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The origins of the Professional Ski Instructors of America’s (PSIA) harmonized approach to ski instruction in the United States can be traced back to Alta.

When skiing was first taking hold as a participation sport around the Intermountain region in the mid- to late-1930s, ski instruction was informal; limited to tips provided by anyone who had been on a pair of skis more than once.

By the early 1940s, many people were taking up the sport, and it became evident there needed to be some form of training, control, and certification for people teaching others how to ski.

During the 1946-47 season, the Intermountain Ski Association (ISA) took the first steps to form a unified approach to ski teaching in the Intermountain region. One of the organizers was my uncle, Sverre Engen, at the time, head of Alta’s ski school.

During the 1946-47 season, the Intermountain Ski Association (ISA) took the first steps to form a unified approach to ski teaching in the Intermountain region.                                                                                  Source: Alan Engen Collection

Two years later ISA conducted the first Intermountain region instructor examination at Alta.  According to Bill Lash, former Alta ski instructor and founder of the Professional Ski Instructors Association (PSIA), “Alf and Corey Engen ran the program.  The test was given in three grades: master instructor, instructor, and apprentice instructor.  The cost of the exam was $10.00 and the renewal fee was $2.50 per year.  In 1950, instructor pins were given out.  There were two pins and classes of certification: apprentice and instructor.” My father was Alf, who headed the Alta Ski School from 1948 to 1989 and for whom the Alta Ski School in named.

Early December,1950, another certification examination was conducted at Alta. This time, under the direction of Friedl Lang, a noted ski instructor who had been certified by the U.S. Eastern Ski Instructors Association. Lang had taught skiing in North Conway, New Hampshire for Hannes Schneider, father of the Arlberg Technique. He brought special insights to the new ski instructor certification process.

At the same time, the Intermountain Ski Instructors Association (ISIA) was created to oversee certifying instructors.

1958 National Ski Association Certification Meeting at Alta                                                  Source: Alan Engen Collection

Throughout the 1950s, Alta hosted numerous Intermountain Ski Instructor Association examinations. And in 1958, coordinated by the Alf Engen Ski School, Alta hosted the first National Ski Association “on-snow certification conference” to establish national certification standards. A significant outcome of this gathering was Outline of Ski Teaching, by Bill Lash. The first complete ski-instructors manual, it was distributed nationwide and became the basis of the American Skiing Technique. A few years later, in 1961, representatives of the National Ski Association met and agreed to formalize teaching the American Skiing Technique under a new umbrella: the Professional Ski Instructors of America.

So, wherever you take your next ski lesson at an area in the United States, if the instructor is PSIA-certified, she may not know it, but Alta played a role in bringing professional, harmonized instruction to the sport.


  1. Richard Kavey says:

    Alan, Your father was a wonderful man who did so much for the sport we love.

  2. Alta certainly played a roll, but it was Hannes at Kiddy Car Hill in N.Conway that created the first organized ski school in N.America.

    just sayin (as a kid who started there, 60+ years ago)

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