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Is private instruction available outside the ski school?

post #1 of 26
Thread Starter 
I noticed earlier the topic about ski instructors' wages and was wondering about whether there were ski instructors one could hire outside of the school. To me, it seems ridiculous to pay so much for private lessons to have only a fraction going to the instructor. Are instructors able to work "on the side" or is this prohibited. If it is allowed, how do I go about finding an instructor? Thanks.
post #2 of 26
It definately does happen, but, for an instructor working at that ski area it is a firing expense. Sometimes these folks are referred to as "parking lot instructors."

But, if you are looking to do something like this, look no further than the EpicSki instructor listing. Perhaps someone on their "day off" would ski with you at something other than their home mountain for a rate that is significantly better than the full private rate at their home mountain.

Bob
post #3 of 26
You may want to be careful with "confict of intrest" I have friends who instruct and they don't want to teach someone outside of ski school at the mountain they work at.

Like WVskier said, I'm sure that if you could meet someone at a different mountain, that would be a better idea.

www.asiaski.com may be another place to look. I took a skier improvement clinic a few years back. It was the best I had done for my skiing in a long time.
post #4 of 26
Hi Rod--

Unfortunately, it is generally NOT allowed in the U.S. Ski resorts either operate on land that they own (rarely), or on public land, with an exclusive use permit usually through the U.S. Forest Service. Either way, they have the exclusive legal right to operate a ski school on "their" land, and no one else can teach skiing there without their express permission.

That does not mean that "under-the-table" private lessons aren't done on the side, of course. They are available. But beware--any instructor who can get away with it is, practically by definition, not one you'd probably want to ski with! Any instructor with any kind of reputation--i.e. any clinician, Examiner, or otherwise high-profile, experienced, "desirable" instructor--will be well-known to the ski school management and many instructors at any resort. There's no way they could "sneak in" and teach without being caught, and few would risk it anyway, as professionals. That leaves only a few undesirables--unknown instructors with probably very little experience, qualifications, or credentials--who might be able to get away with teaching under the table once or twice before they get caught. You'd do better to take a group lesson!

It's not like this in much of Europe, and I agree with you that this anti-competitive environment is a terrible thing for students and instructors alike. With no competition, and no regulation, ski schools can become cash cows for resorts. They name their prices, pay abhorrent wages that don't come close to providing a living in most expensive resort areas, and put horrendously incompetent instructors in front of large groups of skiers. You do NOT get what you pay for, as you've noted, because the great majority of what you pay for an instructor goes instead to some distant shareholder, and to pay for the royally excessive salaries and benefits of a few top executive officers.

Because the industry has taken such selfish advantage of its ability to operate without competition, the quality of typical ski instruction has taken a dive. It's ironic, because the ski industry's own studies have shown, time and again, that ski instruction can make or break the industry. They have recognized that quality instruction turns casual first time skiers into regular devotees of the sport, and takes intermediate and advanced skiers to the next level, keeping their passion alive. Their studies reveal in quite certain terms that the more skillful the skier, the more time and money he or she spends at ski resorts. They task their ski school directors with increasing their penetration and retention/repeat business rates.

Yet they refuse to stop sucking the life out of the very instructors who could provide the key to growing their business!

Anyway, you didn't ask for this rant, Rod, and I apologize. Your question is innocent and reasonable. The basic answer is "no."

On the other hand, there ARE a few alternatives. Our own EpicSki Academy represents one of the best, and it really did break new ground. They aren't private lessons, but they do involve some of the very best instructors, many from outside the host resort, working independently, but with the blessing of, the local ski school. EpicSki Academy is a celebration of great skiing and learning, and enlightened resort management recognizes this as a good thing, even if it doesn't dump money directly into their ski school's coffers. We want to get people excited about the great opportunity and experience top-quality instruction provides, and encourage them to take more lessons wherever they ski. But at the same time, we are raising the bar on the standards ski schools must live up to.

I don't know if this is the answer you wanted to hear, Rod. But thanks for asking the question! The one thing you--and everyone else--can do to help is to complain vocally and vehemently about bad ski instruction, wherever you come across it. Insist that ski schools provide great lessons, both group and private, and refuse to accept anything less. Force them with your wallet--the only thing that really matters to the shareholders. You may not succeed in lowering the price of private lessons, but you CAN succeed in increasing the pay for instructors, because they'll have to pay more to keep top instructors on board. Improve the pay, and you'll improve the quality--and those lessons will be worth the price!

Best regards,
Bob Barnes
post #5 of 26
I agree with you Rod. But you can get good instruction from non-ski school sources, at least around where I live. The ski club I belong to organizes lesson trips at various resorts around the mid-atlantic area and I have attended a few. The instructors are good and you can get some 1 on 1 time. The lessons I got were as good as the best private lessons I have ever had. And the instructors are mostly the same from trip to trip. The trips are both weekend and day.

You might be able to find such a thing in your area.
post #6 of 26
I actually train quite a few instructors for a ski club that runs a PSIA affiliated instruction program for its members. The resorts don't generally object to the program because the club brings in business and no customers are poached in the parking lot.
The major problem with bringing your own instructor is that the instructor needs to buy a lift ticket, and you can't get preferential treatment in the lift lines.

Regards, John
post #7 of 26
Back in the late 70's, I taught for a couple of seasons for a ski club at my place of employment. I wasn't into the organizational end of the club, but I never heard anything about special arrangements ever being made with the owners of the various mountains we used.

I mostly taught beginners and low intermediate groups, and I must confess that I had a nice little trade in private lessons as well (from the contacts through this club). I also must confess that I never even gave a thought to the legality of doing this. I knew quite a few of the regular instructors and patrollers on the hill. They knew what I was doing and never said anything.

That was 25 years ago. Times change, I guess.

I presume that the ski clubs these days are a bit more careful to make appropriate legal arrangements with visiting instructors.

However, from what I have heard, (I don't want to name club names here), I wouldn't let the "instructors" that I know from some of these clubs use go near a member of my family. All of the club instructors that I have met are at best just "PSIA registered" (ie, below L-1). Once, one of them wanted to give my daughter some pointers, so I let him, but had to stop him a few minutes later because of the heel pushing, unweighting junk he was "teaching". What he was saying was just about opposite of everything I had been teaching her and I didn't want to have to undo any effect he might have on her. Unfortunately, because he was so personable, his technical shortcomings would never be known to the usual ski student.

Tom / PM

PS #1 - After my daughter's mini-lesson with this club "instructor" was over, we continued to ski together for a bit. I chatted with him about modern technique and teaching, and he then proceded to try to recruit me to teach for their club. :

PS #2 - Back in late '70's, I was probably a guy just like him.

PS #3 - After reading John Dowling's post, it seems pretty clear that there is a big variation in instructors from club to club.

[ October 29, 2003, 01:17 PM: Message edited by: PhysicsMan ]
post #8 of 26
Here's a win- win situation for you as a student and for the instructor. If you are an advanced skier you don't need to take a private. Sign up for a group lesson and you will be grouped with people of your ability level. Most of the time, there are few people taking lessons at this level, so chances are it will be a private or at most two other people. Here's the thing, though... Since the instructor is only getting a paltry hourly wage make sure you TIP (only if the lesson was good, of course). That makes it a happy day for everyone. Another thing to do if you really want to pay for a private is to talk to a few instructors you see standing around. Interview them and find out if they can give you a great lesson. Then go to the counter and REQUEST that person. That way they get paid a commission. If you just walk up and ask for anyone, the person assigned will only get paid hourly. I guess most people assume that the lesson ticket money is going right in the instructor's pocket; if only that was true! If I work a 'full day' , I only get paid for six hours. So even if there's enough work to go five days, it's a 30 hour week and by the time Uncle Sam takes his and the state takes theirs, I could make more at Wally World. ( They have no openings for ski instructors, sob ) Nolo made an interesting point in another thread that people may learn more in groups than in one on one lessons because they watch and learn from each other. :
post #9 of 26
Aside from the issue of the insultingly low percentage of the lesson fee that the area instructor is paid, and the issue of who has the "right" to provide instruction at a given area, there is another issue that rarely gets any attention when this topic periodically comes up.

A freelance instructor is not covered by the resort's nor the ski school's general liability insurance policy. In the event that the student suffers some kind of injury while with that instructor, he may have no legal remedy available. (Not talking about frivolous or vindictive lawsuits here, but rather legitimate claims for medical payments, for example.) The resort's insurer would find lots of grounds for legitimately denying a claim. The freelance instructor's homeowner's policy is certainly not going to respond. Now what?

[ October 29, 2003, 08:00 PM: Message edited by: David7 ]
post #10 of 26
Quote:
freelance instructor is not covered by the resort's nor the ski school's general liability insurance policy. In the event that the student suffers some kind of injury while with that instructor, he may have no legal remedy available
Intersting thought. I've known of lots of ski areas being sued, but never of a ski instructor being sued. Does anyone know of an instance?

Thanks for bringing this up David7. I'd never thought of it.

Bob
post #11 of 26
Yes,

Many years ago in my early days of teaching (mid 80's) an instructor tried to teach a beginner a kick turn (don't ask me why). The student fell and suffered a serious knee injury. Both the instructor and the area were named in the lawsuit.
post #12 of 26
Really? I thought that was one of those urban legends used to justify not teaching kick turns. Like the one about how someone's tibias snapped in two when they skied with their boots unbuckled.
post #13 of 26
Nolo,

If I wasn't working there at the time I'd put it in the urban legend category too.
post #14 of 26
This topic brings up a point I have been wondering about for some time.

...Why don't some of the top notch instructors band together and align with a 'friendly' resort in need of expanding their skier base? There seems to be a continuous stream of situations where ski areas are looking at financial ruin if they don't find a solution.

It seems to me there might be considerable changes in the way ski schools were looked at and treated, if there were a couple of instances where dedicated instructors were the key components in reviving or expanding ski areas that were previously in trouble.

Am I missing something in the 'big picture', or is it just a matter of no people having taken the chance to do something like that for the profession? -- Or am I just unaware of that having already happened somewhere?
post #15 of 26
Rod - like a few others have said - yes it can happen - in Europe....
I believe in France once the instructor reaches a certain level he/she simply pays ski school a fraction of his/her earnings.... seems fairer to me....
post #16 of 26
Quote:
Originally posted by snowdancer:
Nolo made an interesting point in another thread that people may learn more in groups than in one on one lessons because they watch and learn from each other. :
Good insightful post by snowdancer. In addition to his suggestion of tipping the group instructor I'd like to point out that tipping your private instructor is also appropriate and recommended.

As far as group instruction is concerned I believe it has a place in the continued development of all skiers. In addition to the watch, discuss and learn from each other benefits group lessons are less physically demanding. I always suggest to first time skiers that they take a group lesson initially then mix the group lessons with privates for best results. This is partially for the learn by watching and discussing that most people do. The other benefit of the group lesson for the first timer is that they get to rest those muscle groups they've never used before between attempts to "get" the necessary motions. As one gets more efficient at skiing these rests are less necessary but sedentary people who ski for a vacation can still benefit from the rest periods built-in to a group lesson.

Aar
post #17 of 26
Thread Starter 
Thanks for all your responses. We had great private lessons a couple of years ago at The Canyons but had very disappointing experiences in group lessons last year at Keystone (for the adults, they were useless since people were not appropriately grouped and no changes were made afterwards and the kids said their instructor was like a "drill sargeant.") I had been hoping to do an all day private this year at Breck and split it half for my wife who is still fairly green (and timid) and the other half for me and the kids who want to try blues. The price, however, for the privates seems so high (especially when considering the instructor gets only a fraction.) We're going to be skiing either 3 or 4 days with the first two at Breck and two at Vail or Beaver over the holidays. I think what we'll do is put my wife in group lessons for the two days at Breck (that way she won't feel pressured to keep up with us) and then me and the kids will do a half day private. If anyone has any other suggestions for us, feel free to suggest them.

[ October 31, 2003, 08:49 AM: Message edited by: Rod ]
post #18 of 26
Quote:
...Why don't some of the top notch instructors band together and align with a 'friendly' resort in need of expanding their skier base? There seems to be a continuous stream of situations where ski areas are looking at financial ruin if they don't find a solution.

It seems to me there might be considerable changes in the way ski schools were looked at and treated, if there were a couple of instances where dedicated instructors were the key components in reviving or expanding ski areas that were previously in trouble.

Am I missing something in the 'big picture', or is it just a matter of no people having taken the chance to do something like that for the profession? -- Or am I just unaware of that having already happened somewhere?
You're not missing a thing, Feal. That IS the big picture! Unfortunately, the daily bottom line is what so many resorts pay exclusive attention to, and what so many ski school directors are forced to pay exclusive attention to. And the daily bottom line is the LITTLE picture. You can maximize your short term profit by creating enormous classes of unsuspecting students and putting a few low-paid, inexperienced, indifferent instructors in front of them. You have to ignore the Big Picture to do that, but it is certainly lucrative for that day.

There are winds of change, but they typically meet huge resistance from both resort management (with increasingly little appreciation of the sport of skiing, or understanding of the Big Picture) and from tradition and inertia. Things are the way they are, and the path we're on we've been on for a very long time. It's tough to change!

The EpicSki Academy represents an encouraging break from tradition, very much along the lines that you've described. Top instructors, working with friendly and progressive-thinking resorts to promote skiing and learning and to bring in some business the resorts would not otherwise get. A few shortsighted resorts have lost out, by seeing only the few dollars spent on instruction at their resort not going into their own coffers. We ran into that problem with Solitude last season, where the Academy had originally been scheduled. Solitude's owner missed the Big Picture--and Brighton, just up the road, hosted the inaugural EpicSki Academy. Brighton was a great host, with excellent terrain and snow and friendly staff. They got our business, our promotion, and our undying gratitude--wins in the both the Big Picture AND the short term!

On the other hand, do consider the difficulties instructors would face legitimately going it alone, even in a friendly environment. Self-employment insurance, Social Security, health insurance, and most of all, liability insurance, are prohibitive expenses for an independent instructor. Illegitimate instructors scamming "under the table" typically avoid these expenses, and this is among the many reasons (probable incompetence being the other big one) to avoid them.

Attending the EpicSki Academy will not only be a great time, and an unmatched learning experience, it also supports positive change in the industry. EpicSki Academy is the start of a new era, in which top-quality instruction is available at reasonable cost. Skiers benefit. Instructors benefit. Host resorts benefit. And ultimately, the entire industry will benefit, perhaps even in spite of itself!

Best regards,
Bob Barnes
post #19 of 26
No problem in most of europe with that - you will have many ski schools at a resort, along with private instructors, but then again, the legal responsibility is with the skier, not the instructor or ski area.
post #20 of 26
Regarding the issue of ski instructors being sued directly-.

Yes, this has happened, even to instructors working at major resorts.

With the Skier Safety Act and Senate Bill 80 both enacted here in Colorado, it pretty much stemmed the tide of suits against the resorts. So to try to get some issue brought to trial, the plaintiff attorneys decided to name the instructor as the defendant, full well knowing that the ski resorts/employers deep pockets would be drawn into the fray to protect the instructor. But very quickly, the judicial system became aware of this end run by litigators, and that loophole was sealed.
So unless the resort is willing to cut an employee loose (for example, the instructor were under the influence of alcohol or drugs), the ability of a plaintiff's attorney to name an instructor as the sole defendant was diminished. And in that case, what would the plaintiff hope to get from the average ski instructor? You can't get blood from a turnip!

One of the greatest stumbling blocks to free-lance teaching would be obtaining the required insurance, the cost of the premium, and the ability to maintain it if a claim were to ever be filed. And of course this would be in addition to self employment insurance, medical coverage, etc...

Could an independent instructor make it on his/her own? If allowed to advertise and work on any particular hill, if the appropriate insurances and permits were available, I'm sure there would be a great attraction for an entrepreneurial, self-motivated instructor.

:

[ October 31, 2003, 02:36 PM: Message edited by: vail snopro / ric reiter ]
post #21 of 26
Rod, did you let Keystone SS know about your dissatisfaction? Sometimes, this is the only way ski schools can gauge what is happening out on the hill.

The lack of streaming in advanced classes is a common problem. My hill this winter just gone had some elaborate processes in place to ensure that the top 3 levels could quickly re-classify guests who didn't belong in the group they'd joined. I believe this was as a result of frequent complaints from people who were in groups that were held back by overly-ambitious guests.

Walking up to a counter and complaining isn't very pleasant, and if this is daunting, even filling in one of those feedback things at least lets the resort know there is a problem.

At Breck, if you have the time, having the group split up into separate ski school group lessons gives you all the chance to scope the talent, and you might find instructors you want to pay for privates with. (Strategy!).
post #22 of 26
Not all SS pay a commission or bonus for the Requested Instructor. Some have the attitude that if they are asked for then they get the assignment rather than an hour of Freeski time.
post #23 of 26
This was my worry and why I so objected to all of the postings concerning wages and non-sanctioned instruction. I know the subject has been beaten to death with pay issues. I am sure the poster of this will be sent many e mails with plenty of interest. Is this what Epic Ski was designed to do? I do not believe so. Is this the direction of the future here, seems to be. I believe last year I posted an article addressing part of the problem. The weekend warrior. Why is a successful business person teaching skiing when a season pass runs three hundred dollars and unlimited lessons are another one hundred and forty bucks? I agree the instructor should get more money and benefits while not being forced to provide there own uniform. I also observe that during peak demand times more bodies are needed. Could this be part of the whole problem with poor instruction? What is the motivation of the part time guy? Can a guy that shows up on Saturdays fourteen times per season be as qualified as the one hundred day a year? I have observed this in our ski school, lots of part time guys in clinics while very rarely teaching a class if the resort is not at one hundred percent capacity. I am also going on record and agreeing that if the industry paid a living wage the quality of instruction may improve. Is the age differential of the industry come to roost in instruction. I also have seen that it is not unusual for a large percentage of the staff is over fifty five years old and retired from an extremely lucrative job when they begin ski instructing .When I look at my ski schools newly hired staff this really stands out in the adult section. Is it true that that a vast majority of the psia membership collects social security? It really comes to mind when in the area ballot one candidate stated he was running to help the aging members of Psia. I may be rambling and have opened a new subject but all of this comes into the equation.
post #24 of 26
Iwren

You raise a valid point regarding the lack of being paid a "living wage" and I think that feeds your issue of part timers and people joining the ranks after retiring from well paying jobs. It's pretty obvious that if the resorts paid higher wages more folks would instruct full time and increased competition for jobs would likely increase the quality of instruction. I don't see that changing in at least the near future.

As to the part timers that work a well paying job and teach on the weekends and peak periods, I don't see the problem. They're obviously filling a needed void under the current system. Same with the retired folks who are now teaching. You seem to think that part timers are teaching for the benefits associated with the sport. Some may well be, but my guess is they're doing it for the love of the sport and their desire to help others learn to enjoy the sport more. I think we all know it's not for the money. I agree if they taught full time they'd probably do a better job, but who's to say for sure. I ski on a regular basis with who's a level 3 cert who works as a trial attorney during the week and teaches during the weekend. She certainly doesn't "need" to teach but I'm glad she does because she's a fantastic instructor. I'm sure she'll probably teach full time when she retires. I don't see how the "system" loses in her case, either in the short or long run.
post #25 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by lwren
Is the age differential of the industry come to roost in instruction. I also have seen that it is not unusual for a large percentage of the staff is over fifty five years old and retired from an extremely lucrative job when they begin ski instructing .When I look at my ski schools newly hired staff this really stands out in the adult section. Is it true that that a vast majority of the psia membership collects social security? It really comes to mind when in the area ballot one candidate stated he was running to help the aging members of Psia. I may be rambling and have opened a new subject but all of this comes into the equation.
I am over fifty, not retired from a very lucrative job, and working full time at a VERY unlucrative profession (ski instructing).

Does that make me a bad instructor because I'm not a young person just looking for a party and a free pass?

In my experience of nearly 30 years skiing (taking lessons most of the way before beginning to teach), the majority of the best lessons I have taken or observed were from older instructors that had a passion for the sport/teaching instead of a passion for a free pass.
post #26 of 26
btw, I think the age and part/full-time topic would be better discussed on another thread.
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