PSIA’s Ride and Slide event brings 130 top ski instructors to A-Basin, Copper Mountain
The way Geoff Krill sees it, making powder turns on a monoski is no different than making powder turns on two legs. Except one minor detail: He gets face shots almost every time, even when there’s only a foot of fresh.
“Skiing is skiing is skiing — the concepts are the same,” Krill said while swapping his wheelchair for a monoski at the base of Arapahoe Basin Ski Area on Nov. 2. “Instruction is the same for us as anyone else, and that’s teaching people to ski to their ability.”
Earlier this week, the East Coast skier from Loon Mountain in New Hampshire joined roughly 130 fellow ski instructors for Ride and Slide, an annual on-snow event hosted by the Professional Ski Instructors Association and its snowboarding branch, American Association of Snowboard Instructors. The eight-day event gives a core group of instructors from across the nation — known as teams — time to get together, make some turns and share everything they’ve learned since the start of the previous season.
Across the U.S., about 32,000 ski instructors are PSIA-AASI certified, including 831 at Summit County’s five resorts: Loveland Ski Area, A-Basin, Copper Mountain Resort, Breckenridge Ski Resort and Keystone Resort. The Ride and Slide event was only for the top instructors — the 130 invited skiers and snowboarders had to pass a rigorous tryout exam before joining the team for the 2016-17 season — and all come from each of the PSIA-AASI’s nine regions. They represent the entire spectrum of teaching for both sports, from big-mountain riding to ski racing, and have “the ability to train and educate people to keep the stoke going,” said first-year national team manager Jeb Boyd of Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania.
“I really couldn’t imagine doing anything else,” said Boyd, noting that the event is also a favorite gathering for national team alumni who developed the latest batch of teaching techniques. “The brotherhood, the sisterhood here — it’s a fraternal organization, and it’s not at all an old boy’s club. You have to deliver and the alumni hold us to that.”
For Krill, who’s one of two team leaders for PSIA-AASI’s adaptive program, Ride and Slide is the official start to his season. Loon Mountain is still several weeks from opening, and although the group was supposed to spend most of the first week of November at Loveland, he was simply happy to set monoski to snow.
“The equipment is so much better now, the access is better,” Krill said of the growing community for adaptive ski instructors and skiers, which has been supported by programs like Adaptive Action Sports at Copper Mountain. “It’s more than one type of skiing now.”
While Krill and his fellow instructors enjoyed a few days of skiing — the eight-day trip began with clinics at Copper Mountain before moving to open ski sessions at A-Basin — PSIA-AASI’s new chief executive officer, Nicholas Herrin, was busy making the rounds from instructors to board members to invited industry representatives. He took over the organization’s top spot this summer, and since then, he’s been busy putting a new twist on just about everything the public knows about ski instruction.
“We’re passionate about keeping the sport and industry healthy, and this event plays an important role with that,” Herrin said from inside the base-area A-frame. “What I always say is we’re competing with a lot of vacation industries. In the U.S.A., we’ve spent decades buildings infrastructure, and now we need to support the resorts with the experience they need to help the guest. We can’t just focus on the technical side of things.”
On Nov. 1, PSIA and AASI held a dinner at Copper Mountain for the instructors, alumni, board members and industry guests. At the dinner, Herrin gave a presentation about the state of ski instruction in North America and the world. The presentation had a sobering stat: When guests leave a ski resort, surveys show that the best and worst part of most ski trips are the exact same — a ski instructor.
“We’re trying to get away from calling everything we do ‘lessons,’” Herrin said. “We need to take into consideration the experience, not just how you link a turn to a turn.”
Under Herrin’s watch, PSIA-AASI is transitioning from strict curriculum based on standard benchmarks to a fluid curriculum with custom goals tailored to the student, not a spreadsheet. The goal, he said, is to help newcomers learn quickly — and keep clients coming back, time after time after time.
“That’s the assumed personality of a ski or snowboard instructor: they only think of the technical side, and that’s why it’s boring,” Herrin said. “Getting people to come once is great. The third or second time? That’s where it’s a challenge, and it’s our responsibility to elevate our curriculum.”
Beyond the basics
Along with a new, student-centered curriculum, the Ride and Slide event is prime time for PSIA-AASI instructors to develop new techniques. Herrin and the team leaders might want a customized experience for clients, he said, but it begins with a set of baseline skills for instructors. It’s where national team manager Boyd comes into play: If his group makes teaching the teachers easier, then, with any luck, teaching students will be even easier.
“The outcome is to make the job of being a ski or snowboard instructor easier,” Boyd said. “If that happens, we can bring more people into the sport, and if we do that, everybody wins. That’s the goal — is to grow the sport.”
Herrin and Boyd realize that PSIA-AASI doesn’t operate in a vacuum with clients. Two other major stakeholders — the ski resorts and industry partners — are also part of the puzzle. Before taking over as CEO, Herrin was assistant general manager at Crested Butte, which gave him a coveted look at the inner workings of a resort. It’s one reason PSIA-AASI’s board of directors brought him to the organization.
“I think we’re headed in the right direction,” said Ed Younglove, chairman of the PSIA-AASI national board and a ski instructor for more than 25 years. “I don’t think the overall goal has changed much. We’re trying to address the needs of resorts and the guests and broaden the scope of our certifications, but overall the goal has always been education.”
At the moment, Ride and Slide is primarily a stateside gathering, but PSIA-AASI is slowly branching out to share ideas with international peers. Interski, a long-standing event for global ski instructors, is held once per season at different locations across the globe. It used to be a place to show off, Younglove said, but now, it’s become a venue to share new ideas about ski instruction. And it all begins with PSIA-AASI’s new mission: cater to the student.
“It’s still developing, but it’s moving in the direction of giving information and getting it from other nations with incredible instructors,” Younglove said. “Our philosophy is that ski instructing is student centered — built around the student — and I think that has become the goal of most organizations around the world.”
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