I am a part-time ski instructor, and I have seen a significant decrease in tipping activity in recent years. In times past, I received consistent tips in what I would say are "normal" levels as described below. Now, I see far fewer general tips in groups and privates, complemented by more frequent individual large tips (over $100) from time to time. For educational purposes, I'll share how I approach tipping, when family members or I personally take ski lessons...
To put things in perspective, a ski instructor needs to earn about $100 in tips daily to create any chance of full-time work pay. One of the challenges with the ski instructor pay system is that generally ski instructors are only paid their hourly wage, when they are actually teaching. For most ski instructors, this maxes at 5-6 hours per day, even though they are likely arriving at the mountain at 730am and departing after 430pm, essentially working a full day. The tip monies are critical to balancing the fewer paid hours of a ski instructor.
Hourly Privates: Here's the problem with an hourly private... the ski instructor is only being paid for hours booked. If you book for less than a full day, the instructor may or may not get other paid work. Generally bookings go out morning and afternoon. However, it is frequent that instructors on the private team are paid for only a couple hours of work and are essentially, working all day. Thus, consider the following when tipping privates:
1-hour Private: Tip $40+, please consider always booking a 2-hour+ private to keep your instructor employed!
2-hour Private: Tip $40+
For each additional hour: Tip $10+... thus an all day private should be $80+
Group Lessons: Instructors need tips in Group Lessons too. Although there are fewer gaps in work as the day is generally half or full, there is still a lot of down time since many half-day lessons only run a couple hours and class handling requires a lot more lesson creativity. When I'm tipping in group lessons, I look at the length of the lesson and number of participating students to determine the tip amount. Often when I'm a student, I'll approach other group members and "pool" our money for the lesson tip. This not only ensure getting the group to an appropriate number but also educates newer participants on the etiquette.
Half-day Group: Tip $10+ each, with the goal for the instructor to receive a $50+ tip for the lesson.
Full-day Group: Tip $20+ each, with the goal for the instructor to receive a $100+ tip for the lesson.
Tips are of course a personal choice, but please keep in mind that ski instructing is a challenging profession. Many instructors are certified, which takes time, talent, and dollars to achieve. The more highly certified your instructor or the more challenging the student, the higher you should tip. Also, consider how your instructor personally impacted your day... getting over the hurdle to progress your skiing, the special local's knowledge to enhance your stay, equipment needs recommendations, personal experience like access to private areas of the resort, extending lesson time into personal, non-paid time, and of course having fun! Ski instructors can elevate your day, and you should reward them when impactful:)
Edited by ssm949 - 1/22/15 at 6:55pm