Fair Wages For Ski Instructors Slam Vail Resorts
Credit: Dan Davis, Beaver Creek Resort
My jaw dropped as I eavesdropped on a table of ski instructors last week. They were on a break and sharing a YouTube video. A video about wages for instructors poked more than fun at Vail Resorts and had been circulating since November. It was slowly gaining momentum. Weren’t they worried about getting fired? Heck, I’m worried about just writing this post. VR is a monster corporation in the ski industry; one that considers itself a “leader”.
The YouTube user calling themselves ‘Fair Wages’ is stirring up all sorts of trouble. And it’s about time. It’s well-known in the ski industry that compared to what resorts charge for lessons, instructors are getting the shaft.
As one commenter posted under this hilariously sad ‘insider’ video, VR, has no problem charging “a week’s groceries for a day pass” but they can’t pay their instructors for their experience? Instructors in general are not paid on commission. They’re on hourly, paid anywhere from $8-25/hr plus tips (maybe) for a seven-hour day (actually 6.5 because lunch is deducted even if you are required to dine with your clients) while charging guests nearly $1k for a private lesson.
Now, letters and comments to the editor at the Vail Daily are flying. Resorts charge guests around $900 for an all-day private lesson and pay the instructor from $100 to $200. Some insiders speculate that the high prices drive guests to take fewer (if any) lessons or find underground instructors on Craigslist, Facebook or word of mouth to guide them. A less-than-ideal snowpack also turns away customers. This significantly cuts into what an instructor can make in a winter.
Ski Instructors Speak Out On Wages
Derek Hamlin commented on the VD article: I work at a Colorado resort, I am making an average of $44 per day. It is not just Vail Resorts that are sucking the life out of instructors, we all have the same issues no matter what resort we work at. It is about time the PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America) actually did something for us. By the time we have paid our dues, completed our training, bought boots skis gloves helmets we actually pay the resort for the pleasure of working for them.
Guests too are bothered. On top of what they’re asked to pay, they’re having an amazingly personal day with a pro and they don’t like knowing that nearly all of that money is going to the resort. They shouldn’t have to tip on top of what they’ve already paid but they feel sorry for the poor bastard.
Not to mention that while the guest pays a flat fee no matter who he skis with (a 20-year vet or a new-hire), the instructor will make a different amount depending on his years of experience, his part-time or full-time status, his level of PSIA certification and whether this is a returning client.
The latest letter to VD complains of other practices as well – “calling 10 people into work and only using two; the other eight are sent home with almost no pay, wasting the whole day. Secondly, allowing guests to cancel on the same day because it is too cold, warm, windy or snowing”, charging them cancellation fees but paying the instructor nothing. “Therefore, an instructor’s chances of working that day are greatly reduced, significantly reducing the pay. When you take the number of days that instructors show up and divide by the gross wages, you really have the actual pay.”
The popular ski forum on Teton Gravity Research took up the topic last December. For anyone who has never taught skiing you might think this is just a bunch of instructors whining. They get a season pass, they’re in the mountains and they get paid to ski. Stop you’re moaning. But ask yourself this: If your boss told you to be at work by 8:30 in a business suit and, by the way, you might only be paid for 15 minutes, how many times would you show up (forgoing all other opportunities to make money that day) before you started complaining?
The Corporate Mentality
The practice has been entertained since the dawn of ski schools. To a ski school’s defense, their hands are tied to the industry standard by Corporate and without a voice for the little guy the practice isn’t likely to change. Ski instructors, like waiters and non-union actors, face the same backlash: if you don’t like it, find a different career. But should that really be the answer? Why can’t a person make a decent living doing what they love without being taken advantage of? Wouldn’t your guest prefer a seasoned, happy professional who’s committed to skiing with your kid from the time they’re 6 to 18?
Waiters, who everyone knows work for tips not basepay, are getting minimum wage increases. And most waiters aren’t passionate about their job. It’s a way to pay bills. Actors and instructors love what they do. They love the training, the process, the ability to find inspiration in every single project or class. However, “full-time actor” would be an oxymoron for anyone outside of Los Angeles or New York, yet there are hundreds of “full-time” instructors.
Unfortunately, instructors are individual creatures and no one wants to be that guy who stands up and makes trouble. A good friend of mine left Park City to teach in Aspen; just like the video said. She wanted a fair wage and lesson assignments she felt she deserved from the more than 20 years of teaching experience and PSIA certifications. Her complaints fell on deaf ears in Utah. Resorts shouldn’t have to (or want to) lose good people because they’re not listening (or because they’re speaking up. cough, cough.)
Only this season has the conversation gone public even if it’s in the form of a cartoon. We’ll see if resorts’ ears perk up now.