Senior Skiing

Elsa Bailey is legally blind. She uses an oxygen tank, in order to breathe in Colorado’s thin air environment. But on May 11, 2013, she decided to celebrate her birthday by skiing at Arapahoe Basin. Elsa started skiing when she was 25. While she was not one of those people who popped out of the womb on two planks, her age did nothing to curb her snow sliding passion. If you are currently teaching the over-50 crowd, can you say this about your students? What can you do to keep them involved in the sport? This article will explore your options.

Steadily Downhill and Loving It

J.R. Gurney’s play, titled Love Letters, follows the 50-year correspondence between Melissa Gardner and Andrew Makepeace Ladd III. In one scene, Melissa tells Andy that she is in Aspen. “What are you doing in Aspen?” asks Andy. “Going steadily downhill,” she replies.
Such is the state of the international senior skiing scene. Like Elsa Bailey, an increasing population of baby boomers are refusing to trade in their skis checker boards. And rather than switch to cross-country and snowshoeing, many are sticking with downhill skiing. As such, they’re going steadily downhill.

This makes sense. After all, it was the baby boomers who popularized the fitness movement, and they are taking advantage of their maintained fitness by staying on the slopes. Case in point:
Over the Hill Gang

According to their website:

Over the Hill Gang members receive discounts for lift tickets, lodging, food, rentals and much more. Over 300 discounts are available at ski resorts throughout the US and Canada.
Over The Hill Gang, International® …unsurpassed camaraderie, outstanding discounts and great trips for people 50 and over! We’re enthusiastic, fun-loving people who enjoy sharing the experience of skiing and other outdoor activities with other physically active seniors.
Membership is available to individuals and to couples as long as one spouse is at least 50.
Three thousand people (and counting!) can’t be wrong! More than 3,000 people in the U.S. and around the world enjoy OTHGI membership. >

Many people join local OHG chapters, and ski with the same group on a regular basis. For example, the Copper Mountain OHG meets on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. The ski groups include:

Club Incline:
Club Incline is only for the serious skier/rider. If there is anything you don’t want to ski, this group is not for you.
Club Decline:
Club Decline skis moderate bumps and powder, but usually stays on marked trails.
Groomed Zoomers:
his group skis mostly groomed black and blue terrain.
True Blue:
True blue skis all blue terrain, but with some stopping along the trail for stories and tales.
No Worries Mate:
The terrain skied is green and blue at a pace that fits individual needs.

Each group has its own designated guide. In some cases, the guide is actually one of Copper’s ski school instructors. Many of these instructors have discovered that this is one of the best ways to gain new clients. Additionally, the club often hires instructors for special ski clinics.

The Over the Hill Gang also conducts workshops on Balance and Injury Prevention. These are essential topics for senior skiers.

Boomeritis: The Down Side of Going Downhill

“Boomers are the first generation that grew up exercising, and the first that expects, indeed demands, that they be able to exercise into their 70’s,” said Dr. Nicholas A. DiNubile, a Philadelphia-area orthopedic surgeon, told the New York Times.

“But evolution doesn’t work that quick,” he continued. “Physically, you can’t necessarily do at 50 what you did at 25. We’ve worn out the warranty on some body parts. That’s why so many boomers are breaking down. It ought to be called Generation Ouch.”
This is a serious concern for senior skiers, and it can especially apply to the Club Incline crowd. It’s the proverbial spirit willing vs, weak flesh conundrum.
Other issues include:
Reduced Proprioception and Spatial Awareness
Aging Eyes in Flat Light
Mike Stebbins of Senior Skiing — a superb website — wrote an informative article on [training the fine muscles used in skiing.](
These are ideas you can share with your senior skiers.

The Bottom Line

The most important thing about successfully teaching senior skiers is a sincere desire to do so. This should be a no-brainer, but, unfortunately, the group lesson system is often set up by who’s available, instead of who’s a good fit. Consequently, people who have no tolerance for children end up teaching kids, and young player dudes find themselves teaching people their pàrent’s or grandparent’s age.
One 50-something woman, an adult learner, complained about what happens when she takes a lesson from a 20-something female instructor:

“These young women benefited from Title IX, which gave them the opportunity to engage in sports in elementary school. Meanwhile, when we were children, the girls were in home economics classes, learning to make tuna-noodle casseroles. We were not athletic as children. Some of the younger instructors do not understand this, and openly show their frustration. They seem to forget that without the political pressures that came from the baby boomers, they would never had the opportunity to develop their athletic prowess.”>

If you do specialize in senior skiers, build it into your brand, and let your ski school director know your preferences.

Staying in Touch in the Off Season

As the ski season comes to an end, many instructors will lose touch with their students. “Instructors” will lose touch. True coaches understand that coaching is a year-round obligation. During the summer, your ongoing communications with your students will solidify your relationships with them. strong relationships = return clients.

You Can Learn to Ski In the Summer

Who here remembers Horst Abraham, a former VP of Education and Training of the Professional Ski Instructors of America? Apparently, he distributed a newsletter to his certification candidates. It was called “The Abe Letter.” One of these letters featured the following sentence: “You learn to swim in winter and you learn to ski in summer.” Joan Rostad of Epicski posted this on the forum. An interesting discourse ensued.

Although the statement has many potential interpretations, an encompassing philosophy prevails: Learning is an ongoing process, and it doesn’t stop when the season ends. In other words, when the lifts stop turning, the mind must continue to turn its own wheels, and come up with new ideas. If you’ve taught your students well, they will make connections between their winter and summer activities.

Here’s an example. A friend of mine was walking along the beach of Cabo San Lucas. The tide was high, and swimming was prohibited. The giant waves, however, had other plans for her. When one of them swept her off her feet and pulled her into the water, she panicked. Then, she remembered her ski instructor had told her about avalanche survival. “Ski sideways.” So she swam sideways, and lived to tell the tale. So even though skiing and swimming bare almost no resemblance, my friend was able to apply an extreme skiing skill to an extreme swimming skill.

Here’s another example. Your student hikes to the top of the mountain. On the way down, she discovers a steep, rocky pitch. She stares down like a deer in the highlights. She’s stuck in the moment, and she can’t get out of it. Then, she has a EUREKA moment. She realizes that she does not have to straight-line it down the path. She can break the speed with small, zigzag movements. Sort of like a ski turn.

Where You Come In

Some of your students might intuitively find a link between skiing and their summer activities. Others need a little help from their instructor. BY staying in touch – either through your Facebook page, weekly email newsletter or blog, you can continue to offer hints about summer activities. Here are some ideas:
1. Ski specific fitness tips, such as balance training, stability ball, BOSU, etc.
2. Activities similar to skiing, such as inline skating, skate to ski, water skiing, etc.
3. Outrageous activities such as sand skiing and grass skiing
4. Places where you can literally ski in the summer, such as South America, Australia and New Zealand.

The 21st Century Entrepreneur Business Model…and why it’s so perfect for Ski-Instructors


I LOVE Teaching Skiing!
I love the daily setting that connects my physical/emotional and cognitive aspects (…Spirit as well). I love the amazing community of like-minded, healthy, outgoing and giving professionals all sharing their passion and love for skiing in a breathtaking surrounding. I love the opportunity to better ALL my own skill-sets daily while helping others do the same. For over 38 years, I’ve come to view teaching skiing (as well as training and examining) as a profession of service and yet hugely cathartic. I truly get back so much more than I 5-29_3


Being a Ski-Teaching Professional is not without challenges. I speak honestly when I say that teaching skiing is not the most lucrative profession. It’s doesn’t provide me with year-round employment and although not-bad wages for doing what I love, living in resort communities ain’t cheap!
The cumulative wear and tear on my body has added up, and I’m really beginning to notice the price my body has paid for a long-career of teaching skiing.
It has brought me to the realization I can’t keep this pace forever, and I see the need for sustainable, year-long income stream that doesn’t rely so much on my body.

I became a fan of Beachbody’s home-fitness and nutrition programs in the pursuit of maintaining my own wellness and meeting the physical demands of a Snow-Sports Professional. I was NOT originally a fan however, of the marketing scheme (MLM) and like many had a biased opinion of this marketing methodology. It wasn’t until I became educated in this 21st Century form of marketing that I discovered I could convert my passion to a profitable business, choose my business partners and work with a GREAT team. As a bonus I have continued to improve my own health and fitness, and I now help 1000’s of Beachbody customers change their relationship with their bodies through better nutrition and fitness.


If like me, you have spent a considerable time in one career path you may be finding it’s time for a change. Maybe it’s time to combine your passion for fitness and wellness with your experience in coaching people to success all while creating a steady and year-round income.
Ski Instructors have the skills and experience to make HIGHLY successful Beachbody Coaches!
I can show you how to successfully leverage the interpersonal and relationship skills you have developed as an Instructor to Individualizing the wellness experience for your current ski-clientele as well as your Beachbody Customers.

photo 2
I will help you convert your success of coaching people in recreational-athletic endeavors to providing lasting lifestyle change in a comprehensive and supportive team environment.
I will provide you with unparalleled support in a team environment that is both challenging and fun, and guide you in coordinated team projects in the development of YOUR own team for lasting results.

My team hosts monthly a ‘5 day Sneak-Peek’ into Coaching, where we share what we do, how we earn and what we LOVE about being a Team Beachbody Coach.

Please send me an email at
Or learn more , and enroll in our team at my website

Reaching Out To Injured Clients

She was skiing a mogul run. It wasn’t her first, but it was her first time skiing solo. She loved the feeling of freedom and independence. She loved her newly-found confidence. Then suddenly, POP! What is the sound of a popping ACL? It’s a sound of despair, loss of hope, the end of a dream. It’s the sound of self-recrimination.

She fell onto the snow, and made several futile attempts to get up again. Her instructors always told her that it’s okay to fall, and that falling was part of learning. What was she supposed to learn from this?

Someone called the ski patrol, and along came the sled.
She remembers when sleigh riding was fun. Under these circumstances it was humiliating. Imagine, all these people watching and thinking to themselves that glad they’re not you!

ACL tears are just one of the many injuries that your students might incur during ski season. They can either happen in class, when skiing with friends, or when skiing solo. An injured student probably won’t be able to take class for the rest of the season. That could mean a temporary reduction in income for you. In fact, depending on the student’s attitude about the injury, they might even decide skiing.
If you regularly read the Snocoach blog, you understand the importance of off-slope contact with your students. However, your injured student needs the same type of attention – perhaps even more so. By reaching out to an injured student, you can help them maintain their excitement about the sport.
In this article, I will show how my instructors helped me get through my ACL injury nightmare.

Ski Injury As a Status Symbol


Here’s one of the saddest ironies about ski injuries. In certain online and real-life circles, a ski injury is a red badge of courage. It’s the thing that distinguishes you from the so-called “gapers,” and qualifies you as a “real skier.” When I tore my ACL, people who once ridiculed my preference for wide, blue cruisers suddenly became my best buds.

Think about the cognitive dissonance this could cause in your students. You’ve taught them everything they need to know about slope safety. At the same time, you’ve encouraged them to push their limits. But now, they’ve learned the consequences of pushing too hard, and it ain’t pretty. While their new “friends” are congratulating them on their entry into the inner sanctum of coolness, your student might be experiencing “I don’t want to belong to any club that will have me as a member” syndrome.

Your student needs a sounding board to help her sort out her feelings. Who better to play this role than her instructor? In addition to simply listening, you can also suggest ways to help her keep her mind active during recovery. Here’s what one instructor did.

Keep Them Learning

As a published freelance writer, I often get hired for ghostwriting assignments. Last month, and interesting woman contacted me. She was a New Yorker who learned to ski as an adult. After falling in love with the sport, she moved to Colorado, and started taking lessons on a weekly basis. One day, while skiing solo, she fell and tore her ACL. Her instructor stayed in contact with her. Sensing her depression, he suggested that she blog about the recovery process.

At first, I wondered why she needed her blog to be ghostwritten. After all, this was so personal. Then, she explained the details. Although she could speak English fluently, her written English required lots of work. She did not simply want a ghostwriter. She wanted me to explain the grammar rules behind every correction. Her rationale: Her ski lessons had put her brain in learning mode. By learning the correct rules of written English writing, she was keeping her brain active. Her instructors idea of encouraging her to blog was brilliant.

It’s the Little Things

There’s never a good time to incur an injury, but they often choose the worst possible time to occur. I tore my ACL when my husband was back in Boston, closing on the sale of our condo. My ski instructor took me to surgery. He also helped with little things, such as walking my dog.

Even if your client has a roommate or a significant other, caring for an injured person is tiring. Think about what you can do to help out.

Getting Back In the Bindings

There are two types of injured ski students. Some will try to get back to the slopes as soon as possible, and ski the same terrain they skied before the accident. Others will be terrified at the idea of returning to the sport. I was one of the latter. One of my instructors drove all the way from Aspen to Breckenridge, in order to ski with me on my first day back. We worked on small accomplishments, such as the tiny, albeit steep pitch outside the cafeteria. Whether your student is gung-ho or intimidated, they need your support.
And showing your support will keep them loyal.

They’ve Got Brand: These Ski Pros are Doing it Right!


In Kate Howe’s branding video, she gives an example of two different ski instructors with very different brands. If you don’t know the Aspen Ski School staff, you probably don’t know who she’s talking about. However, everyone who did know them nodded their heads emphatically. Why? Because these instructors have created a recognizable brand. If their brand is recognizable to their colleagues, it’s also recognizable by their ski school director, and by their clients. This means that they are always working with their ideal client. This article will present examples of ski instructors who have elevated branding to an art form. Follow their lead.

The Four Questions of Branding


Here are four questions to ask yourself when developing your brand:

1.What do you want clients, peers and supervisors to associate with you when they think of your name?
2. Is there a certain type of skiing or terrain you want people to associate with your name?
3. What do you want your voice to be?
4. What is your story?

Your story is the most important question, because it encompasses your passions, hobbies and lifestyle. An engaging narrative makes you more interesting to potential students. Consider Leon Joseph Littlebird’s story.

Leon Joseph Littlebird: Colorado Authenticity

Leon Joseph Littlebird is a Summit County Colorado icon. Everything from his Native American heritage, his music and his ski instruction embodies what it means to be a native Coloradan. It’s this authenticity that draws his students. He’s also a man with a story. A cancer survivor who lived beyond his doctor’s expectations, Leon is an inspiration. When he’s not teaching skiing, he performs Native American concerts, and officiates over local wedding ceremonies.

Thanks to his ability to blend these aspects of his life, Littlebird has a distinctive brand. Although he’s a PSIA trainer/examiner, his signature teaching style requires students to feel the movements, rather than analyze them. In fact, Leon makes fun of the techno-babble that many instructors favor.
In an interview with the Summit Daily, he describes the connection between skiing and composing:

They’re the same. It’s about freedom and self expression. I love writing and performing original music because there will be an idea, a brand new seedling and it will start to grow. All of a sudden there is a song, where before there was nothing. It’s like when you hike up to some amazing place on your skis and look down at a virgin powder field. Then you take off your skins, tele down and leave your signature on it.

Kate Howe: Inspiring and Versatile

Her blog is called “Skiing in the Shower.” She’s a ski instructor, a yoga teacher, a massage therapist and an artist. When the lifts stop turning, Kate travels to India to explore the culture and teach yoga. Furthermore, she has a story. Kate started teaching skiing when she was 35 years old, and 60 pounds over weight. Herstory inspires anyone who thinks that age, weight and parenthood limit your possibilities.

Mermer Blakeslee: Conquering Fear and Empowering Students

Mermer Blakeslee wants her student to have a conversation with fear. In fact, she wrote a book on the subject. Mermer is also a novelist, and an avid gardener.
Her brand is so established, that she earns good money for her workshops at Windham Mountain.

These three instructors share one thing in common: Their names come up on the first page of a Google search. This is what happens when you devote enough time to developing your brand, and letting people know who you are.

If your name is hiding on Google’s back pages, it’s time to take control of your ski instruction business, and develop your unique social media strategy!

Foiling Fears

Most skiers consider fear a debilitating factor in ski progression. And there are many different fears involved: fear of heights, fear of speed, fear of falling, fear of failing, fear of fumbling or just looking foolish. But according to Kristen Ulmer it is not a question of getting rid of or conquering these fears but rather of turning them into useful assets and allies.

The 48-year-old former big mountain extreme ski star runs a series of mindset-only camps in Utah every season as well as heli-ski trips to Alaska. Her aim is to enhance a camper’s experience on the slopes through mindset rather than technique tips. “We don’t meditate, nor is it about therapy, it’s about getting to know what’s going on in your unconscious mind, and packs quite a punch,” says Ulmer. Day 1 is all about setting campers free from unconscious patterns that keep them stuck. Next day, different states of consciousness are experienced in order to discover which work best for each camper.


Entitled Ski to Live, the Zen camps are geared to intermediate to expert skiers or telemarkers of either gender, aged 14 and above. They kick off with an evening group session at The Goldminer’s Daughter Lodge at Alta, the camp’s hub. “This is an important first gathering to meet each other and set the tone for the experience,” says Ulmer.

On the Saturday, participants are grouped into similar abilities with their own guides for the first hour or so. “This is an opportunity to burn quick laps and explore technical questions,” Ulmer explains. Everyone then congregates at base where Ulmer leads an exploration of Shift: The game of 10,000 Wisdoms. “This game is a faster and more fun way to access where you’re stuck than say, sports therapy or mediation, and can offer a powerful perspective on a camper’s life they never considered before,” she says. The skiers ride the same lifts together, gather at the top and bottom of each run, yet each group will ski different terrain appropriate for their ability with their guide.


After communal lunch there are four different options: skiing with Kristen and exploring your mind further, skiing alone or with friends, going for restorative massages, or off-slope decompression time. A 90-minute facilitated evening event with refreshments is then followed by après ski and story-telling before dinner. “It’s a fun, wild ride and the experience lasts and shifts the way you experience not just skiing, but just about everything,” says Ulmer.

Under contract with Harpers and Collins, Ulmer, who was recognized as the best female big mountain skier for 12 years, is currently writing a book on Fear, entitled “My Love Affair with Fear”. Her approach to fear is diametrically opposed to traditional techniques, and, she says, it works brilliantly to alleviate stress, anxiety, irrational fear and more.

SkiLive  146 - Version 3

Elevating Female Skiing at Jackson Hole

Girly grit taking over from timid turns, trusty teamwork eradicating harrowing hang-ups – just some of the reinventions made possible at Elevate Women’s Camp. With many strong intermediate and expert female skiers lacking likeminded and motivational ski buddies, Elevate offers a networking solution as well as inspirational instruction.

Held at Jackson Hole, the camps attract up to 65 women at a time divided up between a team of 12 female ski instructors and three female freeskier pros who troubleshoot each group. During the challenging four-day course, the famous freeskiers – Kim Havell, Jess McMillan and Crystal Wright – circulate among the ability and attitudinally-matched groups. Their role is to elevate mental and motor skills via extreme-ski example.


Instructor Christina Cartier says the pros add so much to the camp on many different levels: “I think that it is always eye opening to realize that amazing athletes are women just like ourselves who, for a number of individual reasons, have taken their passion of a sport to a full time and rather extreme level. They help us understand that fear is a natural component of big mountain skiing, without it having to limit us.”

Hard-core in a semi-soft sort of way, they also push the campers, inspiring in them the confidence to take their skiing to the next level, says Cartier – “whether that means a steep couloir or jumping off of small cliffs, or even just getting off piste for the first time.”

But it is the repetitive reinforcement of having the same female instructor for the entire course that really facilitates technical improvement among the four and five-women groups. Cartier has been working with Elevate for nine years. A Jackson Hole transplant with French and Swedish heritage, she is a meticulous instructor, focused on finessing technique in order to provide a security blanket of skills for double diamond skiing over Jackson’s tough topography. “The two biggest things I have experienced with most women is that they will not attempt something new or challenging until they believe that there is a 100 per cent chance of success,” says Cartier. “The second piece of the puzzle which is mostly relevant to the camps is that they actually do well being pushed a little in a group once trust has been established.”

Group dynamics is important to Cartier who is happy to take more of a backseat at times, while different group members help each through the frustrations and fears of adopting new skills in tricky terrain. “It is critical to set the group up to be supportive rather than competitive,” she explains.

With an emphasis on teamwork, the level 3 PSIA instructor also gives each camper individual feedback, aided by video analysis, to improve movement patterns as well as mental and tactical approaches to skiing. “My hope is that at the end of the four days, each participant feels that she has skied hard, and ideally has felt a tiny or large ‘butterflies’ moment when looking ahead at something she is about to ski that is visually challenging to her,” she adds.

One of the things Cartier has noticed since becoming an alpine ski instructor in 2008 (she taught Nordic before) is that women are hard on themselves. Because of this, her job can involve emotional buttressing as much as technical tampering. “Finding a way to help them improve while giving them room to not be perfect and still enjoy the sport is a delicate balancing act,” she says. “Every other camp I seem to have at least one, if not more, campers break into serious tears of either fear or frustration.”

With improvement varying among participants, changes over the four-day course can often be subtle. But, says Cartier, stronger skiers typically only need slight tweaking to take them to the next level. “Some of the improvement is not always visible, but more in the mental/psychological game part of the sport,” she explains. “I suspect that many women end up enjoying terrain they previously dreaded, or come to realize that the skills they already had actually carry over to more than they ever imagined.”

Ski Instructor Brand Development

If you watched Kate Howe’s video on Branding for Ski Instructors, you know that brand logos personify their product.

What do you think about when you see the PSIA logo? A document on The Snowpros Website explains that the logos represent the PSIA brand personality, which encompasses the following traits:

Hopefully, as a member of PSIA , you identify with these traits. However, as Kate points out, these character aspects do not distinguish you from the other red or blue instructor jackets on the mountain. Branding makes your unique personality traits stand out, in a manner that attract your ideal client. But who is that client? Marketers call this the “buyer persona. For the purposes of this article, let’s refer to the buyer persona as “ideal ski student persona.”

Ski Student Persona

Marketers developed the concept of the buyer persona in 2002. Marketing expert Tony Zambito elaborates on the definition:

Buyer personas are research-based archetypal (modeled) representations of who buyers are, what they are trying to accomplish, what goals drive their behavior, how they think, how they buy, and why they make buying decisions. (Today, I now include where they buy as well as when buyers decide to buy.)

Check out the “Sample Sally” image from Single Grain. What can you guess about this skier from looking at the image? How would you fill in the different categories? Does this ski student persona match you brand? If not, who would you refer her to?
Use this type of chart to create your own ideal ski student persona. Once you put it together, you can build your brand according to this student’s needs.

Defining Your Brand has an insightful article on brand definition. The author identifies some of the essential elements of defining your brand:
1.Mission Statement: A clear and concise definition. “My mission is to have fun while teaching students new skills.”
2.Vision: This describes your goals on the horizon: “Students who ski with me will become mogul-meisters.
3.Essence:Refer to the exercise in Kate Howe’s video. Choose one word to describe your teaching brand. Examples: Motivating, Patient, Fun, etc.
4. Unique Value Proposition: What do you bring to the table, aside from your teaching experience? An advanced knowledge of gear? Secret stash spots on the mountain?

The article also mentions personality. This requires its own section.

Uncover Your Brand Personality

Big Brand System offers a free worksheet to help you develop your brand personality. Download it here and print it out. This is what the chart looks like:

Personable and friendly___________________________________Corporate, professional
Spontaneous, high energy __________________________________Careful thinking, planning
Modern or high tech___________________________________Classic and traditional
Cutting edge___________________________________Established
Accessible to all___________________________________Upscale

Examine the different brand personality aspects, and place dots closest to wherever your brand personality falls along the spectrum.

If most of your dots are to the left, you take a contemporary, fast-moving and energetic approach to ski instruction. You’re a risk taker, with a friendly and approachable communication style.
If most of your dots fall to the right, you prefer an established method of instruction. Your professional style of communication appeals to an older, corporate client.
Here’s how these traits translate into ski instructor personality types.

Ski Instructor Personality Types

Ski Instructor Brand Personalities

This photo shows examples of four basic ski instructor brand personalities.
1.The Nurturer takes a maternal or paternal approach to ski instruction. He or she works best with fearful skiers, or skiers who started in their later years. Lift conversations often revolve around family.
2. The Professor finds joy in the science and biomechanics of skiing. He or she works well with students who want to know why things are done a certain way. Lift conversations are often about the mechanics of skiing.
3. The Ski Bum lives for the thrills. His or her motto is “just do it!” This type of instructor works best with advanced, adventurous. Lift conversations will revolve around local bars, gear shops and ski town lifestyle.
4. The Fashionista,also known as the Sophisticate, works at upscale resorts. This instructor brand has skied around the world. So have their clients. If they’re lucky, their clients take them along on European ski vacations. Lift conversations might revolve around travel, or upscale restaurants in the area.

Keep in mind, these are generalizations. Many instructors will fall into more that one brand personality. However, problems arise when a student persona clashes with an instructor personality. Unless you have developed a distinctive brand personality, your ski school director might inadvertently assign you to someone who is a bad match. As Kate Howe says, developing your brand helps out your ski school director.

What Is Branding and Why Do Ski Instructors Need It?

There comes a time in every ski instructor’s career when they will attend a resort branding pep talk. Kate Howe, an instructor-trainer at Aspen, took this concept one step further. In a video titled Building Your Brand, she talks about branding for ski instructors. Kate argues that in order succeed as a ski instructor, you need to treat your instruction as a business. In other words, you need to become the “CEO of Ski With Me Inc.” A business, however, must have a brand. This three-article series will help you build, define and evolve your brand. The first article will pose some questions. There are no right or wrong answers. Respond as honestly as you can.

Branding Is About Belonging

Maslow Needs
Kate uses Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to describe the basic principles of branding. The physiological and safety needs apply to all ski students. They all need hydration, fuel, and a chance to use the restrooms before class. They all — even the moist adventurous students — need to know that there’s a relative level of safety. Things get interesting at the third level of the triangle: Belonging. In fact, the sense of belonging is intrinsically tied to the next level: Esteem.
Case in point: The Level 4 Student who puts himself in a Level 7 ski class. His sense of self esteem is tied into the idea of belonging to the Level 7 group.
People Identify with specific brands because they want to belong to that group.
Kate uses examples of political campaigns, along with products such as Coke and Pepsi to show how different compànies design their brand for different groups.

Branding Examples

Check out these two car rental companies. Notice the difference in branding.


At the top of the Silvercar page, you see a bold headlines that reads: CAR RENTAL THAT DOESN’T SUCK AT DEN
Scroll down, and you’ll a picture of an Audi — the only car they rent — and a picture of an iPhone. They offer free satellite radio and free wi-fi. The Trunk Show, at the top of the page, links to the company’s blog, which features articles about the FIS World Championship at Vail and the Audi in pop culture.

The Hertz page is rather stark. Its extras include baby seats, infant seats, booster seats and “skierized” vehicles. These two companies obviously appeal to different types of people.
Two students arrive at Denver Airport. One rents from Silvercar. The other, from Hertz. Which one would choose you as their instructor?

Now let’s compare ski jacket manufacturers:



What do these jackets say about the students who wear them? Which student matches your teaching brand?

Re-branding Hillary Clinton

An article in the Washington Post asks: “Is Hillary Rodham Clinton a McDonald’s Big Mac or a Chipotle burrito bowl? A can of Bud or a bottle of Blue Moon? JCPenney or J. Crew?”

Apparently, as Hillary prepares for her 2016 presidential campaign, she has recruited a team of consumer marketing specialists. Their mission: “To help imagine Hillary 5.0 — the re-branding of a first lady turned senator turned failed presidential candidate turned secretary of state turned likely 2016 Democratic presidential nominee.”

Sealey, who is credited with the successful “Always Coca-Cola” campaign in the 1990s, said that Clinton, like Coke, “has incredible top-of-mind awareness, and it’s a huge asset.”

“The issue is: What is her promise?” he said. “With Mercedes, it’s quality. With Volvo, it’s safety. With Coca-Cola, it’s refreshment. If you can get her promise down to one word, that’s the key.”

“Look at Budweiser,” said a former campaign adviser to President Obama, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly. “That’s what Hillary Clinton is. She’s not a microbrew. She’s one of the biggest, most powerful brands ever in the country, and recognizing that is important.”

What’s your promise to your ski students? Describe it in one word. If you were a beer, what kind would you be? Do you have “top of mind awareness” at your resort, or are you just another red jacket?

The Evolving Brand

Throughout the video, Kate stresses the importance of a continually evolving brand. We leave you with this analogy:
Branding is like a pair of skis. They need to make you look good on the slopes. They need to make you feel good. Since brands are aspirational, they can be a little bit long. But not so long that they make you look silly.

Tip: Become a Funcaster, Create Memorable and Fun Experiences

This tip comes from the Winter 2013 Issue of the 32 Degrees Magazine from PSIA. In the Article “Instructors Teach, Funcasters Create Experiences” by Eric Rolls.

Eric talks about the importance creating experiences for your guests that they find fun and truly memorable. We are encouraged to get background information from our guests to enable transference of skills from other activities into their skiing and riding. Eric suggests taking this same approach to fun by finding out what your guests enjoy doing. Then find ways to deliver experiences that reflect the same fun factors on the hill.

Bowling Fun

As an example, suppose your guest really enjoys bowling. Bowling involves a set of movements and positioning of the body to get the ball to a specific target. There is also a bit of a thrill of the anticipation once the ball leaves your hand until it reaches the pins. Sliding a box has many of these same fun factors. Setting yourself up for success with the approach and takeoff and then the anticipation of the ride until you exit.


Dig a little bit to discover what your guests enjoy about their favorite sports and activities. Use this information not only for skill transference, but finding common themes to build truly memorable and enjoyable experience for your guest.