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.
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 .....
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".
Merriam then went through some of the logistics:
format for the rest of the week was:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
Some final tidbits that were
BTW John Armstrong noted that Mike constantly pushes ski area management to be nice to instructors as part of the growth strategy.
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:
Sunday evening ended with a Q&A session:
Q) Media exposure is
heavily racing oriented. Are we doing anything about this?
Q) 2 million first time skiers per
year! So what?
Is the issue people not taking lessons?
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 -
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:
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:
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:
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?)
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: Forward pressure - check your
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
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
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.
the first run Victor dived into some set up crap and proclaimed it to be
not worth it. He
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:
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
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.