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A first person look at the life of a snowboard instructor

Matt Krane

Waking in the early morning hours to find four inches of fresh snow on my doorstep presents more of a problem to me than it does to most. The minor inconveniences of shoveling a deck or brushing off a car seem trivial as I am faced with a true moral dilemma. My mind begins to race and quickly pushes aside my brain’s early morning fog. Calculations are made. Four inches at home most likely means 10 at the mountain. I can’t believe I have to work today. I think for just a second about playing hooky and freeriding all day.

Back to reality and happy that I have a job that allows me to both work and snowboard, I brush the fluffy flakes from my car and make a quick stop at the local coffee shop for some “go juice.” Fifteen minutes on I-70 and a quick shuttle ride from the outer parking lots brings me to the Copper Mountain Snowboard School locker room. It’s now 8 a.m. and fellow employees and friends are also arriving. They wear mirroring smiles on their faces but have the same trace of guilt that I do – I know they faced the same moral dilemma just a short time ago. Cheerful hellos and talk of lessons commences, as does the discussion of powder turns to come.



Together, we walk upstairs to the snowboard school desk in Copper One Lodge and check the computer for our morning class assignments. A computer organizes classes and accesses information. It tells me if I even have a class to begin with, how many students there will be and what their ability levels are. Everything I need to know to make sure I am mentally prepared to teach a great class and to help someone develop the same love for the sport that I possess.

The corner of my lips turn upward as I learn of this morning’s lesson; a semi-private class with four adults of beginner ability – all interested in learning to ride powder better. “I am going to take them to the next level,” I think to myself. I then think about how I’ll accomplish that. Like my fellow instructors I want to create the ultimate experience for each guest attending a lesson here at Copper. Teaching is incredibly challenging since everyone learns in different ways and at different speeds. Each day has something unique to offer. Diverse conditions, varying class levels and sizes, and most importantly, different, unique personalities.



Mentally preparing for the task is key, so before classes begin at 10 a.m. there is time for two quick runs down Bittersweet. Harmonious hooting and hollering commences as several instructors make first tracks beneath the lift. During these runs I’m thinking about some of the techniques I might use in the upcoming class. More importantly though, I want everyone in my class to see this incurable smile on my face when I first meet them. They couldn’t wipe it off for anything and I want them to be excited for the coming lesson.

Meeting the students at the base of the American Flyer lift at Copper is a ritual – a right of passage. Introductions are made, goals are stated, and friendships often begin to blossom. They have taken the first step towards improving an aspect of their life and they are “my class.” I want them to not only learn more about snowboarding, but to have a great time getting to know each other and learning from each other.

Laughing with each other quickly becomes infectious and the smiles grow wider with the accompanying improved powder turns. Throughout the course of the morning the falls are shrugged off, the information is processed and I see improvement in each student. Whether they are getting on a rope tow for the first time or learning their first trick in a halfpipe the smile is always the same. And so is mine, because I helped get them there. But, like many instances in life, time does fly while your having fun and we find ourselves all too quickly near the end of the lesson. A morning of bonding and building trust culminates with a run through the Snowboard Park on the Loverly trail. We have really tested our limits and in the process developed lifelong skills. In my life I have found that life-enhancing events such as these often have the same common denominator.

Hunger. After a great morning on the hill it’s time to refuel and talk about the slopes conquered and the fears overcome. This is often the best part of my day as I hear the stories from students about how they went a little bit faster than they actually did, and a little bit higher than they actually were. I chuckle though because I know they are hooked. Before long, they will be going that fast and they will be achieving those heights.

The students are as anxious to get back out on the hill as I am so after a quick bite at Jack’s Slopeside Grill I bid adieu to my fellow snowboarders and new friends. And, after checking the computers to find no afternoon class scheduled it’s off with another instructor to make tracks of my own. The sun has begun to poke through the still lightly falling snow, promising a beautiful afternoon and I smile even more. “This is my job, and this mountain is my office,” I think to myself. The moral dilemma is no longer an issue. I have carte blanche in the greatest amusement park in the world – Mother Nature’s. I grab my board and race to Enchanted Forest for some untracked turns. Pinching myself all the way.

Instructor profile Each of Copper’s skilled instructors is a unique human being first and a teacher second. Their overwhelming sense of enthusiasm and their open, easy-going personalities are a direct result of their lifestyle. They are here because they choose to be. A special group of people, they have successfully developed a lifestyle that allows them to do what they love for a living. And it shows in their attitudes. Copper’s ski and snowboard school has a diverse collection of instructors not only from across the United States but from all over the world. Exchange programs in such places as New Zealand, Australia and Europe bring an eclectic variety of cultures here every year. They come to teach snowboarding and to experience American culture while stretching their comfort zones away from home. But perhaps most importantly, they come here to make new friends while creating unforgettable memories.

So many of these instructors have come to Copper to teach and preach their unique lifestyle. If you’re lucky, you’ll run into one like Heather Boylan. Somewhat of a rarity, Heather came to Copper from Eldora Ski Area – right here in Colorado. After teaching part-time at Eldora Heather caught the Summit County bug and brought to Copper her rich background and passion for teaching.

A teacher at heart, Heather is currently working on a PhD at CU Boulder. She earned a Master’s Degree in secondary education, going on to work at an inner city school in Cincinnati. Now an `English as a Second Language’ (ESL) teacher at Summit High School she does her best to involve her Summit High ESL students in snowboarding. Her Instructor Assistant Program trains high school students with the desire to instruct and one of her fifteen year-old ESL students already teaches snowboarding to children at Copper. Others are well on their way. Teaching for Heather is as serious a business as keeping fun a big part of her teaching method is. “One of my ESL students told me that she learned a lot from watching teachers and by watching me interact with other students,” she explains. “I try to model for kids. I treat them with a lot of respect and my greatest reward comes from the respect they give back to me.”

Many of these methods carry over to Heather’s on-mountain instruction at Copper. Teaching primarily private lessons, she is one of the most productive instructors in the snowboard school, even as a part-timer. She sums up her feelings in saying that she feels as if there has been a natural convergence of, “all my different lives and skills.” It is the feeling of connection with students, while increasing their skills and enjoyment that drives her. “I never dreamed I could live in such a beautiful place and enjoy so many opportunities to work and play,” she said. “Snowboarding and instructing is something I actually do for myself.”

The old adage, “you get out of life what you put into it” lives in Heather. While working to complete her PhD dissertation, she will travel to Mexico, Australia, and New Zealand to gather more information on cultural diversity and to golf and heli-board in the Southern Hemisphere. Copper is home to so many like Heather, for whom teaching has become a way of life. And that way of life is bringing the art of giving and caring to a new level.


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