The Plight of British Ski Instructors

The Plight of British Ski Instructors

It’s no secret that 2020/2021 have been tough years for the ski industry. The devastating consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have reached far and wide.

From chalet couples to tour operators and tourists; it’s hard to find someone that hasn’t been affected in some way. The temporary pause on ski holidays has left many out of pocket, which is enough to make any instructor feel aggrieved.

However, there might just be one subset of ski instructors that have the most cause for complaint: the British. Not that they needed a reason to complain anyway…

The impact of Brexit has only added fuel to the Covid fire. In this article, we discuss how it has created the perfect storm.

Why Has The Pandemic Had Such A Big Impact On British Ski instructors?

Border Closures

The ramifications of border closures have been especially significant to British ski instructors. A predominantly flatland archipelago with only a handful of tiny ski resorts in the Scottish highlands; work opportunities are limited without cross-border travel.

The nations of South Korea, China, Japan, New Zealand and Australia have all provided a wealth of jobs for UK based instructors in recent years. However, all of these nations have imposed strict border restrictions that have stemmed the flow of work.

The seemingly never ending ‘saga’ of the pandemic is making it look ever-more likely that Winter 21/22 will be a similar tale. Due to the long and arduous visa process that is often required, recruitment for jobs around the world would usually be in full swing by July. But this year the silence has been deafening.

Empty Ski Slope During Covid
Border closures have left many slopes looking empty

Reduced Travel

It’s not exactly breaking news to point out that holiday travel has taken an unprecedented dip. The travel and tourism industry has been ravaged by travel restrictions, with many holidaymakers unable to visit their beloved ski slopes.

Of course, with reduced travel comes reduced demand for ski lessons. Competition for jobs in the top resorts has always been fierce, but has only intensified since this ‘novel virus’ reared its ugly head.

For most instructors: It’s turned into a game of musical chairs. Unfortunately, many will be left without a seat on the gondola this winter.

Those left in the UK might be hoping to find solace in one of the many dry slopes or indoor centers located across the Isles. However, it remains to be seen whether demand for lessons with hit the same heights as previous winters in these settings.

Artificial ski slopes are treated by many as ‘holiday preparation’. A chance to learn the basics or hone your skills before heading for the hills. In this case, the downstream implications of reduced travel will result in reduced demand for lessons; and therefore instructors.

Not to mention the potential for more nationwide lockdowns. Although it might look unlikely, it could be viewed as foolish to rule it out completely.

The bottom line: Limited travel means reduced demand for lessons, which means fewer job opportunities for instructors. Capisce?

Limited Government Support

I’m at pains to talk politics, but unfortunately I must…

On the 20th March 2020, the UK government announced the ‘furlough scheme’. It meant that 80% of an employee’s wages would be paid by the government, with an eye to increasing job retention throughout the lockdown.

The announcement was a win for most workers across the UK. Income was guaranteed for the foreseeable future. A weight off the minds of many.

At the same time, ski resort closures were starting to be enforced across the world. With the slopes closed and no holidaymakers to teach; most British instructors were left packing their bags prematurely.

Oh yeah, and here comes the kicker. No furlough scheme exists for British ski instructors coming back from abroad.

Let’s get one thing straight: Whether you agree with this decision or not is not my prerogative. I’m just here to explain the ramifications and portray my opinion…

So what were the ramifications? Unfortunately, most instructors left heading back to the UK early with no income, next-to-no support and extremely limited summer work opportunities.

The perfect storm is complete.

Furlough for Ski Instructors
Government support for ski instructors has been limited

Why Has Brexit Had Such A big Impact On British Ski Instructors?

Working In Europe Is Off The Table For Many

On 23rd June 2016, a referendum took place. It resulted in the UK voting to leave the European Union. On this very date, an unenviable countdown began. The end of freedom-of-movement throughout Europe loomed large for British ski instructors.

On 31st December 2021, the careers of many were plunged into inevitable uncertainty. The UK left the EU.

So what were the ramifications? No more passage for people from the UK to live, work and travel freely across European nations. A devastating blow for countless British ski instructors.

A deal was cut for certain ‘top level’ instructors to remain in Europe. The requirements? Level 4 ISTD certification and completion of the much-maligned ‘Eurotest’. However, those that had failed to meet these requirements on ‘Brexit D-Day’ were hung out to dry, with no hope for recourse in the foreseeable future.

So where does this leave a vast amount of British ski instructors working in Europe? Unfortunately, it leaves them searching for another job that’s located outside of Europe or inside the UK.

European Ski Resort After Brexit
European ski resorts could be out of reach for most British ski instructors

The Potential For Increased Job Competition Outside Of Europe

The ‘Daily Mail’ recently published an article suggesting that 2’000 British ski instructors could be pushed out of the European job market. If you believe what they have to say, there could be a mass of unemployed skiers looking for work outside the EU.

Countries like Japan, New Zealand and Canada have become heavens for British instructors with ‘lesser experience’ thanks to their ‘working holiday’ visa programs. In the wake of Brexit, we might expect the number of applicants for these positions to multiply.

It’s a knock-on effect that remains to be seen due to the persistent border closures around the globe. Only the test of time will tell.

A Tough Time For Training Providers

Have you ever wondered who instructs the instructors?

The various governing bodies from around the world of skiing provide training courses that take budding instructors through the qualification levels. The aim of many courses is to prepare candidates for the examinations that are required to receive a license to work on the mountain.

In Britain, the predominant training provider is the British Association of Snowsports Instructors. Commonly known as ‘BASI’. It’s their job to maintain the licenses of registered instructors, while also providing certification through training courses and exams.

The plight of British ski instructors could possibly put their business model into jeopardy. The potential for new recruits attending training courses might well be limited once they discover that working in Europe is off the cards.

The thought of becoming an instructor could become less appealing to many. Having to search for work on the other side of the world is a daunting prospect for many; especially if you’ve just gained certification.

It’s worth noting that the list of affected training providers doesn’t just stop with BASI. A variety of ski schools have a business model based around preparing new instructors for exams. They could also see their bookings reduced in the wake of Brexit.

The long term future of such providers remains to be seen. However, adapting to the new environment and shifting away from ‘Eurocentric’ business models could be the answer.

British Ski Instructors In Japan
Could Japan be now be flooded with instructors and training courses?

It’s Not All Doom And Gloom

Despite the many challenges facing British ski instructors, there will be some positives once the dust has settled. It might be hard to see from the eye of the storm, but there will be light at the end of the tunnel.

“This moment that humanity is living through can be considered a door or a hole. The decision to fall into the hole or go through the door is yours”.

The Most Committed Instructors Might Just Prevail

If you’re a ski instructor that’s motivated to pursue snowsports and have the desire to follow your dreams; you’re in luck. COVID-19 might just be the shake-up required to separate the less committed folk from the metaphorical herd.

The instructors that regularly arrive for their lesson feeling worse for wear or underprepared might finally be cast aside. Their services rendered unnecessary thanks to an influx of motivated and experienced recruits arriving from Europe.

Those that succeed will be the ones that are ambitious, adventurous and enthusiastic. Anyone that’s serious about a career in skiing will prevail, while those looking for an extended winter vacation might struggle to make the cut.

British Ski Instructor Teaching
Only the most committed instructors will prevail (Image: Jillaou)

It’s An Opportunity To Broaden Horizons

Sure skiing in Europe is pretty great, but it’s a tiny fraction of the snow covered mountains this world has to offer. Many British instructors have never ventured further than the Alps.

However, Brexit might just persuade them to explore.

Discovering new mountains across different continents is something that can greatly benefit your appreciation for the sport. Skiing is enjoyed by people from all walks of life and from every corner of the globe.  We are continually told about ‘difference’, but skiing can offer inclusivity.

It’s estimated that 76 countries now have operating outdoor ski lifts. Adding to this, a wide range of nations have indoor ski slopes and ‘endless’ artificial slopes that allow you to ski year-round.

Skiing can take you from South Africa to Malaysia. From Japan to Chile. From Dubai to Australia. The possibilities are almost infinite. Click To Tweet
Ski Resort After Brexit
Skiing can be your ticket to travel

It’s A Time To Reflect

Some have labelled COVID-19 as ‘the great reset’. A chance to reflect upon and reevaluate the direction your life is taking.

In times like this, it’s easy to see your life ‘flash before your eyes’. It can provide breathing space that will let you assess what you really want out of life.

Anyone that has a true passion for skiing should only feel their resolve strengthen. The time of reflection will allow many instructors to gauge how much they love skiing and if they are willing to give everything to forge a career on the snow.

Spending time away from teaching clients will make many realize how much they cherish every moment. However, some may also find solace in staying in their hometown and decide it’s time for a ‘settled’ life.

Either way, the perfect storm we are in will allow many British ski instructors to establish a future path to happiness. They just need to let the dust settle first…

Window Mountain View During Covid
Being locked indoors has been a great time for reflection

Thoughts From The Author

Sure, Covid has been a difficult time for British ski instructors. But it’s also been challenging for people from almost every walk of life. We are not special.

In the wake of the pandemic, it’s easy for British ski instructors to feel let down by situations that are out of their control.

However, it’s time to accept and move into a potentially brighter future. The pandemic will finally end at some point and Brexit could possibly be the shake-up required to move our industry into the future.

What Is My Hope For The Future?

I would like to see a more globalized skiing community. If the ‘powers that be’ from the world of British snowsports can further strengthen ties with other skiing nations across the globe; I think that’s sweet reward for the blow of Brexit.

We have already seen a move by BASI (British Association of Snowsports Instructors) to adapt their qualification system closer to the model used outside of Europe. It’s a signal of intent that bodes well for many instructors.

We have also seen governing bodies joining forces to petition the UK government into action, which might well provoke some positive change. Whether that change will be an agreement for instructors to work in Europe remains to be seen, but at least we’re heading in the right direction.

In terms of the pandemic: There is light at the end of the tunnel. It might be a dim light at the present time, but things will get better.

The delayed recruitment drive and persisting border closures will cause anxiety for many, but a positive future will be on the way.

Just remain patient.

Global Mountains Viewed From Aeroplane
A globalized ski industry can be a win for British instructors

My Advice For British Instructors?

Think long-term. ‘This too shall pass’.

Being short sighted is easy in the modern world of consumerism and instant gratification. When it comes to your career, ‘spur of the moment’ decisions rarely bear fruit.

If you’re ‘shunned’ from working in Europe for the present time, assess your options across the other continents. Learn how to adapt your way of teaching to other cultures and discover the certification criteria of governing bodies from other skiing nations.

Don’t forget to establish what visas you can obtain in the future.

Now is the time for patience and planning. Once the storm has passed, a white future awaits for those that want it badly.

Just don’t forget to work hard enough to secure your seat on the gondola.


Do you have any advice for British ski instructors? Would you like to voice your views on the Covid/Brexit situation and how it impacts the ski industry? We love debate and opinion, so it would be great to hear from you in the comments section.

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