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A Question

post #1 of 74
Thread Starter 
Let me apologize in advance if this is a stupid question or a taboo subject. My question is...

Can an instructor give lessons on his own time at a resort other than the one they are employed at? Assume that the contact was not made via resort of employment in a direct or indirect manner.
post #2 of 74
This is neither a taboo subject or a stupid question. But it is one which requires a special degree of tact, when being dealt with.

To begin with, allow me to outline some of the general parameters and limitations of most ski schools and their respective areas.

First, no instr who has any integrity, ethics, or a desire to have a long career would jeopardize their employment by "underground teaching" or "privateering" on their own mountain. First offenses of this nature usually result in termination with prejudice, resulting in a black mark on their professional reputation. If asked by a future employer, the dismissing school will usually let it be known why the instr was terminated.

Secondly, most resorts have been granted exclusive rights to provide ski instruction within their area boundaries by a governmental agency, and are very reluctant to allow freelancers on to their turf. They view all value transactions as "their" money, and treat it as an intrusion. In most cases, this has been supported by the legal system.
Have you ever wondered why you don't see instr's out advertising as independent instr's, as they do in Europe? The system there is quite different than our own, and it's not only allowed- it's customary! Here, where would the instr teach, where the resort wouldn't take offense to that instr?
This also includes the upcoming EpicSki Academy at Snowbird and the ETU, held in Stowe last month. This might explain why we have to jump through so many hoops to find a resort which is willing to "host" our events. Without such support, we would not be allowed to have these events. Even then, there are many stipulations we must adhere to, so as to not impinge upon the host area's business.

So- as you can see, the instr and the ski area operator both have certain expectations of, and responsibilities to, the other.

Now- to your question.

Can an instr teach at an area other than the one which employs him/her?
If acting as you have described, the instr would be working as an independent, and would likely be investigated by the resort. But as an employee of one area, taking a client to another area is becoming relatively common. Though the employing area isn't very happy about it sometimes, and will likely refuse WC benefits should anything happen to the instr while working in this fashion, it is becoming more acceptable.
For example- in the past, Vail actually welcomed Aspen instr's to bring their clients over, when Aspen itself had very little snow or terrain open. Those instr's were extended every hospitality and courtesy. And on any given day, I see instr's from 3,4,or even 5 different areas skiing and teaching on Vail Mtn.

But in these various cases, the initial contact with the student WAS at the home area, not at the area to be visited. The student is usually a previous client, wishing to experience a new resort. And at all times, these visits are done above board. If a pro were to get a reputation of being shady about his business, you might fully expect the host area to bring it's full might to bear upon that instr. And then it'll be the employing resorts turn to take him/her to task.

Most employers are happy to write a letter of introduction for an instr taking a guest to another area. This way, no unnecessary grief is visited upon that instr, and everybody is kept in the loop as to who the instr is, what he/she is doing, and for how long.

I, myself will spend an average of 12-16 days per season with guests at various resorts. But I make a point of going into the ski school office at each, meeting with the Ski School manager or supervisor, and informing them of my presence on the mtn, prior to going out on the hill.

I hope this answers your question, at least to some degree.

(edited for a few minor spelling errors...)

[ January 01, 2004, 07:36 PM: Message edited by: vail snopro / ric reiter ]
post #3 of 74
In Europe the rules are different as there are many ski schools in each ski area (due to the size of the ski areas and the free market economy )
So, provided you have the qualifications, there's nothing to stop you giving lessons (apart from the ESF in France kicking up a bit of a fuss cause French isn't your first language [img]smile.gif[/img] )

post #4 of 74
Hey Ric--I was at Vail just yesterday, skiing with a client booked through Copper, just as you describe. We skied out of Lion's Head, and I kept my eyes out for you--were you there?

Much as I hate to admit it, you guys have had better snow than we've had on our side of The Pass. The snow was great at Vail yesterday. All a moot point now, I hope, with this monster storm that should bury most of Colorado's mountains.

Best regards,
Bob Barnes
post #5 of 74
So say I promised my aunt that I would teach her to ski... if I take her to the hill i work at, and just teach her without any sort of payment, tips, etc, would I be frowned upon by my boss?
post #6 of 74
TakeControl--you might raise a few eyebrows, but if you can convince them that it is actually your aunt, and you that you really aren't receiving any pay, then you aren't doing anything wrong, and they will have no complaint. Just make sure you don't have substantially more than the usual number of aunts needing ski lessons....

Best regards,
Bob Barnes
post #7 of 74
>...Just make sure you don't have substantially more than the usual number of aunts needing ski lessons....

It's all the female cousins from the office that I think would cause the most worry.

In any case, if the person receiving the lesson is in your immediate family (ie, your child, spouse or parents), presumably there would be even less of an issue.

While one should clearly ask your own SS management about issues like this, do you think they would prefer if you taught family members (say, between lineups) in your uniform, or in civies?

Tom / PM

[ January 02, 2004, 10:39 PM: Message edited by: PhysicsMan ]
post #8 of 74
Clearly the begining of discussions has to be with the employees resort. From there is it is, as was discussed above, common. Usually, if it is for fee, say if you were meeting a client out of the home area (you work in Colorado and said student frequents Park City), first the letter of intro, comes from the home resort. As I have experienced the fee is also paid to the home resort. (I don't know if that keeps you on the WC roles as Ric eluded to. Certainly one would not be covered outside of the home area esp. witout being truthful and overt.) Several seasons ago I saw a guy in a DV uniform (presumably teach at Copper. Because he was in uniform I suspect it was all above board.

Good luck and be cool, not only for yourself, this may affect all pros!
post #9 of 74
Thread Starter 
I appreciate you all taking time to respond to my question. An interesting phrase was used in the above post by Wear the Fox Hat - "free market economy". Apparently this is not an applicable phrase regarding ski lessons domestically.

An efficient market such as an X-Team (which I have attended) and the ESA (which my wife attended last year and I will attend this year)puts myself and others in the market as buyers. A quality product is delivered at a fair price. I may (or may not) get the same quality via the closed system of a ski resort, but the cost makes it prohibitive for a significant portion of the customer base to purchase the product frequently, if at all.

At first glance it seems the European system is going to provide a more competitive product at a price and subsequent volume level that benefits both the student and instructor. (I would also assume that more frequent instruction is going to equal a happier skier, thus a skier who ultimately purchases more lift tickets, and takes more lessons....)

Besides, if resort a sells me and someone else (someone on their own time and not an employee of the resort who happens to be a ski instructor) a lift ticket, what concern should it be to them what we discuss? Any commerce that may take place between the two of us is irrelavent, our lift tickets were paid for so what else is owed the resort? The net result is: income to the instructor (at the expense of his own time), revenue to the resort we buy tickets from, and a product delivered to the consumer at an acceptable price. Assuming i'm not "poached" from the instructors place of employment, what has their employer lost? The resort where we skied can offer the argument that I would have purchased the service directly from them and at their offering price. Maybe, but I wouldn't have, and they took in the ticket charge at the window besides. Pure profit with no extra labor attached puts them ahead of everybody on the economic side of this scenario.

My intent is not to offend anyone with this post. I just want to be able to purchase a service at a fair price and don't feel that I'm able to do so. My objective is an instructor/client relationship, not an instructor/resort/client relationship. I don't mind paying the resort for my lift ticket, but I don't understand why I can't find and arrange instruction (on the instructors own time and not at the expense of their employer, if any) on my own without their subsequent and substantial price bump.

If any instructor will take time to share their point of view I sure would like to hear it.
post #10 of 74
utah sooner, I tend to be of the same mind, even though (or, perhaps, especially because!) I am teaching professionally for the first time this winter. I find the legislated monopoly of the resorts to be curious, to say the least, and I would be very interested in the overall business model for the resorts. I can't imagine that there is significant business overhead for each lesson, and the gap between instructors' income and what the customers pay for it is far above what I have seen in my experience in other businesses.

I have to wonder whether or not it wouldn't be better for the consumers and providers of the service to make it a free market. Isn't that the basis of our economic model, after all?
post #11 of 74
Allow me to focus more closely on two specific issues that I only mentioned vaguely in my first response.
What you are asking for comes down to risks and liabilities. This exists on the part of both parties involved (you and the instr).

There are certain degrees of coverage which a resort offers the instructors within their employ. Two of the most obvious are Workmens Compensation (WC), and Liability Insurance.
The first is to protect the instr, who might get injured while performing his/her duties on behalf of the resort.
The second is to protect you, the "client", should you be injured due to negligence on the part of the instr.

Believe it or not, besides the normal risks of skiing, more instr's are injured by their own students than you might think! While following, perhaps the student accidently runs over the tails of the pro's skis, or just fully collides with the instr. These ARE NOT unusual scenarios. And if WC coverage is in effect, though painful and costly in a greater sense, at least the instr has all medical costs and some loss of income covered.
If WC coverage is NOT in effect, will you personally cover any medical costs or loss of income that might be incurred by an injury sustained while in your "employ", especially in the case of a potentially career ending injury? Or just say "Sorry", throw the instr an extra $500, and walk away?

And it is not unknown for instr's to screw up on occasion. Say an instr has you doing something a bit unorthodox, or takes you into a high risk environment, and you get injured. PI attorneys love this stuff! They look at the instr as a resort employee, see deep pockets on the part of the resort, and the cash registers start going off in their brains. But no PI lawyer is going to go after the average pro, unless that pro has some very tangible assets. What if that injury to you was more than can be readily resolved, such as partial paralysis or worse? Are you going to be happy getting $50 a month for the rest of that instr's life? Without the resort (and their insurance company) to stand behind him/her, the instr is royally screwed! Again, the scenarios I offer are very real!

On three different occasions, I have been asked to participate as an expert witness in civil cases against ski instructors. Twice were cases where the instr's were working within expected performance parameters, and within the policies and procedures outlined by their respective resorts. The third case was an instr working "underground" at his own area. The "client" got injured, and since the instr was an employee, the client attempted to sue the instr and the resort. As the instr was not giving a legitimate lesson at the time of the injury, the resort was discharged from the suit. But the instr was found negligent, had a hefty penalty assessed, and was summarily fired from his resort.
I did not act as a witness in any of the above cases for various reasons of my own. But the plaintiff attorneys had no trouble finding several instr's who were willing to testify for the $$$ being thrown at them. In fact, there are several instructors I'm familiar with who make quite a nice supplemental income from acting as "expert witnesses" in these types of cases.

Another point I referred to in my first post was the idea that most resorts, being primarily on US Government land, operate under Special Use Permits. This is the instrument which allows them to operate a monopolistic environment, removing all competition. As fees are paid to the governing agency by the resort, based upon revenues, you might imagine why the resorts take a very dim view of "privateering". If the instr was at that particular resort purely with the intent of teaching you for compensation, that constitutes a commercial relationship. Of course they'll want their piece of the pie!

I'm not going to defend the prices charged by various resorts for the services they provide. But they are in the business of providing those services, and in most cases, have the exclusive right to do so. To expect them to stand by quietly while independent instr's start swarming all over their resort, undercutting prices, and taking away business is ludicrous! I know- one instr does not consitute a swarm, but it would be the precedent which opens the flood gates. This is why they will go to great lengths to put a halt to such a possibility.

Now I have a question for you-
Is this instr, this "pro" (obviously lacking both integrity and ethics), who is willing to subjegate the rules for a few bucks, really the pro you want to be dealing with? Do you buy your car parts from the chop shop down the block, because they are cheaper, regardless of the legality?

post #12 of 74
Originally posted by vail snopro / ric reiter:
Now I have a question for you-
Is this instr, this "pro" (obviously lacking both integrity and ethics), who is willing to subjegate the rules for a few bucks, really the pro you want to be dealing with? Do you buy your car parts from the chop shop down the block, because they are cheaper, regardless of the legality?

If I can choose between an instructor that I know & that is
a) qualified (& current in training etc - not just pays the money every year for 50 years)
b) experienced - maybe even in several teaching methodologies (multi country experience : !)
c) maybe even a good teacher

versus a ski school selected
a) kid on a J1 visa - no experience no real desire to teach just wants to ski overseas cheap
b) an "experienced" local guy that has no qualifications but gets trotted out by the resort because he does not really want a professional job doing this but is in it for the free or cheap lift ticket... hence they use him a few days a year... he never trains & is totally not interested in really teaching either - but he is their "mate"
c) hardened "professional" who will do whatever he/she needs to do to survive in the industry - including teaching poor lessons & talking/taking crap from all in sundry & generally sucking up to whoever has the power to ensure survival....

YES thankyou....

Now if the ski schools got it together & provided TRUE PROFESSIONAL INSTRUCTION - no question the answer would change
post #13 of 74

There are lots of problems with the teaching umbrella. There are as many suggestions for solutions as there are those giving said suggestions. Well, it ain't the 70's anymore folks!

I think this is something that PSIA along with the Ski Area Organization needs to grapple with. Although I believe the PSIA has opted to be seen as more of a benign educational community rather than a union, persay. For things to change in either direction - better benefits (including pay) to the instructors, as well as working conditions, or for a free market to take hold, there needs to be a paradigm shift in the entire mindset of ski instruction, both within the industry and without. Much needs to be considered.

PSIA, should it continue as a force to be reckoned with, is the organization that is already in place to deal with such a process. However my words above speak volumes in that regard - benign educational community!

I believe that our ESA is a great start. That should be supported and loudly touted!
post #14 of 74
So an instructor that works “black” as we call it has less integrity and ethics than instructor that actively participates in and supports a system that:

1. Employs seasonal workers with little formal instructor training and on sells them to an unsuspecting public for exorbitant prices.
1. Actively encourages established instructors to “farm” out prospective clients to “lesser” qualified instructors in something called a "“referral" system.
3. Turns a very blind eye to all the locker rooms deals that go on as instructor “cartels” corner the market in the best tippers and regular lesson buyers and call it "request retention".
4. Continually imports students on working visas to act as “instructors” instead of training and supporting local workers.

LOL, VSP. You do a fine line in satire sometimes.

ESA is a brilliant vehicle for both the skier client AND the individual teaching business of the delivery team. (who are all excellent ski teachers and ski business people)
post #15 of 74
I understand the insurance stuff; but there is something I am not getting. If a skier buys a lift ticket at a resort and gets an injury - what can prevent his PI lawyer from suing the resort? Similarly, if an instructor buys a lift ticket and teaches somebody on his own time and gets an injury in the process - what can prevent his PI lawyer from suing the resort?
post #16 of 74
Thread Starter 

Again I thank you and the others for taking time to respond.

WC, liability, sleazy PI lawyers and other isssues which seem to bring out the worst of our legal system are not the crux of this issue. I can take skydiving, karate, moto-cross lessons and the like, so these legal concerns are a burden that can be addressed.

The heart of this matter appears to be the lack of a free market, what appears to essentially be (to qoute you from above if I may) "a monopolistic environment, removing competition."

Allow me to take a "what if" look using your car parts example: Imagine that the manufacturer/dealer of autos is the only place we are legally allowed to get repair service and buy parts. All people who have the skills and desire to be a mechanic must work for one of these establishments at a wage scale that has no real supply/demand equilibrium due to the monopoly. The system also has a few quirks on the side; The mechanics income can vary widely according to the willingness of the customer to tip him on top of the high cost they must pay. Quite often the customer would like to do so, but they emptied the wallet at the counter, so they may not be real thrilled about having to subsidize the mechanic even if quality service was rendered. They figure for what they paid they should be square. The customer is also quite likely to be assigned to a mechanic that he knows little or nothing about. They may provide a quality service, or they may not. Quite a leap of faith when the price is considered. The mechanic and car owner have no other legal way to conduct business. Sound very fair? Or very efficient? Is this going to be a satisfying place to work? Will the result be mechanics doing business in the black market, and will they be able to find a willing customer base (or will the customer base find them)? Are either of the parties (again quoting from above) "lacking both integrity and ethics" for going to the black market? Do any of the three parties benefit from this monopoly in the long run (I would argue likely not due to decreased demand), and if so is it fair to the others involved?

Black and gray markets are almost nonexistent if the commodity in question is allowed to trade in a liquid market environment. A tourist travels to a closed economy and exchanges currency on the street corner at the prevailing "real" rate instead of taking the worst of it via an "official" exchange rate transaction as mandated by the government. Is this an unethical transaction undertaken by parties lacking integrity?

No doubt that in these car and currency examples that all involved would have choices: They can pay inflated prices and get less for their money, they can choose not to buy a car or take an overseas trip, or they can spend their hard-earned time and money pursuing other endeavors.

Now allow me to jump to our sport and the topic of "conversion" discussed elsewhere in this forum. I offer this viewpoint for consideration: The easiest way to keep skier participation constant and growing is to make better skiers. It is quite posible that a delivery system, be it black market or otherwise, that makes instruction affordable and yet profitable for the provider stands the best chance of making this happen. The provider from my point of view as student is the instructor, not the resort. The resort is a conduit that gives me a place to complete the transaction, and for this they are paid a price they set in the form of lift tickets purchased. If I have to go to the black market to operate this free market model then so be it.

Another "what if" if I may:

Assume that a group of experienced and qualified Instructors in the SLC area started a company (with WC and liability coverage of course) that offered independent teaching and guiding services. Assume that they offer a rate card at 50% of the average resort in the area. This group approaches a resort owner who has a very nice property. Tons of varied terrain, posh day lodges with good food, very nice lift system with gondolas (great for lesson feedback during the day), good natural snow and snowmaking system, and 45-50 easy minutes from dntn. Everything but customers. The resort owner also owns a couple of rather large hotels in dntn SLC. Is the resort owner going to benefit from being affiliated with a private group that is going to expose hundreds of new lift ticket purchasing, burger buying, beer drinking clients to his resort on a yearly basis? Not to mention the fact that they can sleep in his hotels during the process. This is a win/win/win situation. Increased income and exposure for the resort owners various properties, increased income and freedom for the Instructors, and a quality product delivered at a fair price for the student. Probably takes about 10% or so of his captive business away in the process. Other resorts in the area see the results and will open their doors. All it takes is one.

Along this line of thought:

Last years ESA had to be a sweet deal for Brighton. Extra revenue they would have never seen and great word of mouth / goodwill. You see it on posted all over this forum all the time.

The current system is broke and void of economic integrity and ethics that, like it or not and be them good or bad, are the cornerstone to a successful free market economy. This is my definition of ludicrous. Less $ for you and marginal skiing for me in the process.

Not to mention I just really want to get good lessons at a fair price.

Thank you for reading my novel.
post #17 of 74
while VSP was arguing the very valid legal points of insurance and liability, the bottom line is that any instructor who is employed AT a mountain signs an employment contract that prevents "freelancing".

let's talk pros and cons to purchasing legitimate v. freelance instruction:

if you buy ski school lessons
- you can cut lift lines
- the mountain will assume liability for the instruction, etc
- it can be expensive

if you buy freelance lessons
- you wait in normal lines
- no one has insurance and if you are not happy with the product you have purchased, there are no guarantees
- you can save money

let's call a spade a spade - it really does boil down to MONEY. Every ski school has excellent instructors, with whom you can purchase time if you discuss it with the right folks in ski school. What I hear (IMHO) is folks want Sam Walton's Ski School.

Ultimately, it's every person's decision to do what they want.

caveat emptor!

post #18 of 74
Thread Starter 
It nearly takes Sam Walton's money to afford a consistent, long-term oriented instruction strategy. By the way, Sam W. got his hands on all that scratch by offering the product at the lowest price possible via an efficient distribution system, thus making himself mega-rich and his loyal customers happy at the same time. Although I myself do try to shop there when the lines are short (and take the same philosophy with me to the hill), most people seem to consider the extra few minutes a good use of their time. Maybe they're thinking about what they are going to do with the money they saved (probably going to buy more stuff at Wal-Mart next week).

Thank you for helping me make my point.

BTW, my skiing instruction is limited to an X-Team clinic and the upcoming ESA. Nothing against Wal-Mart, but I hope this is not considered "Sam Walton's Ski School".

From the honest dialogue i've seen on this board you're not kidding - caveat emptor. Or as P.T. Barnum put it "Once you get them into the tent you may do with them what you will".

[ January 05, 2004, 04:38 PM: Message edited by: utah sooner ]
post #19 of 74
US - I didn't see my post as "helping you make your point", it was just my reaction to what I was reading.

Lately, I have been seeing a lot of "instruction/instructor-bashing" and I'm not exactly sure what purpose it serves? Maybe people just need to vent?

It feels like "Skiing Technique & Instruction" is turning into "Rants & Raves".

I'd like to see more "constructive" conversation on these boards. Propose solutions, generate productive conversations here!!

post #20 of 74
Thread Starter 
You should read my comments from the beginning of this thread. I'm 100% on the side of the instructor, and I think they are currently prohibited from earning a true market wage for their talents. No doubt that i'm questioning the current "system" that is basically a restraint of trade, thus resulting in inflated instruction prices at the expense of both the instructor and client. Call it bashing if you like, I just think it's unfair, and much more so for instructors than for me.
post #21 of 74
US - I have read the whole thread and I am not looking to put this discussion "on you".

I am an instructor. And, I am a business person. And, I love to ski.

The past 10 years have been rough for the ski industry. It's touch and go every season for a lot of resorts.

Every mountain has profit centers. Ski School is a big one.

Everytime I sigh and buy a lift ticket for $65 or $70, everytime I buy a gatorade that costs $3.50 per bottle... I think... this is a small price to pay to insure that I will be able to keep skiing.

If we take the profit out of the Ski School profit center, what happens then? I don't like the prospective answers.

So, as an instructor, I accept that it's a labor of love with great fringe benefits. As a paying customer, I accept to pay the inflated prices.

Alcohol has about a 300% markup. I pay $9 for a martini. And, the bartender makes about $3.50 per hour plus tips.

Think about it...


post #22 of 74
In my previous posts, I was attempting to respond directly to your initial question/scenario about hiring an instr away from their work place. As kieli said, "Buyer Beware". You may just get what you paid for...

The further topics you raise about the state of the industry are on a different track, and to be honest- I do not disagree with you on many of your points. The industry, as a whole, is not doing right by the consumer. But as long as a "Show Me The Money" attitude exists in the minds of the corporations who own the major areas, it's unlikely to change. How very unfortunate for the consumer, the employee, and ultimately the industry. The name of the game to these corps is short term profits. It has nothing to do with extending the life of the industry.

But are 120,000 consumers in the Colorado Front Range, who bought Colorado Passes for about $300 apiece to ski Summit Cty and 10 days at Vail/BC, going to let Vail Resorts know what they think by not buying those passes next year? Of course not. They will continue to buy them as long as the lifts are running. It's too good a deal to pass up.

But this group of consumers are not the ones taking lessons. That group that takes lessons is made up of primarily destination/tourist skiers. They are the ones paying $73 a day for lifts, and $100+ for a group lesson. (Let's not even discuss the price of a private lesson.) And these visitors are getting pretty upset. Even the wealthy ones, who spend an average years income in a week's visit, are beginning to challenge the pricing structure. It is possible that the top of "what the market will bear" has been reached?

What is skiing really worth? Sure, to those of us that are fanatic about skiing, we'll sell the house, the car, and put the kids in bondage to ski (joking...). But those who spend their discretionary time and income to ski are looking elsewhere.

Cruises, Disneyland, and scuba trips to warm places would surely rank high on my list of places to go other than go skiing. Not just because they are cheaper. In fact, all things being equal- they are not. But they are better organized, inclusive of all amenities, and more user friendly than the average resort. If you are on a cruise, and want to learn to windsurf, it's included. You get hungry after your lesson? Go eat at a sumptuous buffet, included. Want some diversity? You can learn everything from computer programming to ballroom dancing, once again- included!

Why are we so suprised the average consumer is looking for alternatives to a ski vacation? What has the industry done to effectively compete with these other opportunities? Not a whole lot... The quality of the experience is not up to contemporary tourism standards.

Sorry, have to run. I'll have to come back and finish this...

post #23 of 74
Alcohol has about a 300% markup. I pay $9 for a martini. And, the bartender makes about $3.50 per hour plus tips.
I guess a basically trained seasonal barman dispensing marked up martini will do as much for your skiing as a similar person in a SS uniform. In a bar you may have the same chance of getting hurt and\or learning the latest street talk fad ski techniques as well. Maybe even get a few free bar snacks thrown in.

No wonder so many potential clients prefer to save their ski dollars for the barman when instructors are willing to compare their job to dispensing martini.

Give some thought to why ESA is a success. The “celebrity” coaches are only one reason. Give some thought as to why so many people are willing to sign up for ESA instead of taking SS at their home hill. Give some thought to WHY these “celebrity” coaches have embarked on the excellent project that ESA is. (I use the word “celebrity” in a positive tone.)

Give some thought to the fact that it may be cheaper to source ones own working insurance at a cheaper rate than the “cut” a SS takes out of a lesson price before basic wages.

I think if you read a few threads you will find solutions to a more equitable workplace for all (instructors and clients) being proposed.

Think about it ….. or accept your situation stay with the herd.
post #24 of 74
Originally posted by man from Oz:
</font><blockquote>quote:</font><hr /> Alcohol has about a 300% markup. I pay $9 for a martini. And, the bartender makes about $3.50 per hour plus tips.
No wonder so many potential clients prefer to save their ski dollars for the barman when instructors are willing to compare their job to dispensing martini.

</font>[/quote]I want to be clear that the analogy I was using was not to compare ski instructors and bartenders, per se. It was to compare salaries and the cost of a product.


post #25 of 74

Well, you've certainly struck a nerve!

Let's consider the possibility that there's a lot more "private" teaching going on than what is readily visible. Consider all the camps, clinics, college classes, etc. that are being offered. Consider that the vast majority of ski school lessons taught are skewed to the lower levels where there is little consumer demand for an alternative product. Maybe there is no big problem here.

Sure, there are resorts that are anal about "parasitic" lessons. There are also resorts that openly welcome or at least tolerate "visiting-working" instructors when it is clear that these activities are not simply siphoning lesson profits. Could it be possible that there are enough of the latter that instructors who want to do this do not have a problem with meeting the demand for their services?

There are some gray areas here. It's pretty clear that teaching a resort guest at your home mountain "off the books" for pay is a bad thing. Teaching a friend or relative for free at your home mountain, in uniform and cutting line is a little bad. Doing it out of uniform ought to be ok, but really depends on the policy at your mountain. Discreetly teaching anyone for pay (or expenses) away from your home mountain "should" be ok as long as the destination resort policy allows it and the teacher pays their taxes properly. Anyone laughing yet?

Most resorts are private enterprises that ought to be free to control what commercial services are conducted at their place of business, no matter how shortsighted the practice might be. If people have the option to take their business to resorts that have policies compatible with their desires, then the free market is able to do its job. Although most Western resorts are on public land, I believe the opposite is true for Midwest and Eastern resorts. Although resorts on private land do not have exclusivity granted by a public agency, I suspect that good old commercial law gives these resorts the same right to request visiting-working instructors to leave the premises.

At my resort, we openly welcome local ski clubs who bring their own instructors (many of which are our former staff). The Special Olympics folks bring their own coaches. Instructors who teach their friends discreetly are tolerated. And I've known a few instructors who have had their regular customers treat them to "trips" to other mountains. Of the thousands of students that I've taught and guests that I've encountered at the mountain, only a handful have requested a "private" lesson. Our resort offers a discount card that gives you 40% off lessons. We've got multi week programs for kids. If you want to save money, you've got options. Oh - and I've personally heard from management at my resort that if they lowered lesson prices, they'd have to raise ticket prices and that they would lose more profit from less ticket sales than they would gain from more lessons.

Is it possible that there are good reasons for the European instruction market to be different from the US market? European skiers are much more serious about their skiing than Americans are. European resorts have far more terrain available. Are the lift lines shorter or at least time spent in a lift line? There's also less competition for building space to house a ski school than at US resorts. I also suspect that their fixed costs are lower than for US resorts (e.g. less snowmaking, less grooming, cheaper lifts, less liability, less patrol expense). The lower ticket prices suggest that they don't need the kind of profits from ski school that American resorts feel they need to have. If American resorts thought they could get more profits from multiple ski schools on site or cheap lessons, you bet some resorts would at least be trying it. As far as I know, the trend is in the other direction (e.g. Hunter, NY private ski school being taken in house and lesson prices going up).

Although the economics may seem highly tempting for instructors to consider "private" lessons, the risks are high as well. Certainly for friends and trusted customers, the risk of being sued is low. In the East, where most instructors are part timers, money is not huge issue for most pros. In the West, where more pros are full timers - they are already working full time so they don't have time for a lot of extra work and the workmen's comp is more of a concern. Thus, there's not a supply glut of instructors actively seeking "private" lessons. Considering the extra convenience (for arranging the lesson), value (line cutting privilege) and liability coverage that a guest gets through a ski school versus the possible savings, it's easy to see why there is not overwhelming demand for "private" lessons.

There's plenty of celebs who have gone solo publicly. There are plenty of pros who quietly do a little stuff on the side. There is no huge public outcry about grossly overpriced lessons (or at least any more grossly overpriced than everything else at the resort). When I add it all up, I don't see a big problem. If you want to hire an instructor off the books, do it discreetly and understand that many pros will turn you down either for ethical or for liability reasons.

[ January 14, 2004, 10:34 PM: Message edited by: therusty ]
post #26 of 74
utah sooner,

Remember that in other industries (for example the IT industry), it would be strictly forbidden to conduct personal business in the place of work (including off hours). Even selling chocolate bars to raise money on behalf of your school children is frowned upon. [img]smile.gif[/img]

So I have no idea why anyone is surprised that Resorts can dictate what employees can and cannot do on their own premises. Last time I checked, instructors do not own the mountain. The resorts and their ski schools own (lease) the area, so they can dictate what their employees can/cannot do.

What I find hard to understand (from a legal perspective), is how ski schools get away with only paying instructors when they are actually teaching. That is an invitation to "under the table" activity.

I want also to address some of the very valid points that man from oz raised:

oz: 1. Employs seasonal workers with little formal instructor training and on sells them to an unsuspecting public for exorbitant prices.

Unions and legislation could address this. On the other hand, does the general public want to support instructors during the summer? We have this issue in Eastern Canada where fisherman work in the summer and take unemployment cheques from the government during the winter.

oz: 1. Actively encourages established instructors to “farm” out prospective clients to “lesser” qualified instructors in something called a "“referral" system.

One way or another, they need to get the "lesser" instructors experienced. This is one way.

oz: 3. Turns a very blind eye to all the locker rooms deals that go on as instructor “cartels” corner the market in the best tippers and regular lesson buyers and call it "request retention".

Would not work without the client willing to do it. If I like an instructor and give a big tip, I expect him/her to be my instructor every time!

oz: 4. Continually imports students on working visas to act as “instructors” instead of training and supporting local workers.

This goes back to point #1. As long as ski instruction is not regarded as a "real job" and foreigners (or locals) are willing to work for next-to-nothing, this isn't going to change.

oz: ESA is a brilliant vehicle for both the skier client AND the individual teaching business of the delivery team. (who are all excellent ski teachers and ski business people)

With ESA we remove the Ski School infrastructure, so the instructor and student can do business directly. Obviously the ESA is an approved form of the "under-the-table" business that we are discussing. It works because it has critical mass and the Resort benefits from secondary business (advertising, tickets, meals, lodging, rentals, etc).
post #27 of 74
Hi Everyone,

There is a tremendous amount of great stuff here. I think this is probably one of the most passionate discussions I've come across in my short time with EPIC. So who will align with a representative from the NSAA to instigate the paradigm shift in corporate thinking that will give the pros their due?????
post #28 of 74
hey ziggy

ages ago there was a discussion that struck some similar notes with regard to the concept of ski instruction and compensation.

it's pretty simple - you want to make REAL money as a ski pro? you have to grow your own business on the hill - generate request privates and get tips.

it's very simple.

post #29 of 74
Thread Starter 
Again I thank you all for taking time to reply to this post.

Some consolidating thoughts...

VSP states on his post of 1-1 that instructors who engage in "privateering" on their home hill are going to get a very real spanking if caught. I could not agree more that this is justified. What i'm talking about is not taking clients from ones place of business. Very poor form in any endeavor.

VSP, in a post dated 1-5, makes note of a very successful program involving low priced season passes. This is kind of my point regarding instruction. Make it reasonable to purchase and a hell of a lot more will run through the register.

Several references have been made regarding a monopoly granted to resorts on public land. IMHO this is a pure bullsheet policy. Public land is for use by the public, and as long as I pay for my lift tkt I don't see why I owe a "profiteer" using public resources anything else. Screw 'em.

the rusty's post of 1-14 makes note of 40% discounts. Obviously a program of this nature tends to resolve the issue from my point of view, but does it do much for the pay scale of the instructor? (may result in extra busines and increased tip $ as talked about below?). tr also offers advice essentially along the lines of - if you want private instruction off the books go get it, as it is likely to be had. I fully intend to do this, and anyone who has any suggestions on where to begin in Utah please send PM. (As an aside I like this concept for three reasons: quality ski lessons at a price fair for all, free market theory per the Ronald Reagan school of thought, and yet sort of "sticking it to the man for sticking it to me" in a rather un-republican fashion.)

Tom B's post of 1-15 was very illuminating and much appreciated. Under #4 reference is made to ski instruction being consideded a "real" job. Sounds like it is not considered a "real" job by the resort when it is at their economic benefit to take this line of thinking. Also is very obvious that at the same time on the other side of the coin they always consider it a "real" job that merits quite a price tag. If I was an instructor who took my time, work, and knowledge seriously this attitude (assuming it does indeed prevail) would really piss me off. Another observation in this post gets right to the core of the matter. The last comment made addresses ESA and the net result of the program. Sounds like a winner for all involved.

Kieli's post of 1-17 talks about providing good product and being rewarded with additional business and tips. Can't argue the end result at all, I just can't afford to play the game that way. I feel pretty confident there is a pretty good sized demo such as myself that buys fairly priced instruction (such as ESA or X-team) when they can get it. I'm neither dirt poor nor Aspen rich, but my economic and time situation would allow me to spend a decent amount every year on instruction if I'm comfortable about getting my $'s worth. But it's awfully hard for me to justify taking a shot at 300+ for a 1/2 day or 500+ for a full (from Vail, Snowbird, Deer Valley web sites). Not much left for me to tip with or use to return on the consistent basis I would like. I'm better off throwing in an extra hundie or so and going heli for the day. Might even get lucky and have some pointers thrown in gratis from the guide.

Lately I read that ski visits were up something like 6% over the last twenty years. My guess is that if Jake B. hadn't come up with his invention that the industry would be in a world of hurt. My solution is;

Drive more revenue through an open market, thus resulting in
better pay for instructors and better and happier skiers who spend more on lessons, lift tkts, food, equipment, etc. Put simply, encourage more to take up the sport and keep them enthused by offering a reasonable chance of improvement. Kind of a chain of events in reverse of what may happen if some lucky genius doesn't come along and reinvent the sport again in the next twenty years or so.

A strange aside...

I was recently talking about this issue with an off duty instructor on the chair at an Olympic venue resort. His suggestion was for me to become a part-time instructor, thus taking advantage of all the free instructor training. He watched me ski and said I could be picked up, put through a three day training clinic and be teaching beginners out of the gun. Once i figured out he was not stoned this scared the daylights out of me, because no way should anyone be taking advice from me about skiing (or anything else) just because I may have gone through a bit of training. This did not make me feel very confident about shelling out ski school rates in hopes of NOT winding up with someone along these lines.

Also kind of scary that a little thought and better instructors don't go to beginners, as I would think that first day / lesson might be the most important in terms of customer retention, tips, repeat business....

Again I thank you for your input, and I look forward to meeting some of you next week at ESA.

Matt D.

[ January 19, 2004, 03:30 PM: Message edited by: utah sooner ]
post #30 of 74
Matt, you make a very interesting observation regarding using lessons for retention. Especially with the incredible change in skiing that the evolution of equipment has brought, there is a significant opportunity to address gaps in understanding and skill to increase enjoyment. But to overcome the sticker shock, the value has to be obvious prior to the expenditure. And, IMNSHO, most snowsports schools have not done a good job of market education and penetration.

Regarding instructor compensation, I think that most consumers would be shocked to discover how little their instructors make. I think this is why most students tend not to tip. They think that we actually receive a good portion of the lesson fee. The reality is that, for a two-hour requested private, I receive less than 20%.

That markup is pretty significant. However, as a friend pointed out, I am using grooming and lifts at the area. If the lift tickets are not paying for all of the lift operations and grooming, then I need to pay a tax for that out of the lesson revenue. I do not know enough about the business model to know whether or not that accounts for a huge chunk of that markup.
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