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We all know Glen Plake. We know him as the mohawked hot dogger with an unhealthy addiction to moguls who, thanks to Greg Stump’s 1987 ski movie classic “The Blizzard of Aahhhh’s,” helped add “Pro Skier” to the official list of viable careers. But above all, we know Glen Plake as skiing’s antihero—the guy who ditched the U.S. Ski Team in favor of skiing without rules and once fled to Chamonix, France to avoid trouble with the law at home.
But that was all decades ago. Since then, Hot Doggers came and went the way of skinny skis; other pro skiers like Shane McConkey dreamed up bigger stunts and took on the roles of skiing’s riffraff. And yet, Glen Plake has managed to stay current and relevant in today’s ski culture.
How? By transforming himself into something entirely unexpected: a ski instructor who believes in skiing by the book. In his own words, here’s a look at his surprising transformation from an anti-establishment punk skier into a fully certified professional ski instructor who now not only spreads stoke, but the Professional Ski Instructors of America’s (PSIA) credo.
In His Own Words: Glen Plake Then and Now
NOW: I think we take ski instructors for granted. That person trained, they’re a professional. Unfortunately, in the ’80s ski instruction took a bit of a hit. If you look back at the ’60s and ’70s, everyone knew who the best skiers on the hill were: the ski instructors. That’s why they were ski instructors during that era, and they were respected and admired. But something happened in the ’80s, and it was partially due to technique and partially due to some protocols like Perfect Form that made it a bad, dark time for ski instruction. It just got weird, and the ski instructor became that poodle that we all made fun of.
THEN: I was a spokesperson for Learn a Snowsports Month and was asked on the “Today Show” to teach anchor Hoda Kotb, a first-time skier, to ski. We were on the ski lift and she asked me, ‘What happens when we get to the top here?’ And I thought, ‘Interesting question, I have no idea.’ I ended up literally carrying this woman around the ski area—that was my teaching capacity at the time. And I thought, anyone who sees this is going to think this guy has no idea what he’s doing. That night, I made a call to PSIA.
NOW: I took my PSIA Level 1 certification at Breckenridge in 2011 with 250 new hires. I’ll be very honest: I was ready to call the examiners out. And yet, as I moved through the process, there was nothing I could call them out on. I was like, ‘Yeah, that makes sense’ … ‘OK, interesting,’ … ‘Yeah, can’t argue with that.’ So, I felt good about the whole process, and started thinking about Level 2 and 3, which turned out to be a little more involved. But I was never given a hall pass through the process. If anything, examiners expected me to be better than I was. That said, I went on to get my Level 2 and 3, and now I’m an official PSIA examiner.
THEN: Back in the ’80s, ski instructors all got these dang certifications and thought they were somebodies, when clearly, they weren’t.
NOW: Here’s what a lot of people don’t understand: A Level 3 certification means that you’re a wonderful instructor—it doesn’t mean that you’re the best skier on the hill. At the same time, some Level 3 instructors are really, really, really good skiers. That’s why AJ Oliver, Brenna Kelleher, and I were up at Mustang Powder—to show people that ski instructors can be awesome skiers.
On one of my Down Home Tours, I was at this little ski area, and in their lodge they had all these old pictures of ski instructors from the ’60s and ’70s and after looking at them I thought, there’s no way you wouldn’t take a lesson from these dudes. Pictures of them jumping, doing tricks, all the things that ski instructors could do in that romantic era of the occupation—I think we need to bring that back a little bit.
THEN: Twenty-five years ago, my buddies and I were stubborn, stupid, and ornery enough to go out and climb and ski mountains.
NOW: Everything you see now is telling you to buy backcountry gear, ski powder, go ski tour—and people have no clue how to use the gear or what it’s really for. We need to adopt the European instruction model and teach people that mountain guides can help them access this natural skiing environment that everybody is shoving down our throats, and is, in fact, fun. I feel that ski school should teach people some general backcountry technique—not snow safety, not avalanche awareness, not mountain sense, but just teach people how to use the equipment.
THEN: Powder has never been that big of a deal to me. I guess because I knew how to ski powder before powder skis showed up.
It’s just crazy how people are about powder now. That’s why I love mogul skiing so much—it doesn’t matter how many people are skiing the moguls. While it’s wonderful to have the spectacles of the sport—those once-in-a-lifetime Warren Miller moments—we need to realize that those are just spectacles. We’re putting a lot of emphasis not on the everyday aspects of the sport, and I think we need to rediscover why we ski.
Exclusive clip from Warren Miller Entertainment’s “Timeless,” presented by VW
History of Ski Instruction (PSIA) in the U.S.
- 1930-60: The early days of ski instruction in the United States. Teaching technique and principles varied across the country: ski instructors could choose to teach Austrian, French, or Swiss methods—there was no set standard for instruction.
- ‘60: A group of seven committed instructors incorporated PSIA.
- ‘64: The Official American Ski Technique is born, setting a standard for how skiing was to be taught in America.
- ‘87: PSIA developed the first training and education snowboard programs.
- ‘97: PSIA forms the American Association of Snowboard Instructors (AASI) as an affiliate association.
Where to Go: Mustang Powder
Mustang Powder provides some of the best and most remote backcountry cat skiing in the Monashee Mountains of B.C. Boasting more than 30,000 acres of terrain accessible via 275 miles of snow roads, the operation caters to advanced skiers and boarders looking to ski until they drop. Mustang Powder offers two-to four-day trips starting November 30, 2019 through April 5, 2020. Prices vary depending on dates and program.
To get after it, fly into Kelowna, B.C., a two-hour drive from Mustang’s meeting spot near Craigallachie. Mustang Powder is also accessible via major highways from the east (Kamloops, approx. two-hour drive) and the west (Revelstoke, approx. 45-minute drive). Plan to arrive the day prior to your trip dates. New for the 2019-2020 season, all guests will be flown into the lodge from the meeting spot near Craigallachie. Info: mustangpowder.com
Originally published in the Warren Miller’s Timeless special print edition of SKI Magazine. Learn more about the movie and buy tickets now.