Q: How did you first get into skiing, and then instruction?
A: My dad took me skiing in 1960 at the Silver Mine “ski area” in Harriman State Park, a relatively short drive from our home in Spring Valley, New York. Dad was just nuts about the sport. When we moved to LeRoy, he heard about an instructor and certification examiner named Robin Smith who was running the ski school at Honey Hill in Warsaw. I skied there every weekend for several years, with Robin coaching me on their junior race team.
When Robin took the school director’s job at New York’s Swain Ski Center, Dad joined its ski patrol so I could get a season pass. Shortly thereafter, Robin hired me – at the age of 15. After high school, I took a gap year to teach at Bolton Valley in Vermont. I got my full certification that spring (1973) and decided I wanted to make a career teaching. I enrolled at Saint Michael’s College in Winooski, Vermont, and scheduled classes in summer and fall.
After a couple years, I moved to Stowe to teach in the Sepp Ruschp Ski School. Thanks to exposure I had to pros like Stu Campbell, Cal Cantrell, Alan Woods, Joe Wood, and many others, I became a certification examiner, Eastern Demo Team member, and ultimately, a member of the PSIA Alpine Demonstration Team.
Q: You were on PSIA’s demonstration team from 1976 to 1988; what are your favorite memories of that time?
A: At my first Interski in 1979 at Zao, Japan, I had the bright idea of buying new cowboy boots prior to getting on the plane. My feet swelled up during the 10-hour flight and I couldn’t get them back on when we landed, so I walked off the plane with my feet only in the top of the boots.
I also brought three new pairs of Hexcel test skis specially built for me by designer Hub Zemke. Unfortunately, they were totally unskiable prototypes. I ended up borrowing skis from Jens Husted and sort of fumbled my way through the week. At the 1983 Interski in Sesto, Italy, Mike Porter and I were up most nights writing and re-writing the presentation. There was a lot of controversy about the American Teaching Method at that time, so we were very focused on getting it right.
Q: You've served in top management positions at Powder magazine, Booth Creek Ski Holdings, K2 Sports, Rossignol, and Silverton Mountain. How did those experiences impact how you see the role of instruction?
A: One job somehow led to the other, but the constant has been a life’s work focused on snow. I am the poster child for “hire for passion, train for skill.” Making a living sharing the joy of sliding on snow is not easy, but it never felt like work. I believe teaching develops life skills – verbal/nonverbal communication, organization, confidence – that are applicable to other careers in the winter sports business. Snowsports instruction performs an important role in developing future leaders for the equipment side of the business, as well as ski resort management.
Q: What are some of the key opportunities, and challenges, you see for the sport?
A: This is a time of tremendous opportunity – the equipment has never been better, and good instruction with the right grooming can quickly get beginners sliding downhill, in control, with smiles on their faces. The biggest challenge is climate change. The variability in winter weather at some point could make snowmaking impossible. It would be a shame if people in the not-too-distant-future were unable to experience the joy of sliding on snow.
Q: You're teaching in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, this season. How exciting is it to get back to sharing the sport?
A: Michelle, my wife of 36 years and an Alpine Level III instructor, and I are both teaching in the Jackson Hole Mountain Sports School with some amazing people. I was doing “get the rust off” clinics and on the first day had a group of eight instructors with 340+ years of collective teaching experience. The next day, I had group of six instructors with about 70 years experience. There was a genuine desire in both groups to help their students be safe and have fun. I feel the same way. It is so fun to come full circle and return to teaching skiing.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of 32 Degrees. Log in now to the online version to access other great content that will up your instructor game.