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Jagdhausalmen Alpine Pastures, Defereggen, East Tirol, Austria, Europe

A Day in the Life of a Ski Instructor – A Photo Story

Updated on 11.12.2017 in Sports


More than 7,000 snow sports instructors teach 700,000 students at 300 ski schools all over Tirol each winter. We talked to Sebastian Kahn, an instructor working with “Red Devils Kitzbühel” Ski School. He and his fellow instructors gave us an insight into a day in the life of a ski instructor.

A typical day for ski instructor Sebastian “Basti” Kahn starts around 9:00am at the dressing room of “Rote Teufel Kitzbühel” (“Red Devils Kitzbühel”) Ski School. He grabs his ski boots, changes into the famed red uniform and checks the day’s lessons.

Founded in 1925, the “Red Devils” is the oldest ski school of Kitzbühel. Legendary Austrian ski racer Toni Sailer has run it for 30 years. Dubbed the ‚Blitz from Kitz‘, Toni Sailer was the first Alpine skier to win a hat trick of Olympic gold medals, at Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, in 1956. Today, the famed ski school is owned by Ernst Hinterseer, who was a professional ski racer, too, just as his brother and musician, Hansi Hinterseer.

Basti on his way to ‚line-up‘. All “Red Devils” group lessons start in the finish area of the Hahnenkamm Race, home to the world’s most notorious, dangerous, blood-curdling downhill racecourse for men, called the „Streif“ (or the „Stripe“). To get there, Basti has to walk through the heart of Kitzbühel for a few meters.

Jacky, his fellow instructor is already waiting at the „Streif“. She assigns groups of adult students to a particular instructor, from novice to expert. To be grouped according to their ability, students have to put on their skis and make a short descent in the finishing area. They then meet at drop points with flags reading “Novices” or “Advanced”.

Jacky tells us that she is distantly related to Kitzbühel native and legend Toni Sailer. She works as a ski instructor in the winter and at a bike shop in nearby Kössen in the summer. She usually works with English-speakers: About 60 per cent of her clients are British and Irish skiers.

Basti in the gondola on his way to the top. He is 29 years old and was born and raised in the Tirolean small town of Wörgl. In his early years as a ski instructor, he taught in the Arlberg Area of Tirol. During the last few years, he has been working as a “Red Devil” instructor in Kitzbühel. “That’s a good brand,” Basti says about his ski school. Many of his fellow instructors are Tirol-natives – which isn’t standard anymore at schools across the country.

At the start of each day, Basti does a pre-ski warm up routine with his group. This doesn’t only get body and muscles warm and ready for the efforts, but it also helps Basti evaluate and assess the skills and abilities of his students. The biggest challenge for a ski instructor is to not demand too much of his students, he says. “One bad run can make or break a student’s holiday.”

Jacky is on the hill with her group as well. Her teaching is supplemented by a variety of trick turns. In order to learn how to balance, students have to lift their poles. They should not use the upper body to turn. Skiing is leg action, so skiers ought to turn with a down-and-up motion of the knees.

In a typical ski lesson, the ski instructor is first, and all the students follow him. To see what’s going on behind him, Basti looks back over his shoulder all the time. When he stops, he waits until everyone gets to the bottom of the hill and then he tells each student what he or she did wrong—and how to improve.

After two or three hours of skiing, it’s time to stop for lunch at an on-mountain eatery. Time to talk. Actually, Basti is a professional paraglider and competes at 12 different venues all across the globe during the summer. Ski instructor is his seasonal job in the winter. “It’s a good job. It keeps me grounded,” he tells me.

Lunchtime on a hut is great to meet fellow instructors and catch up on what’s going on at the mountain. Today, Basti meets Kitzbühel-native Freddy, who has been working as a “Red Devil” instructor for almost 30 years. “Being a ski instructor has changed a lot,” says Freddy. Instructors who speak foreign languages are in great demand nowadays. In our fast-paced time, even instruction needs to be fast, as students have less time to spend a holiday. “In the old days we used to go for a beer with our group in the evenings, but we don’t do that anymore.” Freddy is a very relaxed, stress-resistant person. “I don’t care about that.”

Once replete and replenished, it’s time to hit the slopes for the afternoon session. On the hill, Basti meets snowboard instructor Philip. In a private lesson, Philip teaches an English teenager how to trudge up the hill with the snowboard under his feet.

Philip, 27, is from Poland, where he works as a taxi driver in the summer and dreams of the mountains. For the last few years, he has spent his winters in Kitzbühel as an instructor at the famed “Red Devils” Ski School. Next winter he will definitely return to Tirol: “I have already been hired!”

Sometimes a student loses balance and falls, but fortunately, nothing happens. Basti works four to five hours a day, each day – all winter season long. Days off are rare. “Well, that’s the way it works if you want to make instructing into your career and earn money,” says Basti.

If Basti doesn’t teach others how to ski, he’s out on the course refining his technique. At the moment, he is gaining his Level 3 qualification. The Tirol ski instruction certification is regarded as the best in the world and it takes a lot of dedicated training – sometimes many years – to get through, says Basti. “Without flawless technique, fitness, power and precision, you are unlikely to pass.”

Basti usually calls it a day when the lifts stop spinning. Occasionally he goes out for a “quick beer” with friends afterwards. Après ski is not really his passion, he tells us, “although some of my colleagues love to party in ski boots.” And on top of that he has a girlfriend. “I am settled now.”

Maximilian Gerl lives in Munich, Germany. Each and every year he resolves to finally spend more time in the mountains. He attended the German School of Journalism and currently is working as a freelance journalist.

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