How We Started a
Community For Ski Instructors
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
Georgina: Our names are Georgina Cunningham and Oriane Lister, co-founders of Ski Instructor Diaries. We aim to give an insight into our world of ski instruction for those considering joining us. To share experiences and ease fears of those waiting to do their first season and provide content and a community for those lucky enough to already be experienced. We have started with a blog looking to expand into guides and a book plus much more!
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
Oriane : Both Georgina and I grew up skiing as a family hobby but it was never something we based our education around.
Oriane: I grew up in England, excelling academically at school and going on to study both Maths and Physics at university to gain my bachelor’s and master’s qualification. I worked hard on my degree, spending a summer at the world-leading research facility CERN, and doing not one but two projects with them before my degree was up.
Whilst studying at university I held down several roles, for my entire 4 years I represented my course on the Student Staff Liaison Committee in addition to being a sexual consent ambassador, and working through the ranks of my ski club from eager member to training officer and finally president.
During my first year, I had a ski injury that put me out of action for three years. This shaped my life and goals dramatically, by the time I was allowed to return to sport many years later I was dead set on getting back to skiing and reclaiming my time on the mountain. Becoming a ski instructor seemed like a good way to do that.
Oriane: Georgie was born in England but her family were expats. She literally packed up and moved country every 3-5 years. She’s lived in Russia, Switzerland, Portugal, Australia and now the UK where she moved to finish her education on an Equestrian Scholarship at Millfield Senior School. Later, she studied for a BSc in Psychology at Oxford Brookes University.
Her passion for skiing began from practically growing up on skis whilst living in Switzerland in her early childhood. She is lucky enough to never remember a time she couldn’t ski, as her school in Switzerland revolved around skiing on the weekends.
After finishing her degree in 2019, she decided to travel independently to Argentina for 4 months. There, we met on the 6-week instructor course during which time she gained her Level 2 Anwärter, followed by 3 months working and playing Polo in Buenos Aires.
Oriane: Both Georgie and I trained together for our ski instructor examinations in Argentina and became fast friends. We trained hard and passed our exams before heading off for our respective seasons in Austria and Japan.
Despite us having very different working seasons we both discovered a real lack of resources for ski instructors online. We had so many questions on how to deal with guests or needing some kind of inspiration and found nothing. The only articles out there were lacking in-depth and all put out by instructor course providers.
About a month into my season in Japan, I came up with the idea for a website for hosting articles on life as a ski instructor. It wasn’t until both Georgie and I were back in the UK, under lockdown, that we acted on it. She called me about an idea she had had for writing a book on ski psychology at the same time I wanted to tell her that I wanted to make a guide for new instructors. From there the brand was born and developed into the website we have today.
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
Georgina: We faced challenges to begin with, with other companies expressing concerns due to feeling threatened we were stepping into their areas of expertise. We overcame this by sticking to our guns as we believe what we are offering is a gap in the market to help new instructors.
We had a challenge with Instagram blocking our account on our website launch day, which was a main source of traffic at the time.
Who is your target market?
Oriane: We have a pretty niche target market of ski instructors, that we try to expand to all snowsport instructors. The whole point of the site is to be an independent community. We target instructors from all over the world, no matter their age, qualification or experience.
Whilst we hope to attract all instructors we think the characteristics of those who get involved will fall into two ends of the spectrum. First, the naturally nervous, who will come to our site looking for reassurance and advice. Second is the Type A personas. They want to excel in their industry and are always looking for ways to get involved and be the best they can be.
Our primary target is what we refer to as NQI’s, that is a Newly Qualified Instructor. They’ll be the kind looking for this sort of material and resources the most and will probably be the ones to get the most out of the site.
Our three-part guide series is designed just for them. To take them through the steps from their exams to getting to their new resort and dealing with their new job, colleagues and guests. As our site is very much community based we love having more experienced instructors reading and getting involved. It’s the more experienced instructors who help us to generate the site’s material, from our unique exercise library to the articles and contributor pieces.
From our analytics we know we have readership from well over 65 countries worldwide, and we have only been live for 3 weeks at the time of writing. We get the majority of our readers from the UK, US and Australia but we have a strong presence in all major ski nations. Our readers are typically between 18-35.
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
Oriane: As it’s such a niche industry, we try not to use any paid methods of promoting – it doesn’t really seem worth it. We promoted one post on Instagram before the site launch and got fewer interactions with it than the regular posts we put out so we really don’t find it all that useful.
We instead heavily rely on social media to get the word out and about, clearly it’s done a pretty good job so far! At first, it wasInstagram, then when the site was live we launched a Facebook page as well. Every time we publish an article we post to both accounts and then re-post the Facebook posts in groups for high-level skiers and snow sports instructors.
Our more professional pieces based on our surveys tend to do really well in these groups, for example, our article on Dual Qualifications really got the comments going in Elite Skiing and we had 80% of our site traffic that day from that post alone.
The Ski Instructing industry is a bit of an odd atmosphere. We find that at an instructor level it’s pretty friendly, people want to support each other and help promote things they think are good. As you go up the chain however, we have found more resistance. Ski Instructor Training Providers see our site with caution and warn about how the industry can be “nasty” so we’re trying to avoid too many bad vibes from them.
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
Oriane: Our readers keep coming back because this website is the ONLY one out there just for them. It is completely unique. For the first time, instructors can read material that is designed for their interests and really encourages them to be a part of the community.
As a career ski instructing is often mocked and referred to as “not a real job”, so even having this website as a professional space, helps to fight against the stigma and help instructors to feel validated.
The fact our articles are well researched and go into depth really helps to add value for returning readers.
We have strong signup and retention with our emailing list. We know how annoying it can be to get loads of emails with not a lot to them so even though we could email more regularly, we keep our updates to just once a week. The email lets people know what articles we put out this week, what will be coming the next week, and how our community is growing.
By keeping the emails relevant and interesting it ensures our subscribers stay updated and keep coming back to read out material even if they missed it when it went out originally.
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
Georgina: Our culture is definitely one of openness and community. We want everyone who reads our site to feel comfort in the content we produce to ease worries when heading into the ski instructing world. We strive for equality.
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
Oriane : I’m very much an organised person so we really utilise online tools to help us keep track and manage our ever-growing workload.
For an organisation we rely on Asana, it’s a great little task management website that both Georgie and I use to help us keep on track and plan our workload. It also allows us to add site contributors so we can help them keep track of any projects they may be working on and lets us see the timescales we can expect pieces by. We also schedule everything on Google calendar as well, so we essentially have a calendar for work and one for outputs.
For graphic design and image editing, I use Gravit Designer and Canva, for spelling and grammar checks we use Grammarly. Our website is hosted by Squarespace. I built it with a mix of my own coding and the site’s pre-made blocks.
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
Georgina: We have learnt to have confidence in our ideas, to stay in our lane in terms of keeping to our ideas to our strengths and to never stop learning.
A mistake we made was thinking comparison of courses would help people choose courses and locations but in reality, this was a more complicated area which had potentially negative repercussions for us so we decided not to run our qualification centre just yet.
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Oriane: There is definitely a sense of belonging that comes with running this sort of thing. Before I felt a little lost within the industry, now because I am trying to take a more active role within it I feel more informed and like I am starting to belong.
I’m somewhat of a perfectionist so being able to control my outputs and organise my own schedule has been a real bonus for me!
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Oriane: Because there is very little like this out there it is really hard to find any advice, and the advice you get can come from people who might not want you to do as well, so it all has to be taken with a grain of salt.
I don’t like how now I have to analyse everything that is said and to have to think of people’s intentions behind their actions.
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
When we started out I used some resources from the side blogger to help visualise the content and audience we were aiming for. I built a worksheet to look at our target audience, see what issues they might have, how we could address them. Working through this really helped us to refine the website’s goals and become the product you see today.
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
Oriane: In 2-3 years we hope to have firmly established ourselves and our brand as industry leaders. The Ski Instructing Industry leaders are currently largely made up of middle-aged men, so it means a lot to us to be out there representing a new generation of ski instructors, especially female ones.
I’d love for us to have our NQI guide family extended to offer more guides, working with a physio and PT to build a fitness guide as well as offering content for more levels within the industry. Our career centre will become a one-stop shop for all things job orientation, including listings of as many job openings as possible.
We already have some events in our future lined up to provide talks about entering the industry, we would love to get into doing more of these to help promote ski instructing as a career, and potentially to do industry talks at ski schools with high levels of new instructors.
One goal I would really like us to achieve is setting up a community-funded scholarship. This would be money raised by our own community to be awarded to a ski instructor/aspiring instructor, who has displayed excellence in commitment, development and job performance but who might require financial assistance to reach their goals for qualifications. As far as we are aware there is no scholarship currently available open to instructors that is not dependent on a course provider or an examining body. We would be offering up a real game-changer, without trying to force our instructors to conform to any particular regime.
In a couple of years, it would be amazing if we were able to expand out to snowboard instructors and other adventure sports too! But for now, we are focusing a little closer to home.