Snow limit to learning in Wanaka

by Joseph_Barnes

An extended holiday or a career change - whatever you choose, training to be a snowboard instructor will change your life. Here's how one person did it in Wanaka, New Zealand

“This is our flagship qualification and we do not give it out lightly.”

The first meeting on the first day of a ten-week snowboard instructor course and the head trainer, Adam Dooney, is laying down the law.  It is clear that the trainers of the Cardrona High Performance Centre will not be suffering fools gladly. Ahead of us are ten weeks of tough, intensive training and riding in the some of the finest terrain New Zealand has to offer. “It’s a rollercoaster, man,” adds the manager of the Cardrona snow school, Kyle Kosthoris, “plenty of ups, plenty of downs, but it’ll change your life if you stick with it.”

Get onboard

There are lots of companies that cater for the aspiring snow sports instructor, all offering broadly similar packages. British company SnowSkool, who organised this particular trip to Wanaka on New Zealand’s south island, provides flights, accommodation, weekday evening meals, season lift pass, bus pass, all training and exam fees, and has a couple reps on hand in the town. All this for a little over £7,000; a hefty price tag for sure, but work out what your average week in the alps would cost and it’s a pretty good deal – nearly a whole season’s worth of riding and training with some of the top instructors in the industry.

The course is split into two five-week chunks with a four- and five-day exam, respectively, rounding off each. The first five weeks give you your Level One certificate, which enables you to teach never-ever riders up to people who are working on making their first turns. The latter part of the course gets you your Level Two where you’ll learn the skills to instruct up to advanced-intermediate standard and take people off the nursery slopes and teach them to link turns, adapt to differing terrain, do strong-edge turns and master the basics of freestyle.

The exams that come after the four-week training periods consist of constant assessment of your riding and technical knowledge, teaching-practise sessions, video analysis of novice boarders, and are rounded off with a mock lesson where your examiner assigns you a skill to teach along with a scenario (such as pretending that you’re teaching 180s to middle-aged doctors) to test that you can adapt your lessons and the way that you communicate with your students.

Detect and Correct

“Hey Joe, buddy, come over here, man. Here’s how I see your riding…” After the day-one pep talk it’s out to the slopes for an initial assessment from one of the trainers, who in my case is the head-honcho, Kyle. “Your heel-turn’s not bad, but that toe-turn’s pretty funky – you’re leaning way back on your board, your hips are too open, and that’s forcing you to kick that back foot around to get the turn off and scrubbing off your speed. We need to get more front leg back into your riding to get it flowing.”

This was basically the story of my, and most of the other students’, ten weeks – years of bad habits had become so ingrained that it felt wrong to do things the right way. On top of this there was a whole new raft of skills to learn, and learn to a high level as well. In addition to learning the techniques that you have to teach you’re also coached in off-piste and freestyle riding. There’s also an emphasis on the technical aspect of snowboarding - everyone on the course knew how to ride and perform certain manoeuvres, but very few of us knew why our boards reacted to certain body movements.

End of Days

My final exam day saw me tasked with teaching ollies (a basic freestyle move) to a group of ’65-year-olds with dodgy hips’ (actually my fellow examinees). After the initial nerves were conquered the ten weeks of training paid off and 20 minutes later I was all done. “Beautiful, mate,“ said my examiner, Paul Phillip, “I’d happily stick a jacket on you and send you out with some clients right now.“

The feeling of accomplishment when collecting your certificate is awesome, and even though I haven’t taken up the profession full time the difference it has had on me as a rider is immense. And when I did eventually take a class up into the mountains during a week I spent teaching in Italy, seeing them progress and grow in confidence was a very gratifying feeling. The course can be a daunting prospect when presented with the full curriculum, but the rewards at the end make it well worth the effort. Like the adverts say: “Why not become a snowboard instructor?”

Need to know:

SnowSkool:, 01962 855138