A Ski Patrolman Rises To The Challenge.

Dave had to teach a group of local women, and he never even had a lesson himself.

Before I ever had a ski lesson, I had become a ski patrol director, certified (the highest level) by both the National Ski Patrol and the Professional Ski Patrol Association. One morning while working at a small ski area (240 feet of vertical), I was called into the base lodge by the woman who scheduled the ski school programs. This tiny area actually within the city limits ran a number of programs mid week, mostly for housewives, and this morning they had a couple of no shows among their instructor corps.

After numerous phone calls to no avail, it was decided that I would have to teach one of the classes. I asked what level they were as skiers and was told level B, or it might have been C. Neither told me anything. I didn’t know an A from an E. I later learned that A were true beginners, never-evers. Fortunately, these ladies could ski enough to get down the hill. On this second week of their once-a-week program, they got the pro patrolman.

In front of the lodge the ski school director introduced me to the four ladies before he headed off to also teach a class. Having no idea what to say, I simply stated, “I hope you ladies have a good sense of humor. We’re all going to learn together today. Not only have I never taught a lesson, I have never even had one!” One of the ladies laughed while the other three gave me strange looks.

I took them up the lift and watched as they skied down to the top of a broad low intermediate slope. I explained that I needed to see what they had worked on the previous week so I skied part way down and asked them to demonstrate as best they could the turns they had worked on last week.

As each one stopped by me, I complimented them on what they had just done. As they were just breaking into parallel, I decided we would work on a combination of up unweighting and pole plant. I demonstrated the way I thought a real ski instructor might, planting the pole and rising up to ski around it. It seemed to make sense to them so we worked our way back to the lift.   We spent the rest of the time skiing around the area, and I made it a point to ride the lift with each one so we could talk about their progress. I also took them on a longer flatter run which circumscribed the area so they could let the skis run and feel how much easier it was to turn with a little speed. Mostly I listened and passed out tips and compliments.

When the lesson ended, I thanked the ladies for their patience and told them I hoped they had as much fun as I had. Later I talked with Shirley who had recruited me for the lesson, and she told me that two of the ladies asked if they could have me the next week. Unfortunately, that was the end of my career as a ski instructor. The following week, they got Bruce Fenn, one of the PSIA gurus who had been in on the beginning of that organization, and knew everything there was to know about teaching skiing. Thanks to Bruce, and his clinics, that small ski area had close to a 100 percent pass rate on PSIA certification exams. And skiing with him and the instructors at those final form clinics were the closest I came to ski instruction at that time.

12 Comments

  1. HI Dave. I loved your story. It reminded me of my time working at a smaller ski area in Colorado. Every department has to step up and help the others as needed. I also never had any ski lessons and achieved a higher level of skiing. It sounds like you did a great job as a one day ski instructor.

  2. John H. Cassin says:

    Enjoyed article. I am a recently retired (66 yr old) life long skier. I am an expert skier averaging approx 60-100 days per season living in Colorado (Evergreen). My love of the sport is unsurpassed.
    In my younger days, I worked in Health Clubs and very much enjoyed sharing my knowledge of fitness and exercise with prospective new members. At this stage of my journey I would relish an opportunity to continue this experience in a ski environment.
    Any info regarding PSIA certification or ski instructor opportunities in Colorado would be greatly appreciated
    PS: I was the former CEO of Vail Medical Center, Vail CO.
    Cheers
    JC
    John H. Cassin
    [email protected]
    720(520-0310)

    • Scott Kellogg says:

      I am also 66, been skiing since I was 5 and wait anxiously all spring, summer, and fall for ski season. However I did become an instructor 15 years ago and enjoy it immensely. Info on becoming an instructor can be found on the PSIA site (https://www.psia.rm.org) That being said, your years on skis and expert status may not count as much as you would hope as a beginning instructor. Endless beginner, low level, childrens lessons await you as you move up the ranks at any ski resort. Nothing quite like an epic powder day spent in the beginner area with a crying 8 year old or group of overweight, out of shape first time adults that can’t go 10 feet without falling over. After years of teaching I do now have wonderful days teaching high level skiers on some of those epic snow days. But if that is what you are expecting than you might want to rethink starting out as a beginning instructor at 66. Even after years I still regularly find myself back in the beginner area with beginners. And at 66 you don’t even want to know what your knees will feel like torqued into a snowplow wedge for 4 hours. Not trying to be a buzzkill, but just offering a reality check for what to expect. For me, I am seriously considering hanging up my instructors jacket and doing exactly what you are already doing. I love teaching, I love sharing what I do best, but every missed powder day stings a bit more every year.

  3. Great story. Thanks for sharing.

  4. There are many of us “long” time skiers that appreciate this story, with similar memories,

  5. Sounds like you are a “natural”.

    From a skier who started skiing at 40, then went into the ski patrol aid room to learn how to ski. Then onto a career change to being a nurse practitioner and finally circling around to being a ski instructor which I have been doing since 2004 and looking at retiring from being a NP after almost 20 years!

    • Stephen Schneider says:

      My my, imagine finding you here! I did one month of instruction at Mt Hood Meadows. ;An expert Nordic skier I took pretty quickly to Alpine and got into the teaching routine easily. One day I had a father ask for me to give a first lesson as a “private” to his daughter. I loved that, and she learned quickly. I was shocked to learn how much he paid for that lesson (not to me ) Not knowing it was not allowed, I advertised online my service as a private instructor. The next day I lost my job as an instructor. I had no idea what I did was not allowed. One of the most embarrassing incidents in my life. Fortunately, I was allowed to continue to ski at the Meadows, and eventually repaired the relationship. Now I live in Wausau WI and have not skied Alpine for 3 years. I miss it. But we have great Nordic Trails and I teach or ski at least 5 times a week. But looking forward next year (post COVID) to spending at least 2 or 3 weeks out west in Utah, Idaho and Oregon skiing my favorite Alpine runs. I should add that in my last year in Idaho I purchased a used pair of really FAT skis. I never could ski deep pow , but my first day of trying them in bottomless pow I skied all seven front side bowls at Meadows, two of which I had been afraid to even try. And it was easy and fun. After that I got into pow skiing in the trees on the back side, something I had never been able to do. It changed everything.

  6. Steven Threndyle says:

    Awesome to read a story from that Maine legend, Dave Irons!

  7. Nick Miller says:

    Dave, I grazed through today’s Senior Skiiing and I was drawn immediately to your “my only ski lesson” story. Great story! And, you demonstrated great training technique:
    – Observe first…
    – Reinforce good technique
    – Correct, as needed.
    – Demonstrate
    – Etc.
    Fun to read. Thanks!

  8. To all who responded, Thanks for the kind words, especially from my old friend Steve Threndyle. For john who asked about PSIA, they are headquartered in Colorado. and any ski school director can provide info. This and other stories from my days of patrolling and writing about the sport will eventually appear in a book. Right now I am busy promoting my latest book “The History of Mt Abram” and for any readers in Maine I will be signing the book at Mt Abram on the 6th. Thanks Mike for letting me get in a plug.

  9. Mark Daniels says:

    Hi Dave, Thanks for many great times skiing together. Very happy to see you are out there bringing back some old memories. Regards, Wingman

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