Eric Sheckleton’s International Outreach is Helping Elevate the Game for PSIA-AASI

As a former PSIA-AASI Chairman of the Board, former member of the AASI Snowboard Team, and now vice president on the Interski Presidium, Eric Sheckleton continues to work to create new international instructional opportunities for snow pros. Here, he talks about everything he has learned in first year on the job.

What are the highlights of your work with the International Ski Instructors Association?
Having started in this role a little over year ago, much of my effort has been to create stronger relationships. Getting to know the other representatives on a more personal level has helped me understand their perspective and have more difficult conversations about our hopes for the future. For example, helping ISIA focus on education, rather than competition. From a European perspective, races and formal demos are seen as a way to highlight the skill of the instructor. While this is valid, in the US, these activities play a very minimal role in our system. By taking the time to talk through the various perspectives, we can find a balance where all needs are met. I now see a willingness to bring education and idea sharing to the forefront. But we will still need to work with our closest partners to move ahead.

What are the benefits to PSIA-AASI members?     
There are many layers. For the Level III instructor looking to work outside the US, the benefits are clear. The ISIA levels of competency (Stamp and Card) are well recognized around the world. By meeting the ISIA minimum standards, an instructor should have an easier time obtaining a position, perhaps at a higher wage. Even for those instructors not looking to work abroad, the ISIA Stamp is still recognized in many locations, and results in significant discounts for lift tickets. At a deeper level for those instructors not interested in travel, ISIA standards give us another level of professional development and recognition that we are working to improve our teaching versatility. PSIA-AASI certification allows us to reach levels of comparison with instructors around the country. ISIA standards allow us to reach levels of comparison with instructors around the world. Along the way, members can obtain new skills and milestones that should lead to more pride in one’s accomplishments and perhaps more recognition from one’s employer. 

Do you have some insight about shared goals among the international instruction community?  
I think all countries want to know that their teaching system compares favorably with the rest of the world. This takes an understanding of what other countries are doing, and why they do it. Smaller countries, and those without many domestic job opportunities, want their system to be recognized, so their instructors can travel and gain employment throughout the world. Large countries, often trying to protect jobs for their instructors, want to be sure instructors from other countries do not have an easier path to gaining employment in their country. For these reasons, I believe all countries want to create and maintain a reasonable standard that can be recognized by all. This takes open communication, understanding, and compromise. PSIA-AASI will continue to advocate for this within the organization.

There are some changes about to be implemented in regards to the ISIA Stamp. What do members need to know?                                                
For years, we have awarded the Stamp to any Level III who wanted it. We just passed on the fee for the Stamp. However, there are actual standards to be met, as it is a level of international equivalence. These standards include certification in a second discipline, an ability to teach a basic lesson in a second language, first aid, CPR, and basic avalanche awareness and training. Our staff, teams, and International Education Committee have been working to develop a process to help us meet the expectations of the rest of the world, and give our members true recognition without undue burden or expense. Meeting this standard shows that an instructor is better able to teach around the world. Our hope is that this also becomes more recognized by our own snowsports school directors, as instructors meeting these qualifications will show that they are more versatile and able to teach all over the mountain.

Why change this process now?                                                              
There is no better time than the present. While this issue has been somewhat understood, it wasn’t until we truly became engaged at a deeper level that we began to see how the rest of the world viewed our position. Also, through more in-depth discussions with countries like Canada, Great Britain, and New Zealand, we could see how this program could provide a needed opportunity for personal and professional development for our own members.

As for the ISIA Card, can you explain what that is to PSIA-AASI members?                                    
The Card is a higher level than the Stamp, and the highest level of international recognition. It is recognized throughout the world and, without getting too deep into politics, some countries view it as an automatic right to work and even own your own school. In order to reach this standard, an instructor must prove a deeper knowledge of backcountry rescue, more fluency in a second language, and pass a skill test that currently consists of getting a specific time in a giant slalom race or boarder cross. These are given throughout the world by countries certified to administer these tests. PSIA-AASI has never given this test, but we are looking for ways to offer it to our members, possibly by partnering with other countries for now.

How does a high standard like the card elevate or inform what we do here at home?            
When I first got involved as the international representative, I was quick to judge these standards as “hoops,” meant to make it hard on instructors to be recognized. After taking the time to really understand why these were put in place, I now appreciate the rationale behind it. The standards were developed to provide an objective skills measurement. This is something PSIA-AASI can use in our own processes and can play a role in improving the entire process. For example, in the US we value the experience and connection with our guests. The “soft skills” are important and we constantly try to find better ways to train and assess these skills. We can take this work to the international community to help implement some of this training and focus on the stamp and card standards. By doing so, we can help create a standard that better reflects a great instructor.

Anything else you’d like to share? 
I think it is important for our members to know these changes reflect our deeper involvement in the international community. There are many other valuable benefits that will emerge as we continue to stay engaged. That said, nothing we are doing will impact our current certification process. Members do not have to be concerned that we will make the process harder or add a new requirement. Some countries, like Great Britain, do combine the ISIA standards with their own certification. That way, their members achieve recognition as they progress through the system. We are not looking at this right now. We are only working to live up to our end of the bargain internationally, and create a pathway for personal and professional growth for those members who choose to take it.

- Peter Kray

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