Get a good education, get a stable job and live a good life. It seems idealistic, but it’s not for everyone. We all have different life aspirations, and for some, it’s not about chasing the dream – it’s about chasing the snow.
Becky Clark has been shredding the slopes around the world since she was eight. When she was 15, her mum suggested she work towards becoming a ski instructor; something to do during her university breaks. The idea of travelling the world teaching others to ski was appealing to Becky, but no one ever took the idea seriously and she too had doubts.
At 20, Becky decided to take a leap of faith, or rather an “inrun”, and apply for a course that would offer exciting career prospects around the globe.
“While pushing myself through a (physiotherapy) degree I hated, I was thinking of other paths I could take,” Becky said.
“Then one of my good friends decided to drop his full-time job to pursue his dream of being a snowboard instructor and, honestly, that was the final kick I needed. I figured the worst possible outcome is that I don’t get a career out of it, but I get a full season hanging with people who love the snow as much as I do.”
Now at 21, Becky is based in Queenstown, New Zealand, completing a training course at The Remarkables. The course is run by EA Ski and Snowboard, “EA” standing for “educating adventures”, and gives graduates an internationally recognised ski certification.
The ski instructor course ranges from 4 to 11 weeks, with graduates able to apply to stay on and work in the New Zealand ski fields. Becky has her eyes on Canada in the long term but for now, New Zealand is a safe place to start.
“A few good friends give rave reviews about the snow in New Zealand. Plus, I haven’t lived out of home before. I figured it’s only a three-hour flight from home. I feel a little more comfortable with that, rather than jumping on a plane to the other side of the world to start off with.”
The friend that inspired Becky to apply for the course was 28-year-old Joel Ashdown. Upon completing his degree, Joel worked for an engineering company. A weekend trip to NSW ski field, Perisher, made him realise he wanted a more challenging and less traditional career.
“The trip we took made me remember how happy I am when I’m outside, especially when I’m in the snow,” Joel explained. “The first morning up the mountain, I took that first breath of crisp fresh air and it made me so happy and I could literally feel all my stress and worries drain away. I knew I wanted to chase that feeling.”
“I went to uni and tried the ‘whole being a responsible adult thing’ – getting a good job, saving for a house and everything– but it never felt satisfying,” he said. “I gave up engineering because sitting behind a computer screen all day just felt like I was wasting my life. It took me a while to build up the courage to do something about it. Social norms kind of dictate that once you have a stable career in a growing industry there’s no need to change that. So I tried to stay but eventually I was feeling so miserable about work that it was starting to make me down all the time.”
Just like Becky, Joel had long held onto the dream of being an instructor, ever since he first went snowboarding at 17. Knowing training courses are expensive, he put that dream on hold. Now he is living in Les Allues, a village in south-east France. There he is completing an instructor certificate with the British Association of Snowsport Instructors (BASI). He has completed nine weeks of training and is about to finish three weeks of assessment. Just like EA, BASI offers an internationally recognised qualification and further opportunities for its members around the world.
Although the course has been intense, the experience is everything Joel could have hoped for.
“It is amazing being on the snow everyday! I’m training really hard for this but it’s never once felt like work, it’s always been fun.”
Now Joel has returned to Australia and is currently working at Falls Creek in Victoria for the winter season. Eventually, Joel will start applying for jobs in Switzerland but will settle for any slope in the Northern Hemisphere. The next step for Joel is completing his level-three certification. He needs to continue training and improve his performance and teaching skills dramatically and learn another language. The requirements for the level-three course seem intense, and they are, but successful graduates reap the benefits: “It’s an international certification; it’s what they call an ISIA stamp. Then mountains will start sponsoring you for visas, you get a higher base pay, travel allowance and some mountains give you food allowances, on top of your pay,” says Joel.
Just like a 9-5 job, gathering instructor qualifications and applying those skills isn’t for everyone. Fortunately there are alternatives that allow those who love the snow to experience its unique culture without the hard work.
Kate Ciccarelli, 25, worked in a corporate role since graduating from high school, but she yearned for a travel opportunity to explore something new, meet people from around the world and still maintain a healthy work/life balance. After learning to ski and snowboard in Japan and Victoria, Kate acquired a taste for winter and snow sports. In Whistler, Canada, Kate spent a year working as a spa attendant for the Four Seasons Resort and a barista at Starbucks.
“You are never alone,” she said. “There is always something to do. In winter you would work 5-6 days a week, however, still get time to go on the mountain for a couple of hours a day and snowboard. When I wasn’t working I would be with the people in the village socialising. It was great to be in a living environment where everyone is extremely social and loves the snow. I loved not having the usual routines of a usual day at home. I would wake up and not know what the day would bring.”
In Whistler, Kate enjoyed being one of the first ones on the mountain after a fresh snowfall, and being with new friends who quickly became family.
“Meeting people is all part of the experience and it was nice to work in a place where there were others doing the same thing. It’s a great experience and I would recommend it to anyone to do something different while they are young. Travelling to a place, and living there, are very different and you have an entirely different experience.” – Ashleigh Cant
Feature image by Jesse Mohr.