Ski and snowboard school looks ahead Mountain hopes community will help next season By Paul Andrew A few weeks ago the Whistler/Blackcomb Ski and Snowboard school celebrated an "overwhelming" season with a party at The Roundhouse Lodge. This winter produced more than 250,000 lesson days on the mountain, it was announced at the party. Records were also broken in the Ski Scamps and Kids School programs this season. The lesson days are not accurate to the number of actual skiers or snowboarders who received instruction, however. That number could be much higher, because a lesson can include up to six people in private session, or eight people for group lesson. A better indication of how many people received lessons could be the number of instructors on the hill, which this year was more than 1,200 full and part-time instructors. With the increasing popularity of Whistler as a ski resort, the mountains are now looking at a few options to reduce the workload on the full-time staff, said Rob McSkimming, managing director of the ski and snowboard school. "I guess before the merger we had about 700 instructors working with us," McSkimming said. "So what happened is we took two big ski/snowboard schools in 1997/98 and made it into one mega-school. The number of instructors increased quite a bit. But this year we still had people working seven days a week. What we are looking at is having some support from the community as far as part-time instruction is concerned. What we need is more flexibility over the peak periods." McSkimming said he would like to avoid the "aggressive recruiting" campaign which occurred in March and April. Instructors from as far away as Ontario were flown in for two weeks, combining three days of training, a week of instruction, then a few days of recreational skiing before heading back East. To avoid doing the same thing next year, McSkimming says the mountains will most likely make the Level 1 training available to locals at a discount, but he said Whistler-Blackcomb hasn’t finalized its strategy yet. "We had a staff rate. And I can only talk about level-one skiing clinics because CASI (Canadian Association of Snowboard Instructors), in Whistler does the snowboard instructor training. But it was $200 for a five day course to get your Level 1, and that included a day for some children’s programs. The regular price for a Level 1 is $350, and that’s only four days. But that’s more for people who want to improve themselves and who want instructor status as an option." McSkimming said despite the amount of ski and snowboard instruction on the hill, complaints about overcrowding a ski run were few and far between. Most of the feedback resulted from children’s lessons where a train of youngsters were taking up too much of the hill. But with the revenue generated from a quarter-million lesson days factored into the overall paid skier days, McSkimming said incentives to become a part-time instructor might be in the offing. A private lesson this season was $455 for a full day; group lessons were $95 for a full-day. Multiply those prices by the 250,000 lessons and it becomes apparent Whistler-Blackcomb’s ski schools are a valuable asset. But McSkimming said nothing has been decided as far as incentive to attract more Whistler skiers and snowboarders into an instructing role on the hills. "We are really counting on the locals to come forward and say they are available for part-time ski or snowboard instruction and for them to get their Level 1. I’m certain there’s quite a few people who live here who would find instruction a rewarding experience. "And to have people available so close to the hill would be ideal. Certainly we expect the same amount of lessons next year and we want to avoid instructor burn-out."