Senior Ski Lessons – Coming Attractions – Can PSIA Survive Consolidation?

Below is a reply I posted on the “Harb” thread. Over the coming months I will be tackling some of these questions one at a time and doing a deeper dive regarding the inconsistencies in ski school services.

going out od biz

Here is one question to get you thinking…Obviously according to the original comment, Aspen is doing things differently and they DO have a reputation of having a great school. SO, In light of the size of Vail Resorts and now, ASPEN/KSL, what happens to the relevancy of PSIA if either or both of those behemoths decides to create their own in-house certification programs and not require their instructors to become PSIA certified?

One immediate answer is clear. Between the two corporations they employ many thousands of instructors.  At the moment, PSIA’s long term survival is more dependent on how well they serve  those two companies than it is on its membership.

_____________________The Reply___________________________________________

On discussions of bio-mechanics…I have spent enough time on EpicSKi (R.I.P) and many other online forums to know that there is no such thing as consensus amongst instructors.

On generalizations…mine, based on observed behavior at 17 resorts are no less valid than yours based on observations at one resort. There are some very real studies that indicate something is deeply wrong.

1) Only 10% of visit-days result in the sale of a school “product”
2) 70% of people just finishing a lesson either were “not likely to” or “would not” recommend lessons to friends or family
3) Membership surveys show that older instructors are accepting of the role PSIA plays but not necessarily enthusiastic or engaged. The younger the instructor, the more dissatisfied they are, on some questions, 2.5 out of a max of 5.

These aren’t good numbers. The problem is there are many studies asking “what” is happening but they don’t get to the bottom of “why” it is happening.

Surely, some of the customer’s dissatisfaction comes from some expectations based on the price. There is no reason to conclude that an L2 at Vail gives a better lesson than an L2 at Snowbowl, but the difference in price of those identical products is $900 versus $180.

I am also intrigued by the information that PSIA has been involved in the development of software based Do-It-Yourself lessons. For the long term health of the industry, I think it’s a good thing. Proficiency surely plays a role when a customer is making the decision to continue skiing or quit and take up knitting. DIY learning tools offer proficiency at a MUCH lower price point than even the cheapest school lesson.

Compare these two messages…

1) “Take multiple PSIA lessons over 4 years at $300 each to reach level A proficiency”
2) “Buy this combination of hardware/software with PSIA lessons embedded and have the same 4 years worth of lessons for $250.

One has to be curious why an organization, that has resisted codifying a concrete progression for it’s members, would do that for the open consumer market first.

This is “personal” only in an indirect way. I have a ton of friends and acquaintances who pay their dues and teach and do a great job. they are getting the shaft but are afraid to speak out. So, I do what I can for them.

There are many questions and very few answers and THAT combination always piques my interest.

Later this summer I will be putting up an article on the astonishing new thing the OSV in Austria has done with their program. IN a nutshell, they went out and ASKED the public what THEY wanted to learn. That simple step triggered a brand new 528 page manual and the statement that “carving is out and elegance is in”

For many decades, a relative handful of “experts” have decided what the customer SHOULD learn without ever once asking the public what they wanted. It took some courage for the OSV to do that.

Nationalist snow sport organizations have a long history in reacting to market changes at a very glacial pace. How many years between the introduction of snow boards and the first certification of a snowboard instructor? How many decades passed between the first freestyle world championship and the first certification of a freestyle instructor?

In part, the poor market penetration and high levels of customer dissatisfaction can be blamed on an ongoing, major chasm between what the skiing public wants and what experts are willing to offer.

While I find the embedding of PSIA teaching in a software product as a step in the right direction, the Austrian market study may prove that the “carving lessons in a can” may still not be what the public wants.

In the end the long term value of that effort may accrue to the PSIA brand and to the resorts but not to the membership. What happens to how a customer sees YOU, the instructor, when they show up with this PSIA branded technology and ask “I am stuck on Lesson 4.2 and need some help” ..and you have NO IDEA what they are talking about?


11 thoughts on “Senior Ski Lessons – Coming Attractions – Can PSIA Survive Consolidation?

  1. Hi Mike, I only discovered your blog recently through a post on FaceBook.

    You are hitting on a lot of issues that affect the future (or lack of said future) of skiing that I would like to add my comments to at some point. For the present, I’ll focus on your statement, “On discussions of bio-mechanics…I have spent enough time on EpicSKi (R.I.P) and many other online forums to know that there is no such thing as consensus”.

    The reason there is no agreement on the biomechanics of skiing is that, with rare exceptions, the position of most authorities are based on assumptions made from uninformed observations and opinions lacking in substance; one of the more egregious examples being the invention of the term, ‘knee angulation’, a condition that can only result from ruptured ligaments.

    Despite the fact that alpine skiing as a sport has existed for close to a century, no validated physiological model currently exists that describes the process by which a skier is able to stand and balance on the outside ski using the same hard-wired processes that enable us to engage in locomotion. The result is that instead of being as natural, fluid and economical as walking or running, skiers are rendered disabled by tightly fitting ski boots whose stated intent is to immobilize the joints of the foot. This process also has the effect of rendering the normally sophisticated processes of balance into a minimally effective survival mechanism. It especially egregious that the most vital aspect of human movement, the ability to rapidly establish a stable base from which to move from, continues to be neglected in skiing. It should be no mystery why skiing is in a decline.


      1. I would be pleased to publish articles. I think in many ways we share a common cause and compliment each other well. While I recognize the detrimental effects of issues such as the increasing corportization of skiing and its focus on the skier’s wallet as opposed to the skier’s advancement and enjoyment of the sport, I try to restrain myself and my focus to the science aspect. How about if I paste in a graphic with the titles of my posts and you can choose the ones that you would like to re-publish? Meantime, I will put a link to your blog as soon as I figure out to do it. Keep up the good work Mike.


      2. I need to get over to your blog and do some reading. As you might know, this sort of thing can keep a person awfully busy. I have 17 drafts working in parallel and the research associated with each is ongoing and trying to build a website at the same time…not to mention my actual job 🙂


      3. Oh, do I ever know about the time constraint issue. I also write a lot drafts that I never publish because stats indicate where reader interest is and I try and write to the reader. I called my blog The Skier’s Manifesto because it is for skiers and intended to empower passionate kiers with the knowledge to help bring change for the betterment of skiing. In the meantime, I work full time with several racers.

        When solo (Joan Rostad) owned and edited EpicSki, I wrote a number of articles for it. I recently re-published one on my blog on the biomechanics of skiing that Joan assembled and edited from my comments. This might be a good opening article. Here’s a shortlink to SKIING BIOMECHANICS EXPLAINED BY DAVID MACPHAIL – EPICSKI 2002 –


  2. Granted, PSIA has a structured “Teaching Model”, However, that model is in actuality a guideline not an absolute. Most ski areas have their own unique criteria for teaching, based on their clientele and available terrain. That criteria uses the PAIA teaching model as a guideline around their requirements. Granted, if an instructor is working on a certification level, they need to fully understand the PSIA Teaching Model in order to pass an exam. Beyond that, I don’t know of any instructor in my 40+ years of teaching that sticks to that exact model. A good instructor will continually look at other methodologies and opinions in order to grow their craft. Just like there are no two turns that are alike, so goes ski instruction, there are no absolutes.

    As for PSIA venturing into on line self-teaching, look at it from the prospective that not many skier will be fully successful, because most cannot self-diagnose their particular fine line challenges. Therefore, the thought is that they will eventually come to a ski school and take a lesson to get a “Professional” opinion and guidance. It’s more of a hook Vs tossing out the bath water to save the organization.

    I am not fully on board with the direction PSIA is heading. That said, I do know they are aware of many of the organizational issues. Everything from building client awareness/marketing to member growth and retention. PSIA has always been more member centric, I.E. What do our members want and need Vs an aggressive outward marketing organization to build the brand and value of take lesson from a certified professional. From a PSIA member prospective, there is a big push for the organization to drive member value to the ski area owners/managers in order to garner better compensation benefits. Instructor pay has not kept up with the pace of higher lift ticket costs. Ski school profit margins today are in to upper 40% range. That has been largely at the expense of keeping staff compensation stagnant. Do you know of any company who can boast a 40% profit margin? When you figure in what an instructor pays to keep his/her equipment up to date, meals at the area, lodging or travel expenses, etc., for many of us, it can be a negative or break even pay wise. As younger Millennials take a look at ski teaching, they quickly learn there is very little to no upside from a compensation to level of effort comparison. The “cache” and prestige of the past is long gone, it’s now all about “what’s in it for me”. That is a PSIA and over all ski industry dilemma, and it won’t go away until there is a mindset change by the ski area owners that they need to pay much more attention to the care and feeding of the people who make the area run on a day to day basis. If not, there will be fewer lifies, instructors, bar tenders, wait staff, etc. etc. They know they can make more at 7-11 or McDonald’s and have money left to buy a lift ticket and ski all day with their friends and family. Just food for thought….


    1. Once again Mike, you have hit the nail solidly on the head.

      When my wife and I became involved in the ski industry back in the ’70s in what I term the BC Era (before Corporate era), ski pro expertise was highly regarded and sought after. While top ski pros in Canada did not earn the same money as their European counterparts they got a lot of all day privates with good tips. Today, the corporate focus is on the bottom line and the monetization of lessons. Positive client experience and the minimal ability required for a client (ATM machine to the corporate ski hill owner) to navigate down the mountain to the corporate owned shops, bars and restaurants in the valley below has taken precedence over teaching skier competence. In off the record conversations, elite ski pros have told me that they are being slowly pushed out of the system in order to make room for corporate drone ski pros who are really sales agents for their corporate master and who will work for minimum wages.

      At one point, I was away from skiing for close to 10 years. Since I started skiing in 1970, I have always enjoyed watching the fluid, effortless movement of the elite skiers as I ride a lift or wait at the side of a run for those I am skiing with to regroup. Watching skiers and even ski pros today is painful. It makes my eyes bleed.


      1. Back in the day there was just one kind of sking..Alpine. Racing was the highest expression of alpine skiing. In 1971, the world freestyle competition blew the business model out of the water..forever..and frankly…PSIA has never recovered. They have been decades behind the cutting edge of ski theory for 40 years


    2. I’ll just go for one of your points. Who doesn’t know a resort has a ski school? Why should PSIA be spending money on “awareness” of a fact everyone already knows? I read an explanation from a division executive a couple of years ago about why he decided to spend thousands of dollars on bumper stickers to educate the “general public. His geographic area has nearly 100 million population and 2.5 million skiers. Expecting to tell the public ANYTHING of value to a member, using a minuscule big city traffic??? Really?? Moronic. Bureaucracies reward mules NOT thoroughbreds..That “marketing” campaign smells more like..”my cousin has a machine that makes stickers”


    3. I also question why PSIA divisions spend money recruiting at colleges for holiday instructors to work Christmas break and we never see them again? If NSAA members need holiday employees, let them go find them on their own


      1. Let me ask you this..IN the last 20 years, how many millions of members’ dues have been spent trying to keep members form looking at the books? How many dollars have PSIA executives cheated off the books or outright, stolen?


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