Over the last decade, the international ski industry has boomed, driving demand for snowsports lessons and tuition to an all-time high. This increase in consumer demand has forced ski schools to increase their product offerings and expand overall instructor numbers.
In line with the above, instructor-specific ski and snowboard training courses also saw a large spike in demand. It is especially popular with gap year students, university leavers and those seeking a more enjoyable work-life balance.
If you’re thinking of becoming an instructor and possibly starting a career in snowsports, it can be difficult to know which location is the best fit.
In a head-to-head showdown between 2 top course destinations, we discuss some important factors about getting a ski license and being certified as a ski instructor.
Ski Terrain and Snow Quality
If you’re hoping to become a snowsports instructor, you’ll likely be in the same resort for several months. It is therefore important that you choose a place with good historical snowfall figures and access to a variety of terrain types.
Canada’s biggest resorts, such as Whistler, Sunshine Village and SilverStar have sizeable resort areas that includes everything from dedicated beginner slopes, well-groomed green and blue runs to advanced areas (black and double black diamonds).
There are also areas of tree skiing and terrain parks for the more adventurous.
Trail maps are generally expansive, meaning it can take a couple days to cover all the areas – somewhat similar to European resorts, but not quite to that extent.
Japan is famed globally for its snow quality and quantity. Think light, dry, powdery snow that arrives in abundance.
The resorts do tend to be smaller than North America due to the altitude of the mountains, but this doesn’t stop 10-15 metres of snow dropping each winter.
Even with limited altitude, there is still plenty of terrain to go at, especially in the larger resorts surrounding Niseko, on the island of Hokkaido.
You can expect good quality tree skiing, varied terrain and easy access to the side and backcountry. In fact, backcountry skiing is quickly becoming a popular alternative to lift access skiing. However it is important you have the correct gear and knowhow before giving it a go.
Snow Season Central is a really helpful website full of in-depth guides on working a season in both Canada and Japan, and can help you choose a resort.
Verdict: Canada comes out on top here in terms of the size of the resorts. However, Japan still has plenty to offer and you won’t find snowfall like it anywhere else in the world.
Training & Certifications
When choosing an instructor training provider, it is important to ensure that the qualifications offered are reputable, internationally recognised, and ideally, associated with a membership organisation of the International Ski Instructor Association (ISIA). This will enable you to legally teach skiing in a large number of countries without having to re-train or qualify through a different organisation.
Both Canada and Japan are members of the ISIA, but in each country, you are likely to find slightly different qualifications offered to westerners.
In Japan, the most common and reputable qualifications offered are through the New Zealand Snowsports Instructors Alliance (NZSIA). Whereas in Canada, all courses will be run by the Canadian Ski Instructors Alliance (CSIA).
The exams themselves are similar in content but can differ slightly in duration and the way they are delivered. Generally speaking, there is around a 90% pass rate for level 1, which is the entry level instructor qualification.
You should also check that whoever is providing the instructor training is certified to the highest levels and is a senior member of an ISIA accredited association. It would be disappointing to receive poor quality training, and as a result fail to pass your exam/s.
For more information on ski instructor courses, visit WE ARE SNO, a company which specialises in instructor training and certification.
Verdict: It’s a tie on this one! Both countries offer a comparative level of training and ISIA accredited certifications.
Working As An Instructor and Instructor Pay
A number of ski instructor courses (usually named instructor internships) include an element of employment during the season. Typically, once qualified, you will sign an employment contract to work as a full-time, fully paid, ski instructor.
Instructor jobs can be competitive, so this is a great opportunity to not only guarantee employment, but also to gain valuable teaching experience with real-time clients.
Whether you choose a ski instructor internship to start life as an instructor, or you’re already qualified and looking at places to work, both Canada and Japan are good options.
Very few snowsports schools offer a salaried position. Usually, there is a base pay rate determined by your level of certification.
Canadian ski instructor wages are known to be fairly conservative. Expect around USD10-12 per hour, depending on your experience.
In Japan, you can expect at least USD15 per hour.
In both locations, it is common for clients to tip the instructor for a well delivered lesson. In both Canada and Japan, lessons are taught in English, to English speaking clients. There is no need to worry about language and/or communication challenges!
While virtually all snowsports schools in Canada are directly owned by the resort in which they operate, there is a difference in Japan.
In each resort, there are multiple private schools who are legally allowed to teach on the same mountain/s as the official resort school. Usually the private schools are smaller and boutique in nature, offering more attractive employment packages which include higher pay rates, private transportation and the option to teach at multiple resorts.
Both Canadian and Japanese snowsports schools employ a diverse mix of instructors. There is a hierarchical system whereby the more qualified and experienced instructors get a higher rate of pay and more frequent lessons.
British, Canadian, Australian, German, Irish and Danish are among the more popular nationalities you will find, mostly between the ages of 18 and 30 due to working holiday requirements.
Whilst you’re employed by a ski school, you’re likely to benefit from additional training opportunities for free. The staff development sessions are carried out by senior members of the ski school and are designed to develop your skills and teaching technique.
Verdict: Japan edges this one due to the high pay rates for first season instructors. You’ll be thrilled to have a good wage to enjoy and explore different resorts and regional cultural offerings.
Culture & Food
A big perk of taking a ski instructor course or having a job in snowsports is the social opportunities and other local cultural spots to explore. Most people who are looking to spend a season working in the mountains are looking for a good work-life balance.
Canada’s laidback lifestyle is hard not to like. The people are really friendly and popular sports such as ice hockey make for a great evening entertainment. Generally speaking, social activities aren’t overly expensive and there’s a good mix of food options in most resorts. It won’t be long until you’re eating the famous Poutine at least once a week!
Japan really comes on its own on the cultural side of things. Eating options are plentiful and wide-ranging. Choose from warming bowls of ramen, interactive BBQ experiences, to sushi feasts, as well as many western choices in bigger resorts is a daily struggle. The Japanese cuisine is aplenty and delicious.
When you are not consuming amazing cuisine, there are plenty of other things to do. Onsen bath houses are a favourite among travellers, acting as an affordable and relaxing way to finish a day on the mountain.
Some accommodation providers have their own for private use, while there are larger public options in most towns too. Karaoke is ever popular with the vast majority of revellers, with dedicated Karaoke bars open late into the night.
While both destinations do have good quality après options (bars and clubs), generally speaking, the bigger the resort, the better they will be.
The vibe is completely different from what you would find in France or Switzerland. No dancing in your boots here, but there are still plenty of options to celebrate a good day on the slopes.
Verdict: There are plenty to enjoy off the snow in Canada, but Japan offers every adventure traveller something completely unique.
Both Canada and Japan are heavyweight destinations when it comes to training and/or working as a ski instructor.
If you have the opportunity, it would be foolish not to sample both, as they are quite different.
If we have to pick a winner in this showdown (which we do), then we’re going to give the title to Japan.
Working a season is about creating unforgettable memories, and aside from the amazing powder snow, Japan’s unique culture, vibrant cities, its people and its cuisine is sure to achieve that.
Overall winner: Japan