Text: Mario Wittenwiler
Images: David Birri
"Woohoo" shout sisters Celine and Sarah Julen as they follow Jan Schnidrig, 37, in the tracks he skilfully carves in the freshly prepared piste. Both are on a two-year training course to become snow sports instructors. They use every free day as an opportunity to pick up useful tips from experienced colleagues and race together over the pistes of the Klein Matterhorn area.
Ski instructions for beginners and experts
Swiss Ski School Zermatt doesn’t just teach beginners about skiing. Even experts can benefit from special courses for advanced skiers, such as different types of skiing in powder snow or jumping in the freestyle park. Outwardly, Jan Schnidrig looks like the stereotypical ski instructor - tanned, with handsome features, brown curls and the mountain-dweller’s disarming smile. However, Schnidrig is not just a fair-weather ski instructor. The mountains are his home whatever the weather is. And Schnidrig is a gentleman. He patiently explains to Celine and her sister how an avalanche transceiver works. He also helps with putting on skis and explains how to adjust a ski binding optimally and individually to the skier.
A family tradition
Schnidrig more or less has the mountains in his blood. His father, also a ski instructor and mountain guide, took little Jan with him on the four-thousanders when he was just 8 years old. Jan spent a large part of his childhood at the Bordier Alpine Hut, 2,886 metres above sea level, in the Matterhorn valley between Saas-Fee and Zermatt, where his father was warden. While Schnidrig worked as a ski and telemark instructor during the winter season in Zermatt, tours as a mountain guide during off-season took him to Patagonia, Alaska, China and the Caucasus. "As a snow sports instructor, I look after everyone - from builders to CEOs and from famous politicians to actors. I can count many of them as my loyal customers", says Schnidrig. He never runs out of things to talk about: "You get to know some of the guests really well with time and some have become friends."
You also come into contact with famous guests in Zermatt. Jan Schnidrig knows what they appreciate most. "They enjoy having a great experience on holiday, without constantly being accosted." However, he takes the VIP guests out on the same pistes as the other guests, but when it’s time to have lunch in a mountain restaurant, he looks for somewhere quiet.
To help fortune
His wife Viktoria met Jan Schnidrig on the piste - where else? Luck also gave them a helping hand: "I was an expert ski instructor when Viktoria was doing her snow sports instructor training. With a little help from her, she finally ended up in my class..." The third generation of Schnidrigs is already getting used to life on two planks in the snow. Sons Timothy, 7, Thierry, 5 and Anthony, 3, are all keen skiers. Putting together new equipment that fits the kids every winter requires significant financial outlay by the family. A family visit to winter sports shop Matterhorn Sport is a rather chaotic experience.
Because the little ones grow out of their ski equipment every year, Jan hires equipment for his three sons, one season at a time. As a snow sports instructor, it’s important to give guests something they would not see or experience otherwise, says Schnidrig. The buff outdoorsman says that "love of nature and working with people is what makes this job so unique". And he is convinced that: "there are no bad guests, only complicated ski instructors!" He can often get a great deal out of his guests with very little.
In wintertime: 160 days on skis
Jan is out in the snow every day from the beginning of December to the middle of May. That makes an incredible 160 days of skiing during the winter season alone, not including days as a mountain guide on ski tours or heli skiing during the summer.
Once a year, the family of five goes on holiday somewhere warm, to the sea or to Ticino. But just lying on the beach is out of the question for the five sporty Schnidri.gs. Action is part of their holidays too. Jan Schnidrig explains that "we always look for somewhere we can go climbing nearby". For the time being, fun in the snow is the most important thing for the snow sports instructor. "We are hoping for a snowy winter."
© Schweizer Illustrierte
Text and images produced in collaboration with Zermatt Tourism. Published in the enclosure of the magazine Schweizer Illustrierte of November 4th 2016.