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In 1984, Michael Rogan was on track to go to West Point. He was almost done with the application, and he was in his high school library flipping through none other than SKI Magazine when he saw an ad by now-defunct Olin skis that changed his life.
“It was for the DT SL [Demo Team Slalom] ski, which was one of the first skis built for improvement,” Rogan said between power-tool noises during a recent phone interview from his Tahoe garage, where he was doing boot work and tuning skis. “The ad had Shawn Smith, Mike Porter, and Tim Petrick in it, with a caption, ‘Who are these guys?’ They were an elite group of ski instructors, and it hit me that you could make a living teaching skiing.”
Rogan is one of the best technical skiers in the world—he’s the guy you’ve seen countless times in our magazine dragging his hip on the ground in a gravity-defying carve. He’s taught Olympians (you know, minor players like Lindsey Vonn), is now the operations manager at Portillo, and coaches the ski instructors as a member of the PSIA Alpine Demo Team. And he’s so humble, he won’t tell you any of that unless you ask.
Surprisingly, Rogan didn’t find his way onto a pair of skis until he was nine or so, when a teacher offered to take him and his brother up to Windham, New York, on a snow day from school. “Our family were not skiers, nor did we become skiers as a family. But my brother and I took to it like ducks to water. We loved it,” he said. He joined a ski club in high school, took a few ski trips, and spent every day on the hill striving to get better. He got a part-time job so he could afford to buy himself a private lesson a week. “I loved the solitude of it, the quietness, the nature, I loved the being alone part. I enjoyed doing my own kind of thing,” he said.
Someone suggested the best way to get better was to start racing, so he joined the Catamount race team for a year, but had to quit when he turned 17 because he was too old for club level. So he enrolled in a course to become a ski instructor at Catamount, and then saw the ad in SKI Magazine, decided the military would not be in his future, and told his parents he was going to become a professional ski instructor instead. “My mom understood. My dad was a little disappointed, but he finally grew tired of letting me know it. In his typical fashion, he said, ‘If you’re gonna do that, you better be good at it. You’re not going to be just a ski bum.’”
In order for Rogan to learn everything he needed to know, he knew he had to move from Catamount. And as luck would have it, when he received his level-two certification, he got a letter in the mail from Pico’s ski school director Joe Wood announcing the resort was looking to hire instructors. “It was a form letter sent to all level-two instructors, but at the time I thought it was addressed specifically to me,” Rogan said, laughing. “I got an interview, my dad made me put on a tie, and up I went to Rutland, Vermont.”
As it turned out, Pico was a hotbed for instruction at that point, and Rogan immersed himself in learning everything he could. “We worked hard, and everyone there knew their shit. It was nuts how perfect it was for me,” he said. He loved it so much, and was so dedicated to becoming the best instructor he could that he decided quickly that he needed to do it year-round. As he was getting more certifications under his belt, he had heard that Jimmy Ackerson, ski school director at Bromley, had just become the ski school director at Portillo, and he went to Bromley for an interview. “It was on snow, so I didn’t wear a tie,” he said, laughing.
He got the job in 1989, and hasn’t had a summer ever since. He eventually followed Ackerson to Heavenly, where Ackerson became ski school director, and it was there he met another man whose footsteps he would follow. The late legendary Stu Campbell, former instruction editor for SKI Magazine, was the director of skier services at Heavenly and a PSIA Demo Team member, which is the pinnacle of the profession. “When I met him here in Lake Tahoe. Stu said, ‘You’re the Michael Rogan I’ve heard so much about,’ and gave me a great big hug in the hallway of his house.”
Rogan first skied for Campbell in 1994 and made the PSIA Demo Team in 1996, and he’s been on it ever since. The demo team is a four-year term, with a weeklong exam and tryout. There are, on average, 13 to 15 instructors chosen out of 32,000, and Rogan currently serves as this elite team’s coach.
Through Campbell, Rogan became a part of SKI Magazine’s ski test, and then after Campbell’s death in 2008 of cancer, succeeded him as SKI’s instruction director. He also spent four years with the US Ski Team instructing fundamental skills and technique. He worked at three World Cup races as a coach for the women’s speed team, and worked full-time with the National Training Group.
But for him, the sweetest moment of his career was back in 1996 when he made the demo team. “I made the team that I saw in that ad in SKI Magazine, all those years ago,” he said. “I have lived a blessed life. The cliché is true. If you do what you love you don’t work a day in your life.”
Sign up for Rogan’s online instruction course, “How To Break Through,” here.