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Life on the Mountain

Hundreds of Kids, One Instructor and Dollar Mountain

The Christmas College Hire Program at Sun Valley

Jan 7, 2013 - 02:07 PM
Hundreds of Kids, One Instructor and Dollar Mountain

As someone who goes to college on the East Coast and spends only a few weeks at a time at home in Sun Valley, I have undeniable liberty in saying that it can be tough mustering a few extra bucks over the holiday breaks. I can’t say I have met many employers who are willing to hire a college student for only a few weeks but, of course, I’m always looking to earn some money.

That normally leaves me two options: I can lie about how long I’m in town and forget about keeping a good connection with my employer, or I can set up a stand on the side of the street and sell lemonade and cookies.

This winter break I found myself in serious need of money but I wasn’t thrilled about either of my options. Desperately wracking my brain, I thought, “Who would hire a college student in town for only a few weeks?”

Like a messenger from above, a family friend told me about the Sun Valley Snowsports School “College Christmas Hire” on Dollar Mountain—a program that specifically hires college students, in town for the holiday break, as instructors. A job on the mountain teaching kids how to ski and snowboard? My initial reaction: “Well, I like to babysit and am a good snowboarder, but I’ve never pictured myself instructing.” With optimism, I decided to take on the challenge.

My game plan: Learn from the other instructors and do what they do, and if all else fails, fake it. Fortunately, the instructor orientation prepared me well. Those of you who sent your child with me will be happy to know that I never had to fake it and your child learned a lot. I also learned a lesson or two.

Ironically, I’ve always been a bit impatient when it comes to just about everything. So you would think that teaching little kids, who can irk even the most even-tempered person, is probably not the best thing for me. But through all of the tears triggered by cold hands, snow-soaked pants, nonstop falling and face-planting after attempting to go off a jump—and I can’t forget, the battles over who gets to go first—I somehow kept my cool, despite being occasionally pummeled by snowballs.

Maybe it was their eagerness to go to the top of Dollar Mountain before they’d even made a turn yet, or that unbeatable feeling I got every single time they made that first turn, and I’d throw my hands up cheering. I truly think that I was more psyched when they learned something new than they themselves were.

And while I was coaching and giving tips to the kids, I ended up unintentionally coaching myself and giving myself tips to become a better snowboarder. Going down Baldy, I don’t think about which leg to lean on and how to shift my weight, I just do it. For the first time since I learned to snowboard eight years ago, I started thinking about what I do and how I do it, and it made me more conscious of my snowboarding. I guess it’s true, teachers learn from their students. I’ll take a free lesson any day.

You can only imagine the stories that came out of those full day lessons on the snow with six to 10-year-olds unless you witness them. And I’m the type that, when there’s a good story, I have to tell the world. That was me every day, hurrying home after work, eagerly out of breath, with a bundle of stories to share about every kid I taught that day.

But the most heartwarming stories are the ones I can’t forget. Like when a six-year-old boy who was visiting from Australia promised me he would come back and snowboard with me in 2016. Or when one nine-year-old girl gave me a hug at the end of the lesson when I was sure she was through with me after a frustrating day of falling. It only took a tiny gesture to make my day. 

In between snowboarding on Baldy and visiting with friends and family, instructing was a memorable way to spend my holiday break.

Another college hire, Devan Annan, agrees, “It gave me the opportunity to give back to the program that taught me how to ski. It felt great making money in the short time I was home, while helping children build that lifelong love of skiing.”

The large paychecks and free season pass weren’t bad either.

If you’re a college student interested in working as a children’s instructor over winter break, visit the Snowsports School Office in the Sun Valley Mall to apply.

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