The Skills Concept
The U.S. Demonstration Team revolutionized ski instruction when they presented “The American Technique,” at the 1975 International Ski Instructors Congress (Interski) in Strbske Pleso, Czechoslovakia. Also known as the “Skills Concept,” the American Technique focused on three technical aspects – a skier’s rotary movement (i.e., twisting), edging, and pressure control – to give instructors real-time teaching tools to work on specific aspects of a student’s skiing.
“Skills let us focus on where people wanted to ski, and how they wanted to ski it,” said Mike Porter, a member of the 1975 team, who went on to serve as its coach for many terms.
That fall, the Skills Concept and the American Technique were the highlight of a multi-page feature in Sports Illustrated Magazine, under the title “Easy as One Two Ski.” The Skills Concept’s lasting impact can be seen in technical manuals for every discipline, and as the technical basis for The Learning Connection.
“The Skills Concept was revolutionary then and is still very much the blueprint to look at, analyze, and discuss skiing in every aspect of the sport,” said PSIA Alpine Team Coach Michael Rogan. “This concept – updated to focus on rotational control, edge control, and pressure control as integral to all turns and essential for maintaining balance – has been adopted for almost every other alpine country in the world. It is impossible to fathom the impact the Skills Concept has had on our sport and profession.”
Opportunity for Women in Snowsports
When PSIA and Aspen hosted Interski in 1968, the U.S. Demonstration Team included nine women (unlike now when members are selected for four-year terms, the team was assembled for each event).
In 1980, Carol Levine (who in 2017 was awarded the PSIA-AASI Educational Excellence Award) and Ellen Post Foster (who won the award in 2015 and is a member of the Colorado and U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame) both earned spots on the PSIA Demonstration Team, now called the PSIA-AASI National Team. Coming eight years after the 1972 passage of Title IX – the regulation prohibiting sex discrimination in education programs or activities receiving federal funds – equality in snowsports was still slow moving, especially in recognizing women for their abilities as athletes and coaches. The same was true in ski school locker rooms, despite women making up half of the snowsports consumer population.
Levine and Foster, followed by Alpine Demonstration Team members Dee Byrne, Mermer Blakeslee, Nancy Oakes, Katie Ertl, and Megan Harvey were critical to opening doors for more gender diversity in snowsports instruction. In the late 1980s and ‘90s, women made inroads to the Snowboard Team (Kerri Hannon, Jane Mauser) and Nordic Team (Deb Ackerman Willits).
Today, PSIA-AASI is committed to working within its sphere of influence to make snowsports more welcoming to all people – inclusive of age; ability; disability; socioeconomic status; ethnic origin; nationality; and racial, religious, social, sexual, or gender identity.
“We have strong and brave leaders like Carol, Ellen, and Dee to thank for helping pave the road for women in snowsports education,” said Robin Barnes, who is presently in her fourth term on the PSIA Alpine Team. “They each earned spots on the team because they were recognized as instructor-athletes who had a lot to offer our membership and our industry.”
Barnes noted that “Today, we enjoy building on that foundation with our Women’s Summit, Women’s Advisory Group, and Nancy Oakes Hall Scholarships, and recognize that it is both women and men who build, create, and innovate for snowsports education.”
The Junior Education Team
PSIA-AASI’s Teaching Children Snowsports manual – released in Fall 2021 – supports a long tradition of quality kids’ instruction, compiling the education tools, on-snow teaching tips, and insight into how children think, react/socialize, and move. The beginnings of this manual stretches back two decades to the creation of PSIA’s Junior Education Team. Better known as the JETs, this national group of kid-centric instructors worked with a laser-focus on program development specifically for children, helping to ensure that skiing and snowboarding resonated early with the sport’s next generation.
They created the Advanced Children’s Educator (ACE) program, which evolved into the Children’s Specialist credential, to assess each instructor’s skill in teaching children. Their work lives on in The National Children’s Task Force, which helps guide innovation within PSIA-AASI’s Children’s Specialist community.
PSIA Alpine Team member Kevin Jordan who co-authored the Teaching Children Snowsports manual with Mark Aiken, shared the JET’s legacy is their instrumental line of questioning to evolve children’s instruction.
The Creation of AASI
PSIA embraced snowboarding and published the first Snowboard Ski Instructional Manual in 1989. Then, in 1991, Dave Alden and Jane Mauser were the first snowboarders to demonstrate at Interski.
PSIA created the American Association of Snowboard Instructors (AASI) in 1997. AASI was the world’s first snowboard instruction entity dedicated to helping everyone, from beginners to top athletes, improve their riding. According to AASI Snowboard Team Coach Eric Rolls, “Creating AASI helped snowboard instructors and educators carve their own path while staying connected to snowboarding’s roots, especially the creativity and individualized expression.”
Pioneering Adaptive Instruction
In the 1950’s Korean War veteran Lee Perry, known as “The Pied Piper of Adaptive Skiing,” began to develop the first ski school for amputees at Mt. Hood’s Government Camp in Oregon. Then Doug Pringle, a Vietnam veteran who lost a leg in combat, found his “life’s work,” in adaptive teaching and became president of Disabled Sports USA Far West.
PSIA began certifying adaptive instructors in 1984. Pioneering instructors such as Hal O’Leary and Gwen Allard (both members of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame) wrote early adaptive teaching manuals, including O’Leary’s Bold Tracks, published in 1987.
When PSIA-AASI’s Adaptive Alpine Technical Manual was shared with the international snowsports instruction community at Interski 2019 in Pamporovo, Bulgaria, it crowned the U.S. standing as the gold standard in terms of evaluating, understanding, and promoting adaptive instruction.
According to PSIA-AASI Adaptive Team Coach and manual co-author Geoff Krill, this manual represented “The first time that the Skills Concept matched seamlessly with the array of modalities within the adaptive world.” This was particularly enlightening insight for all instructors, Krill said, “because what we hold fundamentally true in skiing did not change when it came to various adaptive equipment and missing body parts. You still have to stand on it, turn, tip and bend something in order to make it down the hill.”
Building the Learning Connection
The PSIA-AASI National Team introduced the Learning Connection at Interski 2015. They then continued to develop the idea and presented it again at Interski 2019.
The Learning Connection focuses on creating an effective learning environment by applying a balance of people skills (an instructor’s self-awareness, ability to create trust, and communication skills), teaching skills (the connection between the instructor and student), and technical skills (good technique adapted to the student’s ability or desired outcome). People-skill and teaching-skill fundamentals are the same across disciplines.
The Teaching Snowsports Manual, published in 2018, brought components of the Learning Connection to life including critical advice on communication, interpersonal and intrapersonal skills, and effective teaching. In 2021 the PSIA-AASI Board of Directors approved new certification standards built on the foundation of the Learning Connection.
The Learning Connection gives PSIA-AASI more consistency between its certifications while increasing the value of and integrity of its credentials. In the words of PSIA-AASI Director of Education Dave Schuiling, “The entire process is the true definition of collaboration. We’ve established a greater level of trust that will carry us forward to help unite the snowsports industry to spur its growth.”
See the full article that originally appeared in the winter 2022 issue of 32 Degrees magazine.