It is every passionate skier's dream to get paid to ski. There is a kid inside all of us who dreams of being sponsored, appearing in the latest Level 1 movie or having a line of skis with our name on them. For a lucky few, through a combination of hard work, fortune and pure talent, this dream can be come a reality. For a much larger percentage it cannot.
So, I wasn't lucky enough to grow up in a ski town, my parents weren't wealthy enough to take me and my two siblings on yearly ski trips and certainly couldn't afford tuition. I come from a country that has no snow, at 23 I am now already too old to ever reach the 'gold' standard in skiing and sadly it is likely that I may just not be that talented. But that will never stop me from chasing that elusive dream of one day getting paid to ski.
So whats the next best thing? I, like many others chose to pursue a career in the ski industry in the hope that it would allow me chase my dreams and one day become a 'pro'. For the past 5 years, I have chased winter around the world, travelled to some amazing and exotic places, met some of the most humble people, skied some amazing mountains and some of the finest powder and all in all had the time of my life! But it doesn't come without a cost.
The ski industry revolves primarily around resorts. Although backcountry skiing is an ever growing market, for the average Joe taking his wife and kids on a Christmas break, a resort is the only option. So naturally, most of us who have decided to pursue a career in the industry start out at a resort somewhere. Some of us, like myself, chose the teaching path, others work in lifts, rentals, retail, patrol or hospitality. There are many ways to spend a season on the slope whilst also receiving a regular paycheque. I have no regrets about the path I chose. After working my way up through the ski school system, I now run a Freeride program at a Ski School in Canada, I have a reasonable level of responsibility and credibility and I get to ski in some former or another, every single day of the season. In many ways I am living the dream!
But, after 5 years of full time teaching, I am reaching a point where I am running out of time. I am sure many others have found themselves in the same situation. Despite spending over $10,000 dollars on my education as an Instructor and having over 7 seasons of experience to draw from, I still only make just above minimum wage. To add to this, an instructor in a ski school is usually hired seasonaly on a casual basis and paid hourly. This means that there is no guaranteed hours, no salary and no job security. Considering that most full day lessons are between 4 - 6 hours, we also get less hours of work than anyone else on the mountain.
Before I continue, please understand that this is not a complaint, I chose this career and there is nothing stopping me from changing directions if the pay is an issue. Using 4 hours as the average and lets say $16/hour as a pay rate, assuming I work a 5 day week, I will make $320 a week before taxes. Thats $1280 a month. Many of you will know the costs of living on a ski town. And not just the big resorts like Whistler but he smaller towns like Rossland too. AirBnB has killed short term leases making housing a rare commodity in many ski towns. As such, its rarity pushes up prices and its fair to say that from my own personal experiences, you would be lucky to find a one bedroom studio on the outskirts of a ski town for less that $800-$1000/month. Room sharing is a slightly more affordable option at around $500-$600/month. Add in your ski gear, groceries, insurance, fuel, utilities, lift pass (dependant on your job), competition fees, memberships and of course alcohol, and that paycheque doesn't make it very far.
After 5 years, my bank account is still empty, I have no savings to fall back on, no qualifications outside of skiing and honestly no interest to do anything else. My parents and friends back home are warning me that I won't be able to keep this lifestyle up forever and they are right. What happens when you want to settle and buy a house? What happens if you want to have kids? Its very hard to plan your future when every penny you earn is spent on living costs.
This brings up another sacrifice that many skiers like myself have had to make, getting a second or even third job. Yes it helps pay the bills, yes if its an evening job it stops you from going out and spending money and yes it can double your paycheque. But a second job also cuts into your precious skiing time. I find myself wondering why I bother doing what I do. I starting doing it because I wanted to ski, my job allows me to be on snow everyday but only recently since I started coaching does that mean I get to ski where I actually enjoy skiing. I have developed a deep passion for teaching that means that now I enjoy teaching just as much as free-skiing and so my job at the hill doesn't feel like work at all but it does dictate which days you spend in the powder and which you spend on the magic carpet. I get 2 days off a week to ski for myself which is great but its not exactly ideal if you want to try and become a pro. I can only attend the competitions that are close to my home mountain and only if I can get the time off work which seriously limits the exposure I can get. Add in the second job and those 2 days are cut to 1. 1 day a week for 3 and a half months equates to roughly 15-20 ski days a season. It is ridiculous to think that I might improve enough in 20 days to go from average to pro.
Now I know that this appears to have been a mostly negative opinion but there are many pros to working for a resort too. A free lift pass, lift line priority when I'm teaching, reciprocals at other resorts and probably the most meaningful thing is that I have made true lifelong friends who share the same ideals, interests and passion that I do. Not to mention the pure joy and satisfaction gained when you help a client to reach their goals. Whether it be learning to stop for the first time or landing their first backflip.
So in summary, I started chasing a dream in which I would be skiing everyday, slaying powder, hucking cliffs and getting paid to do so. 5 years down the line and I find myself freeskiing 1 day a week if I'm lucky, living paycheque to paycheque and wondering how much longer I can afford to do this as I watch my dream slip further and further away each year. But I also find myself in a place I never expected too. I find myself pursuing a career as an educator, something I never thought I would want to do, with the chance to ski with some of the most stoked and passionate kids out there. I get to make people smile everyday, I get to help people to find true enjoyment through adventure and experiences. I get to travel the world and meet all kinds of people. I may not have reached my dream of being a pro skier, I may not get to ski as much as I would like and I may be broke, but I have certainly found the next best thing. I have found a calling in life and something that I love to get up for in the morning and if I could do it all over again, I would do it the exact same way. Thinking of living an endless winter? The pay far outweighs the cost.
"Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life." I may not be one of the lucky few who gets paid to rip everyday but I am one of the even more lucky few who has never had to work.