Ski the Midwest- you may be surprised.

Not too long after I worked for the winter up at Sugarloaf, Maine and after I passed my PSIA Certification Exam for ski instruction, I was motoring west through Ohio to a PSIA clinic sponsored by Boyne Mountain, Mi. 161 I was feeling rather smug with my recent accomplishment and time on the big mountain, Sugarloaf, and wondering what I could learn in Michigan?  Was there really any decent skiing there?  Do they have any vertical or elevation to speak of and why did I agree to come to this event?  Chip Kamin, who was an examiner for PSIA Central, and Larry Cohen had asked me to accompany them to this workshop clinic and I agreed because these were the two guys who got me into ski instruction in the first place and I respected them both.  So here we were, making our way through Toledo into Michigan which was no where near any reputable skiing in my mind.  I was more concerned with visiting the Christmas super store- Bronner’s, in the Bavarian themed town of Frankenmuth, Mi. logo01 I figured if I was going to drive all this way to ski on something in Michigan, I would at least salvage the trip with a visit to this famous little town with the famous Christmas store.  Boy- was I surprised when I got to Boyne and had the experience of a Central Division workshop clinic.

Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota in my mind were famous for Nordic skiing.  The Upper Peninsula in Michigan has the famous ski jumps at Iron Mountain and cross country skiing up  in those three states is king.136  But we will get back to that in a minute.  Boyne, as it turns out today, is the second largest operator and owner of ski and golf resorts in the country.  Among its current properties are Big Sky, Crystal Mt., Sugarloaf and Sunday River.  Boyne knows how to operate a ski area and although the vertical at its home base in Michigan is a little smaller than my home area here in Pennsylvania, it is very well run and the snowmaking, grooming and natural snowfall make for some pretty nice conditions.  Chip introduced me to Peter Batiste who was a fellow examiner in the Central Division and he did the split of all of the attendees at the clinic.  I was fortunate enough to make the first split and ended up in Peter’s group.  My smugness started to melt as I watched our course conductor ski.  His handling of the clinic and his skiing ability made me real glad that I had decided to attend this event.  Like I have said in many of my earlier posts, smaller mountains have produced some pretty impressive skiers.  Boyne was no exception and the enthusiasm for skiing at the smaller mountains is infectious.  No wonder Glen Plake, the famous extreme skier, spends time in the smaller areas.  Not only are they a feeder to the big resorts out west, but they have their own character and enthusiasm even with a limited vertical drop.  I learned a lot in that clinic and on our way back, the conversation was lively with Chip and Larry about Peter and the professional quality of the PSIA clinic in the Central Division.

Fast forward to another time and I had the opportunity to once again ski the midwest only this time in the frozen tundra which is the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.383816_10150517402916753_1548434111_n  Here is where winter is locked in for many months of the year and if you read my post about the National Blind Skiing Championship, you will get a feel for the challenging weather and conditions that skiers in that region face.   You really have to love the winter to live there and especially ski there. 308261_10151571337441753_2003138656_n 40 below zero straight temperatures are not uncommon in these parts and when you are skiing a small area with limited vertical terrain, you wonder sometimes why you do it?  But again, the midwestern ethic of fun, excitement, and passion runs deep in this neck of the woods.  I was again surprised at the excellent conditions and  the professional way in which the area, Blackjack, ran its “mountain.”  People are tough up there and in many ways, they reminded me of the tough as nails people from Maine that I had known in my stint at Sugarloaf.  If you didn’t have a dipstick in your engine block heating the oil, there was no way you were starting your car in either area of the country.  I had 40 below in Maine as well, but the UP is in a class of its own with the winds off of Lake Superior and the copious amounts of snowfall due to lake effect.  Blackjack might be a smaller area but they get boatloads of snow.  599556_10151571337436753_1357161776_n

Bottom line, never judge anything before you have the experience.  I had preconceived notions about Alpine skiing in the midwest, but I was pleasantly surprised.  What they lack in vertical, they more than make up for in professionally run areas and expertise in their ski instruction.  Sadly, Larry and Chip are no longer with us, but the memories of those clinics( I went back several times), are etched in my mind.  I have always been grateful to Larry, Bob Irish and Chip Kamin for getting me involved in ski instruction.  I miss all of them.  Thanks for reading and You Betcha…………ski the midwest.

Time to razor and wax em!!!

I usually get a celestial gift on or around my birthday in the form of snow flurries or snow showers.  They look after me up there and remind me that I am on their radar screen.  🙂  But it is also a trigger to get some things organized so that when the first turns are made on the slopes, I am ready to go.  I usually put the ski magazines that come trickling into my mailbox in August, September, and October in a rack so that I don’t get too excited too early.  My mountain bike friends always joke about how long it will be before I will mention skiing on a ride.  They set their watches and look for new records in the discussions.  But when those flakes start to fall, the precipitation  reminds this big flake to get organized for the season

My friend Eric Durfee taught me the fine art of sharpening and waxing skis many years ago.  He is a native Vermonter now living in Tahoe and his son Travis was top ten in Downhill and Super G west of the Mississippi for many years .  He and his dad know a thing or two about tuning skis.  Back in the day, Eric got me a pair of these tuning vices which are now too narrow for the bottom work because of the width of skis these days.  I have to Magiver a little bit to do any work on the bottoms but mostly when needed, I take them to the local shop and use their Wintersteiger machine to get the bottoms flat.  In the old days, we used a 10″ mill bastard file to try to flatten the bottoms but ski bottoms are so hard these days that only a machine will get them flat.  The modern tuning machines can also provide a beveled edge and Eric and Travis can also do that manually with file devices with specific bevel adjustments.  I am not that sophisticated.  I get the bottoms flat and then side file with an 8″ mill bastard file and can feel the sharpness measured on my fingernails- old school.  The Durfees chuckle at this because it is so old school and how I cannot utilize the technology of bevel file tools.  But I prefer to have the edge sharp to my own liking.  There is something also therapeutic and comforting knowing that you are working on your own

Waxing is another requirement.  I use Swix all purpose wax that I buy cheap through PSIA.  When I go to Tahoe, the boys grab my bar and throw it violently into the wastebasket.  But I use it here at home mostly because it works and it is cheap.  Nothing like a freshly waxed pair of skis.  I have a bit of nostalgia when I go to my garage on tuning days, especially in the beginning of the new ski season.  My dad made my bench out of a door that he bought at the hardware store many years ago.  He mounted it in his house when I was younger and then he helped me mount it in later years in my garage in my townhouse and then in my first house in West View, Pa.  I had it mounted in my current garage and every time I work on my skis, I think of my dad who helped me with many things.  He was the first guy who got me skiing 53 years ago and he didn’t even ski.  He loved the fact that I took to the sport when I was young and then when I asked him to help me design a bench, he was more than happy to help.  His mechanical engineering and general carpentry skills came into play.  I wish I had more of his talent, but it lies elsewhere.  I am a klutz mechanically.  But I can sharpen and wax a pair of skis.

I like to stay after tuning all winter because it really makes a difference in the way a ski performs.  Mentally it is an edge when the conditions get icy because you can feel confident that you have a pair of skis that will hold when you put pressure on a ski in the initiation of a turn.  The Durfees are way ahead of me when it comes to modern tuning technique but for the most part, my way has served me well over all the years.  When I go out west to visit though, I have to be at the top of my game because the Durfee boys will be inspecting and criticizing my work.  I am a tuning guru locally, but I am behind the times in the Sierras.  But it is all good and it works for the most

Funny how things like tuning can be passed down generations or even among friends.  My pal Art Bonavoglia and I used to ski in Vermont when the Durfees lived there and Art got his first taste of Durfee Tuning 101 in the basement of the Durfee home in Bethel, Vermont.  Art can really put a sharp edge on a pair of skis but these days he is spoiled because the local shops in Vail tune his skis. He is on the ski school staff there.  But his input goes into the shop as he drops them off and no doubt a lot of his requirements came from those Vermont days and also from days in the McCloskey garage where we worked together on the boards back in the day.Minturn-Red Cliff-20120202-00009

A lot of folks take their skis to a shop in the beginning of the season and then don’t touch them until the following season.  Not much tuning is required if you don’t ski in icy conditions but waxing is always a must for all skiers.  I am constantly preaching the value of sharpening and waxing on a more regular basis to local skiers.  But whether they take my advice or not, I know that I will continue to tune my skis and my wife’s skis and that the benefits are not only in performance of the equipment, but also in the memories of seasons gone by with my old bench and my 30 year old Geze vices that have withstood the test of time.  Thanks to Eric and thanks to his son Travis who keep us all in line.  Think snow and thanks for reading.

The People Builder

Charles MartinCharles MartinCharles Martin Our former pastor at our church used to say that there were two kinds of people in this world. Drainers- those who would absolutely suck the life out of you with their needy attitude and desperate conversations. You would try to help, but the drainers in life won’t listen and seem to wallow in their misfortunes and pass on the misery in heaps to anyone with a sympathetic ear. They drain the life out of you to the point where you are exhausted in trying to help. Then there are the people builders- those folks who always have a smile on their face, volunteer to help you, listen to you, be a friend, encourage you, and in general, build you up in the modern day troubled world. Charlie Martin was a people builder.

I first met Charlie through the Ski School at Seven Springs Resort. Charlie was always involved in a lot of outdoor activities but he really sunk his teeth into skiing and wanted to be the best teacher he could be. His people building attitude was apparent in his thirst to share his enthsiasm and knowledge to his students. Charlie taught people to do a lot of things but ski instruction was how I first came across this really bright and enthusiastic man. The process to be a ski instructor is not an easy one,especially if you take the time and effort to become certified under the PSIA( Professional Ski Instructors of America). A lot of guys who teach skiing don’t make the effort to get educated and simply are a warm body in a ski school jacket. Not Charlie. He and Art Bonavoglia worked hard to get their Level II pins and then had the vision and the quest to pursue the highest certification- that of being a Level III instructor. Charlie and Art would go to the Castkills and take private tutoring from Mermer Blakeslee who was a PSIA Examiner. They not only attended the regular update clinics and specialty clinics offered by the organization, but were so enthused that they pursued this private instruction from one of the best in the business. This was not unusual behavior for Charlie. Once he made up his mind to do something, he did it and pursued it with a passion.

I saw Charlie a few years ago at our church with a guitar in his hand and discovered that one of his many volunteer activities was to be a part of the student ministry at the church. His infectious smile and really great sense of humor not only showed through in his singing and playing, but his attention to students and people in general at the church was exemplary. It could be a horrible weather day coming into church, but Charlie was always there greeting people with that big bearded smile and making them feel that they were the most special person attending the service that day.

I was not as close to Charlie as Art and some of the other guys in church and in the ski school, but I thought enough of him that when he had a stroke a little while ago, I made it my business to dash into Allegheny General Hospital to see him. Not out of any obligated reason but because a guy like Charlie who gave so much of his life to others, would perhaps appreciate someone coming into see him and building him up like he did for so many. When I came into his room, his twinkling eyes lit up and even though he had some paralysis and some speech issues, you could tell that he was locked into you with his attention. We conversed as if nothing was wrong and I told him that a guy like him would make a full recovery and his wife Colleen concurred in her strong positive way. Charlie walked me to the door and even though he could not talk, our eyes met and I knew he was on his way to recovery. What a shock when I found out that he had died a couple of days later.

Looking at Charlie that day and all through his life, it was apparent that he knew where he was going in life and in the life beyond. When you smile like that and give yourself unconditionally to people, you know the source of your salvation and you spread that good news to all that come into your path. Charlie was a kidder. Tim Sweeney told me the other day that he came to the church for Charlie’s funeral but the receptionist at the church said he was a week early. Tim said he laughed on the way out because Charlie had got him again with one of his pranks. You could just see him up there laughing down at Tim saying………….gotcha!!! Big bearded smile!!!

People like Charlie Martin are a rare breed. Not many folks would pursue a passion like Charlie. He loved life and all that it had to offer. He loved people and encouraged them to take up new sports and activities and volunteered enthusiastically to get them involved. He always looked for advice and with me, he asked all the time about his skiing. It was disarming because when I would start to discuss the subject with him, his smile made me laugh and say,” No I am serious Charlie.” He knew I was but was anxious for my opinion and wanted me to know that he was having a lot of fun too.

Hopefully, you have come into contact with some people builders in your life. They make wonderful friends, confidants, they are fun to be with in outdoor pursuits, and most of all, you feel envigorated and encouraged and a better person for being with them and being their friend. Avoid the drainers. Look for guys like Charlie. He will always be remembered and will always be with us in many ways. Thanks for reading and think snow.

Slicing the White Carpet

Franklin Park-20130307-00105makingcorduroy_es12800px-Stok_narciarski_w_Przemy%C5%9Blu_-_Ratrak Skiing is an easy sport to learn. I know a lot of people who have said to me that they would like to learn but are either afraid, or believe that they are too clumsy, uncoordinated, or too old to learn. My response to them is that they should allow me to teach them because I have taught visually impaired skiers for 34 years and “if I can get them to ski, surely I can teach you”. We have a good chuckle about that but the truth of the matter is that……it is the truth. Skiing is not a hard sport to learn and I would encourage anyone who wants to ski to take a lesson and do it right. The Polar Vortex has set the stage for a good winter and now is the time to experience the thrill of skiing if you have the notion to do so.

Skiing was not always as easy as it is today. If you look at the picture of me as a young lad above, you will see wooden skis, cable bindings, and double lace boots. The edges on these skis were not very sharp and snowmaking had not yet been developed to any great extent, so we had to rely on natural snow which eventually turned to icy conditions here in the east. Skiing on this equipment was survival and the technique was basically to try to up unweight and get the skis across the fall line the best way we could. Lots of skidding on the icy conditions and not much support with the leather boots. But we didn’t know any better and loved getting out on the snow even if we had to make the best of conditions and survive multiple crashes and spills. As equipment developed, metal skis and plastic rigid boots became the norm and the turns became more stylish and control was becoming a reality. Edges were sharp, control on the ice became better and the elementary beginnings of carved turns were starting to be seen on the slopes.

Fast forward to today and you see shaped skis which are a lot shorter than the ones that we used back in the day. The nice thing about a ski with shape is that the tip is wide and the tail is wide and the waist of the ski is more narrow allowing the ski to be tipped on edge facilitating an easy turn to the right or the left when pressured by flexed ankles. In the beginner area, you can see real progress with this new equipment because it is easier to control and the equipment makes it a breeze to execute beginner moves on the slopes. People make real progress with today’s equipment and make their way to more advanced trails and slopes because of this new technology.

Take a look at the snow groomers above. That technology along with snowmaking has made the sport of skiing even easier to learn. Each evening, the grooming crew take these machines and make white carpets out of bumpy, icy slopes. The hydraulic tillers on the back of the tracked vehicles break up ice, moguls, and other imperfections on the trail. The end result is what skiers refer to as corduroy which you see in the above picture. This is great for beginners on trails and for intermediate skiers on intermediate trails. But as much as experienced skiers love the challenges of powder, steep chutes, and skiing in the trees, there is something about facing a slope early in the morning that has been groomed to perfection. For those who have mastered the art of a carved turn, this sight is appealing in that the skier pushes off with his/her poles, flexes his/her ankles in his/her boots, and tips the edges towards the new turn. When you move your center of mass towards the new turn and slice the ski edges from tip to tail in the radius of the turn that you choose, the arc that is formed in the snow is putting a slice in that nice white carpet. Good skiers can feel the pressured ski slicing those turns and know when any skidding occurs resulting in a determination and concentration to make the following turns perectly carved. If it weren’t for the expensive grooming equipment, and the shape of the skis, and the confident forward postition of the skier, slicing the white carpet might not be possible. Good skiers can feel when a ski carves perfectly and today’s equipment is so good compared to equipment from yesterday, that everyone has a chance to move up one level in their skiing.

The reason that I have gone into detail of the ski turn is to encourage those of you who have not tried skiing to give it a go. Winter is wonderful and there are a lot of options in outdoor winter activity. But in my mind, there is nothing quite like waking on a winter morning, having a good breakfast, taking in a picturesque view of the mountains, and launching into a series of great turns on the white carpet. Whether you are a beginner making wedge turns, an intermdeiate skidding in a wide track parallel stance, or a racer carving it up on the carpet, the thrill is the same. Skiing is an exhilarating sport and anyone who is reasonably athletic can be a proficient skier in a reasonable amount of time. Take a lesson and learn the right way. But make the effort, you will not be disappointed. Thank you for reading and think snow.

So you want to be a ski instructor?

photophoto972bda288a6333b6c48ee41b975ddcb8 A lot of folks think that being a ski instructor is a glamourous life. You work in a beautiful, mountainous, picturesque venue. You are perpetually tanned, athletic looking, have the best ski gear and clothing, get the pick of all the pretty girls/guys in your lessons. You get invited to all the trendy parties in the ski area. Everyone adores you because you are a ski instructor. People believe that you are paid well and that you only work in the summer as a supplement to your glamourous job. For some ski instructors, especially in Europe, this may be somewhat true to life. But for most guys and gals working as a ski instructor, the glamour is not so apparent.

In the major ski areas in this country, being a ski instructor is a full time job. In Europe, it is not only a full time job in the winter but it is respected by the public whose protocol is to always take a lesson when they are vacationing in the ski area. Skiing is a way of life in Europe but in the U.S. if you tell anyone you are a ski instructor, most likely it will be seen as a profession that is done until one finds a real job. In recent years, the Professional Ski Instructors of America have done a great job promoting the professionalism of those who are members of their organization that go through the rigorous testing of the certification program. Most of the professionals who work full time in a ski area take their job seriously and are in it for the love of the sport. Yes, you can earn a living but you have to be dilligent and establish a clientele especially in the major areas where families return year after year. But most likely, you will have to at least have a summer job to supplement your winter pastime. So is being a ski instructor all that it is cracked up to be?

I only worked one year as a full time instructor. The rest of my years teaching skiing were part time through college and on weekends at my local area for many years. I can remember driving my mom’s old car to West Virginia for my first PSIA clinic at Canaan Valley and became a registered member. I then racked up hours teaching in Maine and eventually went to my certification exam at Killington,Vermont which I have spoken about in past blog posts. When I ended my full time teaching, I continued to teach on the weekends locally and maintain my certification status by taking the required updates every two years. Similar to most ski instructors in this country, ski teaching is done out of a love for the sport with not much financial benefit. Certification helps the pay rate and also one can get benefits from manufacturers by way of Pro pricing discounts. When you visit a participating PSIA ski area, they give you either a comp ticket or a discounted lift ticket. But for the most part, most ski instructors are part time,are working towards their certification, and the life is anything but glamourous. Many of us who have taught part time have spent countless hours in the beginner bowl teaching new skiers in all kinds of weather. Private lessons and group lessons at night, in brutal cold temperature conditions, rain storms, ice storms, blizzards , are all par for the course in being a ski instructor especially on the east coast. Most of us have done it again out of the love for the sport and the willingness to pass on our knowledge to those who pay for the lessons. What is the upside?

Although most ski instructors teach part time and do it for the love of skiing, there is that wonderful feeling that you have especially if you like to teach, when the student “gets it.” That smile on their face as they master a maneuver is priceless and to most of us, that is worth the cost of the lesson. Most people who take the time to teach, work towards their PSIA Certification,and do it with no great financial expectations. They reap other benefits that can be measured in the smile of the student. Full time instructors work hard and even though they may work in a world class area, their hours are long and the lessons taught all day are taxing. Working with advanced skiers is always a plus because you can refine technique instead of teaching a new person from the beginning with a lot of physical work. But in the end, whether you teach full time or teach part time, if your heart is not in it, you will not be successful. A lot of ski teachers wear the jacket but are not willing to put in the time to develop their skills as a ski instructor. They don’t last long because they are trying to get more out of ski teaching and reap the benefits without a real heart for teaching others. I can say that anyone who takes the time to get registered and go through the 3 part certification process through PSIA is a dedicated teacher.

I remember many days teaching in Maine after college where the temperature was -40 and we were expected to be at the line up. We taught in the brutal cold and kept a close eye on our students to see that they were not experiencing discomfort and frostbite. We took many breaks. I remember teaching many lessons in the rain but the amazing thing was the enthusiasm of the student/students who wanted to learn no matter what. I said to myself,” If they want to learn that bad in these conditions, they are going to get their moneys worth.” I often went overtime to make sure they felt that they had learned something and could take something valuable away with them. This was especially true when I worked with our skiers who were visually impaired. They were always anxious to learn and to experience the exhilaration of skiing no matter what the weather conditions were like. When you have students like these, it makes all the work, little pay, and adverse working conditions worth it because they appreciate the effort that you make and you can see the fruits of your labor.

Lots of people have a negative experience when they first ski because they go with a friend or a relative who have no teaching experience and put the new skier in precarious positions. They often get hurt or at the very least humiliated, and never return. I always encourage people to take a lesson when they first start because the instructor is trained in the proper way to teach the sport of skiing. When you do take a lesson, ask for a PSIA Certified instructor. You will always be assured that you are getting a teacher who has taken the time to learn technique properly and has made the effort to be a part of an organization that fosters learning in a true educational environment. So, do you want to be a ski instructor? I did it for 40 years. Must be something rewarding about it. Thanks for reading and “Think Snow.”

Playing with Fire- Skiing DH Boards.

Erik Guay - Race - Atomic USA As readers of my blog, you know that my background is ski instruction and not ski racing. I dabbled in some racing as a young guy and also in the Masters category but suffice to say, I made nice turns in a course but was not fast. When I worked at Sugarloaf, I had the opportunity to witness Downhill racing up close by working on the Can-Am Downhill course from time to time with the race crew. I witnessed the Hahnnenkamm Downhill in Austria up close by hiking up to the start and then watching the race from the Steilhang turn on the course. It was rock hard and those guys are flying. 90 MPH into the finish. Skiing on a downhill course the day after a race is harrowing because it is like skiing on marble. I can’t imagine going that fast on that surface. Speaking with Ron Biederman ( ex US Team downhiller) one day up in Vermont, I inquired how you develop the technique and frankly the guts to ski that fast. He said that it is acquired over a long time with junior races, senior races and eventually getting up to the national class and World Cup level. I have been watching the speed races on Universal Sports Channel and am always amazed at the skill level of World Cup skiers. Several friends and acquaintances of mine have experience racing the downhill and could probably give a discertation way better than me, but I had a glimpse of the discipline watching these races and even entering 2 masters category races with actual downhill boards. No great results but fun to experience.

I actually bought a pair of downhill skis one time when my friend Eric was living in Vermont. We have a mutual friend who works for Atomic who managed to get us two pair out of their Salt Lake City facility and Eric coached me on how to use them. Basically they sat in my garage until I made one of my treks northward to Vermont and we brought them with us to Killington early in the mornings. No one was on the hill and as I tried to keep Eric in view, I was amazed at how fast you could get up to speed with a pair of 220 cm skis. They are rock solid but the speed is a bit un-nerving if you are not used to it. Eric is used to the speed and I had to learn how to ski these long boards without killing myself or killing someone else. After we made a few runs, some people started to come out and when you see someone doing a wedge turn out into the middle of a trail, it is amazing how fast you can close in on them with the 220s. Seeing that they have the right of way, I had to make decisions in a hurry on where to ski so as not to come close to them. We rocketed by people like that until Eric decided that it was time to put them away and get our regular skis for the rest of the day. In a very Walter Mitty like way, I imagined myself as a downhill racer as I tried to follow Eric but as we skied to the K chair I was always happy to finish another run in one piece. I had a lot of fun on those boards and gained an even greater respect for downhill racers by using the equipment that they used. But my speeds were no where near that level.

My wife and I traveled to Steamboat one year and I took the DH boards with me. I used them early in the mornings and scared myself a few times out there but it was fun to ski the west with them on a perfectly groomed trail. I exchanged them for my regular skis when I picked up my wife for the day and she asked how it was. I didn’t let her know that I was playing with fire out there. I meekly put them away and skied the groomers with her. Eric, Travis, Proctor, Edie, Rosi, Gretl, Hutch, I have a lot of respect for you guys racing on that equipment in those kinds of races. For the rest of us mortals, watch the men’s and women’s downhill on the Olympic coverage and you will get a feel for how fast this discipline is.

My use of these skis came to an inauspicious ending when as a member of Team Mike Malone, I used them in the Jimmy Heuga Classic at Seven Springs Resort here in PA. The event was a fundraiser for Muscular Dystrophy and the winner had to raise the most money and ski the most runs. It was amazing to see how fast you could cover 800 vertical feet with the aid of downhill skis and a high speed chairlift. All went well until I went a little too far right on one run, hit a mud patch, ejected out of both bindings, and barreled down the slope in a muddy mess. Fortunately the skis were not damaged and I continued the event looking like I had been in a football game. We would have won but someone at the last minute brought in a check that beat us out at the end of the day. The DH boards were retired after that day never to be used again.

Years have passed since those days and I often think about the fun but scary times that I spent on skis that were really not for a guy like me. My friend Eric has always had the habit of sending me into the realm of the unknown but I somehow come out of it with a great experience and the knowledge that I pushed myself again a little out of my comfort zone. 220 downhill skis will do that to you but looking back, it was worth the scare. Watch the Olympics and have a great winter. Think snow and thanks for reading.

Get to know an Austrian

From the Best of

Trans Can HigwayGoogle Image Result for (2)photophotophotorodeln01 If you check out my Janury 23rd blog post about my time in Austria called “The Rodelrennen” you will see some funny things that happened along the way there. If you are a skier, at some point you will meet an Austrian. Even if you are not a skier, you will still like the stories of a very passionate and humorous people whose lives revolve around winter sports. As I said in the post, my first experience with the Austrians was on an exchange trip between U.S. and Austrian ski instructors. I was a guest for two weeks in that country and participated in the Rodelrennen(read about it), skied in many areas including the Soelden glacier where the recent World Cup opening races were held, and taught for a week in Kuhtai- a small resort near the Italian border. Witnessing the Hahnnenkamm World Cup Downhill Race, I got to see the passion of the Austrians up close and personal as 100,000+ people line the “Streif” to see their heroes rocket down the slope at nearly 90 MPH into the finish area. This race is like the Super Bowl in Austria and the whole town of Kitzbuhel buzzes with the energy of the world’s greatest ski race.

In my teaching experience over there at Kuhtai, I was reminded that the origin of ski instruction was in St. Anton, Austria. The technique of the Austrians was never questioned and the introduction of the wider stance by the PSIA American Technique was seen with a wary eye by the patrons of the Kuhtai resort. I was trying to teach them the wider, more athletic stance that the racers were using, but the ladies and gentlemen who were taking the mandatory lesson at the time would hear none of that. They wanted me to guide them basically around the resort and not try to teach them anything new especially the current teachings of the PSIA. I drank their plum schnapps and reveled with them as they all enjoyed their time in Kuhtai, but make no mistake, we were in the land of skiing- Austria. Anyone else who thought differently was a usurper to the ultimate degree.

Personally, I have met many Austrians in my skiing adventures and as much as they are a proud people who take their winter sports very seriously, they are a fun lot. Take my friend Max Katzenberger. Max was a pilot for USAirways and was proud of the fact that he was a captain and worked his way up through the Austrian military. He always walked in front of his crew and remarked to me one time that whenever he was in a holding pattern and wanted to land, he just thickened up his accent a bit and they got him down in a hurry. Another time, some guys were ignoring the flight attendants on the plane and their instructions. Max called the security at the gate and had them removed from the plane. He remarked,” I tell you guys to behave, you don’t behave, now you go to the Klink!!!” You don’t mess with an Austrian. Max was fun to ski with and was a very enjoyable host on my honeymoon with Janet. We met Max and his wife Barb in Austria and toured the country with them. They showed us his home town of Moedling and we spent some time in the Austrian wine country in the foothills of the Alps in a town named Gumpleskirchen. Max had that joyous love of life. He passed away a few years ago and he is sorely missed among the local ski community.

Josef Cabe was the ski school director at Hidden Valley Resort here in Pa. for many years. Josef and I would travel to PSIA update clinics and it was so funny to hear his big hearty laugh and his very thick accent. He constantly criticized the clinic leaders and insisted on showing them the right way to ski. He was strong as a bull and could ski most people into the ground, including the clinic leaders. In the evenings, he led the group in song with Austrian anthems and everybody loved Josef on the slope and off the slopes.

Another Austrian that I spent some fun time with was Rolf Sigmund who owned a ski shop in town at the time. Rolf was a solid skier in the Austrian mold and we went heli-skiing one time in British Columbia together. He didn’t like the off piste skiing in the trees, and in the wind packed conditions that you get sometimes before you hit the deep powder that is always shown in the movies for heli-skiing. Sometimes it gets pretty rugged and Rolf always remarked to me on that trip that,” thees is pullsheet McClaaaahskey. We should go to Tahoe. The slopes are smooth and the chicks look at you in da lines and it is way more fun than theeees pullllsheet McClaaahhhhskey.” I laughed as he tried to bribe the helicopter pilot into flying us back to the lodge so we could watch the Super Bowl. Rolf was hilarious as he drank his schnapps and abused some loud obnoxious New Yorkers who were along on the trip.

I got my rear end chewed pretty well one time by a rather intimidating Austrian named Rudi Kuersteiner. I was with a group of guys skiing rather fast through a beginner area at Whiteface in the Adirondacks. We were there for a clinic and Rudi saw us and skied up to us at the bottom of the hill and demanded that we all follow him to the side of the slope. There he told us in no uncertain terms how rude we were and how dangerous it was to ski that fast where beginners are learning to ski. He was right!! We were wrong and were told so by an old pro. Again, you don’t mess with an Austrian. Fun loving people but don’t get on their bad side.

The Austrians are passionate people and if you get the chance to ski with them, talk with them, drink beers with them, you will surely have a good time and you will be told how skiing really is and how you must go to Austria to ski where it all began. I always laugh when I think of their universal famous line to me…………” you don’t know sheeeeet McClaaaahhhskey.” They are right. Thanks for reading.

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.