To anyone who has ever thought of doing a winter ski season - training to be a ski instructor is the best way to do it and something you will never regret!!
I had always wanted to do a ski season but wasn't sure what job I wanted to do. When I was searching the internet for inspiration I found the Ski Instructor Academy. After hours of looking at the same old chalet host jobs, this company stood out to me as it offered the chance to train and work as a ski instructor in Austria. The thought of being an instructor, although daunting in the beginning, sounded amazing so I took the chance and off I went.
The Course Private Facebook Group which we got access to prior to the course started gave everyone the chance to chat about German studying, equipment queries and generally get to know each other, which was great. SIA also posted videos of good exercises to get people ski fit before the season and German material to study so everyone had a basic knowledge before starting the course.
November came around and lots of us met at Gatwick airport and made friends on the flight over. SIA were there to meet us in Salzburg and we were taken to our accommodation on a huge, luxury coach. I opted to stay at the Sonnenheim Apartments which are self catered and offered a little bit of luxury, which I thought I may need after a hard days skiing. Paul and Carola own the apartments and were always there to help if we needed anything but they gave us our space too! It was a bit like one big, massive family all living in one house and we all got on really well.
We got straight into the course by going to the enormous Intersport Shop in Kaprun that evening to buy skis, boots and any equipment people needed. The staff there were great to all of us and Paul, Wouter and Ashley were there to give advice to us as well. I would reiterate what the SIA recommend, which is buying your equipment when you arrive and not bringing everything with you. There were some people who already had boots for example but found they didn't actually fit correctly or the flex wasn't really enough for what we were going to be doing. I was a complete novice at everything to do with equipment so I was glad to have so many people on hand to advise me. They even had an Austrian World Cup Team fitter on hand to make sure it all fit correctly!
The next day we had an induction meeting to meet our groups and trainers, and a general introduction to the course.
Once the skiing started, everyone soon realised this was not a holiday camp. The days are long on the mountain and then there's the odd evening class in the gymnasium or classroom too. The German was good and I enjoyed learning a new language, and because everyone was in the same boat, staying in some nights wasn't boring at all, it was fun actually!
The general day to day structure for my course was everyone up at 6:30-7:00am on the ski bus at 7.50 in the gondola by 8:15 and everyone skiing at 8:45. We had lunch on the Glacier in the Alpine Centre in our groups and this was a time we sometimes had announcements from SIA or did video analysis and on the odd occasion it was simply time to recharge your batteries a little. After lunch another 2-3 hours skiing and then back down to the town, back to the apartments, coffee and chocolate binge, German studying!
The skiing part of the day was obviously the best, but it was also very tailored to our needs. The first week was all about our own skiing, getting the correct position and technique and exercises to build up muscle memory. Then as the days progressed our trainers started to introduce the Austrian Ski Teaching Progression. This is a set of lessons basically that ski instructors use to teach guests from the Introduction (first putting on skis) to basic carving. Within each lesson there is an aim and a set of exercises to learn in German.
Although most people could already ski we also went through all of these steps ourselves with the trainers as it's these things you are tested on in your exams. In between practicing the lessons we also continually worked on our own skiing as its important to be able to demonstrate everything you're telling guests to do really clearly.
Each week we had a different trainer which was great because we got lots of different ideas for teaching methods from each of them, and I can’t stress enough how fantastic every single one of them was.
The German lessons we had focused on the words we were going to need to teach guests rather than basic general knowledge so it's a good idea to know some basic phrases and vocabulary before you go - This is all available well in advance from the Facebook Group. The lessons were very fun and interactive and great practice for actually teaching.
I'm not going to lie it wasn't ALL hard work! ;-)
There were quite a few trips to Pavillon Bar, some gatherings for pre-night out socialising (drinking!) and a whole lot of Paletti’s Pizzas! All that combined with a good few nights just staying in and trying to nurse the aching muscles and sleep as much as possible! The town has some good spots to relax and let your hair down which was great and the access to the multi-million pound Tauern Spa certainly was welcome.
After the weeks of training comes the exams. My job placement was at a ski school in Kitzbühel so I did my exams in Tirol at the request of the ski school, but generally the course participants took their exams in Kaprun.
The exam course is 10 days long and honestly, it's not a walk in the park - you’ll be pleased you had trained for it - Not necessarily because the skiing was difficult, it is similar to the four weeks preparation, but because the days are even longer. We did the same amount of skiing as normal but everyone was extremely thankful for the weeks we had already had to practice. Other’s took the exam course with us who had not done the SIA preparation course and the difference between those and us was incredible. I distinctly remember the first day of my exams, the examiners asked questions about the teaching progression and it was the SIA participants answering every time and the others stood there with blank looks on their faces. That's when I really realised just how valuable the SIA Course had been.
On top of the practical skiing there's the theory. I personally found the theory to be the most difficult as the lectures range from 1-3 hours each evening after skiing and I was tired. You get literature to follow the lecture with but it needs concentration. It's lectures on things like nature and the environment in relation to skiing, looking in detail at equipment- like the different layers of a ski and how they are made or how the bindings on skis work or tourism in ski resorts, so it was interesting really.
During the 10 days you have to teach the rest of your group one of the lessons from the Austrian Progression in German and your examiner marks you on that. Then at the end of the 10 days there is a written theory exam and a practical skiing exam where you have to show you can demonstrate clearly things like snow plough turns.
Then, after an exciting and fun number of weeks in a beautiful country surrounded by good friends and even better times, all being well you're a qualified ski instructor- easy!!