Becoming A Snowboard Instructor in Canada – Rob’s Story
My name is Rob (Risky Rob to my fellow instructors), born and bred in Australia, I recently completed a winter season in Canada. I was part of the Mt. Washington, WE ARE SNO instructor internship programme over the 2019/2020 season.
Before joining the programme, I was a Team Leader working in Business-to-Business sales. Pretty much the corporate life wearing a suit and tie each day and working in an office. Although I loved my team, and the challenges that come from working in sales, I was feeling like something was missing from my life.
I first strapped into a snowboard when I was around 6 or 7 years old, and had been riding on and off ever since. After a few years without a trip to the snow I visited Queenstown in New Zealand back in 2018. I promptly remembered how much I loved being on the mountain and began thinking about how I could spend more time doing things that I really enjoyed.
Fast forward a few months and I was scrolling through Facebook. I happened to notice an advert asking if I’d ever considered becoming a ski or snowboard instructor? Not until now I hadn’t…I decided to take the short eligibility quiz by answering some basic questions.
The very next day I had an email from the company with some information about the programmes and the opportunity to arrange a call with Adrian. I arranged the call, during which I spoke about my snowboard experience, what I was currently doing and the various programme destinations available. Having visited SilverStar in Canada when I was younger (which I loved) and already booked to go to Niseko, Japan on holiday, Mt. Washington, Canada seemed the best choice for me, as I was keen to visit somewhere new. I went through the booking process and was stoked to be accepted onto the programme.
The next few months were spent planning and organising my IEC visa and travel arrangements. Every step of the way, and any time I had a question about the process Adrian was there to assist. I found the members area of WE ARE SNO’s website (MySeason) was helpful with checklists for everything you need, full and detailed equipment information plus all of the details about the elements of the programme itself.
Being the guy that I am, I wanted to be prepared and fly into Canada a few days before the programme started. It would be a good to get acclimatised whilst checking out the sights and sounds of downtown Vancouver. WE ARE SNO created a Facebook group for all course participants months before the programme started, so we could all get to know each other virtually prior to arrival. A Quick FB post later and I had agreed to meet up with Justin (another fellow Aussie) when I got to Vancouver.
Three days later and both Justin and I are nursing headaches and carrying a lot of bags, on our way to the airport to meet the rest of the crew. There were people flying in from Australia, UK, Germany, Denmark and Slovakia so it was a really good mix of nationalities. We were greeted at the Airport by Nigel who was our WE ARE SNO Programme Manager and would be coordinating things when we got to resort. This included helping set up local bank accounts and social insurance numbers, equipment purchase for those that needed it and orientating us with the local areas of Cumberland and Courtney. We went out for meals as a group, socialised together and went on an amazing walk through the Cumberland forest, a truly beautiful place. We settled in to the accommodation well and everyone really appreciated the large communal spaces with sofas, pool table and dart board, the perfect way to get to know each other.
After the first few days of settling in to the area and completing all of the admin tasks that needed to be done we headed up to the mountain to begin our training. We definitely had mixed emotions when we first reached Mt. Washington as the whole of Western Canada had a bit of a late start to. the season, and there was very little snow on our first day. Despite this, the snowsports team at the mountain made the day incredibly engaging and fun. A special mention to ‘Jake the Snake’ who was our main snowboard trainer, always a pleasure to meet another Architects fan! Over the next few days everyone was frantically checking the weather forecast and trying to predict when the snow would come. I took our supervisor Mike at his word when he said “Don’t stress, one day you will get up here and the place will be buried in snow.” A few days later we had a 30cm dump and winter had arrived!
The lead up to Christmas was filled with finishing off our training components and completing our CSIA/CASI level 1 exams. Despite everyone overthinking things and worrying that the smallest mistakes made on snow would impact our results we were thrilled to finally become qualified ski and snowboard instructors, ready to start work. This was also a doubly special time for me as my birthday is in December and the group got together for a celebration. We had a few days off over the Christmas period to enjoy the holiday together. We set up a secret Santa, got some presents from the WE ARE SNO crew and had a massive group dinner where everyone chipped in and made something to eat. The next few weeks went by in a blur to be honest. The combination of a new job, the busy, holiday period on the mountain, and wanting to ride as much as possible felt like the days were flying by. But I loved every minute of it.
I should take a moment to mention just how beautiful Mt. Washington really is. Washy (as the locals call it) will take your breath away, especially on a clear day when you head up on first lift and look out over the Pacific ocean! I actually don’t think I have ever been to a resort with a better mix of terrain. From easy greens on the front side to double black diamonds over the back, there’s plenty to get your teeth into. We had some crazy snowfalls over the season and when the big storms roll through things can get DEEP. We had a 60cms overnight on a couple of occasions which was easily the most snow I’ve ever seen in one hit.
As we rolled into February, having taught dozens of snowboard lessons to a range of clients, both kids and adults it was time to start training for our CASI level 2 qualification. We had 2 days of training each week for 6 weeks in the lead up to our course, this was interspersed around our regular work schedule. The training was really in-depth and everyone seemed to be learning and improving so much each day. There was a freestyle component to the training which I really enjoyed.
Some of the crew who had never hit a jump or box were now throwing 180s over small and medium features and smashing boardslides. We were exploring all of the steep areas of the mountain, riding moguls and working on our carving.
Before we knew it, it was time to start our level 2 exam which was 4 days in duration. Our examiner was Tom, a phenomenal snowboarder, incredible trainer and super nice guy. I don’t think there was a single question he couldn’t answer. His knowledge of snowboarding and explaining the concepts really made everything click for the whole group. There were 6 of us on the exam from WE ARE SNO and we all passed. It was such a great feeling knowing that we set out to achieve the same goal and despite some injuries and doubting our ability at times, we all made it through.
Unfortunately the completion our level 2 coincided with the onset of COVID-19 worldwide. We all hoped we would make it to the end of the season but sadly fell a few weeks short. For the safety and wellbeing of the staff the resort made the difficult decision to close the mountain early. We received support and guidance from the WE ARE SNO team to coordinate things and thankfully everyone was able to leave resort and return to their home countries safely.
Although not the end to the season we had hoped for, we made the best of the situation and had an amazing last day by the lake. We arrived into Canada complete strangers and had become a tight knit family over the 4 months we had been together. My first season as an instructor was one of the best experiences of my life, I made lifelong friendships with many of the people I met and worked with. I am already planning to head back to Mt. Washington to do another season instructing before chasing winter into the southern hemisphere in New Zealand. The WE ARE SNO programme gave me the skills and relevant experience to get a job at almost any resort in the world, and for that I am incredibly grateful. I’m very much looking forward to my life as a Snowboard Instructor.
See you on the mountain.