2017-2018 Far West Skier's Guide - 64-17
In 1990, Professional Ski Instructors of
America awarded me with a nice plaque for 25
years of dedication to the sport and industry.
photo provided by Larry Nicholson
About the same time in 1961, a group
was formed called the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA). These instructors decided that the country should have a
unified and standardized teaching system
throughout the country. Prior to that, ski instructors would teach others in the manner
that they themselves were taught. It was confusing. A student might take lessons at one resort which focused on the Austrian Technique - the most popular at this time; then go
to another area where the instructor might
teach the French Technique.
Both the Austrian and French Techniques were based on the original Arlberg
Technique, which was successful in the early
decades of the 20th Century, partly due to the
primitive type of equipment that was available prior to the 1950s. It worked well in
powder conditions, but with more skiers on a
slope with these long skis, moguls formed.
The existing technique needed to be modified.
PSIA wanted to develop a more simplified,
uniform method of teaching to bring a novice
skier along more quickly. The faster the
progress for a skier, the more enjoyment they
received from the sport.
PSIA started to unite the ski instructors
of America and established an exam that in
the early days required a written test, then actual on hill training and testing. Instructors
became professionals. Ski schools that were
certified received a designation and could display the PSIA LOGO so students entering the
ski school knew they were learning from a
qualified instructor. PSIA's goal was to have
all ski resorts adopt the same teaching standards that they were developing. They did develop a written manual, but it wasn't until
1971-1972 that a complete re-do of the initial
standards manual was done. It simplified the
American Technique making it more functional, and easier for students to learn. The revised manual became the US standard.
I was Stage 1 Certified in 1965. As an instructor, I was part of the Rocky Mountain
Division (RMSIA) of PSIA. In those days, this
region extended from Vail, Aspen, Steamboat
Springs and Winter Park in the north down
to Taos and Santa Fe Ski Basin in the south.
I also became an examiner. As examiners, we
would travel between each of these resorts to
help train and make certain that the required
high standards were maintained throughout
At Vail, we observed long skis impeded
the progress in teaching beginners. Therefore,
we adopted a progressive length of skis approach for students called the Graduated
Length Method or GLM. Vail's ski shop at the
bottom of the slopes at Golden Peak contracted with K-2 Skis in this endeavor.
In the early days, skis were quite long for
stability. Prior to the mid 1960s, a person determined the length of skis they should be
using by holding their arm straight up. The
tip of the ski would normally come to the
wrist or even the palm of the hand. The desired length of a ski was 200 to 210 centimeters for slalom racing and most teaching
activities, 215 centimeters for giant slalom and
220 - 223 centimeters for downhill.
As one can imagine, this was a handful
for new skiers. With the GLM method, a beginner would rent a shorter pair of skis, perhaps 100 centimeters, or about 39 inches.
These skis were easy to maneuver, allowed
for quickly learning the basics, and they were
much safer for the student, resulting in fewer
accidents involving the knee or lower leg. Of
course, at this length one sacrificed stability.
As the student progressed and needed more
stability for speed, he/she simply returned the
shorter skis to the rental shop and got longer
ones. By the end of a week-long class, the
teacher and students would go to the top of
the mountain taking both beginner and intermediate runs. Most students would have
graduated from a ski length of 100 centimeters to 160 or 175 centimeter skis showing
considerable progress. Good progress typically meant that the student would return to
the slopes again and hopefully often.
By the end of the decade it became apparent that more modifications were needed
to the original PSIA Manual. I was one of
about seven or eight ski instructors selected
to evaluate skiing and various aspects of the
sport to come up with this new "American
Ski Technique", serving to upgrade what we
were using and to develop further standardization. We approached the challenge quite seriously looking at visualization, kinesthetics,
audio, emotional, biometrics and more. We
wanted a final resolve so that skiing would be
more natural and comfortable for all. As an
example, a man's physique is different from a
woman's. Most likely a woman has a wider
hip structure, thus her angulation won't be
enough when needed on a very steep slope.
A woman will need to counter rotate more
to get the same result and keep weight over
the skis or slightly downhill. We also moved
the ski position a bit - to shoulder width, away
from the severity of keeping the skis tightly
together, as was the discipline of the Austrian
Technique. When I was a kid learning skiing
from the Austrians, I would wrap my long
thongs around both boots as a training exercise to perfect my technique and balance. We
moved the pivotal point for a turn back from
the shovel of the ski with the Austrian Technique to over the ball of the foot or the toe
piece of the binding. With the improvement
of skis and edges, we started using more
weight on the uphill ski not just the downhill
ski, perhaps a 60/40 relationship.
We all read the book Psycho-Cybernetics
by Maxwell Maltz - circa 1960. In this book,
Maltz proves the mind can accomplish almost
as much through visualization as one can
Far West Skier's Guide 2O17 - 2O18 / Digital Edition Insert
included my then girlfriend and instructor, Jain
Davis. The Aspen Times newspaper sent a
photographer with us. We took off by helicopter from the top of Ajax Mountain in Aspen
and landed on the top of Snowmass for an excellent day of powder skiing. Snowmass Ski
Area opened a few days later. During this
time, helicopter skiing became very popular in
both the Rockies and western Canada.
Copper Mountain, Colorado opened in
1972. A year prior, before any lifts were installed, one of the original founders of Vail,
John and Mary Hobart, asked if I would like
to join them and their family to ski the original
runs in untracked powder. They rented a
snow cat from Copper Mountain for the day
to take us up the slopes for a wonderful day
of skiing. How could I resist such an adventure?
The National Ski Association, formed in
1926, became the United States Ski Association in 1962. The organization had separate
regional divisions. All skiers were encouraged
to join the USSA and its divisions.
64 - 17