"Whilst some kids are persistently poorly behaved, they are usually very endearing and funny in equal measure"Erik Olsson-Ferrer

“I dropped my pole” 

“What do you mean: you dropped your pole” I asked hesitantly as the chairlift bumped along, ten metres in the air. It was -7 degrees centigrade and snowing relentlessly. 

“I dropped it”, she replied nonchalantly. 


With the image of her disgruntled, tip-wielding parents unable to recover their ski rental deposit in mind, I looked down onto the remote terrain below, entirely aware that, as her ski instructor, I would have to retrieve this pole somehow. 

But where was I going to leave the other seven kids in the meantime? The same kids who were as committed to testing the limits of my patience as people who insist on sampling every flavour of ice cream at Jack’s Gelato. They revelled in the thrill and hilarity of hiding from me at every possible occasion. At the canteen? Sure. On the piste? Of course. Getting off the chairlift? Without question. 

We were already late to lunch – the lunch hour I don’t get paid to supervise no less. It was demanding enough spending seven hours trying to entertain, teach, nourish, and keep track of eight 10 year olds in a language I don’t speak natively, let alone locate their belongings in rolling fields of powder – in the midst of a white out. 

I needn’t have been too concerned apparently. As one of my students said, and I quote verbatim, “don’t worry, Erik, my daddy tips really well”. A confession I honestly found to be quite reassuring, if a little alarming. And, crucially, she was right. 

“‘Sir, your son, Jean-Pierre, is a vision, a skiing prodigy in the making: his parallel turns are exquisite’”

I did find the pole in the end. And remarkably we did make it to lunch. Whether they ate anything is another question. It turns out the palate of a young child is limited to chicken nuggets, white bread and plain pasta, and even these were sometimes an uphill struggle. Sweets and hot chocolate it was: the sugar high and low soon ensued. 

After an afternoon of short-turn exercises, tantrums thrown at the entrances of chairlifts, and personal questions like ‘are you married?’, we would make our way to the final meeting point. 

When I started this job, I was often asked what the best part of instructing was, and at the time it was, without a shadow of a doubt, when I returned the kids to their parents at 16:00. It was borderline euphoric. Bliss, even. I made the obligatory appraisals - ‘Sir, your son, Jean-Pierre, is a vision, a skiing prodigy in the making: his parallel turns are exquisite’ – and then headed to the pub. A hard day’s work done. 

This outline largely resembles my first week on the job and quickly I began to question why I willingly chose to do this. 

I’ve been working as a ski instructor in-between terms since December 2019 as a way to earn some money and put my MML degree and language A-levels to use. With the ski school being in the Swiss Alps, it’s a job that requires I speak French. Yet – as many a languages student will attest – there is a substantial difference between speaking French in the artificial environment created by school or university and actually speaking French. 

Unlike recordings, you can’t rewind a native speaker: you have to understand them the first time. Particularly when you want to convince them of your own grasp of the language. Something I had to do during the training period in order to fufill the obligations of my contract. 

“I would find myself bringing the kids to silence by counting down from 5, using ghastly teacher-isms like ‘eyes on me’ and, more worryingly, ‘I’ll wait’”

The training was demanding: there is something uniquely compromising about giving a pretend lesson in French to a group of 8 Swiss adults pretending to be children. A senior instructor during one of the weeks very publicly shouted at me because I kept unconsciously dropping the ‘s’ when I said ‘plus’ in French. Rather taken aback, I had to quickly learn to get over the embarrassment if I wanted to continue speaking and progressing, no matter how much I admit that this specific incident did knock my confidence. 

What was quite alarming, however, was how quickly I morphed into the teachers I had at school. I would find myself bringing the kids to silence by counting down from 5, using ghastly teacher-isms like ‘eyes on me’ and, more worryingly, ‘I’ll wait’. Much to my parent’s dismay, I have in the past considered whether teaching would be a suitable career for me. I’ve had some truly fantastic and inspirational teachers of my own without whom I don’t think I’d be pursuing a degree in French and German. Though I’m not trying to sound like a TeachFirst recruiter, it is certainly true that one teacher can make all the difference. But, knowing what I do now, is it for me? I’m not too certain. 

I really shouldn’t be too dismissive of the whole experience precisely because, despite everything, I do have incredibly fond memories. Not least because (should my employer happen to be reading this article) I’m working again this April. It is, for all intents and purposes, an excellent job. I have after all done it for nearly 3 years. Whilst some kids are persistent in their poor behaviour, they are usually very endearing and funny in equal measure. For every moment I wanted to pull my hair out, there was another moment spent basking under the winter sun teaching a sport I love. The beer at the end of the day certainly didn’t hurt either. 


Mountain View

From Cambridge to cleaning: An ode to my summer job

The fact that I found it challenging, particularly at the beginning, does not go to say it hasn’t been rewarding: my French drastically improved, I saw first-hand the progress my students made, and, most importantly, I put myself out of my comfort zone. As time has passed, it has become substantially easier. I’ve gotten to teach better groups and better skiers, my own skiing pedagogy improving each time.  

So, as I sit by my desk writing this article several weeks deep into Lent term, burdened by all the work I need to do, ski-instructing with all its unique pitfalls and challenges doesn’t seem too hard. Physically straining it is, but a 2,000 word essay on Rousseau it is mercifully not. Comparatively, it’s a break. 

Just don’t ask me to find your pole.