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Elephant in the Living Room 2.0

post #1 of 112
Thread Starter 
About one year ago I started a thread called The Elephant in the Living Room. The Elephant I was talking about was the economics of ski instruction and whether people who enter and stay in the profession essentially ignore the fact that they'll never make a decent living at instruction, though they might in management or in entrepreneuring on the fringes. I wanted to know why people continue to buy into it. I wanted to know why no one rises up against the fact that their employer reaps the profits on the training that the instructor pays for not only in tuition and travel expenses, but in lost wages for the precious time he or she took off work. I wanted to know what other compensation instructors get that is so valuable as to outweigh the lowered socio-economic status this life choice brings.

I have found that ski instructors are some of the most well-educated and continually growing sorts of people I have had the pleasure of knowing. Enter any technical discussion among a group of instructors in a bar and you can verify that these people are not human sheep, nodding in compliant agreement. A good ski instructor can establish rapport and even intimacy with people from all walks of life. In short, a good ski instructor could be doing something else career-wise, but chooses to scrape together a living to support this lifestyle.

Part of the pittance a ski instructor relies on to make a living are tips. What other workers rely on tips to make ends meet? Servers in restaurants, maids and bellhops, personal escorts, beauty technicians, etc.

I believe that tips are another Elephant in the Living Room that keep us in the servant class rather than the professional class. There's a clear social-cultural-economic difference between the professionals we tip and the professionals we do not tip. The professionals we don't tip command more respect from the public, in general, and more money from their employers.

Do you agree or disagree that tips are a barrier to ski instruction joining the socially respected professions?
post #2 of 112
Tips are an admission of servitude!

Acknowedged from both sides of the exchange.

But, "Recent scienterific studies show" cold hard cash get's our juices flowing.

post #3 of 112
in continuation

Cash, like any addictive substance, clouds our ability to reason our own best interests. We compromise our selves in persuit of it's own form of sensory satisfaction.

post #4 of 112
Thread Starter 
Lucky for me, the temptation doesn't present itself very often. I too take the tip, but I wonder if it contradicts everything I stand for.
post #5 of 112

Be glad you are not a politician!

"the plam".

I know what you are trying to do with this topic, I just have nothing of substance to add. Just empathy

post #6 of 112
Thread Starter 
Empathy is good. It confirms that I'm not the only one who sees it this way. I'm okay with gifts of sincere appreciation--that coupon book for massages is damn fine--but the idea that tips are a form of pay bothers me. I've heard from the buyer's side that they expect that a big chunk of the ticket price is returned to their instructor. They are surprised that it isn't and sometimes feel obligated to tip, even though they feel the cost of the lesson was a fair exchange for the service.

At least in a restaurant, the customer can rationalize that the price on the menu is for the food and adding a tip for the service helps to compensate the server. The argument is that a restaurant server can make more money under the tips system than under the straight hourly wage; and if the establishment paid servers per hour what they can make with a basic wage plus tips, the prices would scare customers away, and servers would be worse off.

But in the case of a ski lesson, the instructor brings the substance as well as the service to the lesson, and I think it's reasonable that customers would feel that the entire fee is for the professional service and that the professional would take a fair percentage of that fee. Do you suppose there's a sense among those who set the instructor pay scales that they should be kept fairly low to motivate instructors to exceed expectations in order to earn tips and make a better living? I think that restaurant owners believe this. I wonder if area operators do too?

I think that Yellowstone Club prohibits tipping and pays their employees very well. I'll have to verify this and ask the employees I know how they like this system. I do know one employee told me he's finally making money at instruction working there...
post #7 of 112
Originally posted by nolo:
I think that Yellowstone Club prohibits tipping and pays their employees very well. I'll have to verify this and ask the employees I know how they like this system. I do know one employee told me he's finally making money at instruction working there...
Then again the Yellowstone Club can afford the price since entrance is limited to a minimum of $3 million personal assets for application to only purchase property. [img]graemlins/thumbsup.gif[/img]
post #8 of 112
nolo, I think I still am at odds with you on this issue.

the learned professions are medicine, law and teaching at the university level.

they are the source of "profesional" occupation.

beyond that, we have people who are paid for doing what they do, even if their doings are atypical. these people often call themselves "professional," apparently using some sort of sports metaphor derived from the distinction between paid/endorsed athlete, and pure self-funded amateur athlete.

GOOD ski teachers & coaches have my highest respect and admiration. However, the etymologist in me says they can't be "professional" in the literal sense.

If you take "professional" and bend it with colloquial misuse, you might be able to apply it to ski coaches/teachers, but only in the bent sense of "professional" -- i.e., behaves respectfully and cordially, does not take liberties, and does not complain if not tipped.

The continued push for "higher pay" for ski coaches is a nice ideal. However, I don't like the idea when I think of how it would work. More money for coaches/instructors means somewhere, revenue must increase. Higher lift ticket prices? I hope not. More expensive hot dogs and chili? Fine, I bring my own food.

If I were in your position, nolo, I would not be theorizing about how to make ski area/ski resort-based instruction more lucrative.
I would be busy setting up an academy of sorts.


...aren't you already doing that?

post #9 of 112
Thread Starter 
We call ourselves pros, Gonz. Am I as learned about my field as you are about yours? Hmmm. Same amount of time in higher education. I've been in practice a bit longer, but it's seasonal work, so I'll stipulate equal experience points. I've held positions of responsibility and performed a few miracles.

Tell me again why I can't call myself a learned professional just like you?
post #10 of 112
Gonzo is part of the Establishment.
post #11 of 112
Actually, gonzo, as I recall the professions included the clergy and the officer corps, as well as teaching, medicine and law. Those were the occupations a gentleman (younger son) could enter without soiling his hands in commerce. I don't recall a qualification on teaching limiting it to the university level (otherwise Mr. Chips or the Rector of Justinian might not have been gentlemen, and that would have been unthinkable to those who postulated the arrangement).
Of course, we have lawyers like the former Attorney General of Texas under indictment, TV preachers in financial scams, and Dr. Wakshal setting an example for young medical students everywhere. It's enough to make you wonder why anyone would aspire to professional status.
But they do.
And, nolo, you're going to do that helicopter long before any campaign against tips gets off the ground. If you look at the split between instructor and resort on the lesson, and the size of a good tip, the math is very interesting. A 20% tip. And a 25/75 split. That means the instructor is getting 45/120 of what the student pays with the tip. Looked at another way, the tip is just under half (4/9ths) of the instructors total comp.
post #12 of 112
I’ll throw in my 2 cents on professionals. When I think of a professional, I think of a few prerequisites that almost universally are present. The most important is a credential, bestowed by virtue of education, experience and testing. That credential must be bestowed by a governing body of universal acceptance, whether that body is a government body such as a state licensing board (Doctors, Lawyers, CPA’s [img]smile.gif[/img] Plumbers, Hair Dressers and the list goes on) or a nationally recognized body such as PSIA or AASI. The credential MUST mean something! No mail order degree’s need apply!

In Gonzostrikes example, those three qualify by my criteria. Lawyer and Doctor are credentialed by obtaining a license, and (although I make a broad assumption) I assume Gonz means a fully tenured and educated PhD, not a grad student teaching assistant. The latter, by reason of his lesser stature ie: not yet credentialed, cannot be a pro. Similarly, all snow sports instructors, and coaches that have earned their various levels are pro’s.
post #13 of 112
Main Entry: 1pro·fes·sion·al
Pronunciation: pr&-'fesh-n&l, -'fe-sh&-n&l
Function: adjective
Date: circa 1748
1 a : of, relating to, or characteristic of a profession b : engaged in one of the learned professions c (1) : characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession (2) : exhibiting a courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike manner in the workplace
2 a : participating for gain or livelihood in an activity or field of endeavor often engaged in by amateurs <a professional golfer> b : having a particular profession as a permanent career <a professional soldier> c : engaged in by persons receiving financial return <professional football>
3 : following a line of conduct as though it were a profession <a professional patriot>

From Meriam Webster. Enough semantics, it's not the issue.

I tipped my instructor at the Academy. I am not a wealthy person. I gave my tip with the words,

"It's not a measure of YOUR worth, it's a measure of mine."

I have the greatest respect for PROFESSIONAL INSTRUCTORS now. I owe much more than I could afford to give for the greatest gift of all.

I suppose if ski instructors could make a decent living, there would be scads of them. Perhaps it's a way to weed out the mercenaries and the less devoted? Fair? No. I barely make a living myself. But I love my work. I'd do it for less, I think. It's called Passion.

I can tell you that I'd rather be a ski instructor. Playing and helping people enjoy playing? OR stuck in a windowless building all winter? Decisions, decisions.....

(edited and wondering why I got bold blue letters!)

[ March 25, 2003, 06:04 PM: Message edited by: Bonni ]
post #14 of 112
I equate our dilema with what I call "The Black Belt Syndrome". When you first enter a dojo, you are awed by the myth and lure of the black belt. When you get the darned thing, your are honored to teach, even if it is only the kids classes and you do it without question.

In my case Sensei was "old skool" and made very little money, he charged so little for so much training that I'll never regret the honor. He gave so much I would be ashamed to complain.

The big BUT ..... many schools charge piles of money and rake the bucks in through high student attrition tied to contracts AND use the instructors in a pyramid of $$$ that flows back to a "Grand Master", they should be called Try Kwan Dough .... lots of dough! I am shocked when I hear what many pay and when I listen to the gimicks and gear ...... amazing!

My point is that many of us are just so damned giddy at being finally "allowed" to teach" that we have lost track of our senses. The jacket has the same allure as the black belt and we sell out.

I have never had a money making year and have learned to suck it up and palm that occasional $20 and am sincerely grateful that someone thought so much of the lesson that the money is more of a compliment.

My big tip this week was from three middle aged gals from NYC. They were there for a lesson the week before, convinced that they wouldn't learn to ski. They did OK and came back again. When they saw me sliding up to the group they started to ...... "It's Ed he BE the best", (yes they were black) impressed the line boss too ..... THEY were the BEST and I'll take that over the $20 any day!
post #15 of 112
I have had an issue with this since I started teaching in the US. In Oz, we have a saying: "you pay peanuts, you get monkeys" and generally, it applies. But in the US, employers continually get away with paying peanuts to instructors, and often getting motivated, educated, skilled people (and rather a lot of monkeys, too).

Tipping seems to be more prevalant among seasoned skiiers. At my end of the profession, I get a lot of first timers who don't even consider tipping. They paid a lot for their lesson, and tipping doesn't occur to them.
When I got tipped in group lessons, the others seemed astonished (and sometimes dug into their pockets too!).
As an aussie, I'm a bit uncomfortable with being tipped, there is a real master-servant connotation to it. but at the time, I'm glad to get it as buying food becomes easier.

I have a problem with the employers expecting us to give 110% and turn up to work every day, yet they dont' have to pay us, and when they do, it's insulting how little we get. They talk about us behaving like professionals, yet we are remunerated like college holiday workers. There's a basic contradiction there that I feel compelled to question.

It is really hard to bounce around enthusiastically when your employer is basically ripping you off!

I'm trying to temper this attitude, as it won't get me anywhere. I'm going to keep instructing for a while yet, I do enjoy it, and I enjoy the whole scene.
But I can't blind myself to what is going on, and wonder what WOULD happen if instructors mobilised about this. But if it hasn't happened yet, I don't think it ever will.

We're not valued, and that is the bottom line.
post #16 of 112
Thread Starter 

I'm not calling into question the spirit in which the tip is given nor the service delivered. I am asking if the assumption that instructors, like restaurant servers, can make more money being compensated with a basic wage plus gratuities is (check all that apply):

a) true
b) a rationalization for double-dipping
c) a valid incentive for excellence
d) a sign that ski instruction, like waiting tables, is a dead end job
e) false--any compensation scheme that requires customers to make up the difference between subsistence and a living is morally bankrupt and you can bet your bippy these schemes favor the employer, not the employees or the customers

post #17 of 112
I'm not quite clear as to your logic here. Are you saying that the existence of tipping is an acknowledgement that instructor's pay is not adequate? I wish more of my students had had that knowledge. I'm not certain that instructors have not been "rising up" (or dropping out), as you put it, for some time, considering the rate of attrition in the profession.

Back on the topic. Surely it is lack of adequate compensation that keeps this profession from being truly viable rather than some issue of real or imagined "respect". I don't pay my doctor, attorney, architect what they demand because of some perception regarding their places in the pecking order. I pay them what they ask because I have some assurance that they are qualified in their fields and their rates are what they demand in exchange for their services.

Instructors are willing to do what they do for the rate of compensation offered, even though they likely pass up more financially lucrative employment. By accepting that bargain aren't they establishing for themselves what their service is worth?
post #18 of 112
We buy into it because of the lure of the jacket and all of the (alleged) perks. Everyone KNOWS that we .....

Get free skis!

Lots of free ski time!

End up in the "black" at tax time!

Have lift tickets to lavish on our chums!

The simple fact is that few if any enter "the profession" realizing that the base pay is state minimum wage, have to beg hunt and sniff for pro-form deals or stand around for long periods and attend "motovational meetings" without pay.

The perception of the guest is probably that we are paid from the time we "punch in".

The PSIA should calculate the weekly pay of the average instructor and buy some billboard space on the mountain road at the most deliquent areas to announce our reality. Tips are rare at the non-destination areas.
post #19 of 112
I would chip in to help buy the billboard. You are a revolutionary. But don't expect any help from anybody with a stake in the existing system.
post #20 of 112
I wonder what would happen if "tipping" became part of selecting which clients to retain and which ones to pass on ..... or refer

The reality is there was a time of professionalism, now there is just a time of individuals (some pros) making the best of the most lucrative job they will ever have.

Don't upset the apple cart, ya never know who is sitting in it.

post #21 of 112

I take tips and yes I find it a bit demeaning. I will also add that in my experience tipping is "down" this year with the economy. I will say my leading economic indicator is purely anecdotal.

I don't think ski instruction is much different that many other "professions". Why do people fight fires or work in law enforcement? I contend it is who we view ourselves as "being". As a young man I did not want to work in a cubicle. I abhorred the thought of being a businessman. I can recall thinking business majors at the college I attended were one step above pond scum.

Was I right? Obviously I was not. I was young and had a rather jaded view of life. I think to this day the most noble soul on earth is the silver haired police patrolman who has flunked every promotional exam or been passed over and is walking a beat or riding a radio car after thirty years on the job.

I have always contended that there are firefighters and law enforcement officers who would INITIALLY do their job for free. EVENTUALLY, they become embittered and rancor sets in. In law enforcement I would say it takes about seven years of rotating shifts for the symptoms to "take-hold". Sleep deprivation will make you a madman, a drunk, or in my case some might say both.

Is ski instruction much different? I've only done this full time for three years. I'm a mere "rookie".

I will say this. One of the most difficult things I have ever done or observed is spending five to six hours outside in lousy weather helping any student whether five or fifty five. I have walked into the locker room at four in the afternoon and stared into some very weary eyes. Why do people do it?

It isn't for the tips. I'll suggest there is a degree of satisfaction at the end of those bone chilling days in knowing you did your very best. That does not necessarily mean you always gave a great lesson or that the student grew. It simply means the teacher did the best doggone job they could.
post #22 of 112
Originally posted by Man from OZ-

"I wonder what would happen if "tipping" became part of selecting which clients to retain and which ones to pass on ..... or refer"

This already happens! I hear it all the time in the locker room. A "pro" works with a student for some period of time, and doesn't get a tip, that student is going to be handed off next season. The student asks if the "pro" is going to be back next season, and the "pro" says, NO, not likely, full well knowing they will be back.

Several years ago, I was on a Wage Task Force for the ski school. When we presented an idea for a wage system which was generous and indexed to the cost of living in the Vail Valley, it was shot down in a hurry. Especially after the managers on the Task Force realized how far apart the wages and cost of living were. Instead they implemented a system which has more holes in it than an Iraqi tank.

Finally, the (new) management has realized that the system is flawed beyond salvation, and we will be creating a new system this summer. Maybe we'll resurrect that old plan, and put in the newer numbers.
But will it provide a true "living", beyond subsistence? We'll let you know next year , about this time!

post #23 of 112
This thread confirms a suspicion I have had for several years.

My 17 year old son is one smart kid!

He started in the ski instruction profession last year, along with several of his buddies.
In his first year old enough to legally work, he signed up, and made his calender of committment days. He attanded the many mandatory trainings.
After his first pay check, I sensed a combination of excitment and dissappointment. Any paycheck for a youngster is a good thing, right? But he noticed that the hourly rate, with his travel time, and all the other little "dings", was nothing to brag about. Not even minumum wage. (He calculates ROI very closely).
The few tips he received got him going a bit, but he knew he couldn't count on them.
As he learned about personal development (PDP it is called here) incentives, (pay increases) he took advantage of those that offered the tangible returns. But, as "training opportunities" continued, he rejected most of them even as they moved him up the PSIA ladder. These trainings would take "earning time" from him for little real compensation increase. He already has a full time day job with his school activities.
His true committment to professionalism is his steadfast preference to work "The Red Room". These are the youngest "Never Evers", the dearest of the dear, the darlings, and the group no one else wants!.
The area pays those who work that group a fixed premium per shift. This premium, along with the regular hourly pay, puts his compensation rate into the acceptable range. He is almost always welcomed to work there, even on his unscheduled days. He has a great work ethic, and is well liked by his supervisors. On the few days that there has been no requirement for additional help in this area, he prefers to free ski rather than wait around in the hopes there will be some work for him in the more advanced groups. It would seem that when the SS is busy, the youngest ones are present as well.

So how does this relate to the present thread?
It appears that the ski areas take advantage of the employment situation to assure some level of dissatisfaction.
There are opportunities to "work the system" and do slightly better money wise.

In closing

When I asked my son before this season began if he was considering working at the mountain again, he replied "Not if I can find a real job!"

Too bad skiing is so much fun! If guests thought of it as work, perhaps they would take pity on the ski instructors and compensate them for the hardship.

As a volley patroller, I live by the motto "I ask for so little, and boy, do I get it!"

post #24 of 112
Thread Starter 
It's a difficult topic. I don't know the answers, or even if there are answers. I do know that the profession suffers the loss of many dedicated pros due to their desire to have a family, health insurance, decent earnings to pay their Social Security and fund their 401K. I have to think that this brain drain impacts the quality of lessons overall, because of the loss of excellent role models, trainers, etc.

Actually, I think the answers will come from consumers demanding quality and being willing to pay for it. I think the company could charge the customer more for a lesson with a tenured and certified instructor than for a rookie, and could pay instructors accordingly.
post #25 of 112
I am truly ashamed to admit, that prior to posting on this forum, I did not tip, simply because I was not aware of how poorly instructors were being paid. Also, being a "recreational professional" myself, tips have never been part of my own compensation.
Unfortunately, it always comes down to the ultimate decision. Can I afford thelift and lodging rates, and still be able to take a lesson AND tip the instructor.
Sadly, especially in New England, the answer is sometimes "NO".
Ignorance is bliss. If I did not know that instructors both expected and needed tips to break even, I would still be taking a lot more lessons.

For personal training in the fitness industry, their are 3 different levels, each with a different lesson rate and percentage rate for the instructors.

Master trainers either have a Masters in Exercise Physiology, and/or a higher level of certification, such as ACSM or NASM. This is the most expensive lesson. The instructor recieves 58% of the lesson cost.

Speciality trainers may not have a masters degree, but they have a specialty, ie. Pilates, Prenatal, etc. The cost is the same as a master trainer, but the instructor recieves 50%.

Personal trainers or working towards their certification. This is the least expensive lesson. The instructor recieves 40% of the lesson cost.
post #26 of 112
Have read this thread add 1) am ashamed too that I don't tip. 2) Take this with a grain of salt, but maybe the answer is "union". Would it not be possible to get resorts more so in a dense area like SLC and group together and form a union? If I missed the boat please do tell....
post #27 of 112

You are on the right track asking questions about tipping. I believe that tipping should NOT be a wage supplement but rather an actual reward for good service. Many people outside of the US get upset when a tip is a separate item but included in the total bill in a restaurant, especially when the service is lousy, which it often is. Ever had the experience of paying the bill, tipping well and someone else joins you and you decide order another round and Hey the service has disappeared. “got my tip I am on to the next banker” mentality?

Personally I think for some within the ski industry the tip business has moved from being looked at as a "thank you ya did a great job" to " a "hey the bastard did not tip".

It has been my experience that those from Spanish speaking countries, England, South Africa, Australia (countries that do not have "tip expectations") are "passed on" in ski school. Let me tell you these people do tip and well BUT ya better deliver the goods or speak the language.

Why does this happen? Well it has been my experience that the SS working system actually encourages a certain amount of unscrupulous behaviour due to the low wage structure and the "return at any cost" mentality. The really funny thing is that those that do not tip can quite often end up with the “more current” instructor due to the underlying “honest philosophy” of that instructor. I.e. “I am here to teach one and all and if I do a good job I MAY get a tip” as opposed to “I am good so I deserve a tip” mentality or worse “I only work for tips”

I think the answers will come from consumers demanding quality and being willing to pay for it.
I do not agree with this philosophy. I believe the answers will come when the “opportunity for collusion” within the SS system is removed and management starts to again attract those who are “holistic teachers” with ALL the ski skills as well as the sales pitch.

Free enterprise Ski Schools would encourage some much needed competition :

post #28 of 112
Unfortunately, compensation levels in all sectors of the economy are not determined by how hard we work, how much we know, how much we deserve or how much we produce, but by how easy we are to replace.
post #29 of 112
Why do ski areas and resorts pay instructors what they do? Because they can.

Why can they? Because so many are part time, who do it for the love of it, have other supporting livelihood, and are thrilled to have the title and free skiing.

Who is most affected? Full time professional instructors - and the status of full time professional instruction.

Does tipping demean the profession? hmmmmmm. My parents were music teachers. It is beyond my comprehension that anyone would have thought of tipping them or that they would have accepted a tip.

This is market driven, like, what isn't - and when top instruction from top instructors is demanded . . . well, there is the law of supply and demand. Sometimes, demand is created, or at least developed.

What amazes me most is that there appears to be no kind of trade organization whatsoever for ski instructors. PSIA does not appear to play any such role - it is not "The Bar Association" but rather "The Board of Bar Examiners". Actors in Hollywood who are paid MILLIONS have the Screen Actors' Guild . . . what do professional ski instructors have? What is it? Is professional ski instruction important enough that its intrinsic value be recognized? Are ski instructors just "too good" to insist that the value of their work be recognized? At least one inquiring mind wants to know.
post #30 of 112
I think that PSIA are the one body placed to help us to raise general awareness about a range of things: not just what we are paid and HOW we are paid (ie when out skiing in uniform, we are not being paid!), but also awareness of certification and what it means.

That actually might bear fruit. Educate the skiiers about cert levels, vs no cert. The skiiers know they pay the same no matter who they get. They could apply the pressure to ski schools to supply certified instructors, if they knew about how it works.

"Is your instructor qualified"? (picture of pin)
The "go with a pro" thing is all very well, but way too cryptic and platitudinous.

Why do I suspect that PSIA would not do anything to ruffle resort mg't?!
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