Fear of a Black Pant

The snowboarding season is finally on in the North East (North America for you global netizens). With it comes the beginning of the lesson programs offered by the ski school at my local resort; a winter source of employ for yours truly. However, this year is a bit different than in the past because the ski school — which manages both ski and snowboard programs — has a brand new director. With the new management in place, the big question before the season began, was whether or not this would trigger the usual war over uniforms (i.e. whether or not the famous "black pants only" rule would be enforced). The answer came the weekend of the instructor training: unfortunately yes.

It seems that every time Mont Cascades gets a new ski school director, the battle over the uniform begins again. The ski school provides each instructor with a jacket — a loaner — which is, for the most part, dutifully worn by all. The requirement to wear the ski school jacket is not the source of contention, but rather the requirement that all instructors wear black pants (even though these are not provided by the ski school). Normally I'm not averse to respecting a dress code for a paycheck. Heck, I'd wear assless chaps to teach snowboarding if they were provided to me and were required to receive payment. Therein lies the problem: this particular piece of equipment is not provided to us. In fact, instructors are expected to purchase them — not assless chaps, but black snowboard pants — which can make a significant dent in the pittance earned as an instructor. So every time the ski school gets a new director, I have a conversation somewhere along the lines of:

Fear of a Black PantElodie getting into her "work" pants prior to heading up to the ski hill. If you squint, you might be able to see some black.
New Director: Where are your black pants?
Me: I don't own black pants.
New Director: You're required to wear black pants when you teach.
Me: I'll wear black pants to teach when you provide me with black pants.
New Director: You can get them at the pro shop for $60 with your discount.
Me: Cool! I bet the ski hill gets an even bigger discount so it won't cost them that much money to provide black pants for their instructors.

The conversation usually ends there. I continue to wear whatever funky print pants that I own during the season, and only comments in jest are heard about it from then on; usually.

This year, the proverbial poop hit the fan at the mandatory instructor training session in December. My buddy Ryan, my main squeeze Elodie, and myself were responsible for training the snowboarders, new and returning. However, one of Elodie's other ski school duties is to coordinate the Tots program which introduces 3-5 year old kids to downhill skiing — they generally don't learn to snowboard until they are 5 or 6 years old — which means she had to make a token appearance at the Tots program training session as well. This also means that she is involved in both skiing and snowboarding programs at the ski hill. On the second day of training, she ran into the ski school director and had the usual conversation in my stead (maybe owing to the fact that I've been there for a long time, my picture is on the archway at the entrance of the resort, and outgoing directors warn incoming directors to not have that fight with me because they'll lose). This year, the conversation went down a little differently, it played out something like this (it went down in french so I'm paraphrasing):

New Director: How's the training going?
Elodie: Good.
New Director: We need to talk about your pants. You're going to have to wear black pants when you work.
Elodie: I don't own black pants and I don't want to spend the money to buy them.
New Director: You can buy them at the pro shop with your discount for $60 or so.
Elodie: I don't want to wear low-end Columbia pants while I work, I'll freeze. I'll wear black pants to work when you provide me with black pants.
New Director: Well the thing is that, it's cool for the snowboarders to wear funky colored pants, the clients like it, the snowboarders have their own style, but the skiers must wear black pants.
Elodie: Have you looked at my boots?
New Director: ...
Elodie: It's time to get with 2011, black pants are so 1990.

Okay, so I made up the comment about black pants being 1990, however, the gist of the conversation is expressed (and the comment about 2011 was real).

The ski school seems to adhere to an out-dated way of doing things. In fact, at least once per season, I get comments from students who thank me for my non-conformity because, if I looked like every other instructor on the hill, it would be difficult for them to find me. In fact, just this past weekend, at the start of the kids camp programs, I was thankful that the snowboarders aren't conforming (Dana and I have trained them well) because I had to direct late arrivals to their groups and I don't imagine the parents or the kids would be able to differentiate one snowboarder with a red ski-school jacket and black pants from the other.

The debate over the uniform highlights a schism that has existed between the snowboarding and skiing community since very early on. In the beginning, snowboarders were marginalized by skiers which encouraged the community to form as more of a counter culture. Even though skiers and snowboarders happily coexist for the most part, evidence of that schism still exists amongst the old school class of skiers (Glen Plake notwithstanding). The fact that there seem to be different rules for the ski instructors than for the snowboard instructors this year underscores this fact. However, with the emergence of twin-tip skis and the two plank "jib-nation", the ski community may be attempting to out thug snowboarders. I'll really feel old the day I'll be sitting on the chairlift watching skiers in their gangster steeze thinking to myself: those guys are just hoodlums that have no respect for the industry.

Winter Matters Bubble

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