Harley Johnson started working at Smugglers’ Notch when she was 16 years old. 24 years later, she became the resort’s Snow Sport University director and skis four to seven days per week.
As the director, I don’t get out and teach that often because I’m managing the school. I don’t really have typical day. I usually meet with all the supervisors and talk about what we’re expecting for the day. I then greet customers, help on the hill, and help kids ride chairlifts. Then I check in with the instructors at lunch.
If there is a challenging student, I help the instructor. I either take on the challenging student, or take on the group, so that instructor can focus on the challenging child. It’s nice to swoop in when they are having a bad day and help make it better.
We plan our winter programming to get people excited about the mountain, get involved in the community, and to create lasting relationships. We do all kinds of surveys on what our skiers and riders want, and base our programs on that. For teens, we do skiing in the mornings based on how to utilize the terrain and snow conditions. In the afternoons, they do ice climbing, snowshoeing, and backcountry survival skills. We are also developing a women’s program right now. We had it last year, and we’re trying to make it better. New this year, we’re looking to start 2-and-a-half year olds on snowboards. We’re always looking for new things to make our programs exciting.
To be a ski school director you have to be a good people person. You have to be able to work with everyone. Another important part is to be flexible and a good listener. You have to listen to the whole problem. Sometimes it is as simple as someone’s kid not fitting in with the group, so you have to find the right group for that child.
I got my bachelor’s degree in recreation management and small business management at the University of Vermont. I pursued that because of my experience at Smugglers’ Notch. In the summer I was a camp counselor, and in the winter I worked in the ski-and-ride department, activities department, and/or food service. Through all that I learned I wanted a job on the mountain. And that’s what landed me in ski school. When I graduated, I got a full-time job in the ski-and-ride department with lift ticket sales. Eventually, I left that department to become a supervisor in the ski school.
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The most frustrating part is when I don’t get to get out and ski as much as I’d like. Being the ski school director involves a lot of administrative work. At the end of the day, I’ve always wished I got to be on the ski hill more.
To get involved with ski school, you want to have patience and passion for skiing and snowboarding. I’d recommend that people read as much about the job as possible, and go to as many clinics as possible. What’s good about that is you become a better skier and you become closer with your peers. Also, pursue certification. It makes you more marketable. We provide lots of training for staff to do this. We also offer great benefits for certification.
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Originally published on Skiing Magazine's website in April, 2014. It has since been updated with links and formatting changes.