Instruction, Alternative Paths: New Direction For U.S. Demo Team

Fall Line

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The 15 members of the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) Alpine Demo Team have been called the Blue Angels of skiing. They’re selected every four years after an exhaustive tryout to represent the best in U.S. skiing and teaching-and to participate in Interski, a quadrennial gathering that includes seminars and a closely watched synchronized skiing demonstration. But this April, when top instructor teams from 25 nations converge on Beitostølen, Norway, for the 14th Annual Interski, the PSIA Demo Team will be noticeably absent.

Why would the elite U.S. squad pass on Interski, widely considered to be the Olympics of ski teaching? The answer lies in a philosophical shift within both PSIA and Interski. While PSIA has recently focused its Demo Team as a teaching team, Interski has moved away from its educational roots to become a ski contest starring former European World Cuppers, many of whom lack teaching backgrounds and are there mainly for the publicity. Furthermore, European and American instructors are facing different issues and have less in common.

“It would be like sending a basketball team to a football game,” says PSIA Demo Team spokesman Mark Dorsey, who notes PSIA will send a small contingent to Norway.

Also at issue are finances and, to a certain extent, pride. PSIA spends close to 10 percent of its $1.5 million budget to send the Demo Team and its entourage to Interski. “We can do so much more to educate with that kind of money,” says Dorsey. In the early Nineties, Demo Team members collectively spent 125 days holding clinics in the field; this season they will near 700, coming in contact with an impressive 30 percent of the dues-paying PSIA membership.

All that teaching and training keeps the Demo Team from practicing as a unit, making it difficult to match the synchronicity displayed by the Europeans and other nations at Interski. While other teams enjoy an abundance of training opportunities, the PSIA squad is largely limited to a week in November at Copper Mountain, Colo.

“We are an educational team, not a Demo Team,” says team coach Dave Merriam, who adds there might be a silver lining. PSIA is already working on a spring 2000 event in conjunction with the Canadians, who are also passing on Interski. That event would bring together nations that foremost want to learn from each other-and who face teaching challenges similar to those in the U.S.

“We need to do something that involves a lot more sharing,” says Merriam. “Perhaps this is a new beginning.”

Battle Of The Ski Schools
The Europeans may have dominated the World Alpine Championships at Vail, Colo., in mid-February. But when the world’s best ski teachers gather in Vail April 22-24 for the 12th annual “Battle of the Ski Schools,” it will be the homestanding Vail instructors looking for a third consecutive title. n The three-day event-formally known as the 1999 World Synchro Ski Championships presented by SKI Magazine-attracts some 30 teams from resorts such as Heavenly, Calif., and Ramsau, Austria. The eight-member teams ski in formation on six different passes down the course, which includes two jumps, and are ranked by a panel of judges on synchronization, technique and overall appearance. Ski school pride, bragging rights and $15,000 in cash are up for grabs. n For more information, contact organizer Hayden Scott at (970) 479-6333 or hayden@eefproductions.com.