Industry Profile: Steamboat Guide Chris Rogers
01 Sep, 2011
Job Title: Snowboard Instructor/Coach/Guide
Employer: Steamboat Guides and Steamboat Resort
Years on snow: 21
Days on snow: Ever? More than 2,000. Close to 150 last year.
Riding/Teaching: 155 Burton Process Flying V
Jib Park: 155 Burton Hero
Pow: 157 Burton Sherlock
Bindings: Burton Malavita EST
Boots: Burton Ion
When I’m not in my instructor uniform, 686 Outerwear.
Shay: Tell us a little bit about yourself
Chris: Born and raised in Alaska, but I moved to Steamboat Springs, Colorado after college. My wife and I currently spend winters in Colorado and summers in Alaska. I wear a lot of hats (and helmets) in the winter; I’m a Guide and travel agent with Steamboat Guides, an instructor with Steamboat Resort Corp, an Examiner with the Rocky Mountain Division of AASI (American Association of Snowboard Instructors), and I coach at the Alyeska Summer Camp.
Shay: How has snowboarding changed your life?
Chris: Snowboarding has been part of my life for so long that I have no idea who or where I’d be if it weren’t for riding. Growing up in Alaska, winter activities are a way of life, and that’s what snowboarding has been to me since I started sliding sideways in the late 80s on Black Snow’s version of the Snurfer. The experiences I’ve had, the trips I’ve been on, the people I’ve met and ridden with; it’s definitely defined me.
Shay: How did you get your start in the industry, who or what opened up more opportunities for you?
Chris: I was 16 when I got a job as a shop monkey at The Banana Board, a local snowboard shop in Fairbanks, Alaska. The industry was still so small back then, but growing so quickly, and some of the connections I made definitely paved the way for later endeavors. Option Snowboards was super supportive of the Alaska scene, and that was probably my first real connection to the wider “industry”. I started a blog in ’98 (before they were called blogs), and have had a number of roles since then, including at various times living in a motorhome in Truckee, editing a magazine, and doing outerwear design. It was because of my involvement in the snowboard industry that I ended up with a Journalism degree focused in communications and PR. In 2005 I took a part-time job teaching snowboarding for a season, and accidentally discovered a new passion.
Support from my wife has been hugely instrumental in the opportunities I’ve had. I also owe a lot of thanks to Burton, especially the LTR and Resort programs, and the Colorado crew, and to 686 Outerwear for being awesome to me over the last couple of years. (Thank you Shaun, Hillsies, LB, and Kristin).
Shay: How has your previous education or work experience helped you in your current job?
Chris: Much of my work history and education was centered on communication, and that’s really what’s helped me get ahead as an instructor. The saying goes “Those who can’t do, teach.” There’s definitely some truth in that, but the bigger picture is that it takes a very different skill-set to be a good instructor, coach, or guide than it does to be a professional snowboarder. An Olympic level snowboarder’s coach probably can’t throw a double cork, but their contribution towards a medal is invaluable. Being a good communicator is a requirement of being able to effectively teach, coach, and train.
Shay: Tell us about your role at Steamboat and a description of the work you do?
Chris: I’m a “Snowboard Instructor” at Steamboat. I primarily work private lessons, and most of my clients are return guests that I work with every year. There are kids who I taught to snowboard 8 years ago who can slay anything on the mountain, it’s pretty fun when they come back to play. When I’m not teaching at Steamboat, I lead in-house training, or travel to other resorts with AASI to lead clinics or certification for instructors.
Through Steamboat Guides, we provide an additional layer of service. We handle the trip details, like travel, lodging, equipment, and lessons, and work to make sure our guests trips are as hassle free as possible. We make ourselves the central contact point for everything our clients need while they’re visiting.
I love Bud Keene’s description of a coach’s job: “Magician, manager, travel agent, administrator, adventure consultant, logistics coordinator, nurse, wax tech, cook, doctor, counselor, problem solver, motivator, chauffeur, networker, deal maker, secretary, personal assistant, peacekeeper, sherpa, filmer, video analyst, coach, psychologist, physiologist, dietitian, ally, weather person, advocate, media relations, mediator, role model, mother, father, subject expert, historian, visionary, prophet, friend, inspirer, realist, leader, scapegoat, disciplinarian.”
Shay: What’s an average day like at work for you?
Chris: It varies a lot, depending on if I’m working with existing or new guests, leading clinics, or driving to a different resort for AASI.
Most days I’m dressed and ready to ride at 7:45 in the morning. We have instructor training clinics at 7:45, so if I’m not teaching I’m often leading or attending clinics. I lead about 30 clinics a year on topics ranging from specific skill training to funky games and theories. We also offer First Tracks, a premium guided service that starts at 8am that I take many of my clients on. On a powder day it’s the best way to beat the crowds and get up on the mountain, and even if there’s no new snow the groomers are extra fresh first thing in the morning.
I spend most days cruising the mountain, seeking out good snow and terrain suitable for the guests I’m riding with. Some days this is mellow blues, others it’s riding the most challenging terrain available, and other days it’s hiking features in the park.
If I’m working with new clients, then it’s a completely different day. Privates start at 9am. I meet my guests, evaluate their abilities, and we work together to set goals for the day.
Shay: What are some memorable experiences from working in the industry?
Chris: There are so many. I’ve been blessed with more waist deep powder days than most people will ever dream about. I’ve coached, guided, and instructed incredible people in beautiful conditions at amazing mountains. Reaching the top of a gondola or chairlift and stepping out into your “office” on a bluebird powder day is unbeatable.
I guess a few specific memories include winning my first big air comp in AK, the front-row concert with Pennywise at SIA, and meeting Shaun White when he was just a grom. Snowbird two years ago at an event with Burton, we had an epic day with 4’ of new snow and some of my favorite people to ride with on some of the best lift-accessed terrain on the planet.
In late February of 1999 I rode Mt. Baker. That was the year they set the world record for snow at a ski resort, and it was ridiculous. They had hired college kids from Bellingham to shovel out under the lifts. There were places where the snowpack was level with the chairs, and in lots of places our boards drug on the snow. I went back a few years later, and didn’t even recognize the place.
In Breckenridge, on a photo shoot for the 2001 Grand Prix, I pulled into a parking spot, my boot got stuck on the gas and brake at the same time, and I spun to a stop, almost pinning a random bystander to their car. That was how I first met Todd Richards.
Shay: What do you think are the biggest challenges that the snowboard industry faces and what changes would you like to see for the future?
Chris: Climate change is going to have a huge impact on the snowboard industry. I really respect what Jeremy Jones is doing with Protect Our Winters; the environmental cost of our sport may be small on a global scale, but as an industry that is dependent on cold weather, I think we need to be out in front.
The average guest I work with flies a thousand miles, drives to the mountain, where they stay in inefficient hotels that leave the lights on all day. The recreation is all powered, helicopters, snowmobiles, snowcats, chairlifts, and while a few mountains are buying solar or wind power, nationally it’s a pretty small percentage.
Steamboat, for example, makes a big deal about our dry Champagne powder, and our advertising campaign for 2011 was based on the word “Pure.” The mountain has made good headway on recycling and composting, but only 3 of the mountains chairlifts are powered by alternative energy, and a big deal is made of the fact that the mountain purchases more than 3% of it’s total electric requirement from green energy. That’s still 97% non-renewable energy, and is contributing to a warming climate that will eventually turn our fluffy champagne into normal everyday snow.
Shay: Education vs Experience…which do you think is more important?
Chris: Experience all the way. Education is important, but our industry definitely favors those who learn by doing. I’ve met a lot of lifties, instructors, and waiters whose degrees make them way overqualified for their current jobs. Passion for what you’re doing is far more important than your book smarts.
Shay: What advice would you give to people wanting to work in the industry?
Chris: Jump in. The best thing you can do is get your foot in the door with some kind of industry job, and then start building your reputation and network from there. Most of the opportunities I’ve had in the industry have been from knocking on doors, introducing myself, and asking questions.
Be prepared to move. You have to start somewhere, and there are of course smaller jobs, shops, reps, resort work all over the country, but if you want to really get involved in the industry, you’re probably going to have to move eventually. The industry has spread out a bit more over the last few years, Colorado has been making some inroads, but it’s still largely concentrated around California. If you want to work for a big resort, you’re probably going to look at California, Utah, and Colorado.
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