Image by Northernwatertribe, Deivantart

Beyond the Humor: Breaking Ski Instructor Stereotypes

At a party, how do you tell who the ski instructor is?
Don’t worry. He will tell you.
On a date, what does a ski instructor say after the first hour?
“That’s enough talk about me; now let’s talk about skiing.”
How many ski instructors does it take to change a light bulb?
A dozen. One to unscrew the bulb and the rest to analyze the turns.
What do you call a successful ski instructor?
A guy whose girlfriend has two jobs.
What is the difference between God and a ski instructor?
God does not think he is a ski instructor!
What’s the difference between a ski instructor and a bucket of chicken?
The bucket of chicken can feed a family of four.

If you teach skiing, you’ve heard these jokes. You probably laughed; at least the first time. Then, after awhile, the joke, along with the stereotype, got old. The classic image of the ski instructor as full of himself, skiing obsessed and broke prevails throughout all types of media. Let’s look at these stereotypes, and separate truth from fiction.

The One-Dimensional Ski Instructor

In the second joke, the instructor turns to his date and says, “Enough about me. Let’s talk about skiing.” Many ski instructors are fascinating, multifaceted individuals. In addition to their sport, they are often we-read, well-traveled and artistically inclined.

Consider the history of Aspen. Chicago industrialist Walter Paepcke dreamed of a cultural center in a mountain environment. Austrian Ski instructor Friedl Pfeifer, after serving with the 10th Mountain Division, wanted to stay in the US and open his own resort. Aspen became both a world-class resort and a thriving center for culture and literature.

Although most mountain environments attract a blend of artists, intellectuals and athletes, ski instructors often limit their conversation to one topic: skiing. While this is expected in the teaching environment, instructors can attract more students by presenting themselves as diverse individuals, with a multitude of interests.

The Classic Ski Bum


image by Adventure Jay: Creative Commons

In 2000, Peter Shelton wrote an article for Ski Magazine titled Ski Schools on Trial.
Shelton notes that the “culture of lesson taking has changed,” and that the authoritarian days of the Austrian “bend ze knees please” are a thing of the past. In its place, however, is the instructor as ski bum image. And Shelton believes that the resorts are partially to blame.
On the one hand, the PSIA does its best to educate, and instill a sense of professionalism in their ski and ride school instructors. On the other, the resorts pay rock bottom salaries, making it difficult for instructors to support themselves and maintain any sense of professionalism. Thus, the jokes about ski instructor incomes have become “a thing.”

Caveat: Not all ski instructors are broke. Some have a regular base of private students. Others develop special on-mountain programs. In the off-season, they fly to the Southern Hemisphere, and teach in the mountains of Australia, New Zealand and South America. These instructors view their teaching as a business, and treat it as such.

The Turn Analyst

It’s funny how even non-skiers recognize the South Park“bad time” ski instructor meme. Here’s a recap, in case you never saw the episode. The kids are introduced to their instructor at Aspen, who in turn drones on and on about things that will make them “have a bad time.”
Example: “If you french fry when you should pizza, you’re gonna’ have a bad time.”
Meanwhile, they’re still in the base area, talking about skiing.
Finally, one of the kids asks, ” So when are we gonna’ have a good time?”

There’s truth in the humor. You probably know an instructor who spends half the lesson along the side of the hill, talking to his or her students.
Don’t be that instructor.

Stereotypes were made to be broken. Professionalism, flavored with a touch of humility, will encourage respect for ski instructors.

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