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A Day In The Life Of A Snowsports Instructor Trainer

Have you ever found yourself sitting on a chairlift with someone who works in the ski industry and wondered; ‘how on earth did they create such an amazing lifestyle in this winter utopia?!” Fear not, all your questions are about to be answered in our ‘Day In The Life Of…’ series; dedicated to introducing you to the characters who run the show (and the people behind the scenes too) in the wonderful mountain destinations we love across the world.

This week we have Gavin McAuliffe from SITCo, a ski and snowboard instructor academy based in Queenstown, New Zealand. We sat down and had a chat about how he came to be a Snowsports Instructor Trainer, his ultimate ski trip fantasy and what it’s like to live a day in his shoes… or ski boots… to be more precise.

Enjoy this window into the winter world!

First of all, tell us a bit about yourself? Where is your ‘home resort’? 

I came to Queenstown to ski 30 years ago and never left, apart from quite a few northern hemisphere winters in Austria/France/Japan and the US. I grew up on a beach in the North Island so skiing wasn’t something I ever considered and in fact, I never skied until I finished university and was travelling in Europe. My first ski holiday lasted for four months and the first run I ever skied was a blue run in St. Anton. The only way back up was by T-bar so I fell over almost as many times trying to get back up to the top as I did when I tried to ski down!

What is the process behind getting certified and getting your first job as an instructor? 

The certification process is run by the New Zealand Snowsports Instructors Alliance (NZSIA). There are four levels of instructor certification – level 1, level 2, level 3 and trainers certification. Level 1 is the entry-level qualification and once this has been attained the next step is to start applying to snowsports schools in the region/country where you would like to work.

What compelled you to start SITCo?

We started SITCo so that we could share our passion for not only skiing but also for teaching skiing. It allows us to spend time on the mountain on a daily basis with really good skiers who are passionate about improving and learning. It also means that on a powder day as a SITCo trainer I’m not on the beginner slope but I’m out charging powder because that’s what the SITCo crew want to do!

Describe a typical day spent training a group with SITCo?

A typical training day starts with a morning coffee at Coronet Peak or the Remarkables for those that get up there early enough… We start on the snow at 9am and the day could be wholly spent on ski improvement or could be a combo of ski improvement and exam-based training. Snow conditions play a big part in our daily plan and we are flexible so that we can adapt the plan to suit the conditions. We wouldn’t be very popular with the crew if we made them do exam-based training on a powder day! Lifts close at 4pm but once a week we will have an indoor evening session to do some video analysis or technical chat.

What are some of the more rewarding moments you experience as a trainer?

Rewarding moments can come at any time during the season, obviously one of the most rewarding moments is at the end of the exam process when people have been successful. However there are lots of rewarding moments along the way, these can vary from someone conquering terrain or snow conditions that they had previously struggled on or someone having a light-bulb moment on a technical aspect of their skiing that they have been working on. Ultimately SITCo as a company doesn’t judge exam results as the make or break of the season; for us our goal is that everyone leaves at the end of the season having had a fantastic time, become better skiers or snowboarders and happy with what they’ve achieved. That is the ultimate reward for us.

Who are your programs mostly designed for?

Our programs are designed for skiers and snowboarders who love being on the mountain. Our biggest market has been the gap year market but having said that we have had people from all walks of life, some wanting a career change and others just having a break from their regular routine. I’ve lost count of the different nationalities we’ve had through the course and the age range has been from 17-year-olds to 60-year-olds.

What’s involved in a typical ski or snowboard instructor course with SITCo?

Our courses vary in length from a full season (internship courses) to our training only courses which can be 5, 8, or 10 weeks long. Training is generally 3 days per week, leaving another 4 days to ski or snowboard and enjoy some of the other things Queenstown has to offer. The highlight every season is the heli-ski/ride trip which is included in all of our training courses. 

Where’s your favourite place to ski on your day off?

Coronet Peak, its natural terrain features make it one of the most fun mountains around. If I feel like heading a bit further afield then I’ll head to Treble Cone for its bumps and long off-piste runs.

Do you have any advice for first-time skiers or boarders, in order to get the most out of their experience?

I’m sure most ski instructors would have the same advice – take a lesson! I taught myself to ski and it took a lot longer than it needed to!! A lot of the movements we make while skiing/snowboarding are counter-intuitive to what we do in everyday life, so to have someone point you in the right direction can be very helpful and make it a lot more fun!

Tell us, in your opinion, what is most rewarding for you – the journey or the destination?

Definitely the journey. In skiing or snowboarding, I don’t think there is a destination. No matter how long you’ve been doing it you can always get better and there are always new challenges. It’s a journey worth embracing.

Okay, last question! If you could go anywhere in the world to ski, and we mean anywhere – your imagination is the limit – where would you go?

I could get all nostalgic here and choose a return to ski in Europe as I haven’t done that for a while, but I’m going to choose heli-skiing in Canada or Alaska as the spot I’d really like to go to.


Do you want your next ski adventure to be in New Zealand? Get in touch with Mabey Ski, and we’ll make this trip one to remember. 

Mabey Ski’s adventure designers have travelled and skied all over the world to find the most unique and wonderful ski experiences on the planet. If you are interested in heading to New Zealand or anywhere else in the world for your next adventure, then we are here to show you how.