Fair Wages For Ski Instructors Slam Vail Resorts

fair wages for ski instructors

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 fair wages for ski 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 Fair 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 Jeopardizes Fair Wages For Ski Instructors

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.




  • David D

    The business model is based on employee turnover: turnover of seasonal workers as well as turnover of seasoned professionals who want to make their career teaching others to ski/ride. Employee turnover keeps wages down. Vail knows that, so they exploit the model. I get to say this in an obvious and open forum bc I don’t work for Vail. I know people who have, and they don’t work there anymore.

    Vail is a public company (ticker: MTN). It’s priority is make profits for shareholders, not make sure that its instructors’ are happy. It is not possible to do both. If Vail gives a portion of a lesson price to the instructors, then there are less in terms of profits to pay shareholders, or executive bonus’ for that matter. In an executive financial shell game, the executives know which shell has the money, and they want for themselves and the shareholders. So they take fair pay away from instructors like money from a child.

    There is irony in that making a living as a full-time instructor is no longer possible. Instructors are forced to take second jobs during the season and during the off season. And there is the problem, only full-time instructors are typically promoted to the highest levels of the organization (and would in theory get more pay) yet maintaining a living as a full-time instructor is not possible. In other words, the business of teaching skiing is just a game, and the instructors are the pawns.

    The instructors of today are different from the instructors of the past. Today, the model is to establish yourself in another profession as a contractor, builder or whatever it takes, in order to be able to (and have the privilege of) teach during the winters. That is the business model for employees/instructors, and unfortunately, I do not see any motivation for the industry leadership to change because that would be taking money out of their pockets. And we can’t have that now, can we?

    • Tim hedrick

      I am one of “thos e guys” that was 42 and working @ a resort in the east as a manager. I was poor financially but had to deal with that. So maybe the ski industry isn’t for you if u want to get rich. But your office is the mountains!

      • It was never about getting rich. Just fair compensation for the expectations the resort places on us. Personally I don’t mind being let go if its slow. If you’re not going to pay me there’s no reason I should be forced to stick around. Unfortunately, some resorts write you up as failing to be a team player if you want to be released or worse they make you stay face losing your job.

        • Fair Compensation

          Exactly, Get rich, one of the buzz phrases or the personal responsibility buzz, I made it so can you too and more, buzz stuff used to shift trail of the topic, it’s about fair compensation, a fair share of the wealth that would not have occurred without our contribution.

          Understand and own that idea YOU deserve fair compensation.

      • 20 yearSKIPRO

        So if you want a fair wage the ski industry is not for you? What a jackbag comment. People like you keep the pay down you must be a ski school director. One of the scam artist that use PSIA as a means to exploit the few pennies the instructor makes back into corporate pockets..

      • Adrian

        Idiot i have spent 12 years teaching in the mtns of BC and Japan and have had to give your my beloved career to feed my family. This “you wont get rich in the mtns but your office is on skis” attitude is a slap in the face. While i realize that Americans are trained from birth to bend over and take a corporate culture reaming, Canadians are not! I will do the math for you cause most of our big resorts are owned by American shareholders and the results are the same. It costs about $3000 a season to move to resort and equip and pay for courses exc. That is out of pocket. Then in an already super expensive environment to get paid less than 10% of the cost of the product that YOU provide is insulting! Stop being a fucktard! And see what corporate America has done yet again to something beautiful. Twat!

    • Suzanne

      Next season, it’ll be 35 years as a PSIA instructor at one mountain. Full time for 9 years, then part time for 22 years, then due to unforseen circumstances, full time again for the last 4 years. Sure glad I maintained my PSIA Level 3 certification. And because I’d worked every year part time without missing a season, I came back full time at the top of the food chain. Every day in ski boots, I’m completely grateful to have my mountain to come back to.

      I do make more than a lifty. In fact, rising to the top 15 in consistent sales of around 500 instructors in the past few years. And you are right about the private lesson money.

      Although the jobs of a lifty and instructor involve safety, the training involved to be a top level snowsports instructor is beyond extensive on several levels. Your clients know they are getting quality and in their mind, that is how they justify paying that much for 7 hours with a private instructor. I don’t discuss how much I make with anyone but when they somehow find out how much I don’t make of what is paid, there is always a bit of shock.

      When you are responsible for the well-being and success of others, taking someone or a group to the top or a daunting steep mogul field, you’d better have your act together in an orchestrated, extremely organized way, for safety. There is actually so much involved to get to that level, it’s like a rubix cube of teaching and leadership excellence. And all instructors are not created equal.

      My day to day job (up to 6 days a week sometimes) as a L3 instructor, is to save lives (not kidding), keep it fun, and stimulating so they want to come back. We are the first instructors called to duty for the hardest clients, the VIPs, most difficult conditions, for troubleshooting, brainstorming, fix-it lessons, and more. We are the first real personal contact for our mountain’s guests. We are the front line figuratively and literally for our mountain’s ‘first impression’ and I think the second largest money making department on my mountain. With all this said, I do love my “office” and have life-long relationships with my now multi-generational clients.

      This kind of ‘work’ is given to a select few because there aren’t enough instructors qualified or allowed to teach at that level. Why? Because it’s not safe for our guests. The cost of getting to level 3 is potentially thousands. Not enough instructors see the value of going that distance. But I’m one who did. The PSIA, with its flaws, is an amazing educational organization.

      But here comes my confession. That lifelong drive and passion has over ridden my common sense to a point of acceptance a long time ago, because ALL of the issues raised here are SPOT ON. Case in point, I don’t remember my last raise, yet I’ve never brought this up as a topic with my managers because my ‘office’ and job are SO amazing.

      And not only do I sell privates for myself, but other instructors when I’m booked. There isn’t any kind of extra compensation, incentive or kudos for upselling to that extent. We also have an employee recognition program. Nothing against the food service worker who’se been there 5 seasons and has TWO of them on his name tag. Not to be a whiner (which I’m truly not), but having “served” this many years to the extent represented in this article, there’s nothing in that bag for me. It is what it is–like I said, acceptance.

      The truth is, I’ve struggled…pretty much the whole time to make ends meet as an instructor–even at the top of the food chain–it’s seasonal–almost always having two or more jobs because of the dedication referred to in this article. I mean, look where I live and work. My mountain used to call those the “psychic benefits” of the job as if some sort of cash payment, which is a metaphor for what this article is partly about.

      But ‘amazing’ with no residuals doesn’t ultimately pay the bills. So for the first time, after prodding from those who care about me, I’m looking to give it all up. It is the hardest decision ever, to walk away from a lifetime of commitment, hard work and focus on not just my objectives, but putting company objectives, often before my own. As an achiever my entire life, when I look forward to the future for myself at this mountain, for all the reasons mentioned by the writer of this article and those who’ve commented, objectively, there’s just nothing much on that page.

      There’s no blame here. It has been my decision to sign that contract every year, so no regrets. I’ve staged my healthy mutinys over the years, most recently for employee wellness on the job, not just for myself but for all departments and employees. I’ve gone about expressing my concerns (or the one that are appropriate to bring up) through corporate channels hoping for betterment. I’m a paddler, not a wader, in the river of life but sadly, am stuck in an eddie. Will I show up in November excited and with a smile on my face as always and have a great season? ??

      Thank you for striking a bittersweet, necessary nerve.

      • Hi Suzanne! Am curious what you decided? Are you coming back in uniform this season?

      • Suzanne, thank you for adding your articulate comment. Be well and be inspired.

      • surfe007

        Marry me????!!!!

    • There have been several discussions about fair wages on EpicSki over the years but there seems to have been a spike in those conversations over the past year or two.
      Here is just one example. http://www.epicski.com/t/133429/would-better-wages-better-ski-instruction-telluride-ski-patrol-unionizes-are-ski-instructors-next

      The long and the short of it is, there are mountains (Aspen as an example) who treat their instructors as assets. Some other mountains don’t seem to see their instructors as assets.
      The trick as an instructor is figuring out which resort is which and which one works for you.

      • It really is disappointing that resorts in general do not value what instructors bring to the table. They are more interested in the bottomline and keeping guests happy and safe. The irony is that your instructors are your first line of offense/defense to exactly that. If instructors are happy the guests are happy. I left Deer Valley because of the micromanagement. The only reason their instructors are happy is because the clients tip well. it’s certainly NOT because teachers are appreciated.

      • Robyn Cassel

        I’m not sure Aspen is the best example:

        Lee Mulcahy Fired By Aspen Ski Company After Speaking Up About Wages

        The Aspen Ski Company has fired an employee who protested the wages that the company paid beginning ski instructors.

        Lee Mulcahy was surprised on Monday to learn that he had been fired by Aspen Ski Company. The Aspen Times reported the news on Monday, quoting a statement from Aspen Ski Company’s CEO asserting that Mulcahy “no longer meets the standards required to be a ski pro with the Ski and Snowboard Schools of Aspen.”

        The veteran ski instructor began circulating petitions and writing op-eds last year complaining of the low wages paid to beginning ski and snowboard instructors.

        “We now pay $69 a day to beginning instructors for a lesson we charge $625,” he wrote in a January op-ed.

        In January, the Aspen Ski Company responded to Mulcahy’s public demonstrations by suspending him without pay for three weeks. The instructor told the Aspen Daily News on Monday that he had a meeting scheduled on Friday to discuss his future employment status with the company.

        Mulcahy said he had been “optimistic” he would be allowed to return to work.


        • Just goes to show that the grass isn’t always greener. Then again, that story was from 2011.

  • Olivier

    What a shame, what an enormously gigantic shame.
    I wanted to come to the US for one winter and teach there, to see, to get another experience. That article just gave me chills and pretty much destroyed the nice image I had… :/

    I am a ski instructor from Switzerland. I worked there and also in Japan. Let me tell you that what you describe never happened to me.

    You can totally live (and pay your bills) as a full-time ski instructor in Switzerland. Depending on the resort, even manage to teach up to almost 7 months per year (very rare though, let’s say 6). You would still need some kind of job in the summer, but not necessarily full time.
    Could not tell for Japan, did only 2 months there, but I was living more than correctly.

    As for the ratio of what an instructor gets compared to what the customers pay, it’s high. Like way higher than what presented in the video and article.
    In Japan it was roughly 1/3 ratio. For a standard 2h lesson, we would get 5’000 Yen, the costumer paying 15k. The price was a sliding scale, the more they took, the less per hour they paid. But the instructors would alwalys get 2k5 per hour. That’s 20$US per hour.
    I can’t say what’s the case else where.
    In Switzerland the prices and instructor’s pay can change quite a bit depending on the resort. But basically the instructor gets between 45% to 85% of what the customer pays to the school depending on his degree of certification. And if you have the complete Ski Instructor certificate, you are not forced to go through a school to book lessons and therefore you get 100% of what you charge the client.
    In average the prices are 65 to 85CHF per hour for a lesson (70 to 85$US), the instructor will get from 25 to 70 per hour depending on his degree of qualification and the base price the resort has.
    Can’t tell you really more as to how it works higher up the chain as I have only been at the bottom of it, on the snow teaching. But the ratio seems to me like way more fair than what they apparently have in Vail.
    Same thing though, the customer pays the same for a newly arrived or a fully certified 20 years instructor. Obviously they won’t give to a good skier a new instructor.

    I hope this gives whoever reads this more motivation to change things than to abandon ski teaching. It’s not like in Vail everywhere, I am sure change is possible.

    So, is there a place in Collorado (or else where in the US) where they don’t squeeze the instructors ? Or is my dream is falling to pieces everywhere ?

    • Maybe I should try to work in Europe! Dang. That’s an awesome pay structure. If you come to the states your beat bets are in Aspen and Jackson. You hear a lot less griping from those instructors. 😉

      • skipro

        Good luck with the Ero test

  • Mark

    Keep in mind, ski instructors are at the high end of the payroll compared to all other front line employees, (Lift ops, F&B, ticket sellers, etc)

    • But not compared to how much time, training and responsibility/liability goes into our jobs. For many, teaching skiing is a career with no advancement. Doubt your average liftie is expected to maintain experience expensive certifications (not paid for by the company) let alone return yearly for 20+ years.

      • 20 yearSKIPRO

        This seems like a good place to mention mandatory and perceived optional training. If you show up to a mandatory training you should get paid.. Though so much of the optional training is a requirement for getting work and its not paid or viewed as mandatory training. On this topic Steamboat ski area as other resorts require ski instructors to be at the meeting areas 15 minutes early to greet guest and start sorting them into groups. This is a condition for you to receive work. Though not paid. Steamboat was sued and had to pay back pay for 4 years to every ski instructor .. Small Win!!

    • skieast

      Keep in mind at most areas ski instructors are paid only when they are actually teaching. Lifties, foodies are paid the entire time they are checked in. More per hour, but you might be there from lift opening to closing and work 4 hours, or maybe only 45 minutes.

    • Mark, Instructors generate cash. Lift ops, F&B, Ticket sellers etc. do not!!!! You must be one of those instructors with a trust fund.

    • Tom bausch

      Nice to here some discussion about rates of pay at other ski slopes. I work at a small ski slope in the Midwest and how the management at the slopes has manipulated the workforce has been , well an abomination at times. I wouldn’t want that blood on my hands.

  • Susan Youle

    I’m just happy I taught skiing 45 years ago when being a good skier was something special and when we were appreciated and paid well. Sad to hear that is no longer the case.

    • It still depends on the resort. A friend frustrated with PCMR and Deer Valley left for Aspen last year and couldn’t be happier.

      • Robbi

        I’m curious if you still live in PC? I’d love to chat about stuff for a potential story if you’re interested.

        (I’m a fellow instructor, writing under a pseudonym.)

        • I do live in PC! Tried to get out of dodge in 1994 and 2002 but came screaming back. Send me an email. I’m happy to chat!

  • vicky

    Ski instructors have to pay dues and complete training. Add to that paying for the gear it adds up. When I taught I couldn’t afford more training as i normally only made enough to eat and then save some money to survive the in between seasons. In Utah’s defence some of the resorts there work hard to at least give their employees regular work with programs in the quiet time. Some resorts do pay a commission based pay system. I do remember one client looking at me open mouth when he worked out what i made compared to what he paid. The tips from him and other clients allowed me to survive. Not really how a professional industry works.

    • 20 yearSKIPRO

      i am interested in these commission based resorts in the united states I have never seen or heard of them

  • Slider

    As a Vail instructor (full cert, senior specialist II, and children’s specialist II) I would sure LOVE to chime in on this BUT last time I did something like that I got a call from Broofield. Aka: Vail corporate office.
    Vail is showing concern about the low level/skill of new instructors coming into the industry.

    • 20 yearSKIPRO

      Vails concern about low level / unskilled labor is their on doing. You get what you pay for Vail corp. If you think hiring a professional is expensive!! Wait until you hire an amateur !! These practices lead to low lesson returns low lesson quality . Higher injury rates. Unhappy employees. Though this is not exclusive to the ranks at Vail. Lets not leave out every other resort. They all have low base rates for instructors for the amount of training and responsibility they take on.

  • David Summers

    I worked for as an instructor for Vail, and yes, the instructors aren’t paid very much. People complain about their pay, and we did get sent home when lessons weren’t available. At the end of the day though, as an instructor you selected that resort/company to go to work for and accepted the wage they offered. Vail is a business and should have the ability to pay their employees whatever they see fit to. If the employees don’t like the pay then go somewhere else. If all the other mountains outside of Vail are paying their instructors and employees a lot more, then the level of service at Vail will eventually diminish, causing tourists to visit other resorts and costing Vail money. At that point management may choose to increase pay, but no one should be forcing them to. Let business make business decisions and the free market will do a fine job determining what the fair wage is for employees.

    • 20 yearSKIPRO

      This is the kinda comment that keep big corporations squashing the little guy. Don’t worry Vail you can keep your market driven high prices and low wages.. This comment must be from a Vail bean counter.

    • Bill Hawley

      Free market in an extreme capitalist system turns into monopoly controlled sectors (E.g. Vail owns and controls many resorts). Limitless corporate greed is the most dangerous and destructive power created by men. Free market is an illusion.

  • Steven Overing

    This past winter was my 38th year as a certified instructor in Canada. Started at Sunshine Village in 1978 and was paid 50% of the sell rate for privtaes, $ 12.50/hour groups, BUT, also had onhill lodging at a mere $1.50/day and a very inexpensive cafeteria meal plan. I started my own video program and charged $5.00/person for detection and correction sessions for groups and $25.00 for privates. In return for the “right” to operate my own little sideline, I gave 25% of my revenue to the ski school and $1.00/head to the ski week instructors. Then, back East, I worked full time 40 hours and Supervised and video on a program weekends. That was 1979-80 and I was paid $ 15.00/hour !! Over the years, I worked as Supervisor, Assistant Director and eventually Director at Ski Morin Heights with a school of over 150 instructors and $ 2 million in sales in my second season after implementing a program known as PPS (Private Patrol Sessions) where, once our weekend groups were dispatched, my Supervisors (paid a daily rate) would take anyone not teaching out for ski and teaching improvement sessions with a twist; as soon as we saw a skier having difficulty, one of the instructors from sesson was dispatched to “get tha person down the hill and sell them a lesson!” That instructor was paid an additional 10% if they in fact generated a lesson. Our total private sales increased by 17% year 1, 22% year 2. IN addition, our Course pass rate was 98% succesful from Level I to II, II to III and even III to IV.
    This past winter, I returned to teach at a Laurentian resort, and lo and behold, my “BASE”hourly rate was only .80cents more than what I was paid back in 1979-80. It was only by building my own REQUEST Private network that I was able to get back upto a half decent $26.00/hour AND ensure myself a minimum 4 hours work per day (weekends), weekdays being concentrated on school groups at group base rate.
    But, bottom line is; what is wrong with splitting 50-50 with a “seasoned” Certified Instructor who IS the ULTIMATE Ambassador who is diligently working to deliver the best lesson they can, everytime they go out, with the hope of getting that student back again??
    There is no longer any guarantee of lessons (never really was), but there were opportunities to go out and be the Marketing, Sales and Instructor department all in one and earn a living wage. Now, even “Full-time” privileges are contingent upon a minimum number of CLOCKED IN hours (+/- 120 season), or a minimum “Offer of Service” of 4 hours/day.

    One resort I worked at was charging $89.00 + taxes ($104.00 total) for 90 minutes and in busy times instructors are sent out with 8,9,10 students and yet only get paid their basic group base rate ($15.72) or $23.58 while the ski school just cashed in on $890.00 !!!!

    And don’t even get me going on Workers Compensation when you get your bell rung by an out of control or wreckless skier/snowboarder!! Anyway, that’s that for now, back to my renovation job.

    • 20 yearSKIPRO

      This guy is Legit his comments and ideas would make any school money and had an interesting plan of win win which is totally out of the box compared to current ideals in the Corporate Ski America

  • Alessandro

    Italy:the costumer pays 40 to 60 euro per hour.
    A first season instructor gets al least 25
    A few season instructor get 30 to all the money paid by the client because all the ski schools are own by just ski instructors who are partners….
    I’m 39,instructor since 18 years ago,partner since 14 years…

    • Luca

      you guys spend a lot of money for the certification, and there is no levels or tiers: you are an instructor or you are not. Being Italian, and a PSIA ski instructor, it would be a dream to be able to come to Italy for few season, but it seems impossible. If you have any information about it please share! grazie, Luca

  • Bobby

    Let’s just start off by saying ski instructors (poodles) whine about everything. They get paid better then any seasonal employee. All other dept. Pay min wage. They start off at more and if they are certified even more. Some make more in a week then a entry lift op. Will make in a month. If theirs any dept. That deserves to get paid more it’s ski patrol. I agree everyone should get paid better and the people at the top reap the benefits, but ski school complaining is just ridiculous. Especially when I know of instructors that get paid close to $20 hr. Working for Vail resorts. I have 13 years in the ski resort industry and what I have learned is ski instructors whine about everything. Lol. No your first year ya you won’t make much but you get to ride more then anyone else that doesn’t work at a ski resort. It’s your next year that the pay starts to go up and if you end up making a career out of it you’ll still be broke. No, you’ll be comfortable. I love the mountains and I love my job and I get paid good enough to to make it and wouldn’t work anywhere else even if they paid me better. 150 days a year and 10 mountains to ride doesn’t get any better. To the instructors complaining. Learn to ride or ski, that’s how you get paid more.

    • 20 yearSKIPRO

      Sounds like a mountain ops guy from vail.. Company man .. You mention ski patrol should make more from this we guess you are patrol.. So lets just say if one department gets a raise or light is shed on one department needing a raise how could it hurt patrol. Lets just say for you! if the Poodle or the show dog makes more wouldn’t other dogs make more it helps the over all Canine family.. This is using your vail employees are dogs model. Though your plan keeps all the $$ in the hands of your handlers.

    • Olivier

      Bobby, the problem here is not to compare what makes an instructor compared to other people on the mountain.
      The problem here is that being a full time instructor, you can’t make a living from it and must have a second, maybe even a third job. That is the problem.
      If other people on the mountain get paid less, then I assume it’s not normal either. Any full time job should be enough on its own to live.

      And if you still compare the wage per hour, stop right now. You can’t compare if you don’t work the same time per day/week/month.

  • James Reeks

    Where is our PSIA!!! It is time to either start standing up for the instructors or we the members should stop paying money to them for not working for our benefit. By the way i am waiting for some law firm to file a class action law suit against ski areas for wage and labor law violations.
    it will be coming sooner or later for the ski areas are violating labor laws.
    We the ski instructors have had enough of not being paid for what we do!!’

    Folks it’ s time to stand up.

    • 20 yearSKIPRO

      There have been and always will be litigation between ski resorts and employees because people except its always been this way and just cope with it. The mountains is always pushing the legal boundaries for profit sake. Though they a mass such wealth from exploiting the employees thy can afford to litigate and pay down pay off any issues and sweep them under the rug.. Any one ever see anything about unfair wages in the newspaper?? Maybe are newspapers are as scared of the Ski Giants as those who risk loosing jobs for standing up for fairness.

  • If my boss at the burger joint told me to come in at 8:30 in my uniform, and I might only get paid for 15 min? I’d tell them to take the job and shove it up their a**. But if someone asks me to go snowboarding all day, oh and in addition, get paid for 15 minutes, if be the first guy to show up!

    • It’s great uf mom and dad bought you that snowboard and pay your rent.

    • Former Instructor

      What you don’t under Powderrider is that you have to be in the locker room by a specific time, suit up, go to line up, and then stand around for a while before you’re released to go skiing. Then you have to be back by a specific time for afternoon lineup and go through it all again before you can go out. You have to keep your uniform on and you can be grabbed off the slope at any time to work. You’re an ambassador of the mountain with your uniform on so there’s no attitude adjustments while you’re skiing. Some mountains even put restrictions on how you ski while in uniform (e.g., no jumping). If the mountain is big, you’re limited in where you can go so that you can be back for lineup on time. It’s nearly impossible to meet up with friends because you have no idea where you’ll have to be. It would be great to be able to show up and ski all day while being paid for 15 minutes but that’s not how it works.

      If you’re part time, you can’t even count of being able to free ski if you come up on your day off. I came up to ski with my dad and family friends and was forced to suit up and go to lineup before I could meet him (I was an FNG at the time and didn’t understand how things worked). This was before cell phones so I had no way to let him know what was going on. They stood around and waited for a long time. I didn’t get paid a penny that day but I was forced to blow off my dad in order to be perceived as a team player. It was pretty clear that the boss that day knew that they didn’t need me but he needed to assert his power over me.

      Being a ski instructor took the joy out of skiing for me. Sure, my office was on the mountain. But it was on the beginner and intermediate runs. I used to watch my friends track out the backside while I was teaching on the bunny slope. It was a very stressful job. The year before I went to law school I grossed $12,000 and I thought that I had a great season. Being a lawyer is much easier than being a ski instructor.

  • Ted

    Hi I just found this link through similar conversations that are going on right now on PSIA forums on LinkedIn. I can forward some links if you like or you can go there yourself to find them. Here is a recent post I made about PSIA…FYI I was Full cert back in the day but gave it up when I saw what a waste of time PSIA was…Some of the things in this post wont make sense but there is too much back story to explain…

    Hi everyone!!! …back from Utah….Here’s my prediction…the titanic that is PSIA hit the iceberg 20+ years ago and is sinking VERY slowly and will continue to do so unless there is dramatic change. The certification process is WAAAy to subjective. You re-invent the wheel every year or so to try to validate and justify your existence in spite of the fact that skiing and ski teaching are not nearly as complicated as its made out to be. Your demographic is skewing older and older as more and more younger instructors realize that PSIA holds little if any meaningful value for them and they either refuse to join or quit paying their dues. The sycophants, suck-ups, apologists and old retired guys like Dr. Robert will continue to defend the dinosaur and its failed business model because they hate change, and will do anything including continuing to pay ridiculously high dues so they can say “I’m a ski instructor”.. and just maybe… Dr. Robert ? …you’re trying to grease the skids with PSIA for your Level 1 exam?
    Your dues are WAAAY too high for what you provide. There is a dysfunctional relationship between Ski Area Management and PSIA such that it appears that PSIA is scared to death to rock the boat and advocate for …or even dare to mention the need for, meaningful real life benefits for instructors, which, btw, is another reason the younger instructors more and more want nothing to do with PSIA. You’ve failed miserably at making PSIA and its certification levels even known much less meaningful to the public, thereby making attaining Level 2 or 3 little more than a personal milestone and accomplishment. And speaking of dysfunctional relationships….your Divisions and “National” have substantial differences in what National should be doing and “National” has become, in the opinion of many… little more than a bloated bureaucracy. There is a valid educational component to PSIA and I’m sure you’re clinic leaders and examiners are mostly sincere, nice people (and awesome skiers!!) but like I think Mary (?) said….”PSIA? …mostly a waste”…

  • Ted

    Since its unfair and pointless to whine, complain and rant like I’ve done on internet forums about how expensive and meaningless it’s become to be a member of PSIA without considering concrete solutions, I offer the following 3 point plan as a starting point to saving PSIA as it circles the drain of skiing relevance.

    1) Cut “Nationals” budget by 50% and return the savings in the form of reduction in dues for the membership. Let the Executive committee, made up of representatives from the Divisions, determine the now MUCH smaller National offices budget and mandate.

    2) Reduce the complexity and expense of the certification process. Remove some of the subjectivity by asking candidate’s to ski a NASTAR type course in order to pass the general skiing ability portion of the exam with the following stipulations. For example, to become PSIA Level 1 you need to attain a Silver medal…Level 2- attain a Gold medal…and…Level 3 attain a Platinum medal. Aggressively seek other opportunities to reduce subjectivity and examiner bias. (Note : considerations for age and gender are already built into the NASTAR program)

    3) PSIA should endorse some version of the following “Ski Instructors Bill of Rights” and require that ski areas adopt and accept these basic standards of fair treatment before being allowed to be affiliated with PSIA and display the PSIA logo etc.

    Ski Instructor Bill of Rights

    1) A. All ski instructors will be paid either a minimal hourly wage for every hour they are expected to be on the mountain and available to work in addition to and separate from their regular teaching hourly wage (similar to restaurant waitresses) …
    B. All instructors will be paid 2 hours of “show-up” pay at their regular hourly wage every day they are expected to be on the mountain regardless of if they teach or not.

    2) If an instructor joins PSIA and attends and passes a Registration clinic they will be given a $1.00/hour raise above their base wage. If an instructor attends and passes a Level 2 exam they will be given a $2.00/hour raise above their current base wage. If an instructor attends and passes a Level 3 exam they will be given a $3.00/hour raise above their current base wage.

    3) Instructors will be paid $1.00/hour on top of their base wage for every additional student above 3 students in a group lesson. For example, if an instructors base wage is $10.00/hour and he has 5 students in an hour long lesson he/she would make $12.00 for that hour lesson.

    4) Instructors will be paid their regular hourly rate for attendance at any required in-house training or meetings.

    5) Instructors will be allowed to take a ½ break between the hours of 11:00 AM and 1:00 PM.

    6) Instructors will be provided seasonally appropriate coats and/or jackets and a secure area to change and store their equipment.

    7) Private lessons will be assigned based on seniority, PSIA certification level and the public’s specific requests.

    8) Those instructors that qualify as full-time, based on how many hours per week they are required to be at the mountain, will be provided health insurance.

  • Ted

    I started a petition on the general topic of the need for PSIA to evolve and a “Ski Instructors Bill of Rights” at change.org. Please consider going to…


    to sign the petition. And please consider sharing it with your friends. Thanks

  • james rousell

    I taught skiing from 1995 to 2005 at Steamboat Springs. Beautiful town, wonderful people, lightest snow, incredible tree skiing.
    Unfortunately I saw many great coaches leave for Aspen. Most of them are now managers/supervisors or top notch trainers at Aspen.
    The wages were never enough to live on….even when you are fully qualified. You had to think outside the box if you wanted to stay. Ironically ski teaching is all about learning how to balance on a mountain, but the people who run resorts have no clue of the essence of balance. They do not realize that instructors are part of an ecosystem that affects everyone.
    Most people get a better result from a private lesson. Why not make them affordable and give the instructor a little more. Perhaps you’ll sell them like hot cakes, and still make money? Just a thought!

    • I absolutely agree with you, James! I speak out loud for this every season but it falls on deaf ears.

  • Peter

    About 30 years ago I got involved into ski racing. I went to numerous ski race camps and night training, because I had a regular job, I was able to spent lots of money; it was one of my best times in life.
    So individuals talked me into helping out on a local ski resort. As I joined they talked me into joining PSIA and go for certifications. That was my first mistake. The clinician literally tried to re-teach me all I had been taught by top level coaches, (world cup level). PSIA has lots of good concepts, and from that point it was educational. But the fanatic progression and nitpicking evaluation was ridiculous.
    I was fortunate to pass level 1 and 2 the first time. I know instructors who failed their test 5 times!!!! Some of them walked away, I know one personally and I was shocked because he really knows what he is doing. Then I had to spend $100.00 for a certification update a year, on my own time besides teaching over 80 days per year, the same as the instructor not teaching, just to keep the certification. Besides it was a waste of time, we just went skiing for a day.

    Now to the resort…. I worked for 10 Years for Vail. When I signed up I never did it for the money. I enjoyed to be out there helping people to get interested into the sport or become a better skier to stay safe and have fun. Vials’ policy is to give the customer the experience of a life time! They will come back and spend more money and can increase the charges. But in the process they screw the employees out of every $ they can. I have had the unfortunate opportunity to be in lift lines next to the top leaders of Vail and they did not have the courtesy to turn their head to say hello or thank me for what I am doing. They do not have to kiss my ass, but practice what you preach. When I started there the supervisor could split the group lesson with 6 students about 4 years ago it was raised to 7 and now its 8. Vail makes about $1000.00 per day for a class of 8 or a private. I got paid $17.50 per hour x 5 Hrs = $87.50 minus Soc. Sec., Medical, Fed. and State Tax.

    I always told rookies if you want to make money get a Job. That is why Breck has to rehire and train 250 rookies every year. But they figure if they can replace a 20 year veteran and give him 3% pay raise a year the savings could add a few $ to give themselves a raise.
    There is no appreciation what an instructor does. I had in 10 years 5 rewards for achieving top return % per month (over 30% lots of money for the resort at 130.00+ dollars P/Day) one year I received a Blanket another a glass, another a bottle opener, a belt buckle and a certificate, I had to buy the frame. This was not a reward, it was an insult! In the 10 Years I had to fill out 2 incident reports (2 too many) where others had 4 in a month, they never gave me a thank you…. another insult! But they were quick to pull others on the carpet for having only 29% return missing the 30% required!!!

    POWDERRIDER: You do not know what you are talking about before you make your comment. It takes me 2 hrs to get there, change and go out for line up and then stand in line up ½ hrs+ then be told to go home. If I want to free ski after being released, I have to change into my ski clothes because you are not allowed to ski in uniform when released. That’s OK on a nice day but at -10F 20 mph wind and snow I rather go home for another 2 Hrs. and then Vail paid me $4.50 another insult.

    I know I did say, and I mean it, it was not the money, but the constant squeezing everybody for a $ and the insults and the ridiculous policies from Vail and PSIA just started to accumulate and rather to go to work angry with a negative attitude and do a lousy Job, I gave up ”not a Job” but a Hobby I loved, and was told by lots of customers that I was good at it, and had many memories. To work for a company where GREED has become the top priority I am in a fortunate situation to walk away and say “thanks for the memories”.

    I know there was always Communism and Capitalism that’s OK but now we have Greedism !!!!!

    • I hear Vail is restructuring their payscale this year. It’s supposed to be “simplified”. The instructor will make the same rate whether they teach a private or a group. Not sure that’s really a win for instructors if the base pay doesn’t go up significantly. But at least it is simpler.

  • Peter

    I am Shure it will not benefit the instructors!! another screw a $ a day. I have expressed my opinions at various opportunity’s one time is was told if UPS changes its policy’s they will not come and ask my approval. learn to live with it!!!!!

  • Pro

    As a 10 year snowmaker and cat operator I can honestly say that almost any blue collar job on the hill won’t cut it. I have lived in closets and cars, Been on food stamps for seasons. One day resorts will have to pay a livable wage. God knows the white collars won’t make snow at 2 a.m. in 60 mph winds.

    Ski resort employees unite!!!!!!!!

  • Deaverdan

    Loosen up Rounders, the only reason to teach skiing is to get laid. Hit on the rich Bitches and if your Lucky you might find one to take care of you take rest of your life. That what I did, I was patrolling in Sun Valley her family owned half the state of Lousiana . Now I drive a Porsche ski everyday and act like a Southern Gentelmen….how you all doin.

    • Hilarious! Even of it’s not true it should be. I guess the takeaway is that you look at teaching as a means to an end, not the end-all itself.

  • I work as a lift attendant at a smaller Midwestern ski slope . I work in the lift department, have for over 12 years. The owners of the ski slope are vicious capatolists who would hit a nun in the head with a club to make 3.00 $ more, they have so much blood on their hands well it is very sad

  • Lots of good points here, both in the original article and the comments that follow. The Fair Wage for Ski Instructor movement is gaining traction. Check out RMPBS Exclusive interview with leader of Vail fair wages movement https://youtu.be/HqMEtt3e1O4

    Hopefully Beaver Creek Instructors United will be able to get a union vote at the beginning of next season and other resorts will follow suit. While a ski instructors union makes the resorts nervous, what they are really scared about is about losing their monopoly and having to face ski school competition where clients can decide which school offers the best value and instructor can decide who offers the best compensation (without having to move). Most service industries face local competition, so why not ski instruction, especially when it is taking place on public land?

  • RST

    In 1982, the last year that I owned and operated a ski school, minimum pay for our ski instructors was $20 per hour. This is equivalent to about $50 today. Additionally, all lessons were arranged in advance (so nobody had to show up for work and risk being unpaid for it); lessons were at least 4 hours in length (so instructors could count on at least a half-day’s pay); and dryland and on-hill training time was fully compensated. Opportunities for additional work, if an instructor wanted more hours, included working in the ski shop, marketing to groups, preparing race courses; organizing events; etc. Benefits included season’s pass, transportation allowance or housing allowance, equipment allowance, and medical benefits. It was a small business, but the thought was that if it couldn’t do right by employees the company didn’t deserve to exist. That instructors may love their work is NOT an excuse for under-paying them. It IS about money. It is a job, and when properly compensated it can be (and has been) a profession.

    • Thank you, Rebecca! It sounds like a lovely place to work. What happened to your ski school?

  • Sue

    Just an FYI – other than a handful of cities and states, waitresses have not had a pay raise in 25 years.

    The tipped minimum used to be 50% of the standard minimum but Herman Cain and the restaurant industry association of America convinced Congress to decouple it as a “temporary measure” in the 90’s.
    No, most waitresses don’t make a ton of tip money, only the narrow few at the high end restaurants (which also happen to be in high cost of living areas).
    Over 80% of wait staff are women and most work in low wage areas of the country.

    I tipped my instructor well.

    • You raise a curious question. I wonder if restaurants make the same kind of profit off their staff that resorts do. Private lessons at VR are up to $900/day now. Instructors make somewhere between $100-200/day…IF they get booked. Some of the instructors at morning lineup will be asked to check back at 12:45p then get sent home. They will be paid for 30 minutes despite being required to remain on site in uniform for three hours.

      Thank you for tipping your instructor!

      Btw, I’m all for paying a livable wage to waitresses and killing the tip altogether. As an instructor, I do not rely on tips nor am I bothered if someone doesn’t tip. Tipping is not the norm. However, if you really like the teacher and you want them to ski with you again, a tip might encourage them to make the effort to be available when you want- even if they are booked with someone else.

  • Dreamer

    Wouldn’t this be nice? …Too bad it’ll put you on the blacklist.

    50 total students for 15 weekends during the winter season.
    25 students on Saturday and 25 on Sunday.
    Divide those students into 5 groups of 5.
    Each group is led by one instructor.
    5 instructors total.
    Ski from 9am-3pm.

    Charge $800 per student for the season. (That’s $53.33 per day.)
    Pool it together ($40,000) and divide it equally between those 5 instructors. ($8,000 for each instructor).

    One instructor would earn $533.33 for the weekend. (12 hours worked.)
    That’s an hourly rate of $44.44.

    After taxes (30% we’ll say) Those instructors would take home $373.33 each weekend.
    That’s almost $1,500 each month.

    Not bad eh?

    Too bad it’s a pipe dream.

    • Heck, I like the idea that students only pay $53/day for a lesson!! Even as an employee I’d have to pay nearly $100/day for my kid to participate in a locals program here.

  • Tina

    Age discrimination is happening too. Especially if your a woman.

    • There’s also this weird, reverse gender discrimination. Because we are women we are given all of the “special cases”. Seems if you have ovaries you must be inherently more patient and kind. Do I get those aggressive level 8/9 clinics even though I can ski them into the ground? Nope.

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