The 2003 PSIA National Academy

The National Academy is the pre-eminent event of The Professional Ski Instructors of America. During this event you get to ski with and learn from the best ski instructors in the country, including most of the PSIA Demo Team, ex Demo Team members and some special invitees. From April 19-24, 2003, 180 ski instructors from around the country attended this event at Snowbird ski resort in Salt Lake, Utah. This was Rusty 's first National Academy and he was simply blown away by the quality of this event. This article contains his notes from the event. Here you will find descriptions of the day time clinics (including the technical information presented  and practice exercises) and the after hours presentations (including a lot of information from the recent Interski congress, the opening awards presentations and the closing banquet. If  you are looking for technical tips to improve your skiing, looking for exercises to add to your teaching bags of tricks or trying to get a feel for what attending the event is like, then you need to read this article.

Some of the attendees arrived early enough to spend Saturday day on the slopes. The registration package included a badge that was good for an extra day of skiing. For those fortunate enough, there was 8 inches of fresh powder on Saturday morning. During the afternoon, the sun came out smoking hot and turned everything to mush. But it was a great way to get warmed up for the week ahead.

The academy formally started on Saturday night in a ballroom in the elegant and infamous Cliff Lodge. After a short introduction, PSIA president John Armstrong started presenting "Educational Excellence" awards to four of the people who have made beyond the call of duty contributions to PSIA over the years. The session was like a walk through the history of ski teaching mixed with a "go get 'em" sense of optimism for the future. There was a handout describing the award winners, but Rusty has not located an online version yet. So .....

Gwen Allard was first up. Those of us in the Eastern division are well aware of Gwen's contributions to the Eastern division and adaptive skiing. Rusty was impressed with her motivational skills as a speaker. He was so captivated he forgot to start taking notes.
Stu Campbell was next up. In addition to Stu's service on past demo teams, he is a regular contributor to Ski and Skiing magazines. He told a wonderful story of when he was certified: his boss told him he had to pass because no one from his resort had ever flunked. Stu gave the audience 3 challenges:
1) (Rusty needs some help here people)
2) Make the organization more nimble
3) Focus on fun first, then add nuggets of wisdom when teaching 

Juris Vagners advised us "It's never too late to have a happy childhood." He told us he was told to get certified or lose his locker. There was some inside joke about the Saliva sisters.  Juris advised us to "Question Authority". He ended with the "little Johnny - I like the way you think joke". 

Mike Porter was famous for "da dit da dit da dah". He talked about skiers talking versus golfers drinking, but he has not met my brother who drinks first while occasionally either skiing or golfing. Mike's piece of wisdom was "it's not what you teach, it's how you teach".

Dave Merriam then went through some of the logistics:
180 people attending, 25 were on the waiting list. Sponsors present included: Atomic. Elan, Volk, Technica, Rossignol. Solomon, Nordica and K2. There was an insane offering of a daily pilates session in the Cliff Lodge at 6:30 AM (Rusty was staying in town - so there was no way he was going to be up the canyon at that hour or even up period). There was a long line to sign up for elective sessions held every afternoon and all day on Tuesday. Rusty had slyly taken care of this before the session started (when he picked up his registration packet - late) and got in all of the sessions he wanted. Some sessions filled up very quickly. Speaking of the registration packet, a neat little all weather writing pad was included (click here for more info. They are in the PSIA catalog for $4, but you can get them online for $3). BTW - DOPE stands for Director of Practically Everything. It seems to be a common role for ski school directors.

Then finally we broke off into 3 groups:
1) Primarily off groomed/ hard core skiing
2) 50/50 groomed/off piste
3) Groomers only
After the three groups moved off to different sections of the room/hallway, individual groups started to form up. Rusty is normally a hard core guy, but this was Snowbird and Rusty was still recovering from a half pipe experience from snowboarding the previous week. While the powers that be tried to split the 50/50 group into slow, medium and fast groups of 8, some of the experienced attendees spotted their favorite clinic leaders and started forming their own groups. Before he knew what was going on, Rusty's buddies from Whitetail grabbed him into Victor Gerdin's group. Rusty had hoped to ski with a current demo team member all week. All he knew about this tall guy was that he was not on the demo team. Little did he know .....

The group (left to right) Gary Berry, Bob Jackson, Marc and Eileen Read, Victor Gerdin, Rusty Carr, Gerry Blaize, Scott Valitchka (missing is Mike Goldfield)

Click here for more Snowbird pics

The format for the rest of the week was:
Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday: 8:45 - 1 ski with your group, 2 - 3:30 elective session
Tuesday: Elective day with morning and afternoon sessions
Dinner: Sunday and Wednesday
Banquet: Thursday
Evening Presentations: Sunday, Monday and Wednesday

On Sunday morning, Rusty started finding out that Victor was only on the demo team for 3 terms before he got promoted to "Demous Teamus Emiritus" and that he had "done time" as ski school director for Aspen. Since Victor had already skied with most members of the group, he did not review his credentials before starting. Before we got started and because Alta was closing for the week, our group upgraded our passes for $10 each. After a quick warm up, Victor started right off on using ankle flexion for turns and turning with the abductor leg muscle.  What a way to start! Rusty has always had trouble figuring out ankle movements separate from knee movements and he had never heard of rotating the leg to turn the ski. Right off the bat Rusty went to the "O crap" skeptic mode and right off the bat Victor went into the "do this" exercise mode that instantly changed Rusty's attitude to "aha, bingo, eureka!" mode.

Extend Ankle Exercise: 
From a static standing position, extend the uphill ankle by lifting the heel up. Note: if you try this at home - keep your downhill knee flexed and you'll see that you need to either rotate your inside hip forward or tilt your body to the inside of the turn. Victor wanted us to understand that there was a difference between lowering the downhill leg and extending from the uphill ankle. Next we started making traverses and then initiating turns by extending the uphill ankle and then rotating the leg. Wow - you can feel the power when you do this!

Power Skiing Tip:
Victor has added a second power strap to his boots. He recommends using the power strap on your ski boots INSIDE of the shell instead of outside. Rusty tried this. It was hard to get the strap all the way inside both pieces of the overlapping shell tongues and by mid day, his strap had sneaked back out. But this tip really helped. The key here is that in addition to not wanting to lose contact with the front of the boot, you don't want to lose contact with the back of the boot either. If your buddy can stick a finger between the back of your leg and the boot shell, you'll be amazed at how tightening up this gap will improve your performance.

Personal tip:
Victor noticed that Rusty was skiing to far flexed forward. Victor wondered if Rusty's boots were too soft or if there were some alignment issues. Later on,
Victor also noted that when Rusty was riding the chair, his ski tips were raised up (not level to the snow) compared to others on the lift. This heightened the suspicion about a boot fitting problem. But when Victor checked Rusty's boots the next morning nothing was miss. It turned out that Rusty had just been taught to maintain pressure on the front of the boot and that's what he was doing (to an extreme). Although Rusty thought he was not pressuring the boot enough, he was doing it too much and too early, and running out of flex early in the turn.

We found a crud run. We started talking about 3 dimensional skiing (skiing at different depths in the snow) versus 2 dimensional skiing (skiing on top of the snow). The key is to stay in the middle of the ski and flex it as you travel down into the snow depth, then let it rebound you back out. (Editors note: Rusty uses the 3 dimensional tip but talks about "roller coastering" the skis by pushing the tips of the skis down when traveling down into the snow.) One of our team members was having trouble initiating turns in the 6 inch deep powder crud. Victor suggested bouncing in the snow. This tip worked so well, it was hard to get our buddy to stop traversing and link turns on each bounce instead.

Exercise: Bouncing
In powder, while traversing, try bouncing vertically in the snow. Once you feel comfortable, initiate a turn at the top of a bounce. Once you get comfortable, doing turns from traverses, link turns at the top of each bounce.

Exercise: Shuffling
When we were back on the groomers, Victor told us about his favorite little exercise: shuffling.
Shuffling your feet back and forth is hard when your standing on skis, but you start to get a feel for where "centered" is. The double shuffle (shuffling both legs forward and back together) really give you a good feel for foot pressure, boot contact, and the "balance zone". Another version of the shuffle involved keeping the upper body stiff versus loose. Hint: stiff is better.

The third and final focus for the day was pressure on the foot (ball of the foot 60/40). We experimented with different turns and trying to move our weight/pressure to different spots. This helped us narrow down exactly what "60/40" felt like and how much better it worked. But frankly, it was a bit too much for the group to try to put all of this improvement together in one day.

We got a couple of runs in at Alta before lunch. It was weird getting on a high speed chair at Alta. It was even weirder because you loaded at the end of the bullwheel with the chair going sideways. Nonetheless, it was sweet getting a couple of runs at this classic resort. It was a great sunny day with enough cloud cover to keep it cool and enough snow left over from the previous powder day to keep conditions soft. 

On Sunday afternoon Michael Rogan led a session on Skiing Concepts. He gave out a handout (editors note: stay tuned). In the beginning of the session he mentioned a whole bunch of stuff Rusty had never heard of before (and went by so quick I did not get notes - but similar info is presented later on). It sounded important. It made sense. But the powerful draw of the opportunity to make a quick improvement in our skiing overcame Michael's plan to go over what was on the handout.

Exercise: Developing a strong inside half 
We started with a focus on keeping a strong inside half. The first exercise was a variation of a ski pole pull exercise that Rusty uses often in his lessons. Rusty has his students hold onto one end of both poles whilst he pulls on the other end. The force of the "partner" pulling from a downhill position gives feedback to the uphill partner about the efficiency of his body position. In the new version, the hands hold the poles near each end and the poles are held parallel to the skis. In the static portion of this exercise you can feel loss of power if the hips turn back (i.e. losing counter). The same thing happens if you let go with your lead hand. Your lead hand rotates back and you lose counter and power. This happens often to skiers with their pole plants bringing their hands behind their hips. Next we started skiing holding our poles against our pelvis. This forced us to keep our hands aligned. The idea is to not let the poles line up with the fall line (i.e. you've squared up and lost counter). For extra credit try holding the poles with your wrists instead of your hands. Another moving version of this was called Saturday Night Fever. Without using your poles, keep your outside hand on your hip and make your inside hand lead. If you make short radius turns, your hand lead switch is sort of like dancing. 

Next Michael worked on sliding feet. A common problem is when the outside ski falls behind and does not perform (i.e. the inside ski starts the turn and the outside ski does not, creating a V shape). Proving that these demo team guys are all on the same page, Michael reviewed the feet shuffling exercises that Victor talked about earlier that morning with my main group. Some of the glitches that shuffling can help with: stemming (that occurs from loss of speed control) and tempo loss (which gets fixed by guiding the shape of the turn better). The key with shuffling is what  your hips do. When they move, you use your whole leg. If you're legs are bent, you'll only shuffle with the feet versus moving the legs too.

Sunday night started the Interski presentations (click here for the PSIA presentations page). It's already been explained in TPS (the PSIA magazine) that PSIA skipped the last Interski 4 years ago because it was all show and no meat. PSIA went this year because this year's Interski was much more heavily focused on teaching over synchro skiing. We got to see the keynote speeches presented by NSAA (the model for growth pitch) and PSIA. In addition to seeing the actual presentations we also got the background story. 

Mike Berry, the CEO of NSAA presented the NSAA model for growth as the keynote presentation at Interski.  Although ski visits have spiked due to weather the last two seasons, the trend  over the last 10 years has been flat skier visits (50-55 million per year) and slowing snowboard growth. There has been a lot of marketing cannibalism where one resorts growth occurs by stealing skiers from other resorts. One of the key underpinnings of the model for growth is demographics. Skiing is largely a "white" sport (editor's note: 15 inch powder penalty for a bad pun). In America, the white population is aging as the non-white population grows. This means the sport will decrease naturally if nothing is done. NSAA is also assuming that the climate warming trend will continue and also negatively affect growth. The model for growth: improve first time skiers by 6% and increase the conversion rate (number of first timers who will continue to ski) by 15% (from the current 15% to 17.5%) has the ultimate goal of increasing skier visits a cumulative total of 28.8% by 2015. For those of us who think lift lines are too long now, this is a scary thought. However, the reality is that increased use of high speed lifts and terrain expansion means that there is plenty of slope capacity to handle this kind of growth. The model for growth documents the competition:
1) growing time poverty
2) global warming
3) increasingly sophisticated entertainment options
4) social trends favoring watching over doing
One of the glaring things that occurred at Interski was that many other nations have not thought about their sports this way. Although NSAA is American focused, they have studied trends in other countries. Canada has a higher rate of conversion for first time skiers (18% vs our 15%), but they also have a greater leakage of the core skiers (i.e. people who quit skiing). Canada is also much more dependent on international visitors than the US is. One of the definitions of conversion is 3 days or more of skiing per year and the achievement of intermediate level within 2 seasons.

So how do we achieve the new growth numbers? By focusing on the points of contact to improve the skier experience and recognizing the diversity of expectations and abilities. When we look at the beginner experience it is clear we have room to improve. The points of contact are "pre arrival" (i.e. calling the mountain for info, accessing web sites, organizing friends, planning logistics, etc), arrival (e.g. parking, tickets, lodge space), rental, on mountain experience (including lessons for 90% of the beginners - 10% learn on their own or from friends) and "follow up".

The NSAA model for growth has 3 phases:
1) Research (it's clear they have a good understanding of the skiing market)
2) Implementation (done over the last couple of years)
3) Propagation (where we are now)

Some final tidbits that were presented:
1) smaller resorts have the greatest percentage growth potential
2) the priority  is increasing conversion (the US has 2 million people try the sport every year)
3) There typically is little communication between area management and ski school management
4) Europe has a bigger aging white population problem than the US, plus a lot of Europe's historical cultural bias for skiing is starting to fade.
5) Japan's skier visits have fallen by 40%!

BTW John Armstrong noted that Mike constantly pushes ski area management to be nice to instructors as part of the growth strategy. 


The PSIA presentation started with a mission statement: It's our job to inspire life long passion for the mountain experience. PSIA has 29 thousand members. We need to start cross training besides just teaching, especially improving our guest service. The message PSIA is trying to communicate to pros: develop a relationship with our guests, create memorable experiences and enhance the learning environment. Here's a math equation: comfort + respect = trust. Experience + relationship + learning = lasting memories. Share your personality when you teach. Maslow's mountain: replace fear and uncertainty with a sense of belonging. The keys to instructor confidence include: 
people skills
teaching skills
technical skills

Sunday evening ended with a Q&A session:

Q) Media exposure is heavily racing oriented. Are we doing anything about this?
A) We recognize the issue, but have no solution
(editor's note: Rusty has these suggestions:
1) Write articles for your local papers
2) Invite local TV stations to the slopes for interviews and stories
3) Work heavily with radio stations for on hill broadcasting events)

Q) Why do we ignore the rise in ticket and equipment prices as a reason for slow skier growth?
A) Look at the Colorado front range pass prices over the last few years. This issue is not being ignored. However, the research is showing that money is way down the list. The big issue is lack of fun and too much hassle versus other alternatives.

Q) 2 million first time skiers per year! So what?
A) We want to increase the trial rate too. But it is interesting to note that we have more age 14-16 FIS racers that any European country. 

Q) Is the issue people not taking lessons?
A) < 10% of first timers learn on their own. The 15 % conversion rate is not a "not taking lessons" problem. It is an opportunity for those teaching lessons.

Q) How does ski compare to golf?
A) Golf has less (growth?). Golf's social culture is exclusionary. Less lessons are taught. Most lessons are private versus group (skiing is opposite)

Q) How doe we create upper level lessons to help increase retention rate?
A) Hug them? (Don't know)
Rusty's suggestions:
1 run lessons ($5)
Free tip of the day

Q) What about giving out more SWAG to the new media?
A) Limited funds. Add up all of the ski industry gross national product and you have less than half of Nike.

Q) Do we have data on customer requests for certified pros?
A) No. Mark Dorsey is our survey guy.

Q) Best pros don't teach first timers?
A) This is difficult to solve.
Rusty's note: At Whitetail, the supervisors and trainers actively work to assign and encourage experienced pros to teach first time lessons.

Q) What does PSIA do to get the message out?
A) Core concepts manual, focus on developing the message, more focus on teaching versus technical in the exam process

Q) Fly fishing is a high growth sport and golf is second. Is there an opportunity for more research?
A) What are their demographics? 

Q) PSIA is educational. Will our  pay ever go up. ?
A) Europe's ski industry is government financed by tourism agencies. And top pros get education support. In Val d'Isere, top pros get 30K season. In the Us they get 25-30K plus tips. (tipping is less in Europe). The perspective is that pay is not that big an issue. The position of PSIA is to focus on lobbying associations and reps to make for a better environment for pros.

Rusty's Question that he was too chicken to ask:
If more experience = better lessons? What are we doing to increase average experience of instructors (i.e. reduce turnover, increase the full time to part time ratio, etc.)?

Exercise: Foot Pressure - Sideways hop.
Day 2 with Victor continued with the 60/40 weight on the front of the foot focus. We started bouncing by using the ankle, then added lifting the downhill ski and tipping into the turn. Victor then threw us a new one with "co-contraction of the hamstrings". He wanted us to feel tension in the hamstrings as we extended our outside leg. It's funky, but this works.

Next we did a sideways hop exercise. Start by standing across the fall line facing the side of the trail. Hop into the air and in the downhill direction. Then stick the landing. No double hops on the landing. Also try to keep the upper body quiet. Can you feel tightness on the landing? Can you feel it go away after flexing? The trick is to resist the flexing. Don't make/let flex happen. Resist it. You need to do the same in your turns. Don't make/let flex happen. Resist it. From there we did what Rusty calls "grr" turns. We took the "stick the landing" feeling into moving turns. Get the new edges engaged into the snow and apply pressure to them to "Stick" into a carve. Rusty brought up a Lito Tejada-Flores comment about not encouraging student to be aggressive because it makes them stiff. We acknowledged how easy it was to take this exercise and make it an aggressive movement, but it did not have to be. This led to the term "functional tension"

Exercise: more shuffling - functional tension
A good example of functional tension was another variation of the shuffle exercise. Victor instructed Rusty to get "loose" then bent over and pulled on the tip of his ski. With loose tension, only the foot came forward. When repeated with functional tension, the whole body came forward. Another version of this was done with the upper body. Stand to the side and push on the back of the shoulders with one hand and on the belly with the other and the body bends when loose and stays put when stiff.  Try it the reverse way with one hand on the front of the shoulders and the other in the small of the back and a whole different set of muscles has to work. The bottom line here is that we need to use functional tension to keep our body from being bent out of a centered position.

Exercise: telemark turns
A good way to practice  this is performing "telemark" style turns in alpine equipment. (well not totally). Victor added a new twist to this exercise by encouraging us to finish the turns uphill. While this exercise did not do too much for Rusty in terms of improving his turns, it was good practice for the functional tension thing.

The last concept for the day was "High Performance, Low Speed skiing". The idea was to ski slowly on easier terrain while making all of the moves necessary to ski fast on more difficult terrain. The point was that we tend to relax on such terrain and ski sloppy because we can get away with it.

The summary for the day was:
1) Functional tension
2) ? (weight/edging?)
3) How to direct the outside ski through the turn
4) How to release the downhill ski

Monday's elective session was "Stepping Stones with Charlie MacArthur. After a quick discussion of the stepping stones concept (it's in the manual people), and how it was presented and received at Interski (many other countries teach only one way - a straight path concept), Charlie unveiled the Crazy Legs stepping stone for teaching cross under turns.

Exercise: Crazy Legs - cross under turns
We started at a standing position and crunched down low to our skis. The objective was to feel your toes come up. The point was that we wanted to get low without letting our weight get in the back seat. The test came when we started to traverse. Stay low and step your uphill ski out the side  and on it's downhill edge, then let the ski naturally drift back. It was a little awkward at first, but after a few trips across the hill we were making this move snappy. We worked our way down to some "flatter" (i.e. gentle blue groomer) terrain. Then we tried the crazy legs move to both sides while doing a straight run down the trail. Some of us picked up a good head of steam doing this, but it was a pretty cool feeling. And the folks that did it well looked like they were dancing down the hill. Next was "virtual bumps". The idea was to do the crazy legs move in a straight run with both feet. Imagining there were bumps in the run helped. Next we found a cat trail cutting across our path. Charlie asked us to jet our legs out as we crossed over the cat trail and try to put our butt on the flat edge of the cat trail. Finally we were ready to try this move out in the bumps. We did some easy bumps first, then moved on a tougher black run. Everyone in the group was able to take this concept and ski better. This exercise was especially challenging for Rusty because his morning group focus was cross over turns where he was being told to stand taller. It was interesting and refreshing to do exactly opposite (get lower) of what you were desperately trying to do to improve your skiing.

Monday night was presentation night. We started getting into the details of what Interski was like. Did you know that it costs 21 cents/year per member to send the demo team to Interski? Did you know that Interski started in 1951? Prior to this year's event in Crans Montana, Switzerland, the demo team skipped the event in Norway because the 1995 event in Japan was all show and no meat. Coincidentally, the number of skier days in Japan has dropped 40% since its heyday. 32 nations attended this years Interski. PSIA attended this event because the priority was on education over show. One of the main reasons PSIA attends Interski is to help get new materials produced. The focus is to generate new material for presentation at Interski, get feedback and then polish it for publication. With this years event, PSIA was able to use some of the already published material as a basis for some of the presentations.

Interski was a day and night long affair. Day time demos were performed competitively to get people attend on snow workshops and indoor and keynote lectures held later throughout the day. Night time demos were done for performance. There were about 40 on snow workshops, so it was a tough choice to decide what to attend. The US team presented 4 workshops. All were taught as afternoon elective sessions at the Academy. 

The US team was impressed with Holland's ski team. They have revolving slopes, plastic hills and and 3 indoor resorts, one of which has a 1500 foot vertical. In New Zealand, they still use only the wedge for teaching beginners. There teaching method talks about 4 ways the body can move where feet the snow:
They also talk about "3 sames": both feet the same distance apart through the turn, both skis tipped at the same angle at each point through the turn (the angle changes, but both skis are at the same angle at any single point) and level feet (tip lead minimized). In Canada, they have a triangle representing the 3 thirds:
guest experience
tactical approach

The Swiss children's program drew attention. The program is government funded. They use a colored animal coding system to match the skills being taught. Yellow bear = gliding Orange penguin= lateral and stepping, Red tail snake = turning,. blue kangaroo  = jumping. The program has a mascot named Snowli that has all of the colors in his costume + green vest that represents a blending of the skills. Parents get a credit card that show what level their kids are at. The credit card is recognized at all resorts throughout the country. And the colors are incorporated into the Swiss technical manual.

There were 25 1/2 hour lectures presented every day. The US team presented 4 (which were presented Tuesday night - see below). Other countries workshops included:
Canada - racing
Japan - digital imaging
Poland?? - short swing and carving 

Keynote speeches included:

Winter sports and politics - Swiss (which strangely enough had US references to Vegas and Vail's Adventure Ridge

Europe works together - Germany (pros are now able to move between EU countries)

Peak Experience, Peak performance - Sweden (talked creating an emotional connection with the guest)

AASI was represented by Chad Frost (who paid his own way?)
Interski 2007 will be held in Korea. The night ended with a cool video showing a lot of the synchro skiing and neat slide show that captured a lot of the emotion from the event. 

Tuesday was elective day. Since there was fresh snow, Rusty was feeling better about his skiing, and his skis were better suited for Eastern groomers, he decided to take advantage of the demo tents. In the morning he tried the Rossignol all mountain Bandit 3X. Then it was off to the conditions du jour clinic with Michael Rogan and Sean M. Michael asked us if our skis were getting knocked around? When someone answered yes, he said "Well - don't do that". It was funny at the time. Michael explained that it was not the snows fault, it was our hips not being over the inside ski. 

Exercise: Hip position during turning
From a standing position, we tried a kind of bullfighter turn. We did not step around to face downhill like a normal bullfighter turn. We just simply rolled the downhill ski until the new edge engaged and then checked where our hips were at. This one started to feel good until Rusty found that some of his muscles still had not fully healed from a snowboarding tumble the previous week. Be careful when you try this exercise.

Exercise: Forward pressure - check your ski tips
Next we checked how much pressure we had on the tip of our skis. Take your pole and hook it on your ski tip and pull. With your weight forward, the tip is solid. With your weight back, the tip flaps like a chicken.

Next came yet another epiphany for Rusty. Rusty had always taught that perfect lead change happened directly in the fall line. O contraire mon frere! Sean and Michael were both making their lead change above the fall line. Rusty had also taught that turns started with hip movement across the skis to initiate the edge change. The word from Michael was to start the turn with your feet and knees, then let the hip come to the inside. The hip movement causes the lead change by standing ahead of the outside ski and over the inside ski. It was pretty cool to watch this happen from a standing position. The lead change happens without shuffling the feet back and forth. We were advised to keep an eye out for people trying to do the edge change with the inside ski in front of the body. When we added letting the outside get long in the context of this exercise, it really started to click. 

Exercise: Lead change
From a standing position (with or without skis on), with your uphill foot/leg slightly ahead of the downhill foot, move the hips downhill and watch the knees and feet follow. Reset, then try it again rolling the feet and knees first, then letting the hips follow. This just feels better. Now do it again, but watch how the move makes a lead change with the feet happen without shuffling your feet.

The Rossi Bandit was fine, but it had to go back at lunch. Rusty tried Atomic's all mountain ski (note: the Atomics were not much different from the Rossis) for an afternoon video session with Karl Underkoffler (Whitetail note: Karl says hi to Gary Lindbergh). The focus was on skiing concepts. Karl emphasized he did not want to critique our skiing per se, but wanted to give us feedback within the context of what our groups had been working on during the week. Karl's skiing concepts were:

balance as being future oriented; core provides balance
ability to "redistribute" the weight
moving off the old edges onto the new edges smoothly
keeping the inside strong so the body can turn underneath (versus banking)
use of the poles to a) get into the new turn or b) to get out of the old turn

Rusty's turns - the inside hand kept falling behind which put him in a weak position for the start of the next turn. Other turns - Jim let himself flex at the end of a turn. Rob had some heel push on his turns. He was encouraged to stand up more. Marilyn was skiing great, but her core was too far back. She started her turns with upper shoulder, but he liked the momentum  of the outside hand being used to help complete the turn. Pat went up to start the turn and down to finish, but he needed to be active in the middle of the turns too. He was advised to stay short, watch the hand wave thing and to tip is edges more to help the long leg short leg thing. Joel had his weight back, You could see his skis getting bounced around. He need to get more pressure on his skis and get his skis tipped more on edge. It was amazing to feel the difference that having both edge AND pressure had on ski stability.

Wednesday was a POWDER day! Although the official total was mere 3-4 inches, there were places up to 18 inches deep. Rusty demoed the Volkl 6 star. Rusty really liked the T50 5 star model he had skied earlier in the year, but the 6 star was even better. Although the 6 star is a stiffer ski, it handled the powder just fine. This is the ski that Rusty will be on next year.

On the first run Victor dived into some set up crap and proclaimed it to be not worth it. He 
detected a noticeable increase in confidence in the group when someone proceeded to follow him through the nasty stuff anyway. He did catch Rusty leaning his head and shoulders into the turns instead of moving his core. It was easy to forget to extend the uphill  leg too. But oh when you did, you could really feel the difference. For the rest of the group came the advice to keep ones hands up and forward, use a bouncing movement to get your skis out of the snow to make it easier to turn and to tip your boots to get the skis on edge more to help keep them stable instead of getting your skis knocked around in the crud. Taking a break on a groomed run, we worked on keeping an active inside and softening and releasing to get into the new turn. Victor noted that Eileen had lost her knock kneed stance. He thought maybe it was through the exercises we had done all week. Eileen though the 6 strips of tape for canting might have had something to do with it (Rusty had given Eileen a "don't wait, just do it" piece of advice on the first day). Mike had loaned his video camera to Victor during the morning, so we were able to see some quick video at lunch.

In the afternoon, the clouds started moving in just in time to keep things cool. Rusty switched over to giant Volkl powder skis and attended the "coaching" session with Dave Lyons. This mini clinic was focused more on developing our coaching skills versus our skiing skills. before we broke up, we did a circle sit exercise. Everyone stands real close front to back in a very tight circle, then sits on the knees of the person behind them. We paired off and worked on communication styles and content between partners as we switched roles through the various tasks we were given. The first task was synchro skiing. Next we did backwards traverses and backward skiing. Finally, we did backwards skiing with 2 180s thrown in. We talked about learning "just outside the comfort zone" and the trust that is necessary to allow that to happen. A quotable observation was that the skill circles diagram should have a portion of the edging, rotary and pressure circles outside of the balance circle.  Successful coaching is all about trust, so admit when you blow it and something does not work. Rusty does not know how this came up, but someone mentioned why have 2 teaching models? The Children's teaching model (Play, Drill, Adventure, Summary) seems to work ok for adults too. The quote of the day (mangled by Rusty) "There's an art to coaching for when the coach lets the student go and when the student comes back for more coaching".

On Wednesday evening, the Interski indoor workshops were presented. We started with more info on the NSAA growth model. It was noted that it is hard for beginners to get on the "inside" of the sport of skiing. First, the dress is different. You need to be fit. Where do you find your skiing buddies. Getting the right equipment is expensive and a pain. Part of the growth model is a focus on what, how and to whom things need to be done. One of the concepts was "entry portals for kids and beginners" as a means to help reduce the complexity in the "guest" path. PSIA/NSAA is looking at promoting/encouraging kid specific programs that include mascots, reserved terrain, etc. The Aspen children's program was used as an example. They have a 20% return rate to the program and a 68% return rate to the sport. Their class average is 3.5 students.

A big part of the how is cooperation between ski pros, resorts, manufacturers and suppliers. Things resorts can do is focus more on terrain modification and hiring and training friendly faces. Manufacturers are focusing more product development efforts in beginners and kids. Things pros can do is focus on versatility and attitude in support of the service model. Many nations hire solely on ski ability. France's requirement of 100 FIS racer points for full certification was mentioned as an example. The growth model depends on hiring more for people skills than skiing skills.  As an aside it was noted that many of the top instructors from other countries were not very good at presenting information. One of the skills that is looked for in our demo team tryouts is presentation skills.

Another one of the pitches was "Discovering your students". "HOW" = mind/body/spirit. Mind is covered in the manual as "multiple intelligence" and learning styles.  Body is "aging, strengths, abilities, disabilities", etc. Spirit is trust, relationships, allowing risk, caring, memories, success, fear, boredom, etc.

The next pitch as "Stepping Stones and Skills Concepts". To spice up the presentation, no chairs were in the room and no shoes were allowed. It was noted that the mix of languages spoken by the crowds and lack of strength in English, made it difficult for presenters to have smooth pitches. Although our stepping stones concept is simple, many nations teach a strict progression of skills, with no skipping around. It was noted that the Swiss also have stepping stones, but these represent techniques as opposed to a TEACHING methodology. The purposes of our stones are to help create lesson plans and as a means to keep students engaged into the lesson. To keep us engaged, we did an arm waving exercise. The gist of it was based on 3 positions: arm raised, arm 1/2 way up or arm at the side. Then we went through a Simon says kind of drill instructing us to have one hand in one position and the other in a same or different position. After a couple of beers at altitude, this was not easy. However, they did miss out on the "Uncle George" version of this exercise that has the group unwittingly raising their arms and lowering them as if performing religious praise to the instructor. Quote of the session: "There's a difference between creating rapport and creating trust". Be honest when a stepping stone does not work.

The next pitch was "pro development". We started with a description of an instructor help wanted ad from the 60s: Has hot feet (i.e. can ski great), drinks like a fish, has a pulse, will show up to work occasionally. Today's ad reads: Excellent guest service skills, likes working with people, wants to constantly improve, shows up to work on time, is flexible. In this pitch, the bullets were:
Customers are driving pro change
PSIA certification is becoming more focused on service education
Schools need to focus on training
PSIA supports training efforts through the manuals, the portfolio concept, the master teacher program
PSIA uses the National Standard to help share ideas among the divisions

Many of the visitors to this workshop were very interested in the manuals and videos that were available at this session.

Exercise: Railroad turns
Thursday morning we started with railroad turns. Rusty had done excellent RR turns in earlier clinic, but turning up the slope pitch and speed was his undoing. His inside hand kept slipping back, not letting counter build at the end of the turn. 

Exercise: Pole drag
We worked on an exercise to drag the poles at boot level. Victor mentioned that he's working on changing his skiing style to keep the poles more vertical than horizontal. A mental image that might help is "Harley" handlebars: imagine riding a motorcycle to keep your hands in front. Someone suggested holding the pole grips sideways. Victor also nagged us to keep all 4 fingers on the poles instead of swinging the poles out in front. Especially watch the bottom 2 fingers. 

Exercise: Pole touch
Next we built on the hop and set edge exercise by turning it into a 3 point landing with a pole touch. Standing sideways across the hill, the hopped downhill and landed with both skis and pole touch simultaneously. No double hopping on the landing - stick it! The pole touch should occur down the fall line from the boots. 

Finally we put it all together in short turns, with Victor nagging us about swing versus sweep (keeping all fingers on the pole). He encouraged us to sweep the pole tip across the snow at the same rate as the ski turns so that the pole sweep anticipates the turn instead of getting ready to turn, then sweeping the pole. Victor also mentioned that pole timing is different in short turns versus long turns. For short turns, you sweep the pole then extend. For long turns, you extend the outside leg first, then touch the pole.

On Thursday afternoon, Rusty did another video session. Rusty really wanted to check out his new found skills on some groomed runs (to get some proof?). But noooooooo, he could not pass up the opportunity to ski with Megan Harvey and Dave Lyon, who led off the "fast" group. Then, instead of waiting for a tram ride up, we stayed low on the mountain to save time. This meant skiing in the heavy muck (okay - we did get one groomer in). The mucky bumps, were .... ah.... challenging. Some of the tips we got from watching the video were:
Inside ski was blocking movement because it was either flat or on the wrong edge
On pole plants, the baskets should go where the center of mass should go
Get your elbows away from your body
Ride the Harley (same as earlier)
You don't know where far enough is until you find too far

Some of the comments Rusty got were:
When Rusty got defensive he did not use the outside leg long technique and banked instead. He was told to think about lifting the inside leg to raise the inside shoulder. One of the problems that Rusty was working on earlier was to expose his belly more. The bad habit of hunching the shoulder forward returned in the heavy snow. Dave Lyon had Rusty suck his stomach in and round his shoulders to curve the spine a little and then move his elbows in front of his hips. When asked "Does that feel better?", Rusty said "NO!". But it was good to feel a new position that should help with an old problem.

Rusty uses video analysis software called "NEAT". Someone mentioned another piece of video analysis software called V-One that is available for $39. Rusty did an Internet search and found references to schools that use this software, but could not find anyplace selling it or describing it. "DARTFISH" was another piece of software that was talked about. It was said that this was expensive and used at Deer Valley. Rusty then searched again for the Neat software and found that it was selling for $99 and a downloadable demo was available for free.  The video sessions at the academy were all done by using a video camera for playback and no copies were made available to take home. Rusty says everyone should be using computer software for video analysis.

Thursday night was the big banquet. For some reason, there is a banquet tradition of the retelling of the dyslexic version of the Cinderella story (e.g. "sisty uglers" instead of ugly sisters). Evidently it gets better the more often you hear it. However, the telling was quite skillful. Dimitri from Moscow stood up to give his thanks for the opportunity to visit with us. It was announced that someone took the "inspiring passion" advice from the opening speeches and got engaged at the Academy. The video crew put together a montage from all the video sessions during the week. During dinner we all got our Academy pins and certificates.

Wow what a week! For those of us in the Eastern division, imagine a "Pro Jam on steroids". Big mountain skiing, meeting new friends and some of the legends of our industry, getting a piece of ski teaching history, skiing with lots of demo team members and other ski teaching greats are all combined with 1000 watts of enthusiasm. If you were there, maybe these notes will help strengthen the learning experience. If you weren't, maybe there's something you can steal for your own skiing or teaching. Either way, you need to start planning to next April's National Academy.