Comprehensive Guide to Becoming an Instructor

Ash with group

Skiing and snowboarding are fun sports with millions of followers. However, they also offer an infinity of work opportunities that maybe you have never thought about. Could you imagine having the mountain as your office and being up the hill every single day of the season among breathtaking landscapes? Discover now how to become a ski or snowboard instructor!

We’ve been talking to our good friends based in Andorra, Snowboard Coach and Snowsports Coach to give us the low-down of exactly what is needed to get the qualifications and skills to become an instructor.  They were established in 2002, so have over 15 years’ experience and are headed by one of the most respected Snowboard coaches in the British snowboard scene, Ash Newnes.  If you are thinking of taking the first step into becoming an instructor, we’d recommend getting in touch with them.

Snowboard Coach logos

Like any other job, skiing/snowboarding requires a series of qualifications to be able to work as an instructor in the snow. There are countless responsibilities to being an instructor from actually being able to ski and snowboard to a required level and being able to look after clients in the mountain environment. There are many training schools that prepare the skier to be part of the working world and there is a total of four qualification levels.

Formally constituted 55 years ago, The British Association of Snowsport Instructors (BASI) is the UK governing body for Snowsports Instructors and is the membership association responsible for the training and licensing of instructors and coaches. BASI has up to 6300 licensed members living and working in 38 countries worldwide. Its qualification pathway is recognized internationally and BASI is a member of the International Snowsports Instructors Association (ISIA). You can work as an instructor with a BASI qualification all over the world….but let’s go step by step:

-Level 1: This is the first step on the qualification ladder that you will need to get started in the world of winter sports teaching. Once you have passed this course you can work as an instructor on dry-slope and indoor snow slopes in UK, however, you will not be able to work in a mountain resort – for this you will need to take the Level 2 course. We’ll come on to this later.

With regards to the level 1, there are some minimum standards needed to obtain the qualification. Firstly, you have to be over 16. You also obviously have to be able to ski or snowboard to a reasonable level prior to attending and have a sound knowledge of either sport.

BASI courses are separated into 2 parts – technique and teaching;

BASI course

Technique: Your style and ability are examined. How well do you turn the ski/snowboard, how controlled are those turns, how do you stand when you are skiing/riding. Also for snowboarding you will need to ride switch and have a basic freestyle ability of ollies and 180’s across the hill both frontside and backside.

Teaching: This part is based not only on how confidant you are in front of the group but also how you prepare a class, handle people and a test of your understanding and ability to deliver an actual structured teaching session.

All of the above is tested during the course, you are continually assessed and the trainer is there to help with drills and will deliver everything you need to know, but BASI courses are not a guaranteed pass – this is why they are respected all over the UK and the world.  If you don’t pass either the technical or the teaching part of the course – you can re-take that part again once you have practiced and corrected what you failed on. If you fail both parts, then you will need to re-sit the whole course again.

In addition to the Level 1 course, you also have to attend a 2 day first aid course, complete an on-line Safeguarding Children module, Apply for a basic Criminal Records Disclosure and complete 35 hours of snow school shadowing on the slopes or in an indoor centre.

Level 1 courses are run over the summers at many of the indoor centres in the UK – but you can do it in Andorra, usually at the beginning and end of the season and the price is approximately £435. The duration of the course is of 5 full days – so represents really good value for money in training time alone.

-Level 2: This qualification is for instructors intending to work in the mountains part-time or seasonal within a snow sport school. Between the level 1 and 2, there is a big difference, so you will need more training and preparation. This qualification allows you to work in any ski resort in the world (except France – more on that later). The exam itself is 10 full days on snow and without prior training and preparation can be pretty intense.

Again the course is split into Technique and Teaching.

The technical level is much higher and requires more skill, style and control on all types of terrain, from steep black slopes, bumps, variable snow and piste carving. Again for snowboarding there is switch carving and more freestyle skills in the form of a 50-50 on a box and a straight air with a grab over a blue graded kicker.

Ash riding snowboard

In the teaching part of the course you will be taught (and examined) not only on teaching beginners as you did on the L1 but also intermediate skiers / snowboarders. There is a very important part of this course is knowing how to analyze the group’s abilities and adapt your teaching style and feedback to suit this. In addition, you will learn to keep the group safe in the ever changing mountain environment.

If a candidate fails either the teaching or technical element of the course, they will need to book onto a 5-day Level 2 Re-assessment course.

Level 3: This next stage qualification is miles forward than the level 2 as it includes new elements and even higher teaching and technical requirements. Once you have obtained level 2, you can apply for level 3 as long as you have a minimum 200 hours of experience as a working instructor and are spending seasons teaching and skiing/snowboarding in a mountain snowsports school.

Again the level 3 is split into a technical and teaching examination

-Level 3 ISIA:

Once you are a Level 3 Instructor –  you can also take other courses to obtain and International Stamp called the ISIA – International Snowsports Instructor Association. This stamp shows that you have reached an international standard and are accredited worldwide.

To get this International Stamp you also have to complete:

5 Days Coaching Course: Price: £430. At this level you will need to develop the skills to train competition teams, themes such as sports psychology. You look at the differences between the role of a coach and an instructor with longer term goal setting. Your coaching ability will be examined and you will be teaching at the level of your fellow students on the course.  For skiing you also look at race course setting and with snowboarding looking at teaching on all the park features.

-Mountain Safety: This 6-day course costs £500. It is based on off-piste technique, as well as choosing safe itineraries within the ski area boundaries and the use of skins, snowshoes, split-boards to access hills. Knowledge of mountain safety, assistance in emergencies, avalanches, meteorology and navigation is of crucial importance in this course.

-Second Discipline: A requirement laid down by the ISIA is that every instructor should be able to teach in another discipline. So you have to do a Level 1 in another area. Skiers tend you choose snowboarding and snowboarders tend to choose skiing. This makes you more employable within the industry and you can teach both disciplines for a Snowsports school.  The days of hating are long gone in the teaching world.

-Second Language: The ability to be able to talk in a second language is a must. We are not talking conversational here, just an ability to be able to communicate in an emergency situation with the local piste patrol and describe the situation that you are in. From the age of your client to where you are and the nature of the emergency you are facing.

Written Project: This is part of the Snowboard ISIA – For skiing this isn’t needed until you are a Level 4. The project is a dissertation that is written to help fellow ski and snowboard instructors. Previous projects have been based on Stance, psychology in competition, teaching children – so can be a broad area of topics.

Snowboard group

-Level 4 ISTD: OK, so earlier we mentioned working in France. This is where this level comes in. It is also the qualification you need if you want to establish your own school. This is an International Ski Teacher Diploma.

This is the highest BASI/worldwide level for International Instructors. This is the top qualification to teach skiing / snowboarding to the highest level.

You don’t attend this course unless you have a lot of experience teaching at a Level 3 level AND many, many winter season under your belt. Again the bare minimum to start a level 4 course is to complete 200 hours working.

Like the other levels it is composed of different parts including a teaching course, technical course for skiing that you have to pass to become a Level 4.

On top of this, to obtain the ISTD accreditation, you also have to complete:

European Mountain Security: A higher level of off piste training that allows to teach in out of bound areas. This is a 5-day training course with navigation, rope work including crevasse rescue and more. You then have to plan and log 6 hiked routes with over 1,000m of vertical in the decent before returning for a further 3 days of exams.

Eurotest/Snowboard Cross (FIS points): A bone of contention for many skiers, this is basically a speed test. You have to present yourself on a certain day to a race course and ski down the course within a certain time of a “course setter”. If you do you pass, if you don’t you fail – simple as that. For snowboarding you have to attend a FIS sanctioned boarder cross and obtain points. These points are only given if you finish in the top positions. It could take 2 or 3 races to obtain these points.

Written project: As mentioned above for snowboarding.

Final Interview: Once you have worked your way through all of this, you attend a final interview with the training director of BASI.

Becoming a Trainer: On top of all these courses are the trainers’ selection process. To be considered or selected to become a trainer you need to be a working Level 4 ISTD for a minimum of 2 years. You can then attend a 5-day trainers selection course. From this course if you are selected then you go through a plethora of extra training and shadowing procedures before you are allowed to deliver even a Level 1 Instructor course.

This pathway is not easy or quick (or indeed cheap). Think of it like doing your GCSE’s, A Levels, Degree and then a Masters and your PHD. It will take a similar amount of time and money. But you don’t need to be a top level instructor to get a job.  It does depend a lot on the Snowsports School, since the higher level you have, the easier it will be easier to find a job, but with a level 2 you can legally work as an instructor in any country around the world (except France) and that’s the minimum that schools expect.

With the Level 3 ISIA it makes it easier to get a working visa or visa sponsorship in countries like America and Canada and the Level 4 is only really needed if you want to work in France.

The Level 1 and 2 Ski and Snowboard Instructor course are run in Arinsal, Andorra by Snowboard Coach and Snowsports Coach – who have been running BASI Ski and Snowboard courses for over 13 years. The company is run by a BASI trainer so you know you are in good hands as they have gone through the whole process above. They offer weekly training options towards the Level 1 and even season training option that see’s you spending the winter in Arinsal training towards the Level 2 and even level 3 exams for those already qualified at Level 2.  Let them know you heard about the course through Andorra Resorts and they are sure to look after you.

Ash and Steve-O (Jackass)
You never know who you’ll end up teaching – Ash with Steve-O (of Jackass fame)

So, if you are a fan of the snow and your dream is to be an instructor, do not wait any longer and get in touch.

We hope to see you in Andorra!