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Sports Illustrated

The Brief, Influential Life of the World Football League

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Sports Illustrated

December 5, 1974, was a chilly night at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama, site of the World Bowl. It was a slightly warmer night in Jacksonville, Florida, the scheduled site of the first championship game of the World Football League, but when the Jacksonville Sharks folded fourteen games into the season, the idea of holding the title game there seemed a little, well, like piling on.

The night was shaping up to be a classic battle between the hometown Birmingham Americans and the Florida Blazers. The Americans had the league’s second-best record during the regular season, going 15-5 during the 20 game schedule, and the Blazers arrived in Birmingham by upsetting the best team in the league, the Memphis Southmen, in the semifinals.

Truth be told, winning was the easy part of getting to the World Bowl. Three days before the Big Game, the Americans threatened to not play because they hadn’t been paid in five weeks. The owner begged them to show up on the promise that if they won, he would give them championship rings. No mention was made of back pay, however. The Blazers, meanwhile, hadn’t been paid in four months. Throughout the season, Florida coaches had been charged with not only calling plays, but also making sure bathrooms were filled with toilet paper. Every week Florida players found themselves at the local McDonald’s for their free meal of the day.

Nevertheless, despite all the financial issues, both teams made it to 72,000-seat Legion Field, less than half of which was filled for their world championship tilt.

Game on

Tri-MVP Ceremony With Delta Burke

At halftime, the Americans had a 15-0 lead and looked to be in complete command. The first touchdown was scored by Birmingham's cruelly named running back Joe Profit.

Fans were entertained at the break by the announcement of the league’s Most Valuable Player—or, in this case, players. Running back Tommy Reamon of the Blazers, running back JJ Jennings of the Memphis Southmen, and quarterback Tony Adams of the Southern California Sun were all named Tri-MVPs. Each player received a 1/3 share of the $10,000 prize given for winning the award. Because of the financial issues throughout the season, the league thought it best to give the players cash, fearing the possible public humiliation of three $3,333.33 checks bouncing.

Helping to make the presentation at halftime was Miss Florida 1974, Delta Burke. Missing was Jennings, who, despite the risk of having a check mailed to him, chose instead to have a tonsillectomy that day. Adams was there and Reamon, who was playing in the game, had to be pulled from the locker room. He came out, took his envelope, ran to the stands, and handed it to his mom before rejoining his teammates to get ready for the second half.

Art Cantrelle Scores in the World Bowl // Courtesy of Greg Allred (

When the clock hit double zeros, the Americans had survived a furious comeback to nip the Blazers, 22-21.

As both teams made their way off the field, Billie Hayes from Florida tried to retrieve the ball. He was gang-tackled by a group of Birmingham players, who thought the ball should be theirs. After all, they did win. A fight broke out between the teams. The ball popped out, and a ball boy named Walter Bridges picked it up and started running.

Where he was going, no one was sure, but at that point both teams decided it was more important to get the ball back than it was to fight each other. En masse, they took off after him. Needless to say, they got the kid and the ball. Birmingham tackle Paul Costa handed it—the ball, that is—to team captain Ross Brupbacher who said, “The game ball goes to the city of Birmingham…and I hope they bring us back next year to play.”

Prior to the final whistle, Americans running back Jimmy Edwards had been ejected from the game. As he made his way to the locker room, he discovered Jefferson County sheriff’s deputies were waiting to confiscate the team’s uniforms, helmets, and equipment due to an outstanding balance owed to Hibbett’s, the sporting goods store that supplied the team.

Edwards ran back on the field to warn his teammates, a few of whom took their jerseys off after the game and handed them to family members. Back in the locker room, a deputy approached team trainer Drew Ferguson and asked if his shoes had come from Hibbett’s. When he said yes, he had to hand them over. And so, after a joyous celebration, the World Football League champion Birmingham Americans went home with nothing more than a title, and their trainer went home in his socks.

Said Head Coach Jack Gotta, “I don’t know what happens tomorrow, but tonight is the greatest night of my life.”

The Right Guy at the Right Time

Gary Davidson was the right guy at the right time. He was the quintessential anti-establishment guy, and his defiant heart was filled with an indomitable '70s spirit. Before the WFL, Davidson was the co-founder and president of two professional sports leagues, the American Basketball Association in 1967 and the World Hockey Association in 1971. These weren’t just rival leagues. These were the rebels with a cause, and their cause was to change the game, both literally and figuratively. The ABA had a red-white-and-blue basketball, a three point shot, a slam-dunk contest, and Dr. J. The WHA had a blue puck (Davidson was talked out of a red one), were the first to sign European players, and brought the world the professional debut of a skinny little Canadian kid named Wayne Gretzky. When the ABA and WHA both folded after 9 and 7 years respectively, the NBA and NHL each cherry-picked four of their franchises to bring into their leagues, one of which is the five-time NBA champion San Antonio Spurs.

“Davidson was a very aggressive businessman,” says Greg Allred, a WFL aficionado. His blog,, chronicles much of the story of the Americans' championship season, and his knowledge of the league runs deep. “He understood show business and marketing, and he had an innate ability to sell a product. He was a very shrewd guy.”

Tackling the NFL

Bumped SI Cover

The labor agreement between the National Football League's Players Association and the NFL was up for renewal, and at the heart of the discussions was the idea of free agency. Since the NFL formalized a merger with the American Football League in 1966, the players were at the mercy of the owners—they had no alternate league to find work. Obviously, NFL owners were okay with that. There was talk of the first-ever players strike in 1974, and considering the average salary of an NFL player at the time was a little over $30,000, it seemed logical the athletes would welcome the idea of having another option.

On October 3, 1973, Davidson announced the WFL would begin play on July 10, 1974. He had worked quickly to compile a group of owners for twelve teams across the country: the Birmingham Americans, Boston Bulls, Chicago Fire, Detroit Wheels, Florida Blazers, Honolulu Hawaiians, Houston Texans, Toronto Northmen, New York Stars, Philadelphia Bell, Southern California Sun and Washington Ambassadors. Years later, Davidson was quoted in Sports Illustrated as saying: “We made mistakes in ownership selection. We let people come into the league because of a time frame that we might have held back on if we have decided to start play in 1975 instead of 1974.”

Of the teams named at that first press conference, only three would ultimately keep their original city and ownership group. And while all new leagues have some degree of chaos and upheaval when they begin, the WFL took the chaos to the next level:

* The Orlando team was sold and quickly moved to Jacksonville. The owner, Frank Monaco, had enough money to make one payroll, so he borrowed money from his coach and then fired him.

* The Detroit franchise was nearly sold to a guy named Bob Huchul, who, as it turned out, had been arrested 30 times and faced more than 25 lawsuits from previous business ventures.

* The team in Washington couldn’t find a place to play, so they moved to nearby Baltimore. Unable to find a lease in Baltimore, they moved to Norfolk, Virginia. Still not able to make things work, the owner sold to someone who moved the team to Orlando and they became the Florida Blazers. The franchise moved four times before they ever stepped on the field.

* John Bassett Jr., a successful Canadian businessman and clearly the most financially solvent owner in the league, owned rights to the Toronto Northmen. Subsequently, the Canadian government stepped in and introduced legislation to ban any professional football in the country other than the Canadian Football League. Bassett promptly packed up and moved his team to Memphis, changing his Northmen to, more accurately, the Southmen. (As an aside, between 1993 and 1994, the Canadian Football League, apparently not so protective of their league and their country anymore, admitted six American teams.)

As the July kickoff approached, ownership was (somewhat) in place. Now, the league actually needed players.

They held the first round of their college draft in January and the first pick was quarterback David Jaynes of the University of Kansas.

Appreciative of the honor, Jaynes said thanks but no thanks and wound up having a short and uneventful career with the Kansas City Chiefs. They also held a pro draft and the first pick was running back Charlie Evans of the New York Giants. He also said no. Ultimately, most rosters were comprised of college kids, CFL players, some minor leaguers, and more than 300 NFL players who opted to jump.

In February, Davidson announced the league had signed a TV contract with independent network TVS to broadcast a national game of the week on Thursday nights.

In March, Memphis owner Bassett made headlines on every sports page in the country when he signed three of the biggest stars from the World Champion Miami Dolphins—Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick, and Paul Warfield—to an estimated $3 million contract to play for the Southmen in 1975.

When Calvin Hill of the Cowboys and Ted Kwalick of the 49ers signed to play for the Honolulu Hawaiians in 1975, Sports Illustrated jumped on the bandwagon and was prepared to run an April 15, 1974 cover featuring the two players and Davidson under the headline: “Pro Football Goes to War.”

Unfortunately, while pro football went to war, Hank Aaron went to bat. When he hit his record-breaking 715th home run that week, the WFL cover didn’t make the newsstands.

Some might have called this a sign.

New League, New Game

Courtesy of Greg Allred (

Just like the ABA and WHA, Davidson and his new league weren’t going to follow the old rules. He promised an exciting, energetic brand of football, playing directly off the growing criticism that the NFL was boring.

Along with their twenty game regular season, a gold football with orange stripes, hip, modern uniforms, and the world’s largest collection of sports teams that didn’t end in the letter “S” (Bell, Fire, Southmen, Storm, Sun, Steamer), the league instituted eleven unique rules including:

* Moving the kickoff from the 40 to the 30 to improve run backs
* Moving the goalposts from the front of the end zone to the back line
* A fifteen minute overtime period to decide ties (more like soccer than sudden death)

Because there was a belief that the NFL was becoming a field goal kicker dominated league, the WFL instituted other rule changes to lessen the importance of kickers. Those included:

* Missed field goals would be returned to the spot of the miss
* No extra points. Touchdowns would be worth 7 not 6, and everyone had the opportunity to get an “Action Point” where you could run or pass your way to an extra point from the two yard line.

NFL owners and Commissioner Pete Rozelle, fearful WFL games might be more wide open and exciting than theirs, quickly adopted versions of many of these rules changes. And forty years later, the WFL seems prescient, as the NFL is now considering eliminating the extra point as well. Even Keith Olbermann recently gave the WFL some praise.

Season one for the WFL kicked off on July 10, 1974. It was a great debut.

Five opening night games totaled nearly 200,000 fans. The Philadelphia Bell outdrew the Phillies by more than 20,000. Even Elvis showed up in Memphis to watch the Southmen’s opening game.

The league was getting positive press. Life was good. And it didn’t hurt that the NFL was on strike.

The WFL had—at least for a short while—become the NFL. It was the only game in town.

Then August arrived and things started to spiral. There were revelations that attendance numbers were, to put it mildly, inflated. Of the 120,000 fans at the first two Philadelphia Bell games, more than 100,000 got in either free or for a significantly reduced price. Jacksonville was doing the same thing. Rumors started circulating that teams across the league were struggling to meet payroll. The Southern California Sun, one of the more stable teams in the league, were running away with the Western Division when their owner, Larry Hatfield, was indicted by a federal grand jury for making false statements to obtain loans—one of which was the loan for the Sun.

The Detroit Wheels ran out of adhesive tape and had to borrow it from other teams. Management of the Portland Storm appealed to the team’s booster club to help feed the players before games. At one point, Birmingham flew to Portland for a game, and when they got on the bus to take them to the hotel, the bus didn’t move. After several minutes of awkward silence, the bus driver said he needed to be paid in advance because the last time he drove a WFL team somewhere he had been stiffed. The players dug into their pockets and pooled enough money to get the bus moving.

There was also this strange event in Houston: Defensive end John Matuszak suddenly bolted the NFL Houston Oilers for the WFL Houston Texans. This was a huge coup for the league, as Matuszak was one of the biggest defensive names in the NFL. Exactly seven plays into his new job with the Texans, he was handed a restraining order on the sidelines, forbidding him from playing.

He waved the paperwork to the crowd and spent the rest of the game on the bench. The courts later ordered he couldn’t join the WFL until his NFL contract ended after the 1977 season.

Halfway through the season, the Houston Texans moved to become the Shreveport Steamers and the New York Stars moved to become the Charlotte Hornets. In early October, the WFL suspended the Detroit and Jacksonville franchises because of financial issues. Three days later, it turned out “suspension” was secret code for “You guys don’t have a team anymore.”

That first year, the league lost nearly $20,000,000 and put Gary Davidson into bankruptcy. After an internal power struggle, he walked away and never was involved in sports again. The league named Chris Hemmeter, owner of the Honolulu Hawaiians, as commissioner. Hemmeter made it clear there would be some changes, and that there would be a second season.

The question was, did anyone care?

A few days after the World Bowl, shaken, battered, and determined league officials met in New York City to concoct a survival strategy. Commissioner Hemmeter announced the “Hemmeter Plan,” a profit-sharing plan to ensure that players would be paid in 1975. It stipulated that the players would receive a percentage of the owners’ profits, and if there were no profits, the players would receive $500 a game.

The league came back in season two with eleven teams, some new, some moved, and some completely re-formed. Some teams were still looking for coaches when the season started. In July, the Philadelphia Bell named former Green Bay Packers safety Willie Wood their head coach, making him the first African American head coach in pro football history.

The new ownership group in Chicago tried to make a splash by offering a $5 million contract to Joe Namath. CBS allegedly said that if Namath signed with the WFL, they would be willing to talk TV contract. Simultaneously, Namath was offered a $5 million contract to be a spokesman for Faberge. It wasn’t too difficult a decision for Namath, who stayed with the Jets, got a big payday from Faberge and was forced to work in unbearable conditions like this:

The CBS contract rumor disappeared and the league found itself with no national TV carrier. Any TV broadcasts for the 1975 season would be local. This would prove another huge financial burden.

Nevertheless, they pushed on. Even without Davidson, the WFL continued to bring out-of-the-box ideas to the table. The league announced they would be testing a uniform change for every team during the preseason. The official press release explained:

All offensive linemen will wear purple pants, running backs green pants and receivers orange pants, while defensive lineman will be dressed in blue, linebackers in red and defensive backs in yellow. The various colors are emphasized by vertical striping. Quarterbacks and kickers will wear white.

The various colored pants are the idea of William B. Finneran, a New York management consultant who also invented the Action Point. Finneran refers to the pants idea as “color dynamics” which he defines as “the concept of implementing means whereby one’s visual appreciation of dynamic movement is significantly increased.”

"Most importantly," says Finneran, “color coding is for the benefit and enjoyment of the fans. It has no significant impact on the game itself." The concept will insure easier comprehension of the game and for those sometime fans, such as women. In a sense the color grids will serve as the TV "color commentator" for the crowd at the stadium since they will help explain the action. They will also of course improve viewing on color television.

Says JJ Jennings, “The league had a lot of good ideas. That wasn’t one of them.” The pants were shelved before the season started.

Those Pants // Courtesy of Richie Franklin (

On the bright side, the WFL finally got its Sports Illustrated cover in 1975, featuring Csonka, Kiick and Warfield preparing for the season in Memphis.

This was a much “cleaner” cover than the last time Csonka and Kiick were on the cover of SI together—in 1972 when Csonka gave the one-finger salute and nobody noticed until it was too late.

Year two of the WFL kicked off at the end of July 1975 with eleven teams. By week three, that number was down to ten, as the Chicago Winds folded. By early October, with continued financial strife and poor attendance, the league held an emergency meeting and Hemmeter defiantly declared the league would survive. It did...for nine more days. On October 22, he announced the league was disbanding. In his closing remarks, Hemmeter cited the reasons for failure were bad weather, competition with the NFL, media skepticism, and the availability of star players.

Thirty two games in, the WFL was officially dead

Even today, former players agree that if you stripped away all the financial issues, the football itself was great. “We could hold our own with anybody,” says Reamon. Now a high school coach in Newport News, Virginia (he coached Michael Vick and current Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin among others), Reamon says, “I was the youngest guy on our team. We had a lot of older NFL guys and they all said the quality of the game we played was second to none.”

During the ’74 season, Reamon had made the unwise decision of having his salary deferred to the end of the year, meaning he had earned a total of $1,500 (his bonus) for the entire season, plus the $3,333.33 for sharing the MVP award. “Honestly, I have no regrets,” he says. “For me, the WFL made sense in a lot of ways. The NFL was on strike and it was a chance to show them they made a mistake by not picking me in the first round. The WFL gave me an opportunity to showcase my talents.”

After the 1974 season, Reamon’s coach in Florida, Jack Pardee, jumped ship and took the head coaching job with the Chicago Bears in the NFL. The Bears tried to work a trade to get Reamon’s rights from the Pittsburgh Steelers, but they couldn’t agree on a deal. Instead, the Bears drafted a running back named Walter Payton. Reamon was later traded to the newly-formed Jacksonville Express in '75. He played for the Chiefs in the NFL in 1976, Saskatchewan in the CFL in ’77, and retired from professional football in ’78. “No regrets,” he says. “I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Despite being one of the Tri-MVPs, JJ Jennings was also traded in ’75 to Philadelphia when Csonka, Kiick, and Warfield showed up in Memphis. “There wasn’t any room for me or my hair,” he says. He agrees with Reamon that the play on the field was more than solid. “Our team was a bit of an outlier in the league,” he says. “We had a great owner [Bassett]. Getting paid was never an issue, and we were a quality organization through and through. I have no regrets. We kept a lot of people working for a couple of years and the football was good. Really good.”

Richie Franklin was a 13 year old when the WFL hit his TV. Since then, he’s dedicated countless hours, energy, and emotion to keeping the spirit of the WFL alive. “I was an impressionable young kid,” he says. “I thought the ball and the uniforms were so great. I had never seen anything like this before. It’s forty years later and no one can ever take those memories away.” His site,, is the definitive source of information on the league’s history, including interviews with players and details long since forgotten by most. “It’s been a labor of love,” he says. “I just want to keep the spirit alive.”

Looking back, a league that was seemingly a blip on the football radar had a remarkable impact. The WFL created rule changes which still exist today, helped open the door for NFL free agency, created coaching opportunities for men like Jack Pardee, Marty Schottenheimer, Jim Fassel, and Lindy Infante, and launched the NFL careers of Danny White, Alfred Jenkins, Pat Haden, and more.

“Ultimately, the death of the WFL was unstable ownership and lack of a TV contract,” says Allred. “But in terms of football the way we know it today, the WFL was a very forward thinking league.”

As it turns out, too forward, too soon.

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Frank Micelotta/Getty Images
9 Things You Might Not Know About 'Macho Man' Randy Savage
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Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

Even by the standards of pro wrestling and its exaggerated personalities, there’s never been anyone quite like Randy “Macho Man” Savage (1952-2011). A staple of WWE and WCW programming in the 1980s and 1990s, Savage’s bulging neck veins, hoarse voice, and inventive gesticulations made him a star. Check out some facts in honor of what would’ve been Savage’s 65th birthday.


Born Randall Poffo in Columbus, Ohio, Savage’s father, Angelo Poffo, was a notable pro wrestler in the 1950s, sometimes wrestling under a mask with a dollar sign on it as “The Masked Miser.” If that was considered the family business, Savage initially strayed from it, pursuing his love of baseball into a spot on the St. Louis Cardinals farm team as a catcher directly out of high school. Savage played nearly 300 minor league games over four seasons. After failing to make the majors, he decided to follow his father into wrestling.


In 1967, a then-15-year-old Savage accompanied his father to a wrestling event in Hawaii. There, he saw island grappler King Curtis Iaukea deliver a “promo,” or appeal for viewers to watch him in a forthcoming match. Iaukea spoke in a whisper before bellowing, punctuating his sentences with, “Ohhh, yeah!” That peculiar speech pattern stuck with Savage, who adopted it when he began his career in the ring.


By John McKeon from Lawrence, KS, United States - Randy "Macho Man" Savage, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

According to Savage, his wrestling nickname didn’t come from the Village People song but from an article his mother, Judy, had read in Reader’s Digest announcing that “macho man” was going to be a hot term in the coming years. She mailed it to Savage along with a list of other possible names. Even though neither one seemed to know what a “macho man” was, Savage liked the sound of it. His stage name, Savage, came from Georgia promoter Ole Anderson, who thought Savage’s grappling style was ferocious.


In the early 1980s, Savage’s father had started promoting his own regional shows in the Lexington, Kentucky area. To draw publicity, Savage and the other wrestlers would sometimes show up to rival shows threatening grapplers and offering up wagers that they could beat them up in a real fight. Once, a Memphis wrestler named Bill Dundee pulled a gun on Savage, who allegedly took it away from him and beat him with it. After his father’s promotion closed up, Savage landed in the WWF (now WWE), giving him a national platform.


One of Savage’s recurring feuds in the WWE was with Jake “The Snake” Roberts, a lanky wrestler who carried a python into the ring with him and allowed the reptile to “attack” his opponents. To intensify their rivalry, Savage agreed to allow Roberts’s snake to bite him on the arm during a television taping after being assured it was devenomized. Five days later, Savage was in the hospital with a 104-degree fever. Savage lived, but the snake didn’t; it died just a few days later. “He was devenomized, but maybe I wasn’t,” Savage told IGN in 2004. 


While outcomes may be planned backstage, the choreography of pro wrestling is left largely up to the participants, who either talk it over prior to going out or call their moves while in the ring. For a 1987 match with Ricky Steamboat at Wrestlemania III, Savage wanted everything to be absolutely perfect.

“We both had those yellow legal tablets, and we started making notes,” Steamboat told Sports Illustrated in 2015. “Randy would have his set of notes and I would have mine. Then we got everything addressed—number 1, number 2, number 3—and we went up to number 157. Randy would say, ‘OK, here is up to spot 90, now you tell me the rest.’ I would have to go through the rest, then I would quiz him. I’d never planned out a match that way, so it was very stressful to remember everything.” The effort was worth it: Their match is considered by many fans to be among the greatest of all time.


Savage’s “valet” in the WWE was Miss Elizabeth, a fixture of his corner during most of his career in the 1980s. Although they had an onscreen wedding in 1991, they had been married in real life back in 1984. According to several wrestlers, Savage was jealously guarded with his wife, whom he kept in their own locker room. Savage would also confront wrestlers he believed to have been hitting on her. The strain of working and traveling together was said to have contributed to their (real) divorce in 1991.


In 2003, with his best years in the ring behind him, Savage decided to pursue a new career in rap music. Be a Man featured 13 rap songs, including one that eulogized his late friend, “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig. But the performance that got the most mainstream attention was the title track, which dissed wrestling star Hulk Hogan. The two had apparently gotten into a rivalry after Hogan made some disparaging comments about Savage on a Tampa, Florida radio show. Whether the sentiment was real or staged, it didn’t do much to help sales: Be a Man moved just 3000 copies.


In 2016, fans circulated a petition to get Savage his own statue in Columbus, Ohio. The initiative was inspired by the fact that Arnold Schwarzenegger has a monument in Columbus, and wrestling fans argue that Savage should get equal time. The mayor has yet to issue a response. In the meantime, a 20-inch-tall resin statue of Savage was released by McFarlane Toys in 2014.

See Also: 10 Larger-Than-Life Facts About Andre the Giant

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job secrets
10 Secrets of Ski Instructors
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If you’ve spent this fall wearing shorts and sandals, you’re not alone: Temperatures have been warmer than average across the United States. But no matter how warm it is where you are, there’s still snow (and skiing) in the forecast somewhere. Before you hit the slopes this winter, check out these on-the-job secrets of ski instructors, from why they love bad weather to what they do during the summer.


No one can control the weather, but ski instructors cross their fingers for frosty temperatures and heavy snowfall. “Ski instructors love cold, appalling winter weather because it so often results in big snowfalls and the skier's dream—velvety powder snow,” says Chalky White, a ski instructor and the author of The 7 Secrets of Skiing.

But big snowfalls don’t always happen, so ski instructors try to make the best of whatever weather they encounter on a given day. Tony Macri of Snow Trainers, a ski and snowboard training company based in Colorado and New Zealand, tells Mental Floss that the weather’s unpredictability makes ski instructing an adventure. “I never think that weather is disappointing,” he says. “It is what creates more challenge and mystery in every day, versus going back to your cubicle that always has the same florescent light shining down on you.”


Although some ski instructors also teach (and love) snowboarding, the majority of them try to stay away from snowboarders on the slopes, at least when they’re teaching. “[Snowboarders] tend to push all the fresh snow down the hill with their natural movements. Gets pretty frustrating!” justind99, a ski instructor in Quebec, writes in a Reddit AMA.

But other ski instructors have a more zen attitude when it comes to snowboarders and preach coexistence. “We are all here to have fun,” rbot1, a ski instructor in Salt Lake City, says in a Reddit AMA. “The snowboarder vs skier stigma does nothing but cause problems. Share the mountain!”


Ski instructor teaching adults

Depending on the country in which they become certified, ski instructors must take classes and pass a series of tests to prove their proficiency. In the U.S., the Professional Ski Instructors of America and American Association of Snowboard Instructors (PSIA-AASI) establishes certification requirements for instructors. Once instructors become certified, they can take additional tests of their technical skills to earn higher levels of certification.

“Level 1 is pretty easy to get. Anyone that can ski a blue square comfortably can pass a level 1 exam,” rbot1 says. But achieving certification for higher levels is more challenging, requiring ski instructors to demonstrate their mastery of various turns, bump runs, and drills. “A single mistake in any of those runs nets you a fail,” says rbot1, who spent two years preparing for his Level 2 test. “These drills might be easy to complete, but you have to do it perfectly.”


Although some people think of skiing as a risky activity, ski instructors insist that, statistically, skiing is no more hazardous than many other sports. That said, most ski instructors have seen at least one nasty injury on the slopes, including broken legs and noses, concussions, and shoulder dislocations. “The worst injury I ever witnessed was a spinal fracture from a kid landing on his back after attempting to do a jump in the snow park area,” justind99 says.

“I have seen some injuries to knees, but the worst was when a friend concussed himself so bad that he was knocked out and was actually sleeping with his eyes open,” Macri says. White tells Mental Floss that a helicopter once picked him up from the slopes because medics suspected that he’d broken his neck. “Good news—I didn’t."


The income ski instructors make can vary widely, based on where they teach and their level of expertise. Some instructors earn $10 or $11 an hour for group lessons but charge more for private lessons or longer coaching sessions. While most beginning ski instructors may make just $20,000 per year, the perks of getting paid to ski outweigh the lack of cash for many instructors. “I do understand that at some point I’ll need to either start working really hard to boost my earning potential as an instructor or find another field,” rbot1 says. “For now, it’s a blast.”


Ski instructor teaching children

A group of young kids bundled up in ski jackets while they try to balance on narrow skis might look adorable, but teaching children to ski comes with plenty of challenges. “Some kids don't have the muscles to do it at [a young] age and some do,” explains inkybus21, a ski and snowboard instructor who has taught in Canada, Australia, and Japan. To make sure his young students don’t lose interest or give up, he makes up games that require various skiing motions and uses visuals to help kids figure out how to properly use their bodies.


Ski equipment can be pricey, and ski instructors know the pain of an empty wallet firsthand. From skis and boots to bindings, poles, helmets, goggles, and other accessories, ski instructors can easily spend over $1000 on their equipment. And because their gear gets more use than a casual skier’s, instructors typically go through a pair of skis, boots, and liners each season. But many instructors are eligible for steep discounts on their gear, thanks to their employer or their PSIA-AASI membership. “I haven't bought anything at retail price in years,” rbot1 says. “I can’t even imagine paying full price for a pair of boots or ski/binder set up.”


In a career dependent on the winter season, what do ski instructors do during the summer? Some of them travel to the opposite hemisphere to work at a ski resort—essentially working two winters in a row. But because it can be costly to travel and live on another continent, most ski instructors work odd jobs or use their savings to rock climb and explore the outdoors in the off season. Rbot1, for example, has spent his summers working at a ski resort’s restaurant, boxing fish at an Alaskan processing plant, and living off of his savings. “Most people have a seasonal job. The most popular is raft guiding, the second most popular is working at a state park,” he says.


Ski instructors don’t always receive tips from their students, and they wish more people knew that they welcome—and in some cases, expect—gratuity. Rbot1 recounts the story of how he once earned $1500, his biggest tip to date, after instructing a family of four for five days, taking them to different parts of the mountain and even eating lunch with them. “At the end of the week it was all hugs and smiles, but my hand was left dry,” he says. “Anyways, next day I got an email that said ‘you have a tip in the office’ and BOOM $1500 in an envelope.” Rbot1 made good use of the generous tip, paying two months of rent and car payments, as well as buying new ski goggles and gloves.


Although skiing is good exercise and an enjoyable winter activity, learning to ski can also help people feel more confident. “It’s not always about skiing and teaching people to be the best skiers,” Macri says. “A lot of [the job] is just about showing people a good time and helping them achieve their goals or overcoming their fears.”

Macri particularly appreciates the amazing views from the top of a mountain, as well as the feeling he gets when he takes students down a great run and everyone high-fives one another in joy. “I sit back and think this is my office and I am having just as amazing [a] time as everyone else. The only difference is that I am getting paid for it,” he says.

All photos courtesy of iStock.


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