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.