Vail Daily letter: Instructors need pay increase
This will be a three part letter — the resort, the professional instructor organization and the instructor.
I am hearing from young, 10-year and 20-year instructors who are saying they no longer can afford to teach skiing and snowboarding because of the low pay. The low pay has a profound effect on the longevity of the professional instructors. Living in the Vail Valley today, the costs have gone up considerably — rent, food, gas and anything else you buy. Many instructors are living downvalley, where the affordable housing is better, but the transportation costs are much higher. The last time instructors caught up on pay, many years ago, was when Adam Aron was our CEO.
Instructors, like a lot of other employees at the resort, are very important people. Instructors are front-line people who deal directly with guests. At any given time there are probably 300 instructors on the mountain with at least 500 guests. A lot of direct contact with guests, and they also ride up the lift with other guests as well. This year guests are well aware of the low pay that instructors receive. As one guest said, “ I am paying huge dollars for a professional, not a servant’s wage.” It is impossible to be a No. 1 resort, a No. 1 snow-sport school, when the wages are so low.
As a retired ski instructor and skiing almost every day, I talk to many instructors that I still know, and I also ride up the lift with many that I do not know. Many instructors are complaining a lot more this year, and the main reason is pay. We are charging guests almost $900 for an all-day private and paying the instructor from $100 to $200, with the majority of the payout on the lower end. Because of the high prices, guests have cut back to half days, again costing the instructor wages. Many guests are hearing from the instructors about the low pay, and they are very disturbed by this trend as well. There are other complaints as well, and I will list just a couple more. First, calling 10 people into work and only using two, the other eight are sent home with almost no pay, wasting the whole day. Secondly, allowing guests to cancel on the same day because it is too cold, warm, windy or snowing. Therefore, an instructor’s chances of working that day are greatly reduced, significantly reducing the pay. When you take the number of days that instructors show up and divide by the gross wages, you really have the actual pay.
The second part of this letter is the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA), as well as snowboarders. The organization only works on education and training. This organization needs to change and recommend wages and a four-year training program to get new instructors to Level 3, the highest level you can obtain. There are three levels, 1 , 2, 3; each level should have a $5 increase. Right now we are not developing many Level 3s because of low pay; therefore, the longevity of the instructor is jeopardy. Just ask what the number of level 1, 2 and 3 are, and you will see the trend. Low-pay instructors are constantly dropping out and cannot afford thousands of dollars to get the three levels of certification.
It is very important for a resort to have instructors work towards the highest level of training possible; that is a Level 3. Then when a young instructor goes back to his or her town and makes their mark, at least they have in their pocket the Level 3, and hopefully later in life they will come back to the sport. Or, they decide to stay again, building longevity. As a past ski school director, I do have a complete training program that accomplishes this in four years and I am very willing to share it.
Third, the instructor: Having taught skiing at Vail for 25 years, every year I listen to instructors complain about everything, but only once in 25 years did I see a small group of instructors sit down and discuss what is really important to them. Instructors are out-front people, very opinionated and have a very difficult time agreeing on anything. It is past time to start thinking about where instruction is going and pay is a very important part of longevity.
A small group of instructors should start meeting and come up with three or four important goals for the school. Secondly, contact other major resorts and look at their pay schedule. Our 10-year instructor, Level 2, only makes a $100 a day. This needs to be looked at. Then this small group can email everyone so all instructors are up to speed and learn if there are any other major issues that need to be addressed.
At this point you take it to management, and from what I am hearing most instructors are afraid to do this. Instructors, think of the longevity of the sport and what is right. We all know our leader of Vail Resorts will be very irate, but good management should be willing to come to the table and work out an agreement that benefits everyone.
In closing: Our resort did an excellent job with the championships and maintaining the mountain. It is now time to start working with instructors on better pay. I did contact management a month ago to say there should be a discussion about pay; I did not receive a reply. Secondly, last year I also called PSIA who would not tell me the number of levels 1, 2, or 3. This is disappointing: I have been a Level 3 for 40 years.
Most importantly, we should all be concerned about where instruction is going. Only we can do something about it. Many of us joined this staff many years ago because it was rated No. 1 in the world. That feeling among staff today is a long ways from No. 1. A guest last week said, “I fired the instructor because he couldn’t ski, couldn’t teach, and he didn’t know the mountain.” Is that our long-term goal?
Can our resort afford better pay? I leave you with this statement: Not too long ago I owned the stock at $20. Today it is almost $90. This resort needs to take better care of its people, and the resort can afford it.
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