Q&A: PSIA-AASI Chairman of the Board Eric Sheckleton

With winter fast approaching (and even getting off to an early start in places like Wild Mountain in Minnesota), and the PSIA-AASI Teams Fall Workshop set to start in less than 10 days, we wanted to sit down with PSIA-AASI Chairman of the Board Eric Sheckleton to see where he thinks the opportunities—and challenges—are for the association this season.

PSIA-AASI: You’ll be on snow in just a few days. For PSIA-AASI and yourself, what are you most looking forward to this season?

Eric Sheckleton: Personally, I am looking forward to spending more time on nordic gear.  I got some new equipment last year and began exploring the trails at one of our local nordic ski centers over the summer. I just love taking off into the trees for a little solitude to bring it all into perspective.

For the association, I’m excited to see that more and more members are contributing to our social media—Facebook and Twitter—and can’t wait to see what ideas are shared this season about teaching, skiing, and riding. I am also looking forward to seeing the new PSIA-AASI Teams in action.

PSIA-AASI: You’ve been a member of the AASI Snowboard Team, and also had a front “snow” seat to the recent 2012-16 Teams Selection. What do you think this particular group brings to the table?

ES: In a word, diversity. In a mix of experienced team members and new folks, there are now three freestyle specialists and three women on the Alpine Team, and telemark and cross-country specialists on the Nordic Team. On the PSIA-AASI Adaptive Team, Geoff Krill and Coach Kim Seevers bring a wealth of experience to an ever-important segment of our membership, and the Snowboard Team added three very talented new members which, in addition to the incumbent members, will further improve the connection to the industry, competition, and the international community. While we can still improve our diversity, the PSIA-AASI Teams are well positioned to represent and coach the amazing variety of members that make up our association. This will translate into an improved connection between the teams and all of our members.

PSIA-AASI: From Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month (LSSM) to the Bring a Friend Challenge, it seems like the whole ski and snowboard industry is refocusing on the power of quality instruction. What’s your sense of the instructor’s role in both the industry and the sports of skiing and snowboarding right now?

ES: LSSM Director Mary Jo Tarallo said it best in 32 Degrees, ““The instructor is at the center of that experience.” Our members are the liaison or connection to a very cool, sometimes intimidating world of skiing and snowboarding, and between so many guests and the broader industry—especially new guests who are critical to the growth of the sports. We get people excited about being outside in winter. It doesn’t matter if our students want to ski, ride, catch air, hike for turns, or sit in the snow and enjoy watching their kids. We simply help them have more fun. And PSIA-AASI’s active participation in these initiatives reinforces this key relationship with area managers and the public.

PSIA-AASI: What are the main challenges you see for PSIA-AASI this season, and into the future?

ES: Continually improving the education and certification experience for our members, their benefits, and communicating the value they bring to the industry and the public. This should mean that everyone sees PSIA-AASI as part of their success. The main challenges for PSIA-AASI this season are the same challenges that have faced the association since the beginning. The struggle to work as a unified organization and succeed in achieving our common goals, even though we are one national association aligned with nine divisional associations. The fact that a majority of members either don’t know this, or don’t care, indicates that we have been fairly successful at improving the experience for our members despite this reality. However, the expectations of our members and the industry require us to be even more aligned moving forward. PSIA-AASI has been very, very successful over the past several decades, and we cannot afford to rest on our laurels.

PSIA-AASI: What are the main opportunities?

ES: One of the primary roles of the national association is to facilitate communication and agreement between the divisions. We do this through committees, task forces, and direct contacts. The Strategic Education Plan has been successful at providing divisions with a gradual way to break down traditional geographic barriers in the certification process. The SEP goal of consistency in our credential programs is one of the main drivers for the Fall Conference at Copper Mountain later this month. The Membership Review Committee is another example. This group consists of division executives and volunteers analyzing real data to discuss barriers to entry, alternative dues-billing scenarios, and the value of membership. Their work is ongoing. I think we are using technology to communicate more effectively and efficiently than ever, improving the ability for divisions to participate and even drive the decision-making process.

We also have an opportunity to enhance relationships with the rest of the industry. We certainly have close ties with our amazing suppliers, and we continue to build relationships with the rest of the snowsports world at the same time. From NSAA to SIA to LSSM to snowsports organizations in many other countries, these partnerships bring ideas and opportunities to our members and allow us to help expand the role our association plays in the rest of the industry.

PSIA-AASI: And finally, I know you’re a big fan of PSIA founders such as Bill Lash, Doug Pfieffer and Curt Chase—what is it you admire most about how they first formed the association?

ES: I admire their vision and the tenacity they showed in making it a reality. Throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s, there were various attempts to form a national association with the predecessors to the current division executives in order to unify the teaching processes that were so different from one division to the next. The representatives from the regional entities could not agree on the structure and did not want to give up any of their way of doing things. It took years of trying before the founders, led by Bill Lash, decided that the only way to form a national body was to form it as an individual membership organization, so members joined free of the regions.

The founders knew what was right and best for the sport and the profession. They weathered the attacks and found a way to get it done.

PSIA-AASI: Why is it important to have a national association for ski and snowboard instruction?

ES: Again, I refer to the founders.  Paraphrasing Bill Lash, they formed this association to promote instruction, handle problems of common concern, establish and maintain standards, assist in the development of the industry through technical research, and represent members nationally and internationally. No single division could do all of these things. It is only through our collective efforts that we can succeed. The national association exists to foster communication and alignment between the divisions; fund and coordinate education development, develop more opportunities that benefit the members, and promote the importance of our profession to the industry and public.

— Peter Kray 

Photo courtesy of Grant Nakamura

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