You all know that during most of the year I make my living as a professional photographer. I love the profession, I love creating beautiful photographs, and I love documenting events in a rural county in Central Virginia. But there is another side of me that most of you already know about. So I am going to elaborate about my other profession as a snow sports instructor. I will write about it in terms of it being a profession, that those of us who teach snows ports are professionals in our own right. Most people in this country scoff at the idea that teaching snow sports is a profession, and most regard it as something less than professional. Most do not even think of it as a "real job". It's thought of as something you do until something better comes along. Nothing could be further from the truth.
It is true that you cannot teach skiing or snowboarding year round; they are seasonal positions, no doubt. So most of us have other professions that we do during the off season --- in my case professional photography. But that does not mean that teaching snow sports is not a profession or anything less than professional, and I will prove it.
First, let's start with what happens at least 6 months before the snow sports season starts. Gone are the days when you simply applied to a resort and attended an orientation clinic. Most resorts now have fitness requirements that must be met before one is considered for an instructor position. Although the fitness requirements may vary slightly from resort to resort, most are based on the Vail Resort Fit To Ride test. I wrote about such in a previous blog, about how I trained for about six months and still did not pass the fitness test the first time round. I trained for an additional month and passed. So I trained for about seven months prior to the start of the snow sports season. Needless to say that I am in the best physical shape of my life. Just another job? I think not.
Those who teach snow sports are certified through two national organizations. For ski instructors, it is the Professional Ski Instructors Of America (PSIA), similarly for snowboard instructors, it is the American Association of Snowboard Instructors (AASI). For all practical purposes, the two function as one cohesive organization.
There are three levels of teaching certification in PSIA and AASI --- levels I, II, and III respectively. Level I instructors teach from the beginning to the lower intermediate level, Level II instructors teach from the intermediate to advanced levels, and Level III instructors teach from the advanced to the expert level. Each teaching level (I, II, III) has a set of standards (both technical and teaching) that must be met or exceeded before one attains the certification. Quoting from my ski coach, "Level II is an order of magnitude more difficult to attain than Level I, and Level III is an order of magnitude more difficult than Level II." Standards for any of the three levels are set high and not every one passes when tested. The failure rate increases with each higher level of certification. It is not uncommon for a candidate to repeat an exam several times. Yeah, it's that tough. I can speak about failure as well, last year I did not meet the standards for the Child Specialist I certification. Needless to say, I am preparing for the test again, this time with more focus and technical skill. Hey, if it was easy everyone would do it.
Regardless of the level of certification, continuing education is required to maintain certification. Attendance at workshops and clinics are mandatory. This past week I completed my workshop to maintain my certification. We were critiqued on our skiing and teaching skills, and we were coached so that we could improve in both. I was fortunate in that I had one of the best clinicians on the East Coast, if not, in the US. Advanced Level II and Level III instructors offer clinics at their resorts as well. Typically, each resort has one or more Level III instructors who offer clinics weekly. We are continuously learning, continuously improving, continuously striving to become better skiers, riders, and instructors. The journey never ends, and none of us want it to. We passionate about about skiing/riding, we are passionate about our profession, and we want to share that passion with others. This is why we teach. So that others can enjoy the feeling that you get when the edge of the ski carves in to the snow, and then you feel the spring in your foot as you come out of the turn. Or, you just enjoy the feeling of skiing/riding on fresh powder. To be outside, with the wind in your face. Most people detest cold weather, but I don't even though my heating bill goes up. In cold weather, to hear the snow crunch underfoot is one of the most beautiful sounds there is. Well, Beethoven's 9th Symphony is up there too, but that's another blog.
Come March when the days get longer I will either head out west to teach at a resort where the season is longer, or I may just put my skis away, stay here, and go back to my "other" profession. I haven't decided which yet. But I do know one thing. The training continues --- practicing skiing skills in the spring, summer, and fall. Also, continuously to physically train. I especially want to concentrate on my balance and core body strength. These are my goals, but anyone who teaches snow sports, and who is dedicated, will set up their own training regimen. Next November, we will meet again at the rehire clinic and we will be happy to see each other again. I am part of a special family. Like any family, we have our dramas, our times of disappointment and jubilation. I share a bond that only another snow sports instructor knows.
So in closing, I hope I have proved to you that being a snow sports instructor is not just another job, or a job you do until you find something better. It is a profession, and we are professionals. We are dedicated, we continuously train, we are continuously evaluated, and we believe in what we do. Always striving to better. Always striving to improve.
This week's photograph shows a group newly certified Level I instructors. I share their joy and jubilation. At one time I stood where they are. And I continuously train to attain my next level of certification. I have several advanced technical skills to master, and one dragon to slay before I will even consider taking the exam. But as one of my instructor friends said to me, "It's not about the achievement. It's about the journey to get there."
Until next time,