Years ago, Warren Miller summed it up in one of his films, “Life is all about the pursuit of a free lift ticket.”

He expounded on this life philosophy in his book, “Wine, Women, Warren, and Skis,” in which he told the story of how he lived in a trailer in the parking lot at Sun Valley for a winter. He solved the quest for that free ticket by making a new ski movie every year for50 or so years.

I remember a friend of mine, who took a hiatus from his ski writing to serve as Vice resident for Marketing at Vail, tell me how he put up Warren for half a winter. That resulted in several segments of that next year’s movie getting filmed at that Colorado resort. Most of us don’t have that kind of clout, so we have to look elsewhere to find an affordable way to ski.

For me, it was ski patrol. I soon learned that even though I didn’t have to pay for lift tickets, skiing on patrol wasn’t exactly free skiing. But that’s another story. Our topic today is becoming an instructor to earn that “free” skiing.

When I started making calls, the first thing I heard was what I expected. Mark Robie, in his fourth year of directing the Saddleback ski school was explicit: “I get lots of applicants. When someone says they only want the job for the pass, I don’t call them back.”

After 22 years at Sugarloaf prior to his current position, Robie knows what he is looking for in new instructors. His two basic requirements are “love kids and love skiing.” The vast majority of lessons are for children learning to ski. This year Saddleback has 80 kids in a season-long program, hence the importance of working with kids. After that, he asks, “Do you know how to ski backwards?” If you have ever watched an instructor working with new skiers you know what that’s all about. Sliding down the hill in a backwards wedge while guiding the beginner above is a common practice.

Teaching skiing calls for people with strong people skills, with a solid work ethic who are willing to train. Robie says he can teach anyone how to ski or snowboard. It doesn’t take a super skier to teach beginners or even lower intermediates. And skiing skills can be improved once on the job.

This is a good time to make contact if you’re thinking about next year. But Mark Robie surprised me by saying he can use more instructors this year. The reason is a new program for teaching beginners age 3 to 6.

The traditional way has been to teach these kids in groups. At Saddleback, it’s one on one, one kid and one instructor until the new skier can control his speed. After that, the new skier or boarder is ready to join a group. This speeds the process for each individual, but it’s labor intensive and takes more instructors. Parent’s endorsement of the program is evidenced by the fact that ski school was up 39 percent over MLK weekend a year ago. That’s the reason the resort has room for more instructors right now. If you love kids and skiing and think teaching kids is for you, give Mark Robie a call. He will set up a one-on-one interview. For more information check

I also talked with Tom Butler, who is in charge of the Perfect Turn program at Sugarloaf. This method of teaching skiing was developed at Sunday River by Edward Little grad Bob Harkins, who also coached the U.S. Ski Team. Briefly, it does away with the traditional ski school and refers to teachers as coaches and ski pros. The reason for the change was that going to school isn’t attractive, but golfers go to their pro and tennis players attend clinic with their coaches. There’s more to it, but that’s the basic idea. Go for some tips, not a lesson.

Butler isn’t actively looking for instructors at this time, but would consider taking on someone with prior experience. He does agree that now is a good time for a would-be instructor to make contact. It might even be possible for someone to shadow a few groups to see if they would be attracted to the position.

Sugarloaf uses a hiring clinic in November off snow. Butler states the key attribute he’s looking for is “attitude.l”

“With the right attitude, newcomers can be taught the necessary skills for coaching. We don’t teach how to ski, but how to play on skis, how to be an athlete on skis,” he said.

Both resorts consider the ski schools as key parts of the operation. If new skiers are not developed the industry dies. This means those teaching the sport have to not only help new skiers to develop the skills, but pass on their love of the sport, to turn them into life-long skiers. If you’re up to that challenge maybe teaching is your path to a free lift ticket.

But what does that mean. Most areas require a certain number of days per year. Full-time instructors take care of mid-week, supplemented with part-timers on weekends, vacation periods and holidays. The more you’re willing to commit, the more you will earn and get back. At areas with night skiing, it’s possible to fulfill the requirements on weeknights. Some areas may provide skiing for the family. It varies. The best place to start is the various ski area websites, many of which have a section for employment opportunities.

See you on the slopes.

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