Adventures of a 42 Year-Old Rookie Ski Instructor

dave belin ski instructor eldora

Photo courtesy Elizabeth Miller, Boulder Weekly.

Today’s post comes from Brave Ski Dad Dave Belin. Dave not only skis with his family, but also is an instructor at Eldora Mountain Resort (and helped me with a post about Eldora!). 

Portions of this post were originally published at The Boulder Weekly

Thanks Dave!

Adventures of a 42 Year-Old Rookie Ski Instructor

brave ski mom logoIt was a cold and very windy President’s Day Monday. I was huddled up against the elements with a group of ski instructors at Eldora Mountain Resort. A  rookie ski instructor, I was hired  to teach skiing at the beginning of the season, but I was at the bottom of the seniority ranking. So far, I hadn’t taught many lessons and I had no reason to  anticipate getting a lesson today. But it was so cold and windy that no one else at lineup stepped forward to teach.

Frustrated at the lack of volunteers, the ski school supervisor checked the Hours List to see who was on the bottom rung of the ladder.  Of course, he called my name, though I could barely hear him over the noise of the wind. I headed to the Children’s Center, head bowed against the blustery breeze, thinking, “Why am I doing this?”

Let me back up a little: I am 42 years old with a wife and two elementary school age sons. I have a full-time job, serve on two local boards, and, like any other dad, have a long “honey-do” list. I don’t exactly have a ton of free time. So why exactly did I want to spend my weekends teaching, rather than sleeping in or  skiing with my family? Even I wasn’t really sure why.

A Turning Point

dave belin eldora ski instructor

Photo courtesy Elizabeth Miller, Boulder Weekly

That day, however, ended up being a turning point in my season. Despite the strong winds, the kids’ group lesson I taught ended up great. The weather was actually sunny along with the wind, so it wasn’t too bad once we got going. I don’t remember a lot of the specifics of that particular lesson other than being hyper-focused on keeping the kids together and in my sights.

It seemed like a lot of my mental energy was consumed by counting and re-counting pink- and purple-clad girls, and boys in blue and black, every time we boarded the lifts and skied the runs. The rest of my attention was focused on trying to remember all the procedures and timing of the lesson progression.

At the end of the day, I remember the sense of satisfaction and calm that I felt walking through the parking lot back to my car, knowing that I had tried something new and had done admirably well at it.  I was surprised at how much energy, both physical and mental, that first lesson took; that night, I slept better than I had in a long time.

From Rookie to Regular

I must have done something right on that windy day, because after that I was assigned to teach at the Children’s Center every weekend until the end of the season. While the Children’s Center can seem like a chaotic place to the uninitiated, I soon became accustomed to the pace and energy of the Center: the welcoming of the kids (and parents) in the mornings, getting kids organized for the day, making sure helmets, mittens, and boots fit, the morning spent on the snow, and so on.

In many ways, teaching kids to ski comes down to making sure they are safe and comfortable, which is a prerequisite to having fun and learning. Make sure they have used the bathroom, have sunscreen on, they are not cold, hungry or tired: meeting these very basic needs is critical to a successful lesson.

dave belin eldora ski instructor

Photo courtesy Elizabeth Miller, Boulder Weekly.

But Why? 

So why did I decide to teach skiing as a part-time weekend job? I have several reasons, but one is that I wanted to get my wife and kids up to the mountain more often. I am a real believer in the importance of spending time as a family doing fun activities, and skiing is high on that list. I knew that if I got a job at the mountain, it would make skiing more of a family priority. Plus, the discounted passes and other perks of being a ski area employee certainly didn’t hurt.

Another reason I wanted to teach skiing is that, from a business standpoint, if we (read: passionate skiers and snowboarders) want ski areas to be healthy and vibrant places where we all can recreate, then they need customers now and in the future. Today’s kids taking lessons are tomorrow’s ticket and season pass-buying shredders.

As enjoyable as it is to have an uncrowded day when you feel like you have the whole ski area to yourself, it isn’t good for business. The future of a viable winter resort industry is dependent on continuing to introduce people to the sport and to ensure that they come back year after year. I’m hopeful that I was able to turn at least a few kids on to skiing, and that they might become lifelong participants in the sport we all love.

For Love

Why do people choose to teach skiing and snowboarding?  The only answer I came up with is that people love it – they love teaching, they love snowsports, they love the mountains, they love the camaraderie of other instructors, and they love sharing that passion for skiing and snowboarding with others.  For me, at the end of March, I passed my Level 1 Certification from the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA), and I am back this winter teaching skiing again – and no longer asking myself why I am doing it.

Dave Belin is part-time alpine and telemark ski instructor and the full-time Director of Consulting Services at RRC Associates in Boulder, Colorado.

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    • says

      So glad it was helpful! Dave is a great guy and when he came to me with this story, I was so impressed! Good luck if you go down that road! Cheers.

  1. says

    Good story! I was a volunteer snowboard instructor for two seasons, so I’ve asked many of the same questions, and came to similar conclusions. A bonus is that by teaching other people, you also have to think through the fundamentals of what you’re doing on the snow, which (along with clinics available to instructors) can make you a better skier/rider. It’s also a good occasion for developing interpersonal and leadership skills.

    The best day of my time as an instructor was the time I taught an intro lesson to a lady and her niece. (Her sister was filming it all). At the end of the lesson, she gave me a $20 tip, and told me that I had helped her with one of her bucket-list items. That made my season.

    • says

      Thanks for sharing! I think you are so right — in learning how to teach someone else, you actually improve your own understanding and skills! Cheers!