This time of year, I always got anxious to start the ski season. I pushed it many times by traveling north to New Hampshire while I was in college to ski with a friend of mine. We visited a friend of my dad’s who had a cabin near North Conway and we skied Cranmore and Cannon. Fast forward and I made a lot of early season trips to Killington to ski with my friend Eric and some of his pals who eventually became some of my pals due to frequent visits to the Beast. But some of the more interesting early season trips were to a place where you might not expect. Boyne Mountain , Michigan.
I passed my PSIA certification for ski instruction at Killington, Vermont way back in the day and when I returned to Pittsburgh, I had some really great opportunities to expand on what I had learned out in the mid-west of all places. Larry Cohen, Bob Irish and Chip Kamin were all mentors of mine when I was preparing to take my test. Chip was an examiner in the central division of PSIA ( Professional Ski Instructors of America) and he invited all of us to attend some clinics at Boyne Mountain. I didn’t know much about skiing in the mid west other than it was an 8 hour plus drive to the top of the mitt of Michigan – similar to my driving times to New England. The ride up was interesting as we talked about skiing and instruction most of the way. These three guys were probably some of the most enthusiastic guys I knew at the time and it was a great way to start the ski season heading off to the mid-west for these clinics. Chip had a fellow examiner , Peter Battiste, who was quite impressive and was able to convey some things in the clinics that I had not heard in my clinics in the east.
There are differences in teaching at a smaller mountain that I was able to use in subsequent years while teaching at Seven Springs here in Pa. An interesting note is that some of the best ski racers in the country cut their teeth in racing programs at ski areas smaller than Seven Springs and Boyne Mountain. I taught skiing at Sugarloaf, Maine right after college and prior to my certification. Sugarloaf was a big mountain and the clinics I attended there were excellent but based on miles and miles of skiing and teaching on a big mountain. Boyne had less than 1000 ft vertical but Peter and Chip and his cohorts made the most of it and the early season learnings there were ingrained in my head to this day. Short radius turns, make use of the hill, edging exercises, and many other drills that utilize a smaller setting can still be beneficial in personal skiing and teaching. I see so many people at a smaller mountain not making use of the terrain. But the clinics at Boyne back in the day taught us all how to utilize a smaller mountain not only in skiing tasks but also in the teaching progressions which do vary from teaching at a larger mountain. How to get a student to be successful in a smaller crowded area is not easy and with conditions that are icy and not optimal for learning, you had to make the best of it to teach a successful lesson. But aside from the drills and exercises, one of the main things I learned is that enthusiasm many times can carry the day. We learned that when the weather is not optimal, the class size is large, the hill is crowded, there are a lot of factors that work against the instructor. But if one has an infectious passion for the sport, it can carry the day and these three guys who mentored me were a prime example of that enthusiasm.
Sadly, my three mentors have all passed away as well as Peter Battiste. Ken Griffin, my old ski instructor pal and executive at Boyne Mountain , told me the news about Peter. I think back on those days and how their enthusiasm and passion ignited a young Pat McCloskey early in the seasons. I have retired from ski instruction but still maintain my certification status and have an interest in what is new in ski teaching. There have been many changes since my exam. Penn State has been retained as a consultant for PSIA and the education process is now very similar to a college and grad school level course. There are also revisions that will make the certification process more uniform across divisions of PSIA. Examiners will all be trained to be consistent in their evaluation or “assessments” to limit the variation of interpretations across divisions. I try to keep in touch with the process but mostly these days, I try to utilize what I hear and learn in my own skiing and no longer in a teaching mode. You never stop learning and Larry, Chip and Bob taught me that a long time ago. They are missed but the result of their passion is alive in me today. Thanks for reading and think snow!