Gap Year Ski Instructor interview: James Bailey

James Bailey - Gap year Ski Instructor
James Bailey is a 19 year old British ski instructor working in the resort of Sierra at Tahoe, California. James started skiing at the age of 10 and has skied in many resorts throughout Europe and the United States. James has recently qualified as a ski instructor through the Educating Adventures gap year ski instructor program and now holds a level one certification from the Professional ski Instructors of America.
  1. How long have you been qualified as a ski instructor?
    I passed my PSIA Level 1, in November 2008
  2. What’s the best thing about being a ski instructor?
    There are a ton of good things, but for me it’s the fact that every day is different; different experiences, different students, different conditions, different challenges, different stories to hear and share and a different party every night!
  3. Why did you want to become a ski instructor?
    Ultimately it’s because I love skiing, especially in Lake Tahoe. I also had some prior experience as a teacher which I wanted to expand upon. Working with kids is a lot of fun, there are lots of easy ways to keep them enthusiastic throughout the lesson and this helps the instructor perform as well as giving them more self-confidence.
  4. What was the most important thing you learnt when you trained to become a ski instructor?
    Americans are very big on SMILING!!! If you smile, make eye contact and address each student by using their names from the word “go”, they instantly feel special and trust you. This makes teaching them a lot easier. Everything you learn about how to teach a lesson is useless if the person you’re trying to teach is scared!
  5. Would you recommend a gap year ski instructor program to others and why?
    The program I went through was Educating Adventures. They run programs in Lake Tahoe and Whistler. Yes it’s expensive, but it’s organized, fun and apart from having a 98% pass rate in 2008, the people you will meet are great fun! I feared spending my 3 weeks of training with stereotypical public school kids but actually everyone was incredibly laid back, genuine, friendly, funny and nobody took themselves too seriously! This course made me more independant than school ever did. And being a member meant I was entitled to pro pricing and discounts on equipment everywhere I went. It is also the only gap year company I know of that guarantees you paid work after you complete the course. Joining Educating Adventures was to be the start of the most exciting time of my life so far.
  6. If you could give any other prospective ski instructors any advice before they start off, what would it be?
    Making sure you get the right equipment is crucial. A lot of instructors starting out in the industry that I know personally got it wrong and it cost them a great deal of time and money. Do your research! Don’t just let a salesman try to convince you what’s right or wrong. For me, a ski is a ski. A Level 1 instructor doesn’t need a flash pair of $900 skis. I think a relatively inexpensive pair of twin tips are ideal for teaching in. Also, BOOTS!!! You’re going to be in them all day every day, so you should spend at least 2 hours in the store trying different ones on before you part with your money. Make sure that the boots you get are not just OK, make sure they are just right. Don’t skimp out on them, because if you do you’ll only have to go back a week later and spend an extra load of cash to get them adjusted until they no longer hurt.
  7. What’s the difference between Californian skiing and European skiing?
    In my personal experience there are pros and cons. Californian skiing doesn’t guarantee the quality of snow that is so comon in Europe but it does guarantee blue skies! Both offer equally good scenery so don’t let your decision swing on that. If you want lively apres ski, frequent fresh powder snow and an ongoing party atmosphere, I would say go to somewhere like Verbier. If on the other hand you want something a little more chilled out with approachable people, plenty of sunshine and cheaper prices, come to Lake Tahoe, (and of course you’ll still get the crazy house parties and loud bars here and there)!
  8. What’s the best thing about the resort you work in?
    I work at Sierra at Tahoe and anyone who’s skied Tahoe will know that Sierra is not the most mainstream resort there by any means. However that’s one of the nice things about it. It’s not all corporate like Northstar or Heavenly with a village at the bottom complete with ice rinks, 5 star hotels and a starbucks. It’s slightly out of the way, yes, but it doesn’t stop the masses from going there. It’s known for having the best tree-skiing in Tahoe, fantastic terrain parks (including the only super-pipe on the lake) and a great ski school program for both kids and adults. Sierra is very family oriented, but it also has it’s share of diamond blacks!
  9. What’s your favourite trail called and why is it so good?
    One of my favourite trails is called ‘Castle’. It’s a black run with a steep gradiant but it’s groomed perfectly as well as being wide. It also runs from the very top of the mountain all the way to the bottom, showing off some spectacular views of the lake and surrounding mountains on the way down. It’s great fun for high speed carving and you can head off through the wide open trees to the side at any stage and still come out in the same spot at the end of the run.
  10. Why should people take ski lessons when they go on vacation for the first time?
    I know from personal experience that if you are a self-taught skier you pick up all sorts of bad habits. Not only do you end up looking bad but you can do yourself some physical damage if you don’t ski using the correct techniques. Luckily my faults have been straightened out through my instructor training, but I’d still be a better skier than I am now if I’d had lessons from the start. If you’ve never skied before and you go straight onto the biggest chairlift you can find (or a small one for that matter) you’re going to get yourself into all sorts of trouble; you’ll be overwhelmed by the size of the run, you’ll get scared, fall over, frustration will build up and you’ll make yourself think it’s not for you. You may even get put off skiing for life. So get a lesson! Skiing is easy to learn, but only when you’re in the hands of people who know what they’re on about!

If you wish to get any further advise regarding anything discussed in this interview, please leave a comment

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Robert Stewart

Ski Editor at Snow.Guide

Rob has extensive knowledge and experience of winter sports and has been qualified to instruct and teach Alpine Skiing for over 25 years. He is also an experienced off-piste and backcountry skier and has competed in freestyle and freeride events around the world. Now a full-time ski writer and Director of Ski Press, Rob is Snow.Guide’s Ski Editor and contributes to many other snowsports, national and lifestyle publications.

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2 thoughts on “Gap Year Ski Instructor interview: James Bailey”

  1. Hello

    I will be going to Tahoe in March to visit a friend of mine and I’m hoping to get some lessons in. After reading this article, I am looking forward to it even more and feel comfortable that the instructing will be excellent!

    Thank you James


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