Women in the Industry - Emily Lonkhurst

Ever thought about a job as a snowboard instructor?  We talked to Emily, a AASI level 2 instructor with 3 years of instructing experience from Germany to Alyeska in Alaska about the gig, the perks, and the downsides. 

Tell us the best thing about your job.
The best thing about my job is walking out of the dressing room in the morning in full snowboard gear (aka my work uniform), carrying my board, and experiencing a little bit of disbelief that I actually get paid to do what I do. I love working with kids. They have this way of making everything ok, no matter what is going on in your life outside of work. Their optimism and energy is contagious.

How did you get into instructing?  Did you do any specific training at the resort you started at, or just dive in?
I had been riding for a long time before I thought to instruct. I hit a plateau in my riding and felt a little stuck. I knew I needed a challenge but I just felt a little burnt out. When I was seventeen I took out two of my best girlfriends and did they best I could with 0 experience to teach them how to ride. I didn’t really have much in common (hobby-wise) with the people I went to high school with and so I tried to introduce my friends to the sport in hopes of having future riding buddies! When I was 18 and a senior in high school I heard that a level 1 preparation course and exam was being held in December at my local mountain, an Armed Forces R&R resort in Garmisch, Germany. Without thinking much I just signed up and figured I didn’t have much to lose. When the time finally came I ended up having the best week of my life learning, riding and hanging out with people just as passionate about snowboarding as I was. I was instantly hooked to everything about the “ski bum” culture.
After I got my level 1 my examiner approached me and told me that I was a natural and that I should go for my level 2 in the spring. I couldn’t believe how much faith he had in me! I felt like I wasn’t nearly ready enough but I decided it couldn’t hurt to train, right?

Did you go for any more certifications?
I ended up getting my level 1 and 2 in one season. I studied my snowboard book as a “break” from my actual schoolwork and went and rode every single day I had off, even if it was only alone for an hour or two. With all the prep clinics and that first exam I made a great group of friends to practice with. My friend Robby was in my level 1 exam and was also going for his level 2 in the spring. We were totally different riders and we ended up teaching each other a lot. Having support kept it fun and kept me motivated.
After my first season working at Edelweiss Lodge and Resort (armed forces resort) I also decided to get my level 1 in Alpine (skiing).


Who do you end up coaching the most? Kids or adults? Beginners or more advanced riders?  Which clients are the most fun?
I teach a mixture of everything to anyone. I am good with kids and the bosses I’ve had have all picked up on that so I feel like I teach more kids and teens than adults. I worked for Alyeska Resort this season and they were amazing. Most of the full time instructors (about 6 of us) had our level 2 and I was very impressed how evenly they distributed the lessons. Upper level lessons are almost always more fun. You get to ride, teach tricks and really show the clients how much fun snowboarding can be and how cool your mountain is! Basically if you get an upper level lesson one day, chances are you’ll have a beginner or intermediate the next day. The higher certified you are, the “better” lesson you get. I got to teach 3 girls all season every Sunday. Most mountains have season-long group lessons and I highly recommend those programs. You get to see the kids progress first hand which is incredible. Repeat clients are by far the best no matter the age or ability.

How long did you snowboard before you started instructing?
I had been riding for 11 years before I started teaching.

How do you support yourself in summer months?
I’m still young, so every summer is different! Last summer I continued working for Edelweiss in the Alpine Adventures department. I guided kids on hikes and other outdoor activities and sometimes would work other places in the hotel to pick up extra hours.
This summer my boyfriend and I have saved up to do a cross country road trip ending up back in Alaska.


What about powder days?
Powder days when you have to work can suck. Usually supervisors are good about letting you off to get in a few runs though. They know how it is! Who knows, you may get an upper level lesson and then you get paid to shred pow!
You’ve worked at several resorts - which was your favorite, and why?
Any suggestions for picking the best resort?  Every mountain and every resort is different. That’s what makes teaching so cool! In Germany everything was very relaxed and I felt like I got a lot of riding time in, but less teaching. Alyeska is a great place to work. I felt appreciated, had lots of great experiences and I was paid based on experience and certification. The sense of community at a small resort or mountain is what I love the most. Alyeska and Edelweiss are both small and the people are awesome! Don’t be afraid to move around. Most mountain towns have similar core values but each place is going to offer something different and awesome!
What should ladies look for in a coaching job? 
Local mountains are a good starting place. If you know the terrain already it’s a HUGE help and makes it all less scary. If you are ready for something new just pick somewhere and take it as an adventure. I picked Alaska because of how different and out of the way it was. I had family friends who helped me get on my feet which was another deciding factor. They were amazing.

Do you see this as a long term career, or just something you’re doing while you’re young? 
I don’t see this as a long term career, but a lot of people do. I did it for 3 years full time and now I am going to go to school and get a degree, working part time in the winters. It’s an excellent skill to have and a great fall back! I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon, but I also won’t rely on it as my only income. Nursing allows for a lot of flexibility which I love. I’m an outdoor girl who loves to travel and having a job with crazy and flexible hours is just what I want so I can continue my other passions outside of work.

Tell us a funny story from instructing.
Funny encounters happen everyday, ESPECIALLY with kiddos! From kids dancing on the magic carpet, to awkward adults in street clothes showing up for a lesson I never have a hard time smiling.

I have to say the funniest thing that has happened to me was when I was getting my level 2. I was in the International Baccelaureate program at Munich International school and I had my Theatre final the same day as my level 2 exam! I taught a powder lesson at 4,000 feet above sea level to my examiner and group and then had to be excused and BOOK IT down the mountain to meet my mom in the parking lot 10 minutes later (fastest and scariest run of my life). We drove 45 minutes to my school in Starnberg and I was freaking out and cramming notes for my presentation. I was on the verge of tears fearing my imminent failure. When we arrived I ran in, had about 2 minutes to catch my breath and then hop on stage. It had to be a 15 minute presentation exploring and breaking down what I took away from the class. Luckily with the snowboard clinic and exam I had been speaking to groups all week for exactly 15 minutes! I had a perfect sense of timing and almost no nerves. My teacher was super impressed and I thanked her, ran back to the car, threw on my gear and went all the way back to the mountain to continue my snowboard exam. Talk about a crazy day!!

Any Downsides?
It can be really wet (hence the plastic poncho) and really cold! I must have spent like 40 bucks just on packets of toe warmers this season.


Any Final Thoughts?
I guess I have one more thing. Teaching snowboarding brought me to life. I was shy and felt like I never really had a place until I pushed myself with riding and was able to interact with so many incredible people! I am so much happier these days now that I found what makes me truly happy. I come from a family of teachers and I acquired a lot from that without even knowing it.

Posted by Kelly Vance on 05/06/15

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