An unexpected late-April storm has laid down 10 inches of sweet, surfy powder on a quiet Friday morning at Utah’s Snowbird Ski Resort. Nick Herrin, Professional Ski Instructors of America’s (PSIA) newly minted CEO, clamors into the corral at the Snowbird tram dock. Herrin, a former executive at Colorado’s Crested Butte, as well as a three-term National Team member, is happy to promote his organization’s event, but he’s also jonesing for powder turns. He need not worry. He’ll be making plenty this week; it’s PSIA’s National Academy, where ski instructors from across the country travel to ski and learn from the PSIA National Team.
PSIA Director of Education Dave Schuiling and I step off the tram as patrol heads towards Baldy, flipping the sign to open. As we trudge up the bootpack, Schuiling explained the rigors of being part of the National Team and emphasizes the week’s importance for instructors across the country. “It’s an end-of-season celebration for them,” he explains, “and a chance to work on their own game by skiing with the best of the best.”
The National Team, selected every four years, consists of 30 men and women who are chosen to represent PSIA—a group of 32,000 members—at both a national and international level. The team works closely with regional education groups and performs clinics and demonstrations. Over the past several years, the National Team has worked on developing fundamentals of skiing that apply to any type of snow or condition, regardless of the ski being used.
But for most skiers, PSIA and the notion of taking ski lessons garners images of either groms in a ski train with their hands on their knees, or a tourist taking a private lesson on his trip out West, learning to ski the steep and deep. Rather than seen as the local golf club pro who can help perfect your swing, taking a lesson in skiing is often looked down upon—a sign of weakness in a sport that prides itself on being bold. PSIA is aiming to change that through a targeted collaboration with the U.S. Ski Team.
Two years ago, PSIA formed an official partnership with U.S. Ski and Snowboard and its coaching staff. Working with U.S. Men’s Alpine Head Coach Sasha Rearick, PSIA helped U.S. Ski Team members analyze their technique by applying the fundamentals of skiing. The idea is for the athlete to see how they got here—and how far they have to go. Racer Steven Nyman has attributed his comeback to the process.
“We’re trying to make sure there is a connection with what we do as ski instructors and how skiing develops between a coaching staff and its athletes,” says Mike Rogan, PSIA Alpine Team coach. By learning the basics in how you become a skier, the U.S. Ski Team athletes can then understand how they’ve gotten to the level they’re at now, he says. “It’s a process where, if understood well enough, they can become their own best coach.”
Herrin and I buzz a few laps before lunch, airing rollers and finding the last bits of cold snow in Mineral Basin. He eventually takes off for additional media engagements as I bounce around a few groups of National Team members and other attendees out for the week. The afternoon is spent skiing hard down the Cirque, Great Scott, and other staple Snowbird runs. We push it to the bell before I link up with Herrin again over a beer.
“Skiing is fun,” Herrin says. “We want to support people having a good time out on snow. The more we can help skiers explore the mountain environment, the better they’ll want to get, and the more successful we’ll become.” To that end, SKI solicited tips from PSIA instructors based at resorts all around the country. It’s some of what you know and, we suspect, a few things you don’t. We hope you can put it to good use on the hill this winter. – Erme Cantino
10 Tips from the Professional Ski Instructors of America
1. Think ahead
In bumps, a common mistake is to focus on the entry of the turn. That’s late, as you will be making linked recoveries rather than executing proactive bump skiing. Instead, focus on where you want to finish the turn. — John Kirby, Copper Mountain, Colo.
2. Tick tock
When making medium- to long-radius turns, steer the skis at a constant rate from start to finish, just like the second hand of a clock. —Timothy Burt, Blue Mountain, Pa.
3. Build up to it
Early in the season, ski a quarter of a run at your home area without stopping. Then increase to half of the run. Eventually, work your way up to nonstop runs. —Kevin Jordan, Aspen Snowmass, Colo.
4. Move to the beat
At the top of a run of bumps, think of your favorite song, and visualize turning with the music before the bumps start. Then go down the bumps humming the tune. —Marylu Cianciolo, Chicago Snow Studio, Ill.
5. The hill is your friend
Turn up the hill to slow down. Let this become the safety net in your head. Why? Because Mother Nature always balances her books. —Ron Lenker, Mount Snow, Vt.
6. Just give in
Leaning uphill on steeps puts your balance over only one leg and over the outside edge of your uphill skill—a challenging position.
Instead, give in to the slope. Widen your stance and stand on the downhill ski so you can also balance against the uphill ski. Now your position is stable and strong. You can reach your pole downhill with a slight bend in the elbow. As the pole enters the snow, that signals the end of the turn and that you’ve maximized your edging. As your skis cross under your center mass, reach for the steeps on the other side, tip your skis, and engage the edges once again. —Christopher Weiss, Toggenburg Mountain, N.Y.
8. Flex for control
To extend your legs into the trough of a bump, you must have already absorbed the previous crest. Approach bumps with a relaxed athletic body and flex at the hips, knees, and ankles. Absorb the crest with these flexed joints so that your hips and shoulders do not get thrown vertically. Then you can extend your legs into the trough, turn, check your speed, and continue. —Paul Geoghegan, Ski Bradford, Mass.
9. Short and fast
Crud causing problems? Change from carving wide-groomer arcs to short, fast turns by making your legs move like you’re running down a flight of stairs. —Paul Piscitelli, Cannon Mountain, N.H.
10. Have patience
Stand sideways on a relatively easy, groomed slope and slowly stand up taller. You will feel the skis flatten and slip down the hill effortlessly. The more patient you are, the less effort you will need, as gravity pulls your skis down the hill. —Brian Carpentier, Northstar, Calif.