Level Up | The Corinne Mayhew Interview

As one of only a handful of woman to hold the top snowboard instructor qualification in the world, Cozz shares her story and offers advice for those looking to do the same

Above: Corinne Mayhew. Pic: Nathalie Grandrille.

The Luminaries Series is about shining a light on some of the most inspirational people in our industry, documenting their rise in their given professions, and sharing some of their insights from along the way.

A recurring theme in our Luminaries Series has been the varied and often unpredictable paths that have led those interviewed to where they are in the snowboard industry today. But surely none of these paths have involved quite so many exams, assessments and even international Boarder-X competitions as they have for Corinne ‘Cozz’ Mayhew.

Based in the French resort of Tignes, Cozz is among only a handful of women to hold the BASI Level 4 Snowboard Instructor Qualification (the highest level recognised internationally) and runs her own snowboard school, Mayhew Snowboarding.

“Cozz isn’t just teaching people to snowboard, she’s inspiring them to”

Her career has ranged from teaching tots how to turn onto their toeside, to coaching Team GB athletes on the road to international success. She also runs the incredibly popular Progression Sessions in her local resort, inspiring women of all abilities to progress their skills in the park. Of course, that’s all when she’s not busy with her regular ‘day job’ of teaching, beginner, intermediates and advanced snowboarders, anywhere from the magic carpet to deep in the backcountry of the French Alps.

Cozz’s knowledge and experience in snowboarding is matched only by her ability to make everyone she meets feel encouraged, pushed and stoked on becoming better riders. In short, Cozz isn’t just teaching people to snowboard, she’s inspiring them to.

We caught up with Cozz to find out about her path to becoming a full-cert snowboard teacher, what the job entails, and where she sees the future of our industry headed.

Tell us a bit about your job and – if there’s even such a thing – what does a typical day in the life of a snowboard teacher /coach look like?

Well, I’d say that every day is very different. Not only are you catering to the client or the athlete’s needs, but you’re also being dictated to by the conditions and the weather. So, if you get someone who says “I just wanna learn some snowboarding, I’m a total beginner”, that’s quite standard. You know what you’re going to do. But it could be they turn up and they’re really fit and a professional wakeboarder, or maybe they have an office job back in the UK and they don’t do much exercise, so things might progress at different rates. 

You just have to be quite versatile I guess, and quite open to whatever the day will bring, which is one of the reasons why I love my job so much.

So you like that side to it – every day being different?

Oh, I love it! I used to work for a snowsports school where I’d get presented with a huge wad of information about each student I’d have that day. They’d gone to great lengths to prepare it for their instructors, but I’d always turn up and say “I know you wrote all this information for me a few weeks ago, but how do you feel today?” Often they’d say something like “I wasn’t feeling too sure at the time but, actually, I went for a practice yesterday and I realise I’ve got it!” 

The psychology of it all is quite interesting. It means you’re always on your toes and having to adapt to people. I really like that side of things.

“You just have to be quite versatile I guess, and quite open to whatever the day will bring, which is one of the reasons why I love my job so much”

I remember when I first started working as an instructor, I realised that it’s as much about being a people person as it is about anything else. It’s one of the most important parts of that job, and one of the more interesting sides to it, being able to adapt to different people and personalities. 

Definitely, I think that’s 95% of the job, really. Making them feel comfortable, making sure they trust you and knowing that if you said to them “Okay, we’re gonna go this fast from here”, they’d be on board with it. It’s all about building that relationship.

How did you get here? What made you wanna become an instructor?

Well, it’s a very long and tricky journey! It requires a lot of hard work, quite a bit of cash, and you can’t just assume that you’re going to pass everything the first time. You’ve got to be prepared to put the work in and possibly still fail some of these exams.

I enjoyed the journey. I found it constantly challenging and I learned a lot from each exam. They’re all very different, so you feel like you’re learning from every aspect of snowboarding. Whether it be the teaching exam or the performance exams… or the racing – you have to compete in some Boarder-X races!

But it’s interesting, I’m not a natural snowboarder. I haven’t been doing this since I was five. I didn’t start snowboarding until I was about 24 or 25. As for the instructor side of things, I kind of went into Level 1 course as a cheap way to get some lessons and understand my own riding a bit better.

“You’ve got to be prepared to put the work in and possibly still fail some of these exams”

So it wasn’t part of a bigger plan? You didn’t go into it with the idea of becoming a full time instructor or coach?

So, your Level 1 allows you to teach in snowdomes, but I never really used that. I ended up pretty much going straight into my Level 2 exam which would allow me to work in Switzerland, Japan, New Zealand, wherever really. That’s as far as I got and worked in Saas Fee for a little while. That was really cool, I had a great time. 

But I’d have been about 28 or 29 by that point and I just thought: Okay, so [laughs], I’m making enough to do seasons, but not enough to make a career out of this, and I’ll be working every hour available. I want a job where I can go and ride with my mates and have time for myself. 

I had that kind of ‘now or never’ moment, and I decided to go for my Level 3. If I didn’t get it, then whatever. At least I’d have tried. But if I did then that’d be really great, because not many girls had done it, and I’m always up for a challenge. 

At the time, almost everyone I could see who had achieved their level 3 or 4 had done so probably before they were 35 – the people I’d come across, anyway. So I felt the time pressure, for sure.

“I just went back with a grit and a steely determination that I didn’t know I had”

Cozz, coaching and guiding in the St Foy backcountry.

Did you face any setbacks along the way?

I failed my Level 3 tech exam the first time, but that was the only one that I failed. I think I wasn’t really prepared for the level that was required.

It’s a huge jump up, huh?

Yeah, it’s a massive leap. And when I went back the next year, I just went back with a grit and a steely determination that I didn’t know I had. I don’t think I spoke to anyone on my course the whole week [laughs].


I didn’t acknowledge them, I didn’t say hello in the mornings, I was just stone cold. I was thinking: this is about me! So when people would be talking before the chairlift, I’d just think: nope, I’m getting on the next one…


I don’t know if that’s a positive thing, really?! [laughs]

It worked though, right?

As a teacher, you pick up on other people’s vibes all the time, you’re trying to read people and make them feel at ease, and I think that’s a bit of a natural trait that I’ve always had a bit. But yeah, when it comes to the technical stuff, it’s not about teaching other people, that exam is about you and what you can do.

So that one was interesting. Learnt a bit about myself there! [laughs]

So you now hold the BASI Level 4 (International Snowsports Teaching Diploma) Qualification, but it’s quite alarming how few women there are at the top level of our the top level of this pathway. Especially when you consider it’s almost a 50:50 split who start out on it. Do you think there’s an element of glass ceilings within the industry? 

Well, you’re totally right – it’s alarming how few women there are with a Level 4 snowboard qualification – it’s just a handful really. It’s weird because, in skiing, there’s a similar trait, but it’s definitely not so prevalent. It’s not the same as snowboarding. I don’t know if it’s the freestyle factor, because that’s the only thing in the qualification pathway where it really differs from skiing. 

I think for me, personally, at my age now, you realise that big factors – such as having children – would mean taking out like maybe two years for being pregnant, breastfeeding and getting back to your previous fitness levels. These exams are really physically demanding, for everyone. Plus you need to be fully focussed. So I think that’s something that’s probably a big factor. 

“I’d say it’s a bit of a vicious circle, as well, in the sense that sometimes you need to see it to be it. If there aren’t many women at that higher level, then the ones coming through at the lower levels won’t see it”

And when you’re talking about completing the pathway from Level 1 to 4, you’re talking of upwards of 6 or seven years for most people. Obviously, some of the young guns and hot shots do it in a handful of years, but they’re obviously very few and far between. 

And then, I’d say it’s a bit of a vicious circle, as well, in the sense that sometimes you need to see it to be it. If there aren’t many women at that higher level, then the ones coming through at the lower levels won’t see it and therefore won’t have that aspiration, or might not believe that it’s possible. Is it even possible, is it too hard? You get all these people chatting and all these thoughts creeping in.

It could be that it’s an intimidating environment, too. I don’t think it is, but some people might. I’ve always been very lucky that the men I’ve come across in the snowboard pathway – which in my experience it was mainly men – have always been extremely supportive and encouraging towards me. They’ve seen that I had potential, so they encouraged me. Nobody has ever said, “well, there’s no point in you trying”, or even insinuated that.

But maybe my situation is different. I’m based in Tignes and I’ve got a lot of friends here. If you were in a very small resort and you didn’t know any snowboard trainers or instructors at a higher level, and then you turned up at some of these exams, it would be – I would say – pretty intimidating. But I would turn up at these exams, and I’d know most of the people there, and that made it more of a friendly atmosphere.

Have you ever felt pigeonholed as ‘the female instructor’? Do people make assumptions about the kinds of clients you normally teach?

It’s something that I’m conscious of because I don’t want to have that label as such. Yes, I do those things that some male instructors might not get to do, like teaching kids, teaching nervous women, y’know. But at the same time, I still take people backcountry guiding off the back of the resort and go and search out some amazing powder, or take some teenager through the park and coach them through some 360s. So it’s something that I’m conscious of, but I think it also works through word of mouth, and I think that’s everything, really. 

But, so far, I feel like the work I get is really varied, so I don’t feel like I’ve been pigeonholed just yet. Maybe when I’m 60 years old I’ll just get intermediate level lessons, but so far so good!

It’s not just the teaching, but also the coaching aspect which comes with the qualification. You coached Mia Brookes for a while, right? We’ve also interviewed Mia for this series, as she’s quickly garnering attention as one of Team GB’s brightest stars. Tell us about coaching her.

She came to Tignes when she was about 11 and it was part of a GB Snowsports Park and Pipe development camp for girls. I think it was one of the first they’d done. The aim of it was to bring a bunch of young athletes together to create a nurturing and supportive environment where they could see each other as friends they’d want to help, instead of seeing each other as competitors. I think there’s a different kind of competitiveness when you see another girl trying something, there’s no excuse for you not to try it. It was that kinda vibe that we were trying to promote.

Jenny Jones came for a day, and Ben Kinnear was leading it. I think Lesley McKenna came along, too. There were about 10 athletes in total, and it was an opportunity for them to have females that they could come to, rather than riding at a dome with a bunch of guys or only male coaches. It was an opportunity to take away any egos or testosterone or any of that ‘oh, she didn’t land it’ mockery. 

“It was an opportunity for them to have females that they could come to”

Not that it’s like that in every coaching environment – of course it’s not! But it’s just created a unique environment for them all to try these new tricks together with no judgement and, as a coach, to show that you’re a human being and friendly. Every question is valid. Nobody’s gonna judge you. 

I guess this is where it gets a bit tricky because I know full well that so many male coaches could provide that environment, too. And so many camps with a high percentage of males coaches are really lovely and friendly and approachable and encouraging. I’m not saying that they don’t provide that, too. It’s just a different opportunity for the girls to come and have that experience. 

Cozz, coaching with Team GB

Totally. Provide that opportunity doesn’t need to be a reaction to anything. Coaching athletes is never a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s just a cool approach and thinking outside the box. On the subject of freestyle – you run the Progression Sessions which have been super popular in Tignes and Val D’Isere. Tell us a bit about them.

Yeah, I’m so pleased that they’ve taken off. It was originally just for snowboarders, but we do ski coaching too now so that just adds to the camaraderie and community spirit of it. It’s focussed on getting more girls in the park. A lot of the girls come to the sessions and say they just follow their boyfriend through the park, whenever they hit a jump they just straight air, and nobody really tells me how to help progress. 

So it’s providing a space for them to understand what to do in the park and how to approach it. Some of the girls come with skills in the park and already hit the features, but they want to make some friends who are at a similar level or have a similar motivation to progress in the park. 

They’ll meet on a coaching session at the start of the season then, a couple of weeks later, you’ll see them all lapping the park together. It’s super nice. They’ll ride the park together all season and, in some cases, they’ll then plan to travel to New Zealand for back to back seasons, or whatever it may be. 

So yeah, it’s just getting girls hyped on freestyle really!

And you always run Tignes’ legendary Grom Squad, where you help get the next generation on their way to becoming little shredders! Tell us about that.

It’s always great to see little kiddies on snowboards, isn’t it?! And it’s also really cool to see all your mates – the parents – get stoked on seeing their children trying snowboarding. 

How did it all come about?

I’ve got quite a lot of friends whose children were offered the opportunity to do Ski School, but there wasn’t any provision for the really young ones to do snowboarding in an organized environment. I guess it’s a similar idea to the Progression Sessions, just for little children, really!

And all the equipment is so good these days, especially things with things like the Burton Riglets gear. And now, after three years of running it, the older ones who are like 6 or 7, they’re hitting the jumps, riding powder, and ragging around the place!

I guess it’s also a cool way for parents who are out for a season or living full time in the Alps to create that community feel right?

Very much, definitely. And they’re all beginners at the start, so the parents have those conversations with each other, too. It’s quite interesting to hear the parents comparing and supporting each other’s kids. And a lot of them say if they were in the Uk their kids would be going to dance class, or trumpet lessons, or the Christmas pantomime, or whatever. So it just provides new and alternative opportunities for kids growing up in the mountains.

Cozz, with the Tignes Grom Squad!

As a woman, have you ever found it difficult to be part of a male-dominated industry, and has that changed over time?

I’ve never really felt that “I’m a woman”, but more that “I’m a snowboarder” in this world. Yeah, I’m a girl, but I’m a snowboarder first. Does that make sense?


And I suppose it’s changed over time in that, when I finished all my qualifications, people started saying “You’re one of the very first girls to get this”, and then that made me think, “Oh, I guess I am different to all these other boys.” 

But I still don’t feel that it hindered me in any way, or that I’ve had to fight particularly harder. Everyone who’s got these qualifications had to fight really hard to get them. If anything, I’d say now it’s a benefit to be a girl in some ways. It’s been more realistic to have my own snowboard school as a woman because I’m straight away a little bit different from the other instructors. And how I choose to use that is obviously up to me, but I think it makes me stand out a little bit. And it’s easy to market [laughs], I can use it to my advantage in some respects.

“I’ve never really felt that “I’m a woman”, but more that “I’m a snowboarder” in this world. Yeah, I’m a girl, but I’m a snowboarder first”

And are there ways you’d like to see the industry change? Having been through the instructor pathway, how could it change or be made more accessible or inclusive?

I suppose the thing I’d like to see going forward is more female instructors in general and balancing that out. That would be the end goal. I mean I don’t know how you’d do it. And I don’t think that anything should be changed in particular to the instructor pathway. But maybe a shift in the perceptions of the exclusivity of snowboarding would be welcomed. Maybe more of an emphasis on having a go and enjoying the journey as opposed to the achievement element of it. 

I think women in general – and this is obviously a massive generalisation – they’d find things less intimidating if they were encouraged to try. It’s the same for men too, obviously, but I think snowboarding can sometimes be fixated on the end goal rather than the journey. I mean, you don’t see an edit — well, sometimes you do! — about how many times a person hit a rail before they got that sick trick. You just see the sick trick. But I think that’s one way we could change things a little bit.  The idea that you might not get something the first time, and that’s okay. That’s maybe one way we could encourage more women — more people in general — to go for these exams. 

What advice would you give to someone looking to become a snowboard instructor?

Well, exactly that. Don’t focus on the end goal. Focus on the constant progression. And accept that it’s a long road, it’ll take a lot of time, and it’s not going to be easy. But accept that and remain determined and tenacious and do whatever it is you need to succeed. And if that is your goal, and you’re motivated for it, then don’t let the other stuff get in your way.

And is it worth it?

Definitely! You get to live and work in the mountains! You get to hang out with cool people every day. You get time to go for a shred with your friends!

Wicked. Thanks, Cozz.



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