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We asked Rob Sanderson, joint founder, of RTM Snowboard School in Les 3 Vallees France, what it’s really like to be a snowboard instructor.


Tell us about your career as a snowboard instructor so far

I’ve been an instructor for over 20 years now and I still get excited heading off to the office, how could you not with the mountains being my office? But it’s not all blue skies, snow and fun.

A lot depends on the school you work for, the place you work, the weather and snow conditions and the biggest factor – the people you teach.

There are 4 levels of Instructor and it’s pretty easy to get started. You can do the Level 1 course either on the mountain, at a snowdome or even on a dry slope. After that you need to think about how far you want to take your instructor career, as each level requires a greater amount of technical skill and teaching to pass. There is a large amount of planning, training and dedication needed to progress through the system, as it can take many years and a lot of cash to reach the top level.

Is being a snowboard instructor worth it?

Well, you should see my office!

As you start out in your instructor career (especially in the snow domes or dry slopes) you may well get lots of beginner lessons, they aren’t all the same and each client is very different, this is what makes it interesting.

The people I teach sometimes ask whether we get bored of teaching beginners. Well no not really, they’re the ones who show the greatest learning curve and to see them embrace snowboarding is such a buzz.

For me the best lessons are the ones where I get a real rapport with the clients and see them having a fun while developing their techniques.

Even if it takes days for a client to reach a point when it all clicks for them, just to hear them say ‘Wow, now I get it!’  is so fulfilling. It’s the whole reason why I instruct.

For us, at RTM Snowboard School, beginner lessons are only a part of what we do. As most of our clients can already ride really well and it’s more like riding with mates, but there are still challenges to deal with, such as group management and ensuring individual development of each client.

Is being an instructor in the mountains as great a life as it seems?

People think being an instructor is a great life out in the mountains enjoying yourself. Well for most of the time it is, but there are of course off days.

A lot of the time this is down to the weather or snow conditions. It’s not all snow overnight with blue sky the next day. Working in -20 to -30 degrees, it’s not easy! Or when it’s so misty you can’t see 5ft in front of you, nor when it’s so icy it’s hard to keep your own balance, never mind teaching someone else to as well.

One New Year’s Eve, I remember having to teach all day in the rain. When I walked into the bar at the end of the day, like a drowned rat, I was meet by the rest of the RTM team who seeing me, burst into laughter, as all their clients saw the rain and had decided to cancel their lessons!

One time it was so windy, the kids I was instructing were getting blown over, I’m not naming the resort but let’s just say it was in Scotland.

Dealing with bad weather is tough, while still trying to make sure people are having a good time, so find those runs you know will be more sheltered and heading inside for a break to let people warm up is always a good option mid-lesson. And remember as an instructor you probably have quality gear on, the clients clothing may not be up to the job.

One of the most important skills is learning to deal with different types of client, you need to be able to alter how you teach to suit them, people learn in different ways, some like descriptions, some images, some just want to try and feel their way.

Teaching kids is also very different from teaching adults, they need it to be lots of fun. Sometimes it can be like herding cats and safety is paramount! You don’t want to be handing back a broken child to an upset parent. So being part psychologist and child entertainer certainly helps.

I’m lucky to work with a great bunch of guys at RTM, we’re friends as well as colleagues and we like riding together when we have time off – it’s part of why we do what we do. The lessons are rotated as much as possible so everyone gets to teach all levels, variety is the spice of life after all.

It’s a great life, but is hard work too, but with so many rewards on all levels I wouldn’t consider doing anything different.

Rob Sanderson works at RTMsnowboarding in the 3 Valleys in France. He is a member of the British Association of Snowsport Instructors (BASI) qualified to the highest level, BASI Level 4 in both snowboarding and skiing. Rob is currently a Snowboard Trainer for BASI, passing on his skills and passion to the instructors of the future.

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