A little over a year ago in a college in Guernsey, a lecturer was discussing gap year options with a class of students. That’s when Scott Howitt’s attention was caught by the opportunity to become a ski instructor.
Whilst this is a fairly popular post-college travel option for some, it was an extraordinary challenge for Scott, 20. As unlike most ski instructor trainees, he’d never stepped foot on snow, let alone skis, in his life!
Apart from a freak snowstorm back in March 2013, and the recent Beast from the East, snow is a rare occurrence in Guernsey, where Scott was born and raised. Even when temperatures plummet, there’s nothing much more than slush or sleet on the small Channel Island.
So it was a whole other world when Scott arrived in Sun Peaks, an alpine style ski resort in British Columbia, where six metres of snow falls every year. Still, 10 days before the start of the ski instructor course, Scott landed in Canada fully kitted out with skis, boots and poles, eager to learn.
We chatted to Scott about what it was like to start the course with zero experience.
A ski instructor course is a big task to undertake with no experience. What did you expect?
“I had no idea, really. But it was better than I ever expected and I had such a great time, I didn’t want to come home. The first couple of days I did panic a little because it was completely different to anything I’d experienced before. I’m quite sporty. I play football at home, and I’ve ice skated before, which helped a bit with the gliding motion, but it took a few days for it to click. After that, I was hooked. The other, more experienced skiers in the group helped me a lot, and so did the course coordinator, Rob – and it was great to hear from them how much I was improving every day.”
Within two weeks Scott was parallel skiing down intermediate pistes and joined the level one ski instructor course in Sun Peaks – a course usually recommended for skiers with at least four weeks experience. And just three weeks after that, Scott had successfully completed his level one CSIA ski instructor qualification.
And that wasn’t the end of his journey. By week 12 Scott had surpassed everyone’s expectations and achieved his level two ski instructor exam, meaning he’s now qualified to teach skiing in resorts all over the world!
It’s an incredible achievement. Did you ever think you were pushing yourself too hard?
“Actually, I didn’t. Learning to ski is tiring and I knew I was working hard – I was very focussed and determined to do well. But some days I didn’t think I was pushing myself hard enough and thought I could be doing more. I did everything I could when I was out there, I even tried snowboarding too and I want to take the snowboard instructor level one next year.”
It sounds like you crammed as much as possible into three months. Are there any stand out moments?
“The entire experience was incredible. Passing my level one after a couple of weeks skiing and getting my level two before I came home have to be the best moments, especially as I had worked so hard. I have to say my instructors were brilliant at getting me up to standard. Thanks to them I felt confident in my skiing during the assessment – especially Sander, who became a good friend as well as my instructor, and Cam Watson, who’s a brilliant level four instructor who was on the Canadian Interski team.”
Did you ever think, ‘what am I doing?’ or have any bad moments during your trip?
“Not really. I had a great time. In the middle of my level one exam I accidentally snapped my ski poles when they got caught getting off a chairlift! But it was actually really funny, and not a bad moment. I had to use the examiner’s poles for the rest of the day – he said it was a first, and no one had ever snapped their poles mid-level one before!”
Did you have any falls?
“I didn’t have any bad falls whilst I was learning to ski, but in one of the last weeks I was determined to go into the snow park and do one of the XL jumps. I ended up having a huge fall where I came out of both skis! I was OK and I think someone even caught it on camera. I had to give it a try though – I was determined to try everything.”
What are you plans now? Are you a winter junkie?
“Definitely. I really want to go back to Sun Peaks next season. Hopefully I can get a working visa and join the sports school there as an instructor. I hope to train for level three and maybe take the snowboard instructor exam, too. I’d also love to see some more of Canada, perhaps Whistler or Banff – but I can’t wait to go back.”
It’s highly unusual for someone to attempt a ski instructor course with no prior experience on snow. The level two certification is a respected qualification with rigid standards – passing it with only 12 weeks of skiing experience is no mean feat.
Steve La Borde, Course Director at Winter Sports Company is extremely proud of Scott’s achievements. He said: “When Scott first enquired about doing one of our courses we were a little sceptical it was even a genuine enquiry. It’s not everyday someone asks to do one of our courses without even seeing snow before. We wouldn’t usually take this sort of booking, however Scott was so keen and determined that we agreed. We were a bit worried, but within a week our resort coordinator assured us of his natural ability and commitment. From there it was plain sailing – although I’m sure it took a lot of hard work from Scott. We’re very proud of him. From zero to level two in three months – not many people can say they’ve done that. What an achievement!”