They say teaching skiing to kids is the best form of birth control… not for me, it didn’t scare me out of having kids of my own someday (although maybe one or two sound better than three now). I had a great time teaching skiing to kids! It’s kinda hard to pinpoint why, but I think one big thing were the quick but sincere bonds I made every day. I’m not the funniest or most clever instructor, but I gave the kids freedom to act as long as their actions didn’t harm others fun (like I treat other adults, but with more fun, imagination, and nonsense), and I think in return I got their respect, their commitment to follow my advice, and it made it more fun, which produced very satisfied customers.
Of course “kids say (and do) the darnest things”, and that makes for great comedy. My favorite story is when a 7yo silently took my friend Jeff’s pole and threw it out the gondola window into The Narrows (a double black diamond trail). I had a 9yo that was so good with accents, her favorite thing was to ride on chairlifts with strangers and try to convince them she was from Georgia or Australia.
Playing “guess the movie”…
7 yr old kid: leo dicaprio is in it
11 yr old: the aviator
7 yr old: thats not it. it’s very long.
11 yr old kid: that’s what she said
The answer we were looking for was Titanic
Playing “would you rather” (ex. Would you rather ski whenever you want or travel wherever you want for the rest of your life?)… my best one from a 7yo: Would you rather… eat 2 gallons of pink paper or twinkle around like a unicorn?
I had a 10 year old who wouldn’t stop asking questions and was driving me crazy, so I gave him a 10 question max during the day, I thougt I was so damn clever, until 5 minutes later I realized the kid was crying because I didn’t limit everyone else… “please stop crying! I’ll give you unlimited questions” problem solved, kid stopped crying… and I spent the rest of the day answering the stupidest fucking questions you could imagine, including “Am I annoying you?” “Can we go down a black diamond” and “what time is it?” for a hundred times.
I learned a ton from those kids and from Vail, stuff I want to master and apply in many real-life situations:
- Make sure your customer’s basic necessities are met before you provide your product or service. If your customer feels uncomfortable (hungry, cold, needs to use the bathroom, feels unsafe, etc.) then his experience will be shitty, no matter how great your product. I knew about Maslow’s Pyramid before, but it’s the first time I applied it consciously to my customers.
- You can cover a lot of risks and mistakes by hiring well. Ski school has big challenges:
- High employee turnover – I estimate only about 15%-20% of first year ski instructors return for a second year
- High expectations – the job is not overly complex, but the guests are accustomed to great service wherever they go, and they pay a lot of money for the service. And mistakes can be costly (an injured or lost child, an unsatisfied guest that decides to take $50,000 family vacations to another resort)
- Condensed training – Being a ski instructor requires applying hard rules and soft best practices in safety, teaching, skiing, and client service. Because the season is so short, it’s not efficient to train new hires for months (I had 10 days of paid training, and 6 more days of training on my own to get my certification, Vail training programs and trainers are great)
So how does Vail get around these special challenges? They make sure they hire people that are overqualified in learning quickly and understanding high end customer service. Vail does get a break, though, in that most ski instructors and supervisors are OK with earning a lot less at this job (than their next best alternative) because it’s so fucking cool.
Change it up. When teaching or training, if your traditional method isn’t working, CHANGE IT UP, change SOMETHING, change ANYTHING, but don’t just keep doing the same forever until it works. Some kids would be terrible at flat ground exercises and stopping, but would skip those and excel at the more complex turning and skidding drills, and I wouldn’t know until I tried it.