Emerging Leader: Eastern Division's Brian Donovan

The Spring 2018 issue of 32 Degrees features 14 PSIA-AASI members identified by division educators and other top instructors as “Emerging Leaders” in various divisions and teaching disciplines. Each person profiled was asked to share their thoughts on, among other topics, why teaching matters, future opportunities and challenges, and where PSIA-AASI will be in 10 years. Due to space constraints, replies were edited for print publication, so the full breadth of these insightful interviews will be posted here throughout the summer.

Name: Brian Donovan
Division: Eastern
Discipline: Snowboard
Home hill: Mount Snow Resort, Vermont
Job title: Director of Skiing and Riding Services at Mount Snow, AASI Advisor for Educational Programs in the Eastern Division, AASI-E Examiner
Certifications/credentials: Snowboard Level III, Children’s Specialist 2, Freestyle Specialist 1

How did you get your start snowboarding? When a family friend sold me a snowboard and took me snowboarding to a local hill in high school. I then signed up to ride a bus from my high school to the local mountain one day a week. I purchased a full-season pass for the next few years, attended an instructor training course, and tried out to be an instructor. The rest is history as I’ve been working in the industry fulltime ever since.

Why teaching matters: Teaching matters to me because we are a customer service agent, a teacher, a tour guide, and a magician all rolled up into one package. We are able to deliver experiences that can truly change lives. Showing someone how to make their first turn or how to safely navigate the mountain can create lifelong memories that can potentially alter their course in life. 

I once had a couple visit a resort I was working at and explain that I had taught them to snowboard when they were first dating. They became hooked on the sport, got married, had a child, and now were back because they wanted me to teach their son to ride. To think that being a snowboard instructor could have such a powerful impact on an entire family’s lives and show them something that was so meaningful to them is one of the many reasons I do what I do!

What it means to be a member of PSIA-AASI: Being a member of PSIA-AASI means I am part of something bigger than myself, my ski and ride school, or even my resort. It means I am part of an organization that is constantly looking at how can we bring more people into the sports we love, how can we find ways to make the learning curve of sliding on snow easier, and how we can develop instructors across the country to have the physical and mental skills to be able to create fantastic experiences for the guests who visit our resorts every single day. Being a member means I have access to materials and people to help me be better at what I do, and have the opportunity to be able to improve my teaching, riding, and knowledge base all of the time. Being a member makes me a better instructor, coach, and a person. 

Favorite part of helping others enjoy their time on snow: I love the non-verbal communication of smiles, high-fives, and fist bumps that accompany all of the small successes as someone progresses their skiing/riding skills. I truly enjoy when I see a rider practicing something we’ve been working on together and then see the body language that accompanies new levels of success and ownership as their skills improve. I want to be a crusty old snowboarder one day who looks back and thinks that I helped others to enjoy this sport as much as humanly possible, and that I helped them get there a bit quicker and safer.  

Opportunities for PSIA-AASI to grow: I think we have opportunities to grow our digital presence to both our membership and our lesson consumers. I know we have extremely gifted and experienced members from all walks of life, and I would love to see us tap into the many talents of our membership to improve the media and social media components of what we do. Teachers and educators are sometimes the most creative minds in any room, and we have a huge talent pool of creativity to draw from as we adapt to the ever-changing business models and strategies of today’s ski and ride industry. I think we could look at how we can provide cutting-edge customer service by re-thinking our guest experiences – spanning from the minute a guest decides to purchase a lesson with us all the way to the ability to create a platform for instructors to stay connected and engaged with our guests and students after their lessons are over; and everything in between.

Biggest challenges: Our biggest challenges lie in continually adapting to the aggressive resort industry market to quantify the credentials, experience, and talent that PSIA-AASI certification brings with it. I think we have to continue to adapt our instruction to appeal to the ever-changing ways that consumers process information.

Having the ability to connect with our guests, students, and members through video and electronic communications has never been easier. We as an organization need to continue to adopt habits and practices that create these connections and experiences for our guests and to find ways to stay connected and engaged with our students after our time with them on snow is over.

Our profession 10 years from now: As long as there are resorts operating lifts to get people to the top of snow-covered mountains, there will be an opportunity for talented and knowledgeable instructors to help educate guests in how to safely and efficiently navigate those mountains. It will be up to us to make this experience convenient and valuable for the end-user. Making sure that we continue to educate our pros on how to be problem solvers for our guests should to be a top priority. Guests who take lessons are trying to improve something in their own skiing/riding. We need to make sure our manuals, media, and clinics provide our members with the tools to solve these inefficiencies and help students better navigate the entire mountain. This is one focal point that will increase the value of the education we deliver for the end-user guests. 

Anything else you wish we’d asked? I think an excellent question would be who have been my mentors and inspirations and why? My answers would be (in no particular order): K.C. Gandee, who was the examiner who passed me at my Level I AASI certification and started me down the road to where I am now. Thank you for inspiring me. Don Haringa was my ski school director when I was coming up as a fulltime instructor. He believed in me and gave me the opportunities to grow into a supervisor and eventually an assistant Director role. Thank you for believing in me.

Tom Vickery is the Yoda to every wannabe snowboard Jedi. He has challenged me, motivated me, and coached me to always strive to be better at what we do. He is the embodiment of living the reality that if we are not helping to make the next generation of snowboarders more talented and successful than us, then we are not doing enough. Thank you for sharing your talents and wisdom with me. Doug Daniels offered me a job and convinced me to move to Vermont. He is someone who I constantly work with to share ideas and we challenge each other to make our organization and disciplines better.  Thank you for always having an open dialogue, and thank you for helping me to find my place in SoVT. 

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