It’s no secret that i’m a big fan of the mountains and skiing, and for those following the Podcast Series you’ll know that over 10 years ago I quit my job in the City of London and headed out to Whistler to train and teach as a professional ski pro.
During my time in Whistler, I was lucky to meet and live with some highly motivated, and talented people. People, like myself, who were intent on following their dreams to live and work in the mountains. One of those people was a young guy called, Josh Howell who had arrived from the Isle of Wight to dedicate his time to training as a professional snowboard coach.
Now armed with his professional snowboard coach badges and residency in Canada, Josh has notched up an impressive ten seasons of experience teaching in the mountains of Whistler, New Zealand and Europe, so I thought it would be great to catch up to see how he’s developed as a coach since those early days training for our instructor badges and learn more about how he goes about planning and creating memorable experiences for his guests on the mountain…
Creating Memorable Experiences with Josh Howell
Introduction — Dean McCann introduced Josh Howell
Q: How did you get into coaching snowboarding? How many seasons have you been teaching?
Josh: Ok, I took my level 1 CASI snowboarding instructor badge in 2005, and have been teaching since that date, i’ve been working at Whistler Blackcomb since 2007, and i’m coming up for my 10 years of service this year. But yeah, I first got qualified in 2005, CASI level 2 certification.
Dean: That’s when we first met in 2005?
Josh: Yep thats right, 2005!
Q: So what does a typical day look like for you on snow?
Josh: I work as a privates instructor, Monday to Friday, i could be booked by client from New York City for example. I wake up at 7,30, porridge, meet the client 8.30/8.45 and im left to my own devices to show the clients a good time. Mainly higher end clients who are looking to get around the mountain and improve technique.
On the weekends, I am a coach working with local athletes, who come up from the sea to sky corridor in Vancouver for coaching, freestyle boarding. These kids are on a pathway to compete.
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Q: How do you go about planning your lessons, and how do you create unique and memorable experiences for your guests?
We receive bookings and details on each client, and i also engage with past clients to let them know i’m available for the season. Once I've engaged with the client I can start to plan lessons, and start to go over the details on their skills levels, reaching out to them by email to ask them what they're looking to get out the trip etc. If i don’t know the client then its really down to me asking questions to learn more about them and tap into what will work for them on the Gondola ride, and putting together some plans even before we get on snow.
Q: A few seasons ago you had an experience with someone famous?
Yes that’s right, David Beckham. I had a client who had read the papers and noticed that David was in Whistler. He spotted him on the on the slopes, so we followed him down one of the runs, and when we got to the chair, David approached me and asked me a few questions, wheres the best place to go, easiest route etc as we got chatting, I gave him my card and luckily I had a half day spare that afternoon, so I ended up spending the rest of the afternoon with David Beckham.
These aren’t sports they are known for doing, and he was loving being on the mountain, he wanted to go board the run 7th Heaven, as his shirt number was famously number 7.
Dean: It’s a great story…
Josh: Sure, he was an idol of mine, even though i’m an Arsenal fan, he was England captain, and the last person i’d expect to see snowboarding, and obviously he’s family love it out here, they had a good time and they came back again last year, but i haven't seen them this year!
Q: What advice would you give to anyone thinking about getting into teaching or coaching?
First steps are really to make sure you have a certain level of ability in the sport first, — we could both ski and snowboard to a high level when we started our instructors courses.
If you are an outgoing sort of person who likes being in the outdoors and likes to deliver memorable experiences and gets a buzz out of that, then go for it.
When i first qualified i taught beginner groups, and i got passionate about turning little 5/6 yr old’s into little rippers. I still meet them who i taught in 2007 who are now in their teens, who come up to me now and say hello and some are competing.
It’s all about people skills, its about putting yourself into uncomfortable environments, with groups of people who you don’t know, you don’t know their backgrounds, and you have to start to learn your trade, and get stuck in, learning how to inspire people and get them up and running on snow.
Perseverance is key, some people think as soon as they get their badges, then they’ll be away spending all day skiing, and that’s not the case, its not for everybody, you have to have a lot of perseverance, I always knew i wanted to progress and achieve my badges, as soon as i achieved my Level 3, i could then teach better clientele, and this only came because I persevered when it was tough.
Dean: When i worked in Australia, one of my biggest challenges was that I had to teach large groups of people who had never seen or experienced snow before. They were turning up in jeans from Western Australia and it was tough….
Josh: Sure, it’s important to make sure you make their experience fun, when things get stressful, you take some time out, have a snowball fight, especially with kids, build a snowman, and try and create a memorable experience, and down the line they'll look back and remember what a great time they had.
Q: Tell us about the most memorable experience you’ve ever had with your guests to date?
Josh: One experience with a private client really stands out, it was 2016, on New Years Eve. The client who came from Florida, booked myself and another instructor to coach his two sons, who were not that far apart in ability so we actually spent quite a bit of time riding similar areas.
We’d had some great snow early on in the week, and everyone was loving it, but by Thursday the powder had dried up a little bit, they had really enjoyed the powder riding and had improved their technique earlier in the week, they had obviously gone off that evening and spotted some adverts for heli-boarding in resort, so when we picked them up on Friday morning, they said they were going heli-boarding, and that we were coming with them!
It didn't really get any better than that on News Year Eve, everyone rode great, and their Dad was really proud, we had worked hard to improve them and build up their confidence early on the week, that we were all rewarded with a private client with an amazing experience, and i stay in touch with the family to this day.
So what do you get upto after the season ends?
Josh: Now i have residency, I’m planning on spending more and more of my time out here in Canada, i plan to spend some time boarding for myself in spring time conditions, some family are coming to visit, and then we have the glacier opening up here in June, freestyle training commences on the glacier, which runs all the way to July 14th, so ill be working, and then ill probably head back to the UK around August time.
Thanks and end!