Top of the Course Award Level III Recipient Cortney Bayuk Excels in Diverse Learning Environments

This is the second story in a four-part series on the 3C’s, Top of the Course, and Angus Graham Rising Star Award recipients. Check out the first story in the series on 3 C’s Award recipient Michael O’Neill.

Cortney Bayuk grew up in sunny San Diego, a world away from McCall, Idaho, where she is the After School Program Director at Payette Lakes Ski Club and Snowsports Director at Bear Basin Nordic Center. When she was young, skiing was far from her mind, as she started off as a horseback rider and in her words, “surfed a little bit.”

Her love of the outdoors came much later – as a student at the University of Utah – thanks to an outdoor education class, which featured activities such as fly fishing, mountaineering, rock climbing, and whitewater rafting.

Before long, she developed a passion for the latter, but the opportunity to become a whitewater rafting guide did not come to fruition during her time in Salt Lake City. So, when she graduated, she bought herself a present: a seven-day training program on Utah’s Green River, aka, whitewater rafting guide school. After that week, she was hired by the outfitter, OARS Whitewater Rafting, in Vernal, Utah.

Her interest in outdoor education grew during the first couple seasons on the river, but she also knew that she needed a job during the winter. “Initially, my plan was to be a ski patroller,” Bayuk said. “But I knew I wasn’t a good enough skier, so I did ski school … and I just kept instructing because I developed a love of teaching.”

A Knack for Teaching and a Desire to Learn

For more than half her life, Bayuk has been a teacher in some capacity, whether it was horseback riding or water polo, or as a teaching assistant in outdoor education. “I feel really comfortable in learning environments; that’s when I am my best self,” she said. “I think in terms of people skills, having that experience helps me bond with a group.”

This level of comfort carried over to Idaho’s Brundage Mountain, where she landed her first job as a ski instructor. Since then, she’s focused on building rapport with students and helping them feel at ease.

For example, she has a talent for communicating with students who are nervous or scared, especially ones who aren’t comfortable feeling that way. She likes to tell them, “Hey, I get scared every day when I ski. It’s OK to be scared.” And added, “I turn it into life coaching; that is, this is what we can do when we feel this way to move forward.”

When it came time to pursue certification, Bayuk was able to rely on her experience in diverse learning and teaching environments. “I tried my best to not let the nerves of the assessment get to me, and instead think of it as a learning experience,” she recalled as she prepared for her Alpine Level III assessment last year.

Moreover, during the assessment, Bayuk empowered other candidates, which did not go unnoticed. “I was trying to make sure everybody else was keeping it fun because nobody skis well when they’re super stiff and thinking about the assessment. We ski well when we’re having fun,” she said.

One of Bayuk’s Level III examiners, Northern Intermountain Alpine Committee Chair Taylor Caballero, pointed to Bayuk’s outstanding interpersonal skills in her Top of the Course Award nomination letter. “She has the ability to take her strong people skills and apply them in all realms of the assessment process,” said Caballero. “In this last assessment cycle, she was able to . . . encourage a more positive, relaxed environment by encouraging communication and participation among her peers and with the assessment team. Her ability to calm the group creates an atmosphere that allows other candidates to perform their best.”

In addition to her people skills, Bayuk strives to learn as much as she can from her peers. After she earned Level II certification a few years ago, she set out to pick the brains of regional educational staff and instructors on her home mountain, regardless of discipline.

“I grabbed anybody I could, anytime at my mountain,” she said. “I worked with Casey Jeffus, who used to be on the Northern Intermountain Education staff for snowboarding. He would analyze my movements, and I would do the same for him to add in a different component and try to be more objective about descriptions from a snowboard focus rather than a ski focus, which was really helpful.”

The Importance of Mentors and Women’s Summit

Bayuk credits three women for helping guide her during her journey as a snowsports instructor: Brundage Mountain Snowsports Director Colleen Morishita, the aforementioned Taylor Caballero, and new PSIA-AASI National Team member Elle Matalavage.

According to Bayuk, Morishita has supported her throughout her time in Idaho, training her as a new hire and helping prepare her for the Alpine Level I, II, and III assessments. “She’s been there through every process of my ski instructing career,” said Bayuk. “She was super supportive when I got scared or disheartened.”

For instance, when Bayuk didn’t pass her Level III assessment on her first attempt, Morishita stressed that the pass rate is pretty low for first-timers and that Bayuk should take the constructive feedback she received from her examiners to improve her skills.

Bayuk added that Caballero made her a priority as well: “She was always very willing to answer questions. We had a couple phone calls during which I mentioned that I didn’t understand something, so she always talked me through it.”

In 2023, Bayuk was awarded a Nancy Oakes Hall Women’s Scholarship, which helped make it possible for her to attend Women’s Summit at Mission Ridge, Washington. At the event, one of her clinic leaders was Elle Matalavage, who, per Bayuk, “helped her bring all the puzzle pieces together” for her Alpine Level III exam.

As for Women’s Summit, Bayuk recognizes the importance of providing a stage for female-identifying snowsports instructors to connect and encourage one another.

“Women’s Summit is a great space because … It’s just a bunch of women, supporting women, being excited for other women, no matter how big or small the success. It’s so cool to have that space and conversations that just wouldn’t happen outside of a solely women environment.”

Going forward, one of Bayuk’s goals is to become a member of the Northwest Region’s Education Staff. “National Academy is a great resource for that,” she said. “I’m trying to pick the education staff’s brains and figure out what my path is now for that. That’s something that the award has helped me do – have those conversations and figure out my track.”


The Top of the Course Award recognizes members who scored at the highest percentile in people, teaching, and skiing or snowboarding technical knowledge; and who empowered other candidates during the Level II or III exam process. Read more about National Academy Awards & Recognition Night, held last month in Big Sky, Montana.