea but the parents insist he/she is ok to join the lesson, just say no – you don’t want to be dealing with THAT on the slopes, I’ve seen it and it’s not pretty.

2) Definitely Invent a Fantasy “Summer” Life

On the first lift up, comes the inevitable question: “So, what do you do in the summer?” Here’s your chance to let every creative bead of sweat pour out of you. I knew an instructor who’d always earnestly explain he was a penguin trainer for zoos around the world. The group were instantly hooked! He’d go through how penguins don’t like to run. Or get a cold belly. Or slide. When you see them do the fast waddling, drop to their belly and causally slide into the pool – well that was a result of him spending weeks training the penguins. All it took was fish treats, a trip wire and plenty of patience. Honestly, the group were astounded and hook, line and sinker he had them believing it all.

3) People Really Can’t Ski/Snb

The greatest illusion of ski/snowboard exams is everyone on them can ski or ride. It comes as a bit of a shock then when your group suddenly can’t. Or carry skis. Or know if they regular or goofy. Or walk down the stairs in ski boots. Or do up their buckles. Or lace up their boots. Or fix ankle straps. Or do jacket zips. Or, or, or… oh, the list goes on and on. In fact, before you even get to try and help them on the slopes, just making sure everyone’s dressed with equipment on is a mission in itself. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.

4) Flat Means Flat … No, Really … Flat


Emma getting the group to check the flatness

Stand at the bottom of the beginner hill (if you are lucky enough to have one) and look up. Now slowly let your gaze drop. Keep going down the slope. Take in that really “steep” hill (it will be to them). Keep letting your head fall forwards. By now you are looking at your feet. Look behind you. For sure you’ll have walked up a bit. Turn around. Walk all the way to the bottom. And then when there’s nothing but acres of flat white expanse… hello dream “slope”! Or nightmare depending. Because first-timers need pancake flatness. Just the hint of a hill and they’ll be sliding backwards quicker than a trained penguin. It really is that amazing. Bambi on ice doesn’t even come close to the carnage you’ll experience with a beginner group on an incline.

5) When One Goes, They All Go

This can stand for many things. For instance, the one guy who’s been looking confused. You thought he was the only one. Suddenly, his frown can take it no longer and he says the fateful words: “I don’t really understand.” At which point everyone else in the group goes: “Me neither!” Or the one little kid who puts his hand up to let you know: “I need the loo.” Brings on a deafening domino effect of all the kids screaming: “Me too!” It’s just how it is. Group mentality. Which is why at one very large ski school I used to work at, an instructor would always make a big show of thanking anyone who tipped him at the end of a lesson. Why? Because then the rest of the group would go … “Oh, yes, thank you, here’s something too.”

6) Never Take the Lift Before You’re 100% Sure

After about ten minutes on the flat (see number 4) the group get bored. You get bored. And tired from helping them up. Sometimes literally by pulling them up the slope. And that tick, tick, tick of the lift starts to sound appealing. But fight the urge. Because unless you’re 100% sure everyone will make it to the top – there’ll be tears. And while you can hide any shortcomings in your group’s performance in the safety of the flat. Put them on big stage of the “lift queue” and it might bring the curtain down on your teaching career for good. Oh and always line them up for the lift in order of ability (ie best ones in front). Because if the first one falls off, well go back up the list to number 5.

7) That “Really Easy Slope” … Isn’t

You probably know the resort pretty well. After all you’ve been skiing or riding it for 10 weeks. But you’ve not had a group with you, relying on you to pick the best run. So the slope you think is “really easy” – you know the one, it’s got that “little steep section” in it – well for them that’s like a 50 degree colouir. We’ve all been there. I once walked (if you’re a snowboarder this will quickly become more natural than riding for teaching purposes) a group down an entire blue run that normally I’d ride in less than 5 minutes. It took over 3 hours and 45 minutes. The combination of a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 “perfect storm” of teaching disasters. No matter how well you think you know the resort it can still happen.

8) Always Carry Mirrored Lenses

Now on the exams you might have been told eye contact is really important. Lift up the googles or sunnies when you introduce yourself at the start? Humm, what the examiner has obviously forgotten as he/she has gotten older is the reason you’re in a ski resort – aprés time! Which if like me used to then lead to bar time, club time, and very little bed time… means you’ll be looking slightly worse for wear. Especially in the eye department. So best to have the mirrors ready at all times. I once knew an instructor who managed an entire day’s lesson in a white out with them on. He explained to his group the white out glare was really dangerous what with all the reflected sunlight and all. And when he had to nip into the woods to be sick he blamed it on nausea from the blanket of white fog.

9) Mint Chewing Gum Will Be Your New Best Friend

See number 8, it will be, honestly. Jaeger won’t. But it’ll pretend to be.

10) It’s Not All That Serious, Really


Tammy from MINT Snowboarding keeping it real

Really, it is just teaching people on holiday to ski or snowboard. People, who likely, even mum and dad with the little kid in number 1, are just as hungover as you half the time. It should be about the fun. On the stress of the exams sometimes this can be forgotten. The fact everyone’s on holiday. Even you. Because let’s face it cruising around the slopes for a couple of hours each day isn’t a hard life. Trust me. When your group get back to the chalet and recall the day it’ll be the fun bits they chat about. Not how well you explained the intricate balance of pressure, edge and rotary separation required to hold a constant speed relative to the slope angle. I’m mean why not just say “pizza” like everyone else!


This kinda sums it all up…

If you’re thinking of a gap or career break get in touch!!! We’ll keep it fun!!!