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PCSkiGal: Ski Instructors Go Public With Pay Issues

Vail Ski Instructors

My jaw dropped as I eavesdropped on a table of ski instructors last week. They were on a break and sharing a cartoon video poking fun at what it considered to be a disparity between what resorts charge for lessons and what ski instructors are paid for giving them. 

The YouTube user calling themselves 'Fair Wages' is stirring up all sorts of trouble. I think 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.

Instructors in general are not paid on commission. They're on hourly, paid anywhere from $8-25/hour plus tips (maybe) for a six-hour day while charging guests nearly $1k for a private lesson.

Resorts can charge guests nearly $900 for an all-day private lesson and pay the instructor from $100 to $200.  

Some insiders speculate that the high prices have driven guests to take fewer (if any) lessons or have found underground instructors on Craigslist or through locals to guide them. A less-than-ideal snowpack also turns away customers. This significantly cuts into what an instructor can make in a winter.

Guests, too, are bothered. On top of what they are 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.

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 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 a.m. 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 practice has been entertained since the dawn of ski schools. Unfortunately, instructors are individual creatures and no one wants to be that guy who stands up and makes trouble. 

Only this season has the conversation gone public. We'll see if resorts' ears perk up now.

Photo: Ski instructors, and others, go public on pay issues (Vail Ski Instructor/Facebook

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