Thursday, March 29, 2007

New Site and Posts

Lots of posts today. I apologize for the rapid posting, I had thought I posted these, but they were still in draft mode now for a few days.

New link today, Patagonia sent out an email on their "pro" list about their blog, The Cleanest Line. It's pretty interesting nature lovers bit, but also contains some commentary (always in favor of it seems) their equipment or even reviews from their users. Anyhow it's pretty neat stuff and worth reading.

Boot Death

This past weekend my boots finally died. I've been riding with some Nordica W12's for the past two years, finding them incredibly comfortable. There was never a BRO (Boot Release Orgasm - the moment when your foot escapes the confines of a ski boot and your body realizes it can flex again) moment when taking the boots off. I had looked at Justin's suggestion of the Beast 10's he found on sale. I tried some on locally and thought they fit pretty well. Unfortunately the online dealer had none in my size. Right now my boots sit at the Nordica boot dealer in hopes that they can repair the damage done to them. Underneath the top buckle system are two rivets that allow the boot to flex in a specific pattern.

How did they break?
While teaching a Level 2/3 class and demonstrating a flattening of the foot maneuver my shorty skis (123cm) got stuck in the super wet and slush snow conditions. A fellow snowboard instructor on course down the hill caught an edge behind me and slammed into me. The force apparently was enough to break the rivets. The collision allowed one nice change, no more squeeky boots. Unfortunately they now flex in lots of directions never intended by the plastic.

I demo'd some Atomics for the rest of the day. Much stiffer and a less comfortable fit to me. Let's hope the dealer can fix the boots before two weekends pass as that's my Level II/III on snow exam time.

Destination Snow

I got a comment from a reader asking "What's a destination resort?" The question caught me off guard as I believed this to be a rather universal term. Anyhow my explanations of destination vs non-destination resorts.

What is a non-destination resort?

Typically smaller in both skiable acreage and lodge capacity, usually you'll not find a large hotel within sight. What you can find nearby are plenty of bed and breakfasts, cabins for rent, and a handful of hostel style housing areas (I love the hostels). Occasionally you'll have a large hotel that isn't attached to any of the chains (f.e. the Mt Shasta Inn, Lake George Hotel, or something similarly named to the area). The riders to the area all live within an hour to two hours, allowing most to use their cars as lockers and drive home at the end of the day. Having learned to ride years ago at resort XYZ, these riders have graduated through the local resorts to find one they find the most rewarding. Rewarding could be seen as better terrain, better snow, or just where all their friends end up going. Occasionally they can be seen "roughing it" at a "lesser" resort. A season pass is cheaper here than most big destination resorts, and typically has no black out dates. The busy time is clearly defined by the weekend rush, where lift lines can go from none to half hour waits. If you carefully pick a center point on a map, typically you can find handfuls of these resorts within a radius of 5 miles.

What is a destination resort?

Typically larger in size in both skiable acreage and lodge capacity, usually with an entire town attached to the base area. Their terrain typically services all types of skiers and snowboarder, from parks&pipes, piste, oft-piste, beginner, advanced, and really really advanced. Their lift tickets are typically more expensive for a single day pass, but cheaper on a multi-day pass thus the destination portion of the resort. Riders will often travel great distances just to part-take in the offerings. As I said earlier, think of Vail, Tahoe, Whistler, or Stowe.

Passing an exam

In my last post, I mentioned the challenges of the PSIA in understanding the business changes between a destination resort and a non-destination resort. What I failed to bring into the picture is the resort personality. This is an extremely difficult value to quantify, entire departments (called marketing) at resorts are dedicated to creating or breaking these images.

What is resort personality?
Every resort in America has a personality regardless of what a marketing department may try to spin it as. A better way to describe personality would be the publicly perceived differences between resorts. There are a handful of key ingredients that help establish the personality which include (but aren't limited to):

1) Location - Without this it's hard to create anything else. Closer to a major metropolitan area or further, on a south or north side, or above and below the timber line. This is probably the base of any resort personality.
2) The terrain - The second layer to the base of any resorts' operations. Steeps, flats, rollers, cliffs, or bowls all help dictate what type of riders will be attending.
3) Snow - dry or wet, deep or shallow, it's one of the few things absolutely needed at every resort.
4) Staff - the folks grooming the runs, food service, ticket sales, maintaining the lifts, teaching lessons, fitting for rentals, or running promotions. They help make it fun by disappearing from your daily view. The less time you spend in lines, the happier you are to return to a resort.
5) Ski Patrollers - Because 98% of the time you may never need them, but the 2% of the time they are your first useful line of help. These are the people responsible for being the first visible help when needed.

This list certainly isn't complete, but shows just about all the portions that a resort can actually control to some extent. A resort owner can pick a location. The designers can create specific runs to some extent. We can make snow if not enough has fallen. Staff is selected for their given skill sets and knowledge. Patrollers are less selectable by the resort, more by the NSP, but still need to pass a rigorous testing process. What can't be controlled is the customer base. Enter marketing.

Some resorts are marketed more specifically towards family entertainment, some towards the "big mountain experience". Others might be known for having some of the best early and late season snow, while others may be known to have the steepest terrain, or the worst snow coverage. Yet others may best be known for their parks and pipes, which seems to be the current rage of younger riders. Each of these factors is heavily influenced by the ingredients listed above yet there is no greater influence than that of word of mouth.

Resorts are in this game to make money, and thus capitalize on the features given to them as best as possible. For example, a resort marketing itself towards a family friendly environment for learning and exploring with younger children will have smaller terrain features, possibly more gentle slopes, and alternative activities (sledding, sleigh riding, etc). With this kind of marketing, the clientele has been pre-determined before a season starts. Parents typically won't be taking a lesson, opting instead to enjoy their child's lesson time out riding on their own or tending to a child too young in the lodge. The children usually are eager to learn and take one or two lessons. After that you'll be lucky to convince them to take another lesson. Sometimes you'll find a handful of refresher classes, where someone skied years ago but stopped due to an event.

What does any of this have to do with PSIA/AASI?

The testing criteria for advancement is broken down into three sections. A paper test is administered, an on snow skills assessment, and finally the ability to teach the concepts. Passing the on snow is really dependent upon a rider being able to master the basic skills for balance (edging, rotation, and pressure). To advance on these skills often requires having the terrain available to practice with. It's hard to practice the diagonal extension needed for extreme inclines when your only black diamond is black due to its historical lack of snow coverage or bumps in a resort that regularly ensures the runs stay groomed.

Where should an instructor at such a resort practice an upper level class? One thought is to work on correcting the abilities of fellow instructors. There exists critical points though where this method won't work any further; Either a bad habit gets introduced into the self-contained system and furthered to each generation, or the upper limits of knowledge is reached (mistakenly thought of as perfection).

The PSIA and AASI solution to this is to attend yearly training with a DCL or attend one of their end of the year symposium deals. The symposium trips are extremely fun and rewarding experiences, where an attendee can get out as much and as little as they'd like. I attended my first one last season only to find many of the great tips coming too late in the season to be useful. A clinic session with your DCL can be a mixed affair from my experience. With any situation of instruction, it's possible to get good or bad rapport with a clinician. The good thing about clinician run sessions are they typically happen at your home hill, meaning you're comfortable with the terrain and the other students. You can make mistakes and have your own lazy moments that show up on familiar terrain cleaned up. These are two of the training portions I think the PSIA and AASI does extraordinarily right. The fact that both of these count as credit hours for towards yearly re-certification helps motivate even more. (Too bad they don't happen more than once a season.) Plus they give you a chance to meet and introduce yourself to various instructors, learn some new techniques that are working elsewhere, and possibly even find a better position for yourself.

During the on snow examination test is where I feel the system falls apart. The examiner has a checklist of items to evaluate each hopeful on, a list which does take into consideration the snow conditions of that day. What the examiner can't do though is change the testing requirements per student based upon their home resort style. So Johnny family-resort and Susie big-mountain will both have difficulties vs Pat the destination-resort rider. Why? Because Pat will most likely have access to terrain that pushes the skill-set on a consistent basis.

I understand the desire for a unified test. It's an attempt at leveling the playing field. I just don't believe it worked the way it was originally intended. I've no suggestions though on correcting this just yet.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


AASI and PSIA both follow a similar pattern of advancement. Levels 1, 2, and 3 are followed by the DCL (District Clinician Leader) and Alpine Team. One advantage to this is it's pretty easy to tell where someone is in the ranks regardless of discipline.

The part that isn't easy to realize is just how large of a gap there is between levels 1 and 2. The testing changes from general skiing ability to a realm entirely different. Book knowledge, teaching abilities, and general skiing all need to increased by several fold. Wherein lies the problem.


Working at a smaller resort has it's advantages until you reach the concept of advancing, where you run into the unspoken barriers within the organization. Working with beginners is about 90-95% of any instructors' job regardless of location. Typically busy from open to close with a minor break for lunch. With a larger resort though, it's possible to pass off a class to another instructor giving you time to practice what's needed for your exam certs. The sad truth is that working regularly with beginners degrades your own skiing abilities as an instructor (mainly you become sloppy in your form).

The advancing tests aren't about the ability to make it down run XYZ in one piece at Level 2 (or 3), they're more focused on the ability to get down a run gracefully while fully utilizing the standards of balance. Did you engage those edges? Actively pressure the fore and aft of the ski? Maintain a balanced stance? Were you able to "dance with gravity"?

If you're a weekend warrior or part-time instructor time becomes your enemy here. When downtime arrives, it's typically at your second job, which has nothing to do with riding. In short, you've now encountered the ugly side of the professional organizations; the unspoken desire to keep the ranks to an exclusive group of full-time professionals. There are part-time and weekend warriors who have made it to the level of DCL, it's taken them years to achieve this rank. I've met two and both of them are amazing instructors and people. While talking with my DCL this weekend over my leveling exam he expressed the difficulties many of his own instructors were having with this very issue.

Maybe I'm being hyper-critical to the organizations. The testing and ranking seems to have done extremely well for them. Yet let's look at another factor here, instructor retention. It certainly doesn't carry the same prestige it once did. The allure is gone for the general populace. The ability to recruit new blood becomes increasingly more difficult each year. I know, I've been trying for the past three years. The current generations of instructors aren't getting any younger, and the pay-scale just isn't there. This is especially true at the non-destination resorts where tips are rare, the clients all live within an hour or two drive, and pay raises are based upon odd point systems that make little sense to anyone. New instructors have a quick and attainable goal of reaching their Level 1 certs, but find shortly after that the road to advancement will take two or more years to increase their pay by $1.

How would I remedy this?
Change the level system. There are two options as I see it. First is to split the destination resort/full time instructors and the part-time instructors into two different groups. This would probably create a huge rift within the organizations that wouldn't benefit anyone. The second option is to introduce new Levels 1.5 and 2.5, something that can be used as shorter term goals. The ability to quickly achieve levels and ranks is an important part of any sense of belonging to a group. I'm not advocating watering down the ranks completely, it still needs to maintain some basis on knowledge of instructing, demonstrating, and application of the ideas you're preaching. Possibly moving from the entire BERP (Balance, Edging, Rotation, Pressure) knowledge to just pieces is the right solution. Focus the point-5s on only two of the main goals, while the wholes will complete the testing. The distinction becomes difficult as each really does depend upon the other, but the testing could be done in parts.

Bonus Time

Towards the end of every season typically you'll find the quality of instruction goes up for a period of time before swinging drastically back. The reason is simple, the AASI and PSIA level advancement happens towards the end of the year always. The key to getting some of the best instruction or corrections (especially if you're a higher level rider) is to show up before the local exam points can happen.

Usually during this time, the instructors have brushed up dramatically on their lexicon, teaching methods, demonstrations, and most importantly their ability to inefficient movements. All these add up as bonus points for students who can successfully make it down green runs.

Monday, March 19, 2007

I'm a Pro?

I have a lot of critiques of the PSIA and AASI concepts on training, teaching, and advancement. I'll probably post a few over the next days, especially after the events this weekend. There are some parts of the organizations though that make huge amounts of sense. I'm also one to always look for new ways to describe concepts. As such I was really interested to discover our training director (TD) was having an early morning clinic being run by members of the Harb skiing method.

In my last encounter with the Harb methods, I found some of their teaching tools facilitated some absolutely amazing changes in my own skiing. Because I had a 10 am class, I knew I'd only have about 2 hours in the clinic and was pretty eager to get into the movements. Half an hour later, we're still in the lodge listening to the clinician discussing some points that have long since been forgotten. I apologize to the others in the clinic for this question. He mentioned the Harb system prefers not to have a leading foot, something I believe the PSIA is moving towards as well, while mentioning a counter rotation and an angulation he called counter. So to describe the stance best, stand with your feet shoulder width or closer and try to bend your knees and ankles while tipping on the sides of your feet a bit. Now with your upper body, rotate it (think shoulders) counter to the angle your ankles are tipping (that's counter rotation) and extend the obliques (side muscles on your stomach) to reach more towards your knees (that's counter). Naturally your body wants to spread those feet for balance, hence my question of where should the force of retraction be? In the ankles, knees, or... ? Half an hour later I still didn't know the answer to my question.

Finally on the snow, we get a chance to show some technique and see what this guy is describing. We reach the bottom of the hill and begin some of his exercises. 40 minutes later we're still at the bottom of the hill and have had the chance to traverse the hillside twice, testing out the new techniques. 10 minutes later we're on the lift again back to the top, where another long description of the mechanics is taking place. I finally leave the clinic in an effort to check out the snow coverage and quality before I have any classes to lead down.

The point of this is, the class never got anywhere. One of my favorite points of PSIA and AASI is the liberal use of the keep it simple rule. You typically have 5 minutes to keep a classes attention, after that they start tuning you out and doing everything else. Right now my opinion of the Harb system is it's probably very good if you can stomach the exceedingly long and drawn out explanations of every little detail. Is it right for me? No, obviously not. In my opinion this system would never work on a younger person. The attention span is just not there.

Friday, March 16, 2007


With the weather warming up, the snow gets soft during the day. Almost to a slushy mush of it's too warm. This of course makes it amazingly easy for beginners to move around, as the snow is slow and very content to move when asked. What the warm weather also brings out are the crazies.

This past weekend was a day of fun in the sun while on the mountain (remember that sun screen). One of the instructors had some classy basketball shorts in their car, which of course means everyone tried on a pair. On the body, the instructor jackets had the arms off sporting a 1980s style collar up look with no shirt underneath. On the head, we raided the lost and found for hats that have been here all season, which were then modified to each instructors enjoyment. Sunglasses were a must to finish the look.

Once properly attired, we terrorized the beginner chair with a few test runs in preparation for next weeks pond skimming contests. I've got my pair of classic Soloman rear-entry boots ready to go, some old skis, and now the outfit.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Seasonal Changes 2

In my previous post, Seasonal Changes I missed one important addition to marking the end of the season. The death of my gear is only one indicator. This past weekend marked the last weekend for a lot of the seasonal help. A majority of the lift attendants are now gone, chasing the endless winter to the southern hemisphere. Many of the instructors are now also starting to disappear to other jobs that require their attention (coaching, guiding, etc).

After having worked so closely together with everyone for the season, it's sad to see the family break up. We'll have one last big bash together, compare war stories, evaluate each injury, and then place bets on who will and won't return next season. We will probably not see each other until next season, many of us have families or alternate work schedules that dictate our time. A small handful of the employees will stick around at the mountain, helping to run the summer operations. I'll occasionally see them while mountain biking through the area, but they'll be short visits.

Seaonal Changes

I can always tell when the end of the season arrives. The warmer weather is a pretty good indicator. As Justin@ski-blog points out:
Point is--if you enjoy skiing, don't wait around. The season is almost over and especially down south, this may be the last weekend or certainly the last week upcoming.

This certainly is a valid point. The season only last so long before it disappears and I've to find another job for the warmer months. On the east coast there is finally some snow, but it looks like the winter weather isn't here to stay. The expected temps in the California areas make it seem unlikely they'll be open much longer. The pacific northwest is suffering the same warm weather as the southern areas. Judging from Jon Lawson's most recent video, Breckenridge will be having a good season for a while long. At least it's been a good season for me.

The number of first time lessons I had over the past week has been absolutely amazing. It could be that the warmer weather didn't frighten off the these people, or that they've finally could afford a day on the mountain. Regardless, they showed up in droves. Wearing their blue jeans, sun glasses, no sun screen, a wind breaker, and random gloves for the rope tow to chew through. I applied my standard disclaimer to all the blue jean gapers, the "you will get wet" especially on a sunny warm weekend like this had been. Regardless we had a good time.

Back to the original point of this post though, which is how do I know the season is at an end. Simple answer, my gear finally dies. Every year I'm forced to buy new gloves, new goggles, new socks, and possibly new thermals. This year I'll be adding new snow pants, new boots (one year old Nordica W12s are dead), and a new instructor jacket to the list. Most of the gear isn't designed for heavy duty daily abuse.

BTW I'm open to any suggested gear to check out. Now that the end of season sales are starting, it's the best time to go buy.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Outdoors Follow Up

In my last post, The Great Outdoors, I referenced the garbage left on the mountain. Literal garbage. I forgot another one.

Dogs feces.

Family members regularly bring the pets with them on vacation, especially to outdoors fun. Actually I really enjoy having the pets around, I think they add a certain joy to the area. What I don't see many of them doing is cleaning up after their pets. Little Fluffy is really cute, but that's no excuse. If you can't take care of your dog, just don't bring it with you!

Friday, March 9, 2007

The Great Outdoors

One of the best things about skiing, in my opinion, is that it's just amazing to be outdoors. The sun, the fresh air, the cold wind, the snow... the awe inspiring scenery! The untouched layer of white snow coating everything but the beer bottles and cans thrown about. What?

I was released from teaching duties a little earlier than usual the other day, I had already filled my quota of 5 year olds and group lessons somehow in the early morning hours. As I headed up the lower chair I, I semi-listened to a conversation between two women in the chair in front of me. Nothing too exciting being sad until I watched one of them randomly throw their now empty energy drink can off the chair.

This has been a growing problem at the resort, and for the other resorts around as well. Skiers and boarders generally not caring to keep the place garbage free. I realize that there is a severe lack of garbage cans on the slopes, but how hard is it to hold onto garbage until you find one? We've even gone as far as putting cans underneath the lift with backboards and signs like "Go Ahead, Hit Me" to encourage throwing trash in one area. Yet liter persists around the entire mountain. Beer cans and bottles in the parking lot are the worst offenders, with lift ticket backings coming in a close second, and energy drink/bar cans/wrappers on the slopes a third.

Back to the young woman on the lift though. One of the nice things about snowboarders is the amount of time they take to actually start a run. After following her to the start of the run, I confronted her about littering and was assaulted by the smell of alcohol. I thanked her for coming to the mountain, enjoying our resort, and invited her to pick up her trash that she left under the lift. Like everyone you confront on the mountain, she pointed out she hasn't been the only one to do this and became rather belligerent about it. Most of the other employees at this point just yank a ticket, but I hate being the bad guy ruining a day for someone. Especially on a beautiful day like this was. I gave her the red slash of doom with initials and the code letter for the incident, which she and her friends mocked. A liftee later told me he yanked her pass entirely for the same thing. I guess some people will never learn.

The point of this story, the employees of the mountain love it there. The jobs we do vary a lot, but one thing for certain is none of our titles should be "Clean up after slobby people on the slopes". Any fan of the outdoors should know you carry out what you pack in. Leaving a trail or any kind of sign that you were there is just disrespectful. Besides, it'd suck to run over a can only to have it rip up the baseboard, or to crash land on an empty bottle.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Worst Days

I had a rough weekend and was hit with an awful head cold that made it difficult to teach. More truthfully it wasn't too bad, but I just didn't have the focus or energy to pick children up off the ground, help them up the learning hill, etc etc. So I went to help out in the pro shop where I spent the day waxing boards, sharpening edges, fixing broken bindings as best as possible and demo'ing out equipment.

I did get to learn how to mount bindings on skis without the proper jig (someone brought in a pair of K2 Pontoons without bindings on them). It takes an extremely long time and a lot of careful calculations which makes you appreciate the jig usage.

It's interesting being the "new guy" in the pro shop. Everyone who comes in expects the best quality possible. Just like teaching there are regulars, who are extremely leery of letting someone else work on their boards. Because the pro shop pools it's tips together things go alright, but I had never expected such a protected response to the work.

I guess I did a pretty good job on one or two of them as they've come back looking for me the next few days. I agree with Justin's post on tipping the gear folks. It's not hard work to wax or sharpen, but to do a great job takes time. Plus some of the creative ways to fix broken snowboard bindings should be a relief, it'd just suck to have your day ruined by a broken toe strap on the first run.

[EDIT: Updated link to Ski-Blog. Apparently Blogger doesn't like to use Trackback Links at all. Now updated to use the static link which may last, or may not. ]

Friday, March 2, 2007


I'd just like to congratulate Alison Gannett for getting a short but essential bit into the most recent issue of Skiing Magazine. The article is a little short and I wish they'd have gone more into the weather details. But at least it brought some attention to the global weirdness cause.

Now, any chance we can get a few updates on the blog?