The Truth About PSIA

PMTS Forum

The Truth About PSIA

Postby snowtravel » Sun Sep 29, 2013 11:04 am

A New Hire
In 1983, I joined Northstar's ski school: first as pupil, then as teacher. A college drop-out, I worked nights as a host at Schaffer's Mill restaurant at the threshold of Northstar Village. My housemate and I car-pooled in my lame little Fiat sedan (don't ask), and since he worked as a lift attendant we'd arrive pretty early. Almost daily, I took the free lessons Northstar offered employees. On the advice of my new mentors, I attended race clinics weekly, bought new skis and boots, and every morning before lessons practiced diligently what they taught. Slowly I progressed.

By the end of the season, racing and tennis teacher Zeke Straw—a fast-skiing, blond ski school supervisor who seemed to embody the athletic young coach—said I was skiing well enough to teach. Just dumb enough to believe him, I bought an expensive "learn to be a ski instructor" clinic with ski school director Mike Iman, a high-level operative in the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA). Soon, like every aspiring instructor, I joined the PSIA too. When Iman hired me the following season, I was ecstatic. I also had almost no idea what I was doing.

Starving, With Style
Teaching seemed like a good gig back then. I looked up to the senior instructors, who enjoyed some status. Credible rumors had top workers earning over $200/day including tips, and some essentially ran their own shows. (Later, at Alta, some earned hundreds more, and I wonder if they still do.) For them, free-skiing in uniform could yield "request privates" at higher pay (when customers admired a teacher enough to book an expensive, individualized lesson). Large classes generated both small bonuses and request privates too. Ski passes were unrestricted. Many instructors were manufacturer "reps" who ran profitable "pro-form" businesses out of their lockers, selling everything ski-related at smart discounts.

We "new guys"—newbies hadn't been invented yet—taught mostly novice kids, usually all-day with lunch included. I can't recall exactly what I made, but it was enough to live on, barely. My second full season (my first as a ski teacher), I rented a studio at the Incline Village Racquet Club for $250/month. Food, clothing and transport were cheap, as were car and medical insurance. One pair of skis was enough, or maybe two if you were a serious NASTAR racer (I wasn't). We worked plenty because the ski school was small and seemingly everybody took lessons. Northstar paid us to attend training clinics: there were lots, some of which had value. I quickly transitioned to a mix of kids, adults and privates.

PSIA guru and ski school director Iman always assured us that he cared and a better future lay ahead. To a 24-year old, it seemed plausible.

Back to School
A very brief and unsuccessful encounter with a tree led to several days in the hospital and the first of three knee surgeries. As PSIA child clinician Paul Mundy urged one evening in the mid-Eighties over apres-ski beer at Schaffer's Mill, I needed to finish college. I took his advice to heart—along with my lesson from the tree—and earned my undergraduate degree at UC Berkeley and then a JD from UC Hastings. But I was hooked on skiing, loved to share it through teaching, and managed to stay on at Northstar all the way through law school.

With a year at a now-defunct big law firm in-between, I spent a winter with Vail marketing, taking skier surveys on chairlifts, then moved to Utah. I bought a pass at Snowbird my first season (around $1,200 at the time), where I scared myself silly. Then I taught at Park City and free-skied at Alta for five incredible winters. Like practically everyone else there, I learned deep powder and got addicted to it. During summers, I did contract work for other lawyers (and before that, spent two summers as a musician on cruise ships). It wasn't profitable—props to my big brother for putting me up (and putting up with me) in Salt Lake City—but it was a good life nonetheless.



Certifiable
By 1995 I'd developed enough skill and experience to attain Full Certification with PSIA, a coveted accomplishment they'd oddly renamed "Level III." As a ski teacher, I'd finally arrived. Yet even back then, it was clear that something in the ski teaching world had gone badly awry. Contrary to Iman's always-soothing speeches, we not only weren't better off, we were much worse. More importantly, so were our students and the larger public. Though I went on to teach for several more years, the problem nagged at me.

The whole experience led me to study the PSIA: it's history, documents, structure, policies, and how they relate to all I've observed since 1983. The problem, I've learned, is not what experienced skiers (or even teachers) might conjure. Specifically, it's neither that PSIA students invariably get stuck in movements like the also oddly-renamed "wedge christie" (they do), nor even that PSIA nonsense belies its real goals (it does). While these are substantial issues for enthusiasts, they are only symptoms of a more pernicious reality.

So what's up with the PSIA? Soon I hope to have a website devoted to it, but meanwhile, that's the focus of this series of posts, dedicated to my colleagues and students of the last few decades.

Best wishes,

Joseph Bochner
Ski fast, don't fall.
User avatar
snowtravel
 
Posts: 9
Joined: Sat Sep 28, 2013 3:11 pm

Re: The Truth About PSIA

Postby NoCleverName » Sun Sep 29, 2013 2:03 pm

I'm going to need to buy some more microwave popcorn.

...and Welcome!
User avatar
NoCleverName
 
Posts: 452
Joined: Fri Feb 13, 2004 9:56 am
Location: Massachusetts

Re: The Truth About PSIA

Postby polecat » Sun Sep 29, 2013 5:09 pm

Looking forward to it. Image
User avatar
polecat
 
Posts: 123
Joined: Thu Jan 08, 2009 10:49 am

Re: The Truth About PSIA

Postby NoCleverName » Mon Sep 30, 2013 4:11 am

The PSIA instructors I know are trying to do the right thing for their clients. Most don't have a lot of love for the PSIA but they seemed resigned to the situation with the organization and the mountain ski schools. They pretty much know they are being taken advantage of due to their love of the sport. There's just something ingrained in the organization that prevents it from truly moving forward...it seems like they consider yearly repackaging and re-branding the same product to be "moving forward". I think a lot of the guys resent this because it seems like an excuse to sell them more clinics that do little more than teach them the new lingo.

So there's a lot of well-meaning people out there.
User avatar
NoCleverName
 
Posts: 452
Joined: Fri Feb 13, 2004 9:56 am
Location: Massachusetts

Re: The Truth About PSIA

Postby Basil j » Mon Sep 30, 2013 1:36 pm

So I am at the gym the other day and a gentlemen there starts talking to me about my training. It was a leg day for me so I was doing barbell squats, single leg squats, deadlifts and then I started doing some single leg balance exercises in between sets. After the weights I hit the rowing machine for a few 5 minute bursts. He asked me if I was training for anything specific and I said that I train for tennis in the spring and summer and skiing in the fall & winter. He said he was a level 3 PSIA teacher for years and has been long retired. He had worked up in Maine and up in NH years ago. He was impressed with my work ethic for a guy my age (52) I asked him if he had heard of PMTS and he said that it had been around for years and he was familiar with it but felt that it was a rigid form of skiing and too "race-carve" orineted for the average skier. According to him, and what the PSIA told him as an instructor, the average skier just wants to have some fun and see some immediate results, where in PMTS, it requires a dedicated effort, a long learning curve and is too locked into carving. "It is a very Rigid system" He said "you accelerate when you carve and that is not something you want to be doing all the time." Racing is not the rage anymore. "People call carving "Railing" now, and it is is easily learned with shaped skis."" You need to be able to carve, skid and "smear" turns when appropriate. peolpe would rather ski the trees than a nastar course. PMTS It is not a system supported by PSIA so he was not allowed to teach any of it except for fundamental tipping to start a turn." He was very nice and said he was extremely interested in seeing how my progress with the system works out as the my winter progresses. He thought for racing it would be excellent, since i plan on racing again this winter.
I thought that his perspective was interesting and after I talked to him I called the ski school director at my home mountain to see if they would introduce any PMTS ideologies or movements to the kids programs. The director was not there but the instructor I spoke to had never heard of PMTS and stated that the ski school is committed to their excellent Kids PSIA program.
Oh well. I guess it will be on me to try to teach my kids whatever I can as I learn it.
Last edited by Basil j on Tue Oct 01, 2013 5:47 am, edited 1 time in total.
Basil j
 
Posts: 234
Joined: Fri Sep 06, 2013 6:52 am

Re: The Truth About PSIA

Postby h.harb » Mon Sep 30, 2013 4:51 pm

NCN, good intentions are paving the road to hell. I think someone said that once.

Basil, most PSIA instructors have no clue about PMTS and if they do, they were told a story by those that don't want them to find out how good it is.
User avatar
h.harb
 
Posts: 6949
Joined: Sat Feb 03, 2007 2:08 pm
Location: Dumont, Colorado

Re: The Truth About PSIA

Postby NoCleverName » Mon Sep 30, 2013 5:26 pm

Well, I think good intentions count for something. It's not like the average L1 goes out to give bad advice on purpose. Let's just say the "good intentions" of the these guys should not be held equivalent to the "good intentions" of, say, the odd suicide bomber. Except for maybe used car salesmen, most people don't go about their work planning to screw over other people. Even though that might be the end result.
User avatar
NoCleverName
 
Posts: 452
Joined: Fri Feb 13, 2004 9:56 am
Location: Massachusetts

Re: The Truth About PSIA

Postby Basil j » Mon Sep 30, 2013 6:46 pm

I think instructors are held hostage to whatever system they have to teach based on what the resort has bought into. PSIA is a large reputable organization and is the main organization available for the average joe who wants to get credentialed to teach skiing. it saddens me that more variety or options are not available. I told 10 of my ski buddies who are all excellent skiers last week that I am committing myself to this sytem this year in order to improve my skiing. None of them have ever heard of PMTS. No fault of theirs. they only know of PSIA because that is what they know.
Basil j
 
Posts: 234
Joined: Fri Sep 06, 2013 6:52 am

Re: The Truth About PSIA

Postby h.harb » Mon Sep 30, 2013 10:33 pm

I'm sorry, I hold everyone to a higher standard. If you are going to do a job, even a low level job, like teaching kids. See what I just said, "A low level job, like teaching children" that's how instructors look at that position. THe least experienced "want to be instructors", get the kids. You think having good intentions is satisfactory for your kids??? Look at what Max501 did, he educated himself with the best program, and made himself a coach, because he saw what was going on. I don't accept that you have to accept low standards.

I don't buy into that good intentions philosophy. I started teaching tennis, I didn't immediately get a job with the Newcombe organization, I studied every book available on tennis, worked everyday on my game and strokes, and had to tryout to get the job. That is not what you have to do or know in ski teaching. You have to know very little and produce very little and it's satisfactory in the industry.
User avatar
h.harb
 
Posts: 6949
Joined: Sat Feb 03, 2007 2:08 pm
Location: Dumont, Colorado

Re: The Truth About PSIA

Postby NoCleverName » Tue Oct 01, 2013 3:25 am

Well, HH, you are probably right. But then you are also one of the handful of truly "professional ski instructors" in the country. To the exact meaning of the word.
User avatar
NoCleverName
 
Posts: 452
Joined: Fri Feb 13, 2004 9:56 am
Location: Massachusetts

Re: The Truth About PSIA

Postby h.harb » Tue Oct 01, 2013 8:47 am

Why PSIA and other TTS can't change

This happens in all industries and in people's lives as well. The more we understand about ourselves and our behavior the better we can control our natural instincts.
Your unconscious mind creates patterns to make its work more efficient. The more information your mind can process automatically, the more cycles are available to manage and respond to the important realtime information coming from our world – like a threat.

When our unconscious mind senses a delta between what it expects and what is potentially occurring, it sends out an error alert.

The patterns we create range from how we think about ourselves to how we swing that golf club. Our minds also create business patterns in thinking and behavior. These patterns and expectations range from our products, customers and competitors, to the processes, responsibilities and beliefs that drive our business.

When our unconscious mind senses a delta between what it expects (based on our patterns) and what is potentially occurring (the change), it sends out an error alert. This alert triggers our fear instincts, the same fight or flight instincts that govern our survival mind. The error trigger is so strong it causes physiological discomfort. So we avoid the change at any cost.

When a change in business is presented to our unconscious mind, we see that change as a threat and we either resist or avoid it. We also seek the safety and comfort of the status quo. That’s part of the status quo bias, which is another instinctual mindware program related to the threat response.

No wonder we see teams or entire organizations hanging onto “the way we’ve always done it”, even when “it” isn’t working and our businesses are suffering. In the middle of that threatening situation – we instinctually seek the safe and known. Even if the downward spiral continues.
User avatar
h.harb
 
Posts: 6949
Joined: Sat Feb 03, 2007 2:08 pm
Location: Dumont, Colorado

Just Go Through a Door ...

Postby NoCleverName » Tue Oct 01, 2013 10:03 am

But you can change if the let go of the past.

Your note about how the mind "fills in the gaps" from a base of familiarity and expectations reminds me about why people find themselves wondering why they came into a room. And the story goes that when you quickly decide to go and get something you file that fact away in short term memory. But if you go through a door to a whole new room your mind "reloads" with the memories and expectations about that room, wiping out the short term memory during the reload.

It's also true that many times we make big changes when life forces us to go through a door. Generally, it's big nasty events like fire, accident, layoff, somebody's death ... the event so changes the regularity of life that you can make big changes. In fact, after this has occurred a couple of times you learn to take advantage of the opportunity.

To take us back to recreational skiing, it's hard to see where one can find the door. Sure, professional athletes have doors available to them all the time ... like coming in off the podium after years of success. They'll try to remake themselves. We've seen it all the time. But for the casual, non-racer skier, changing everything is more arduous because there usually isn't a big motivating factor.

Doors exist for big organizations, too. The Blackberry boys are going through a door ... although it might be a trapdoor! For the PSIA, maybe sooner or later declining skier-visits in the face of ever-increasing ski area capital investment might cause management to question why the hell they have them around. Then they might be willing to change.
User avatar
NoCleverName
 
Posts: 452
Joined: Fri Feb 13, 2004 9:56 am
Location: Massachusetts

Another Decade or Three

Postby snowtravel » Tue Oct 01, 2013 10:41 am

The PSIA Way
Always choosing the right buzzword, PSIA says it's "student centered." Certainly, our students should learn the basics, one way or another. They don't need to know the whole system, mind you, but some core concepts should be shared, if we expect our students to enjoy the sport. That's how it's done in every discipline I've studied, from music to computers, from aviation to law and politics.

Beginning early in my ski career, first out of naiveté and then later just for fun, I'd often ask students if they'd ever heard of balance, pressure, edging and rotary skills: the crown jewels of PSIA's American Teaching System (ATS). Almost no one ever had. The reason is simple: ATS content is not for the skiing public.

Skeptical? Please don't take my word for it. Go to thesnowpros.org and find something—anything at all—explaining ATS. Check Amazon too. Do it now, it's eye-opening. I'll wait.

Stew-Dent Sintered
Welcome back. See what I mean?

Keeping the substance of ATS out of the public eye brings several benefits. First, it lets resorts put newbie, low-wage workers in charge of almost any class and call it good. It enables high consumer prices for empty but pretty uniforms and meaninglessly "certified" schools. No one ever calls them on it. (OK, Harald, almost nobody.)

Simultaneously, a fugitive system means that teachers regardless of experience aren't ever responsible for their knowledge or skill because consumers remain ignorant of any standards by which to judge them. For instance, it lets teachers use words like anticipation, counter-rotation, foot-turning, leg-turning, rotary, steering, guiding, squaring, separation and even hip angulation interchangeably. (And yes, I've heard these terms used synonymously in PSIA sessions, sometimes within the same clinic.)

My kingdom for a glossary; start with "S," for student.

Blue Cheese, Italian or Thousand Island?
Back in 1990s Park City, and happily for me, the PSIA-word-salad actually liberated higher-level coaches, freeing us to explore our own skiing. (Having ten words for one thing and vice versa will do that.) We read Warren Witherell and watched the US Ski Team. Out on the hill with good skiers, we learned and taught what we wanted to.

With the help of guys like Stew Marsh, I found myself practicing and then teaching fundamentals like carving that decades of PSIA lessons and clinics had utterly neglected right up to my Level III exam. The more I discovered outside of PSIA dogma—like the very simple truth that we ski with our feet—the better my students and I skied.

Today I only wish I'd gotten there about two decades sooner.

The New Economy of Winter Sports
Whatever the uses of ATS, we teachers had more pressing concerns. Over the years, injuries of every sort—collisions, avalanches, falls and just plain wear and tear—took their painful and crippling toll. A colleague I knew at Park City died skiing in a clinic. Many more were injured, often permanently, usually without adequate insurance. Moronic military-style morning lineups—an absurd traditional ski school ritual—gave lip-service to safety, not to make us any safer but for perceived "risk management."

By the new millennium, equipment grew more expensive while pro-forms began to disappear. Teachers now needed two pairs of skis, hundreds of dollars in other specialized gear, plus PSIA membership, training and exams, all at our own expense. People stopped taking lessons and, as snowboarding came into its own, for a while skiing felt like a dying sport. Instead, snowsports went increasingly upscale and costs of living in mountain towns soared.

Compensation fell even as prices rose. Teacher incentives for large classes and private lessons were reduced or disappeared altogether. Our resort handlers, many of whom were also our PSIA clinicians and examiners, learned to over-hire for the early-season holidays, turning a day's work that once included 7 paid hours into to just 4 (or less). Resorts increasingly restricted free-skiing privileges: early and late-season, we needed special permission just to practice or check out conditions. Skiing in uniform became verboten, drastically reducing our familiarity, visibility and relevance.

Of course, we still had to go out and perform like athletes in all terrain and weather, ready or not. Too often, we were not.

"There's No Money in It"
By 2008—the only year for which data is publicly available—top-level instructors were earning just $19.15 an hour on average with no benefits but a grudging restricted pass, and working only a fraction of a 40-hour week. Injuries aside, the lousy compensation and high costs forced out experienced instructors in favor of guileless new hires. Resorts only saw more profit in the bargain. "Control over labor costs"—reducing hours or firing employees who thought they had full-time, winter-long teaching jobs—became commonplace. 

That same year, 2008, 64% of the teacher corps was either entry level certified (PSIA Level I) or not certified at all. (Level I is "in-house" at many resorts, and easily accomplished by a parallel skier at the end of a single part-time season of teaching.) In other words, two of three instructors were newbies, earning on average between $10.43 and $12.04 per hour. These comprise the "P" in PSIA: part-time, partially-trained, pathetically-underpaid, and just passing-through.

Meanwhile, ever-wealthier consumers paid top dollar. At popular ski areas the benchmark all-day private lesson price rose to around $500 per 6-hour day. (Today it's approaching $700.) Child group lessons brought in well over a hundred per head, often with 10 or more per low-wage teacher. (Now it's a couple hundred.) Do the math.

With falling costs and rising prices, ski schools had become major cash cows. For 2008, Vail Resorts Inc. reported ski school revenue of 81.38 million dollars. Last year, even with poor snow in the West, Vail's ski school EBITDA ran over $84 million. While consumers pay premium prices and teachers starve and quit, resorts are making bank.

This is what they mean when they say, "world class."

The Heroic PSIA
To this day, the supposedly "grass roots" Professional Ski Instructors of America seems indifferently mute. The PSIA's mission, its leaders consistently declare, is only "educational." Though PSIA's Articles of Incorporation and By-Laws say nothing about the matter, PSIA operatives—almost all of them simultaneously managers or fiduciaries for their respective resorts—tell us the organization doesn't take a stand on wages, benefits, or working conditions. Just like the resorts who pay them to manage us, PSIA elites say our plight is simply not their problem.

Instead we get ATS window dressing.

So if our students don't learn ATS, if we don't really use it, if wages and working conditions fall while prices rise, if resorts earn hundreds of millions on our broken bodies, if the loss of top level coaches turns the whole industry into an oxymoron of starving, professional newbies, and finally if PSIA won't concern itself with any of it, it's only natural to wonder: Who does PSIA serve?

We'll begin exploring PSIA's constituency next time.

Best wishes,

Joseph
Last edited by snowtravel on Tue Oct 01, 2013 1:35 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Ski fast, don't fall.
User avatar
snowtravel
 
Posts: 9
Joined: Sat Sep 28, 2013 3:11 pm

Re: The Truth About PSIA

Postby Basil j » Tue Oct 01, 2013 11:29 am

This is awesome stuff! :shock:
Basil j
 
Posts: 234
Joined: Fri Sep 06, 2013 6:52 am

Re: The Truth About PSIA

Postby NoCleverName » Tue Oct 01, 2013 11:49 am

I'd often ask students if they'd ever heard of balance, pressure, edging and rotary skills: the crown jewels of PSIA's American Teaching System (ATS). Almost no one ever had. The reason is simple: ATS content is not for the skiing public.


One of the most illuminating statements I've read about resort ski instruction.
User avatar
NoCleverName
 
Posts: 452
Joined: Fri Feb 13, 2004 9:56 am
Location: Massachusetts

Next

Return to Primary Movements Teaching System

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 7 guests

cron