I'm a bit late to this party, but there are some things I'd like to say on this issue...
I worked for years in nice restaurants, in the kitchens preparing food. It was hot and stressful, I was good at it, and I took pride in the skills that I had to master to prepare a four star dinner. I never made more than $10.50/hr. It absolutely killed me to see some of the idiots that got hired as waitstaff walking with well over $200/night in tips and complaining about it. I always thought waitstaff had it really good, they came in about two hours after me, left at least an hour before me, and on their worst night still made more than me. I saw enough waitstaff to recognize that some of them were very good at the job and earned their tips while others were just horrible and still seemed to get pretty good money. I quit working in kitchens to become more serious about painting as I saw more potential to make real money in that trade and I did eventually start my own business and prosper with it.
While my own business was getting started I worked briefly as a bus boy in a friends restaurant. I was great at it and picked up the slack from the bad waitstaff so effectively that patrons would sometimes tip me directly, I never solicited this. When I briefly waited tables I consistently made higher tips than most of my peers. These experiences have made me a discerning customer. I have zero tolerance for poorly prepared food or crappy service. I recognize and cut slack for busy nights and such, but no one ever gets an automatic tip from me. I have had arguments with my wife about the tip when service was poor, she always wants to tip an automatic 20% where I think 15% is average with adjustments up or down based on performance. For really poor performance, I will tip 5% or less to send a message. That message is that I didn't forget you, you sucked and this is more than you deserve. God help the server who chases me out the door or confronts me in any way about their tip. I am more than happy to discuss my tipping decisions with them and their manager. I also loathe the auto-grat that many restaurants automatically attach to the bill. I determine what a gratuity will be, if any, not the establishment. I usually suck it up and quietly pay to avoid embarrassing my wife in front of our friends, but to me the auto-grat is a tax and not a gratuity.
I now work in two jobs where tips are an important part of my earnings. I hold myself to the same standard that I have for others who I tip. In my mind a gratuity is gratefully accepted, but not strictly required. I think that the amount of tip that I get should reflect my guests level of satisfaction with the lesson or tour that I provided. My goal is to exceed expectations and I often do. I do pretty well with tips. My goal for tips is $20/student in a group lesson or $100/day for a private. Sometimes I get more, or less, or nothing at all, but that seems to be close to my average over the season. My wage as an instructor is not bad. I have a whole bunch of certifications and merit badges from PSIA, NSP, and other organizations that have bumped my base rate up a bit higher than some other instructors. I also think that JHMR pays us better than most other resorts and I like the way they treat me like a professional. I have friends who teach in other places and some of those places I would never work for.
I truly found that the tip money started to flow when I stopped thinking about it and started doing my job better. I really try to find out what each guest is looking for from their day with me and give them that and more. When that happens so do the tips. I don't drop hints or make jokes about tipping or any of that. I'm not good at it and it makes me feel cheesy. I view myself as a professional and I act like one. I teach as good a lesson as I can every time without thinking about the tip while I'm doing it. I do prefer to be tipped at the end of each day in a multi-day situation because things can happen and you might not be together at the end. Sometimes this happens and my guest go out of their way to contact me or tip at the desk with a credit card. I taught a woman for five days during the busy season with no tip and she hit me good at the end of it. I'm sure that wouldn't have been the case if I started pimping her for money. I have gotten tips from Brits, Aussies, and Brazilians even though those groups have a reputation for not tipping. Provide good service and value and most people will reciprocate. I like it when people give the tip in the open so the others can see BTW.
The biggest problem with what the resort pays me is that a "day" of ski instruction is between 3 and 7.5 hours with 6 hours being the average for me. To make ends meet, I need to make a pretty decent hourly wage or get a second job. The hours that the SS needs from me make it hard to find a second job that fits around skiing. Luckily, I started making enough to pay my bills including my mortgage somewhere around my fourth full time season. I live a fairly simple life and don't have many bills. My mortgage is less than most peoples rent because I bought small, paid it off aggressively while I was cranking with the painting business, and refinanced for a lower interest rate at the right time. So no I don't expect any one clients tip to "pay my mortgage for me", but I do expect to be able to make a reasonable living as a professional ski instructor. It is my lively-hood not my hobby, and I take it very seriously. I am very happy that I do make a living wage doing what I love all winter.
The issue of the cost of ski lesson and skiing in general has come up often in this thread and others. I don't set the prices. I also don't run the resort and am not privy to all the expenses involved. When I look at the lesson prices for group and private lessons I see a pattern. It seems as though the goal for the SS is for each instructor to generate about $100/hr. A private lesson costs $730 for 7 hours and the MountainX lesson that I mostly teach costs $150 for 6 hours. With a group size of 4, which is fairly average, that works out to the same $100/hr being generated. At this mountain a private lesson can include up to 5 people for no extra charge. I have a hard time looking someone in the eye and telling them that it costs them $100/hr to ski with me. I have no trouble at all telling someone that it costs $25/hr to ski with me in a group. If someone wants 1 on 1 instruction at a major resort like JHMR, it will cost them. I really think that our group lessons are fairly priced and our upper level MountainX product is a particularly good value. I don't want to get into the pay scale here, but it seems like the SS pays out between 15% and 35% of that $100/hr cost to the instructor between base wages and incentives. All of the above is my opinion based on my observations and my experience running a business.
As far as overall skiing costs go... JHMR is a world class resort which has had major improvements every year for quite a few years. The scuttlebutt is that the Kemmerer family has not taken any profit from the mountain in all the years that they have owned it, I believe this. We have gotten a new Tram, major summer grooming, a new Casper lift, a new Crags lift next year, and lots of other good stuff that all costs money. This Christmas when thing were really busy I saw Connie Kemmerer with a dish rag in each hand working her ass off, busing tables and wiping surfaces down. She was right there with the rest of us getting her hands dirty to make it work for the guests. That makes me proud to be on the team. I don't work for a faceless cooperation, I work for a family run resort with people who care about the guests. When you get what we offer, it costs money. Locals who can't afford JHMR or who don't want to pay, can ski at Snow King in town. Snow King sells season passes for about $150 and offers night skiing. It's a good, fun, steep mountain. It's not JHMR. There is a consignment store in town where you can buy all the gear you need for a season for under $500. Skiing doesn't have to be expensive, but if you want all the best stuff in high speed lifts, grooming, and a large world class mountain... You pay for what you get