The PSIA Exam

IMGP0205 A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I decided that I would pursue being a ski instructor. I was in college and began to work part time for 3 guys who started a traveling ski school called The Ski Academy. We taught the prep school kids whom I really enjoyed teasing about the big silver spoon stuck in their mouths. Larry Cohen( a former Vail instructor), Chip Kamin( an examiner for PSIA in the Central Division), and Bob Irish( a legendary Maine ski racer) got me involved and encouraged me to join the Professional Ski Instructors of America. I signed up for the entry level registered event at Cannan Valley in West Virginia. After a long, snowy, and windy trip along the back roads of WVA, I made it to the event and completed it. This was the first step of my path towards certification with the PSIA( the governing body of professional ski instructors in this country.)

Fast forward, after I graduated from college, I wanted to pursue full certification. In those days, you had to have taken the registration clinic and then have 100 hours of teaching under your belt before you could consider taking the exam. You had to have a recommendation which I received from Larry, Bob and Chip and after my winter of teaching skiing at Sugarloaf in Kingfield,Maine, I made my way to Killington, Vermont for the exam. Prior to my year at Sugarloaf, I had taken other clinics to prepare. It was at these clincs that I met legendary figures in the world of ski instruction. Cal Cantrell, Ralph “Woody” Woodward, Sears Raymond, Bruce Fenn( how about that one from the past Hutch?)all worked with me and I learned of their notoriety as early PSIA members and founders along with their extensive years of coaching and skiing. The exam in those days was one week of written testing, skiing and teaching and my pre course conductors were Stu Campbell, the noted instructor from Stowe,Vermont and Ski Magazine contributor. The other was Peter Duke who was a real perfectionist and insisted on quality demonstrations and teaching ability. Peter went on to found Smart Wool and today is president of Point 6 the leader in quality athletic wool footwear. Peter and Stu were affiliated at the time with the Stowe, Vermont Ski School. It seemed as if anybody who was anybody in the 70s was from Stowe.

I will never forget the exam as long as I live. Three days of pre clinics and training with instructors from all over the East. The first day of written and teaching was held in the rain and the fog. I did my best to be enthusiastic even though my examiner Bill Tate threw me a curve ball by asking me to teach a lower level lesson on terrain that was too steep for the lesson. I was able to get the group down to an easier area with some sideslipping and a lot of humor and continued the lesson on the proper terrain. This tactic proved positive in my marks. The next day, the rain soaked snow turned to rock hard ice as the temperatures dropped severely and we had to take the skiing part of the exam on the Cascade Run at Killington on bullet proof conditions. The un-nerving thing is that 3 examiners stand at 3 different places on the side of the run and check to see if you are truly carving a turn and using your skis as they are designed to be skied. I did a reasonable job whereas some people in my group made a series of linked recoveries down the hill much to the dismay of the examiners.

Finally, when it came to the presentations of the coveted PSIA gold pins, a list went up on the wall of the lodge and you could see people dropping like flies as their numbers were not posted. They were dejected and walked silently out of the room while those of us who passed let out a big sigh of relief when we saw our number posted. The pin presentation was a proud moment for me which has meant something to me all of my life up to this day. I continue to take the required bi-annual update to keep the certification current and in 2007, I received my 30 year pin and a nice letter from the national president of PSIA. It is hanging on the Wall of Fame in my basement today as a reminder of the fun times I had as a ski instructor.

The test today is a three part exam and very time consuming and difficult to pass. One has to spend time teaching and skiing on a big mountain like I did as a 21 year old lad, but the confidence and the pride you feel after passing the exams and getting that pin cannot be matched by any other certification process. The picture you see above is my friend Mark Hutchinson and me together at Mammoth on our annual ski trip. I met Mark later in life but interestingly, he and I passed the test together at Killington at that same exam. Mark was a former race coach at Stowe( here we go again with the Stowe guys), and currently lives in Vermont. We have a lot of fun skiing together at Killington and reliving the old days. We talk about the legends and laugh. We will be together in a few weeks again at Mammoth with our Durfee posse and will relive those old days again and again.

As I close this post, I wanted to tell you that I am writing this for my friend Art Bonavoglia who is currently teaching at Vail and is 60 years young. Art is one hell of an athlete and a great skier and is contemplating taking the exam out west. Art- go for it! I know everyone reading the blog will encourage you to take that exam. You are on one of the best mountains in the country working for arguably the best ski school in the world. Take the exam Art and you will be glad that you did it. I certainly am glad that I took it although I am grandfathered in as a level three because of the one week requirement in the old days. But…………..I will take it. My pin will be as shiny as yours Art. Thanks for reading.

32 thoughts on “The PSIA Exam

  1. J.R. says:

    “The only time you really live fully is from thirty to sixty. The young are slaves to dreams; the old servants of regrets. Only the middle-aged have all their five senses in the keeping of their wits.”
    – Theodore Roosevelt

    This is your year to take the test. Enjoy a summer without regrets. Go for it!

    • McCloskey, Pat says:

      I love this quote by one of the all time greats. I hope Art takes the test. Thanks JR. Great quote and sentiment

  2. Pete Hilton says:

    Art – just sing a little bit for them and they’re going to pass you!

  3. Sharon Bonavoglia says:

    God bless you, Pat! Art…take the f#@%& test! I’ll love you no matter what but you will be easier to live with if you go for it.

  4. Jack Harnick says:

    Pat, …took me back to a very fun time in “my” life. Certification is quite the journey!

    Thanks and see you in the lift line!

    Go for it Art…the time is now!!

  5. Cuz-I-L says:

    Art, I don’t know ya, but after reading this entry by Paddy Mac, how will ya EVER live-it-down if ya don’t take the test?? Good God man, I’d sure hate to be you if you don’t!! Slainte! Cuz-I-L

  6. Larry Cohen says:

    ART, Vail has the perfect training and coaches–you were ready last year..You have to take it this year—Think of it as a learning experience…it is part of the road travelled…join our club—–larry C

  7. Larry Cohen says:

    PatMac—-It`s time to reminisce—-Tennis @ N. P.,
    Bike Racing and all of those other activities…
    Love your writing style….keep it up!
    Larry C.

  8. Mark Hutchinson says:

    Pat, brings back so many fond memories of teaching and coaching. PSIA in those days was a stowe “good old boys club”. They really stacked the examiner roster! I had smokin Joe Wood and Tim Petrick, (two more guys who taught at stowe) during that exam as my pre course guys. I was lucky a year later to be hired at stowe and had some wonderful times with all those “legends” lol. Art, i don’t know you, but i was good friends with Spike Kullas, the legendary blond instructor from stowe who i believe is still teaching at Vail. He would never wear a hat, even on the coldest days to show off that beautiful blond hair! Take that test and have some fun with it! If you see spike, ask him what his time was in the “marlboro Challenge race”. I think he will know what you are talking about!

    • McCloskey, Pat says:

      Hutch- I knew you would like this post. Thanks for encouraging Art. You are a good man. How about our picture together at 11,000 feet? Two legends in our own minds. Got some Lake Erie Fluff yesterday at Holimont.

  9. Art Bonn says:

    Thanks for the encouragement Pat. You are the one that got me into all this, you’ve created a monster. I’ve been doing the training and it”s intense out here. The exam has many components, unheard of to take all at once and pass. May take a crack at some this year. Thanks, Art

  10. Rus Davies says:

    Pat, enjoyed the tale of certification week. Have my own recollestions of Cal Cantrell and Woody Woodard as well as Rudy Kersteiner, Otto Frei, Chris Easton and many other examiners. And good luck to my former locker room frienf Art. Go for it, Art!

    • patmccloskey says:

      Hi Rus- thanks for following and also thanks for the comment on our mutual friends and examiners. It has been a wonderful learning experience for both of us to be associated with PSIA over the years. See you on the hill.

  11. Dan Zeitlin says:

    Wow, does that bring back memories. Mine are not much different from yours. Same names and a few more. I was just thinking about Woody recently after reconnecting with some of my old ski chums. How time flies. dbz

  12. patmccloskey says:

    Reblogged this on chroniclesofmccloskey and commented:

    The second most popular post of all time. Good news- Art is taking the skiing portion of the exam today at Sugarbush,Vermont and then back to Vail. Good for you Art.

    • Rus Davies says:

      Pat, I was there at Sugarbush in March doing an update. Two of the nine in my group were wearing red. I had stopped off to the side and I saw in my peripheral vision some red coming straight at me
      . Here it was Art coming over to say hi. Of course I was surprised to see him there. I wished him luck. He did not pass the exam so I did the only honorable thing, I bought him a beer. Not just any beer, mind you, a situation like this calls for a special brew. Heady Topper brewed by The Alchemist in Waterbury, Vermont. It is an American India Double Pale Ale- 8% alcohol and very hoppy. It was, maybe still is, the number 1 microbrew in the US. Of course it is a local brew for my daughter who lives 1/4 mile from the brewery.

      • patmccloskey says:

        You are a good man Russ. I am sure that nice Vermont brew soothed Art a little. I told him to hold his head high. He teaches at the best ski school in the world.

  13. Hutch says:

    Its nice that Art will be able to enjoy some superb ski conditions at Sugarbush to take the skiing part of his exam. Its still midwinter up here in Vermont and the skiing is the best its been all season!

    • patmccloskey says:

      Thanks Hutch- Art said that Sugarbush was real firm. Not quite Vail conditions. Hope you get some good skiing in before you get that new unfair mechanical advantage of a hip. Now your turns will be even better than the flawless turns that they are!!!

  14. Tim Raymond says:

    Pat, thanks for writing this. My dad, Sears Raymond, would have loved to have seen it and know that 1.) he made a difference in peoples lives; and 2.) that someone thought of him as a legendary figure!! 🙂

    • patmccloskey says:

      Tim. Thank you for your kind comments. Your dad was definitely an inspirational person to me in my early days of PSIA training. He was legendary and my friend Mark Hutchison talk frequently about him.

    • Hutch says:

      Tim! I worked at stowe with your dad during the the 1980’s. He sure was fun to be around. I always remember a practical joke that he was in on that was played on me! Those years at Stowe were certainly more fun due to your dad!

  15. Barry Donovan says:

    Well it was interesting to read your blog as I was at the same exam as you and as #42, I was on the list of passing! I was 18 yo at the time and am still a PSIA member. My examiners were Stu Campbell, Ray Allard and Bruce Colvin (spelling?)

    • patmccloskey says:

      Interesting. I am out in Utah skiing with a friend from Vermont who also was at our exam and passed. Mark Hutchinson from Stowe. We didn’t know each other then.

  16. Barry Donovan says:

    Another interesting thing is that my future brother in law was also at the exam (and passed) although we did not know each other then.

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