The Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) and the American Association of Snowboard Instructors (AASI) are organizations that create skiing/riding techniques and teaching methods based on those techniques, they also certify instructors in their approach. With PSIA/AASI certification, instructors may earn a bit more money and teach higher level lessons at some resorts.
The organization was founded sixty years ago on the idea that it would be better to have one American approach to instruction, rather than a marketplace of options for customers to choose. Schools were offering various alternative ways of teaching skiing based on different European approaches.
If you decide to pursue PSIA certification for skiing, understand that the approach we use is different. Focus on becoming very good at our approach, and then at some point if you want to get PSIA certified, various clinics are available.
Keep clear the differences in the programs so you can pass your PSIA exam; you will have to be good at both and not confuse them.
PSIA has had a focus on active movements with the new inside ski to start turns such as releasing the edge and steering it with a gradual weight transfer. This subtle sequence of movements is hard for new skiers to make especially children, but PSIA believes it is the foundation for offensive skiing.
It is taught to skiers from a traverse, so the focus is on the top part of a turn first. The skier's
momentum is moving across a gentle slope and has to be directed down the hill with very little gravity to help redirect it. If students can make the moves, they feel a relatively slow response, because momentum is directed more across the slope rather than down the hill.
Our approach has skiers go straight downhill in a wedge with some speed to build momentum and reduce friction. They either turn their feet or flex one ankle to make the bottom part of a very slight turn. Momentum and gravity are working in a similar direction to first load the ski in the bottom half of a turn, and then to quickly and automatically move the skier into the start of the next turn upon release. Right from the start, this teaches skiers to move over the forces of the turn and to control their speed with a minimal amount of turning. So they learn to reduce speed confident that they can move with their momentum, rather than feeling the security of redirecting it for control. This is the key to good skiing. A good finish makes a good start; go with the flow!
Our approach requires the proper choice of terrain for any given conditions. It helps to prevent rotation and banking at the start of a turn which occurs when making turns so far across the hill that there is little downhill momentum to start the next turn. The response to movements with our approach is quicker so the association between the action and response is stronger.
This difference in approach is maintained in more advanced skiing. We continue to focus on maintaining momentum through the turn using progressive ankle flex and angulation (flex and tip.) Just turning the feet can even produce ankle flex and angulation when using the front of the ski. However, PSIA has stayed focused on releasing the downhill ski, then steering or edging it to start the turn with a gradual transfer of weight.
The PSIA approach was supposed to create offensive movements in contrast to early weight transfer which was seen as a defensive move away from the turn. But this was not taking into account the role that momentum plays when linking turns if skiers are not moving back and inside, or the direction a skier can project their body. After a few years of involvement with USSA, PSIA is has reintroduced active weight transfer to outside ski as part of their "five fundamentals of skiing." This shift in thinking reverses what PSIA instructors strongly believe, so there is some resistance which could increase depending on how this change impacts the PSIA approach to teaching beginners.
Trends impact the PSIA approach and the exercises they use. When they shifted away from weight transfer, a key exercise became pivot slips. Long and very detailed list were created in some divisions to describe the maneuver which included things like the skis must be totally parallel with little vertical movement. This is to demonstrate the moves thought to be necessary for offensive skiing, such as release of the downhill edge, simultaneous steering, and a gradual weight transfer. It also makes sure that moves PSIA has seen as defensive, dead end, and out of date are not present like: early weight transfer, extension, and any convergence.
Our approach uses the uphill christie as a key exercise for more advanced skiers to develop continuous movement with progressive ankle flexing and tipping. We use the pivot slips to show that the weight is over the center of the skis so the momentum can maintain a straight path.
Timeless not tends
Our approach does not rely on technical trends. Skiing is not intuitive so it requires clear and consistent goals to develop and maintain Ski Moves, especially for infrequent recreational skiers. If the goals are regularly changing it will make it harder to improve. Consistent simple fundamentals are important because they are not easy to develop or execute well in a variety of situations.
Early weight transfer is a timeless Ski Move. We work on up and down moves to develop timing and rhythm and have skiers link smooth, skidded turns. Like early weight transfer, PSIA has seen these these as out of date and dead end moves that will not produce the carved turns with retraction they have focused on making.
We provide a very specific plan on how to apply the fundamental Ski Moves and what the timing should be, it is like a recipe or detailed building plan. PSIA is worried that being specific would create a return to "final forms" that they worked so hard to change with a skills approach which did not specify how to apply the skills. But this is like providing building materials and no building plan, every building will be different.
PSIA wants to have a very broad approach that can include everything, rather than being a clearly defined teaching "system". The new national certification standards restate the skills approach as five "Alpine Skiing Fundamentals" but still offer no specific formula to apply them. Trying to stand for everything results in a vague complex approach to teaching and is an ineffective way to train a large group of instructors who only teach part time a few years. A specific plan for applying the skills is needed to teach consistently.
PSIA participates in the international instructor conference called Interski which is held every four years since 1951. The focus of Interski is on technical differences between nations and their teaching progressions. The organizations work hard on preparing their newest techniques, even though many acknowledge that there is little difference in technique now. It is hard to change long standing traditions and established culture.
PSIA's approach was seen as a change from the final forms of the European schools, favoring more freedom from the rigid progressions. Their skills approach was seen as a way to encompass a wider variety of skiing and teaching, but it is difficult to deal with all that variety when it is time for certification or developing national consistency that require specifics.
The skills approach provided the building materials but not the blueprint of what to do with them. It makes it hard for more than 32,000 instructors to deliver a consistent product without specific plans. But designing tests for national certification requires more detailed descriptions that end up functioning like final forms. These detailed criteria conflict with the idea that PSIA does not have a "system" and that "everything can fit in the PSIA approach."
Interski also tends to focus attention on high end skiing and creating teaching approaches that target those goals. However the majority of students are recreational skiers, so the role of valuable skills like skidded turns is reduced. It is hard for a group of dedicated high level PSIA instructors to break from tradition and focus on the needs of less passionate recreational skiers, and then develop clear and specific directions for them to succeed.
Ski instruction is big business for large resorts. Good businesses examine the performance of their staff and services, but ski resorts have outsourced the quality of their service to PSIA. It reduces the cost of training, however resorts have a monopoly on ski instruction and there is more demand than supply during the busy part of the season, so even if the quality is less than optimal instruction is very profitable. This results in 82 percent of first time participants that do not return and 12 percent have a bad lesson experience. That is $21 million of bad lesson experiences at Vail resorts alone. Better management and more innovation through competition would improve instruction and the conversion rate of first time skiers.
Studying what skiers at every level of development have in common reveals the endless challenge of replacing their natural moves with counter intuitive Ski Moves. The challenge is so great that it is achieved more easily with consistent goals and precise feedback.
This is how our approach is different from the tradition of searching for the newest technical trend.
It is based on visual data using digital coaching software that was collected over more than 20 years of side by side slow motion comparisons between skiers ranging from young beginners to World Cup athletes. Understanding the common ways people naturally move provides a more effective basis for teaching and technique than trendy technical theories that are looking for new differences in high level skiers.
Top ski race coaches focus on tactics. Technique basics have to be applied well enough to support the tactics, but they are not searching for new technical changes because that is just a matter of execution. This us unlike ski instruction that is still following their tradition of looking for the newest changes in technique every four years at Interski.
Trying to make technique and progressions fit the latest theory is different from making a theory fit how people actually move. Following trends in technique can end up looking contrived because of a lot of complex details that are even hard for instructors seeking certification to perform let alone new skiers. Examples are PSIA descriptions of wedge christies and pivot slip.
Occam's Razor's simplicity is important in skiing as well as science because complexity quickly expands into a Rube Goldberg Machine that is hard for the students to use and it hurts growth. When things are well understood, they can be put in the simplest terms. People wanting to improve badly can confuse complexity with greater understanding and seek complex new technical theories.
New national standards
Technical trends make instruction more complex and difficult with changing goals that confuse instructors and frustrate students. This is especially true for the large number of infrequent recreational skiers who are not trying to become top skiers. Searching for the latest trend, and a lack of specifics also make it hard to create the national standards PSIA needs to create teaching that is consistent across the country.
PSIA is trying to simplify instruction, develop more consistent certification, and finally reach the sixty year old goal of providing a consistent national approach to teaching with the new national certification standards. It is being influenced by a complex process for creating even higher levels of training requirements for college credit.
The new National standards are complex and vague with several elements that are "suggested" rather than required, which makes consistency difficult to achieve.
The dedicated and passionate members of PSIA bring great energy to instructing, but the organization has some cultural and structural contradictions to resolve. Despite the PSIA claim that everything fits under their broad flexible approach, it does not work that way at a PSIA exam, so don't use our approach. If you go for a PSIA exam, know and practice their approach.
Diverse technical feedback from trainers
Here are some examples of the problems that a lack of consistent technical content creates. At a summer training camp, PSIA team member Johnathan Ballou explained that trainers give so much so much different and at times conflicting feedback because not enough is known about skiing.
He claims the basics are very broad because they will be different for each person. This makes it very hard to train 32,000 PSIA instructors, especially when most are part time, seasonal, employees who work a few season for little pay. Without clear and specific goals, there will be confusion and variation among instructors and the public, especially in a sport that is so counter intuitive.
At 18:45 in the above video the claim is made that it is easy for instructors to evaluate and teach the technical content because this is settled, which contradicts what Ballou said, and the experience of many instructors at PSIA events.
Another alpine team member stated before the last Interski, "The consistency of our technical message and how it's assessed is too variable and is one of our association’s biggest challenges”. Again contradiction the comments in the national academy presentation that there is consistency in technical understanding, even when some of the team members do not think it is the case.
PSIA wants a broad diverse approach rather than the specific details which are necessary for simplicity, clarity, and consistency. This is a problem in ski instruction and it is part of the reason the conversion rate is so low.