Industry Profile: Okemo Snowboard Clinician K.C. Gandee
29 Jul, 2008
KC: I’m a 30 year old snowboarder from the suburbs of Washington, DC. I spent 8 years teaching people to ride at Massanutten, VA and moved to Vermont in 2003 at my wife’s, Courtney, suggestion. Winter is longer in Vermont! I spent 4 years on the American Association of Snowboard Instructors (AASI) Snowboard Team working with members, sponsors and other industry types to try to make snowboarding and learning to snowboard better. I work and ride at Okemo Mountain Resort in VT.
Shay: What is your job title?
KC: I wear several hats: Okemo Recreation Manager, Okemo Ski and Ride School Clinician, AASI-E Board of Examiners.
Shay: Did your parents question your job choice?
KC: When I dropped out of college to teach in 1997 they did. After 2 years of fighting about it, they saw that I was really happy and decided to support my decision. It’s been a much warmer relationship since then! They were also very supportive when I decided to go back to school to finish in 2002.
Shay: What was your first set up?
KC: Black Snow Performance series 135, duck boots. The deck was on sale for $99! It had real metal edges and ratcheting bindings!
Shay: What is your current set up?
KC: Rossignol Decoy 155+ is a great true twin and the best board I have ever ridden. I actually asked my sponsor for several so I could stockpile them and never have to ride another board. I ride Rossi HC 2000 bindings and Rossi Comet Boa boots (never going back to laces). I also ride a Rossignol J-Dub with magne-traction for gnarlier snow and situations.
Shay: What was your first job?
KC: Dishwasher at Springfield Country Club at age 14. The dish pit was 100 degrees and the servers always put sharp knives in the de-greaser solution where I couldn’t see them. I guess that job built character? 1st Snowboard Industry job: Instructor at Massanutten.
Shay: What’s a great day of snowboarding to you?
KC: Any day! My favorite though – blue skies, 18 inches of fresh over a stable base with a steep open face.
Shay: Who are your influences?
KC: Coming up riding: Noah Salanek, Craig Kelly, Chris Roach from the magazines that I drooled over. My current fav riders are Mark Landvik and Chad Otterstrom. Teaching: Gregg Davis from Breck, Mikey Franco from Jackson Hole, Ted Fleischer and Tom Vikery from the East.
Shay: How long have you been snowboarding?
KC: This winter will be 20 years!
Shay: How long have you been teaching snowboarding?
KC: This will be my 11th season.
Shay: How many days do you get to ride a year?
KC: I get out 5-7 days per week, some days for a couple of hours, some days for the whole enchilada.
Photographer Scott Smith
Photo courtesy of KC Gandee
Shay: How many days do you teach a year?
KC: 2-4 days a week, depending on the week.
Shay: What is your role at Okemo as the Snowboard Clinician?
KC: As a clinician, I lead clinics for the staff from new-hires all the way up to the seasoned vets. Topics range from learning styles to converting 1st timers to lifetime clients and always include lots of riding.
Shay: What education/experience/certification did you have to getting the job?
KC: I have a degree in Management and Organizational Development, AASI Level 3 Certification (Full Cert) and AASI Children’s Accreditation. I serve on the AASI-E Board of Examiners as well as the AASI-E Steering Committee.
Shay: What is your job in the off-season?
KC: My full-time job is Okemo’s Recreation Manager: I manage a recreation center, pool and spa, and day camp (summer) or ice arena (winter) for Okemo Mountain Resort, VT. I’m in charge of everything from budgeting for 4 departments to daily oversight to pricing policy to running the zamboni at the ice rink during the winter. It keeps me busy, but I hate standing still.
Shay: What qualities make a good instructor?
KC: The most important quality is relating well to others. Everything else can be learned.
Shay: What is the most important piece of training you pass onto future instructors?
Shay: You are also an Eastern Division Examiner for AASI, what does that entail?
KC: I travel around the East training instructors from all over, usually in 2-day clinics. As an examiner, I also test and certify instructors to different standards: levels 1, 2 and 3.
Shay: What is your favorite AASI event and why?
KC: No question, the Rider Rally. It’s an annual event that brings instructors together from all over the country to ride and share the stoke. It’s great because riders of all ages, 16-70 ride together and push each other in a supportive environment.
Shay: What are your thoughts on certified instructors vs. non-certified instructors?
KC: I think that a good instructor is a good instructor. Period. That being said, as a manager, I can trust a certified instructor to perform to a certain level, so that makes certified applicants attractive. I would not be the same instructor or rider that I am today without the AASI cert process – it drove me to become better in a way that wouldn’t have happened if I’d chosen to not follow the certification path.
Shay: What is your favorite clinic or class to teach?
KC: I love getting people to slide boxes and rails for the first time, or taking their board and rail skills to the next level. It’s instant gratification and lots of people are scared of jibbing – they don’t need to be!
Shay: Do instructors make good money?
KC: Those that work hard make good money. It’s easy to be a slacker if you’re an instructor, but it’s possible to bring home good money, and to set yourself up for a life of traveling to ride. You have to work hard for it though, and think long term.
Shay: Do you get any cool job perks as an instructor?
KC: I’ve hooked up with several sponsor companies: Rossignol for boards/boots/bindings, anon eyewear, RED protection, Level Gloves, Patagonia and eesa. I’ve gotten to travel to amazing places to ride, teach and film! Getting people excited about snowboarding is one of the best parts though.
Shay: Prior to Okemo, where else have you taught?
KC: I’ve been on the payroll at Massanutten, VA; Stratton, VT and Killington, VT.
Shay: What’s an average day like as an instructor?
KC: Roll into the locker room and recruit people to go clinic. Go to where ever conditions are best and ride as hard as possible. Talk on the lift, bring others into a conversation, ride more. Repeat after lunch.
Shay: What are some memorable experiences from working as an instructor?
KC: Too many to mention…my favorite so far from working as the head coach of the Ross Powers Camp at Stratton and now Okemo, Vermont. Working with pro snowboarders and kids focused on improving freestyle skills is the best! I helped an Olympian learn to boardslide at one camp (name withheld because she’d kill me if I wrote it).
Shay: What’s the best park you’ve gotten from your job?
KC: I met Dan Egan while I was a member of the AASI Snowboard Team. After working on a couple of small projects with his film company, I was invited to go with a crew to film in Alberta, Canada. One of the mountains actually held terrain closed after the last storm until we arrived, then opened it to our crew. Some of the best turns I’ve had (thanks Lake Louise).
Photos courtesy of Sunshine Resort, Alberta, Canada
Shay: Any disadvantages of your job?
KC: The biggest disadvantage is the seasonal nature of the job. It’s great for bouncing back and forth from the southern to northern hemispheres or from summer to winter jobs, but it makes it difficult to have a consistent income.
Shay: Since you started instructing, what’s been the biggest change?
KC: The equipment! When I began teaching, equipment was stiff, heavy and broke quickly. Today’s learning products from Rossignol and that other company are so much easier to work with, which leads to easier success for riders.
Shay: Education vs. Experience…which do you think is more important?
KC: For me, nothing can replace experience. As long as I look at each experience as a learning situation, I can discover valuable information. Each person is different though, so education may be more valuable for others.
Shay: What advice would you give to people wanting to become a snowboard instructor?
KC: Only be a snowboard instructor if you truly enjoy making connections with other people. If you just want to ride, there are better jobs for you. Another piece of advice – find the right mountain, one that fits you and offers training clinics. Go to all the clinics you can – they will make you a better rider and a better instructor!
Shay: Final thoughts?
KC: Being an instructor isn’t for everyone, but for some people, it’s the best job ever!