Want to turn your passion into a profession? Don't dream it, do it! From skiing to sailing, there's a gap year course out there for everyone. School leavers, college graduates, and career-breakers welcome.
Words by Amanda Maclean
Learn to Teach Snowboarding
The academy: Base Camp Group
The course: Full-time Residential Snowboard Instructor.
The location: Val d’Isere and Meribel (France), Whistler, Kicking Horse and Banff (Canada).
The qualification: Qualify in Canada and you’ll be CASI Level 1 and 2 certified, so you can teach anywhere except France and Austria. You can also take the Level 1 Park and Pipe exam during the course. Qualify in France and you’ll get your BASI Level 3, which means you can work in most snowboard schools worldwide.
The students: Up-for-it snowboarders with a cunning plan to get paid to play. School leavers and graduates make up half the group, but you won’t look out of place if you’re a career-breaker in your 20s or 30s.
The standard: No need to be a park goddess, but you should be competent on red runs and comfortable on blacks.
The lowdown: Full-timers get instruction five days a week, which includes off-piste and freestyle. You’ll also get to shadow ‘real’ instructors already teaching in the resorts. There’ll be about 50 of you on one course, but on the mountain you’ll be split into groups of eight, based on your skill level. The French style of teaching is performance-based, so you’ll be a super-sick rider at the end of it, whether you go on to teach or not. The Canadian teaching philosophy is more service-based, so you’ll graduate knowing all the moves, but also that the customer is always right!
The vibe: For those who love to work hard and play hard, these 11 weeks could just be your best yet. With dozens of base campers in one resort, you’ll feel part of one big, happy family. Social events, road trips, ice hockey games and mountain escapades are all part of the package. In France you’ll stay in small four-person apartments; in Canada you’ll live in a luxurious family-style home sharing with fellow students – and a hot tub.
The cost: From £5,395, which includes season pass, accommodation, food, instruction five days a week, exams, and a recruitment service to help you find work. Flights, equipment and insurance are not included. Part-time instructor courses and performance camps are also on offer.
The graduate: Becky Ford, 28, graduated Base Camp in Whistler in 2004 and is now teaching snowboarding in Japan. ‘You don’t just learn how to teach, you learn how to technically assess your own style. The course improves your riding 100 per cent and it’s so much fun.’
Visit: www.basecampgroup.com or call 0207 243 6222.
• Peak Leaders runs full-time residential snowboard instructor courses in France, Switzerland and Canada between December and March, and in Argentina, Australia and New Zealand from July to October. Visit www.peakleaders.com or call 01337 860 079. (Also offers ski courses.)
• Snow Skool runs 11-week full-time courses in Big White and Banff in Canada between January and March. Visit www.snowskool.co.uk or call 0871 223 006. (Also offers ski courses.)
Learn to Teach Surfing
The academy: Ticket to ride (TTR)
The location: Road trip from Cape Town to Durban in South Africa stopping in eight world-class surf meccas on route.
The qualification: Pass the Surfing South Africa (SSA) Level 1 Surf Instructors at the end of the trip and you’ll be qualified to teach all over the world, from Bude to Bondi. Students also take the Basic Surf Rescue and Lifesaving Award, a pre-requisite for being a surf instructor.
The students: Wannabe surf instructors – mostly 18-24 year olds – in search of a qualification, the ultimate travelling experience and the best waves in the world.
The standard: ‘No surfing experience is required but enthusiasm, determination and sense of adventure is essential,’ says TTR co-founder Will Hayler.
The lowdown: Ticket to ride is set up to teach teams of 20 riders to surf along the awe-inspiring coast of South Africa. Starting in Cape Town and finishing in Durban, camp stop-overs include the world-premiere surf spots of Plettenberg Bay, Jeffrey’s Bay and East London. Novice and already competent riders get professional and intensive coaching from former world-champs and South Africa’s most qualified instructors. ‘Our teaching methods enable riders to develop skills quickly, which is why we expect everyone to graduate as Level 1 instructors, even those who are novices at the start,’ says Hayler.
The vibe: Each surf camp sits on or near the beach, and students live in dorm-style accommodation. Surfing and coaching take place on and off the water most of the day, but students have time for local community project work, adrenaline-fuelled activities and frenzied shopping at ultra-cheap factory stores. Surf camp evenings can be chilled or lively, from beach barbies – called braais – under African sunsets to parties at the bar with fellow surfers and backpackers.
The cost: £4,850, which includes accommodation, transport from Cape Town to Durban, community work, emergency healthcare coverage and all surfing instruction. Flights are extra.
The graduate: South Africa is a new destination for 2007. Kiriana Wilson graduated from a TTR course in Portugal in 2005. ‘Learning to surf with great people in the sunshine on incredible beaches… life doesn’t get much better,’ she says.
Contact: www.ttride.co.uk or call 01428 797287.
• Flying Fish runs surf instructor courses in Australia from September to February. Visit www.flyingfishonline.com or call 0871 250 2500.
Learn to Teach Sailing & Windsurfing
The academy: Flying Fish
The course: Sail/Windsurf Instructor Basic Traineeship.
The location: Sydney Harbour, Australia
The qualification: Pass your assessments and you’ll leave the course as a fully-fledged RYA windsurf and dinghy sailing instructor. You’ll also get your RYA powerboat and first aid certificates. Most graduates head to the med for their first summer where multiqualified instructors are in big demand, but you can teach anywhere in the world.
The students: Fun-loving water babies aged 18-30 who want the beach to be their office and boards and boats to be their desks.
The standard: Beginners can get on the course, but basic skills in either sailing or windsurfing are advised. If you’re already a guru in one sport, go for a fast-track course instead.
The lowdown:Training is intense but work hard and you’ll come away with skills and memories to last a lifetime. Flying Fish experts teach you the whole shebang: how to sail and windsurf like a pro, how to coach with confidence, how to manage groups and how to stay safe and play safe on the water. At the end of the course you’ll also get to shadow and teach for real.
The vibe: Students are pretty stoked about spending three months in a dream destination doing what they love most, so the atmosphere is not exactly dull. Daytimes are water-based in and around Sydney Harbour and evenings are all about barbies, beach volleyball and having fun. Accommodation is in shared apartments in Manly, near the beach, great shops and nightlife.
The graduate: Nina Fitton, 18, graduated from the Sail/Windsurf Instructor course in Sydney in 2006 and spent the summer working for Menorca Sailing. ‘The course has made me much more confident and has given me skills and hobbies I wouldn’t have got going straight to uni,’ she says.
The cost: £6,590, which includes self-catering accommodation, equipment, tuition, books, exam fees, and a recruitment service to help you find work. Flights are an additional £780. Flying Fish runs an extensive range of courses all over the world, all year round.
Contact: www.flyingfishonline.com or 0871 250 2500.
• Non Stop Sail runs RYA-accredited yachtmaster courses in the UK, Caribbean and the Med. Visit www.nonstopsail.com or call 0870 850 2074.
Learn to Teach Skiing
The academy: Warren Smith Ski Academy
The course: Gap Ski Instructor programme.
The location: Verbier, Switzerland.
The qualification: Pass your exams and you’ll be BASI Level 3 certified, which means you can work in most ski schools throughout the world. You’ll also get offered a full season contract to work with the Adrenaline Ski School in Verbier.
The students: Super-keen skiers of both sexes and all ages prepared for a progressive learning curve and an exciting future in part time or full-time instruction.
The standard: Students need to be keen rather than competent, but novices shouldn’t apply.
The lowdown: Expect plenty of thrills and spills during your nine weeks’ training. You’ll learn to ski bumps, steeps, powder and park with style and confidence, you’ll head off-piste to increase your mountain awareness, and you’ll be taught the biomechanics and science behind your favourite sport. Coaching is in small groups of six to seven on a daily basis, so your technique can be constantly assessed and improved, and you’ll see your progression on video. You’ll also shadow an adrenaline ski school instructor for real life experience.
The vibe: Students play out their nine weeks on a permanent high, content in the knowledge they’re in one of the world’s finest ski resorts under the watchful eye of some of the most informed and dynamic coaches in the business. Training is hard but relaxing is easy in a comfortable catered chalet in the centre of town. Nightlife is awesome and on the doorstep.
The graduate: Nikki Martin, 21, graduated from Gap in 2006 and will be teaching at the Adrenaline Ski School in Verbier this season. ‘Like many skiers, I wanted to advance from just being a holiday skier to a real skier. The course enhanced my confidence and performance beyond what I thought I’d ever achieve,’ she says.
The cost: £6,499, which includes catered accommodation, full season ski pass, coaching, video and biomechanical analysis, and BASI exam fees. Flights not included.
Contact: www.warrensmith-skiacademy.com or 01525 374757 or +41 (0)79 359 6566.
• Flying Fish runs full-time ski instructor courses in Whistler between November and May. Visit www.flyingfishonline.com or call 0871 250 2500. (FF also offers snowboard courses.)
• Non Stop Ski runs ski instructor courses in Fernie, Banff and Red Mountain, all in Canada, between December and April. Visit www.nonstopski.com or call 0870 241 8070. (NSS also offers snowboard and sail courses.)
Also read: The Gap Year Guidebook by Alison Withers. £11.95, published by Peridot Press.