CALL OF THE WILD: ISLA MARSH

February 18 2021 – Cecily Morgan

By Isla Marsh

Let me introduce myself. My name is Isla and I’m addicted to the outdoors.

As a professional ski instructor, I usually spend my life travelling from winter to winter. I tend to spend the southern hemisphere winter (June to October) in Australia, working with 12/13 year old athletes and coaching them in slalom, GS and ski cross, which are three alpine racing disciplines.

We spend a lot of early mornings on the hill before most people are even thinking about getting out of bed. A normal day starts at about 04.30am when my alarm rudely wakes me out of my comatose sleeping state. I then make an essential coffee and grab my trusty overnight oats out of the fridge before driving up to the ski tube (a train that takes us up the mountain through a tunnel) while dodging the kangaroos that are feasting on the salt that gets spread on the roads. Only in Australia!

We grab all the equipment we need to set courses and get on the snow by 06.30am, at which point it is still very dark and we are skiing around with head torches on. We train until about 09.30am and then break for ‘lunch’ seeing as our days are very distorted. We then head back out on snow and train until about 1pm, send the kids home to school and we either teach an afternoon ski lesson, go skiing for ourselves, workout or go home. I usually head down to town to go for a swim in the pool or lake, eat dinner around 6pm and am in bed by 8pm ready to do it all again.

In the northern hemisphere winter (November to April) I split my time between Japan and Europe. I am based in Hakuba, which is in the southern Japanese alps, but the start of my winter is usually in the north island of Hokkaido where I train gap year students for their first level of ski instructor exams until mid December.

I then work in Hakuba from then until the end of Feb, our busiest times being Christmas holidays and Chinese New Year. Season life is the opposite of real world life because the school holidays are when we are most busy. A typical Christmas Day for ski instructors is a full day of work, which can be up to 10 hours on the mountain. Then usually we go for dinner at a local Japanese izakaya, which is like tapas but Japanese food. We order lots of different dishes and share them between us all, usually drink a bit too much sake and shochu (Japanese spirits). It’s not a traditional British Christmas but we have lots of fun and celebrate our friendships. 

I then spend the rest of the winter, or spring time, in Europe teaching skiing and snowboarding. During the winter we don’t get many days off, sometimes no days off in the really busy times and we can easily work 30 days in a row. This is because there are only certain times of the year when the resorts are open and we are able to work, make hay when the sun shines! It can be tiring but when you get to the end of the season and get 6 weeks in a row of no work, it’s great. I’d compare it to not having weekends for 5 months and then taking all your weekends in one go.

I either spend this time, that we call ‘interseason’, in the UK visiting family or somewhere beachy and warm. I spent a lot of time in Indonesia a few years ago and more recently in Sri Lanka and southern Europe. 

It is a privilege to live this lifestyle and be able to work in some of the most stunning natural environments in the world. One of the main reasons I love this job is because I’m out in nature all day long, rain or shine, and get to see the mountains in all lights, conditions and seasons

Being outside all day makes you exhausted in a way you can’t recreate in any other environment and I love that feeling of getting into bed and falling asleep straight away. 

I hope this has given you a bit of an insight to the life of a ski instructor and the kind of lifestyle we have by living season to season.

Isla Marsh is a snowsports coach, ocean enthusiast, and environmentalist. You can follow her adventures on Instagram.

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