Author Archive | Andrew

Senior Skiing

Elsa Bailey is legally blind. She uses an oxygen tank, in order to breathe in Colorado’s thin air environment. But on May 11, 2013, she decided to celebrate her birthday by skiing at Arapahoe Basin. Elsa started skiing when she was 25. While she was not one of those people who popped out of the womb on two planks, her age did nothing to curb her snow sliding passion. If you are currently teaching the over-50 crowd, can you say this about your students? What can you do to keep them involved in the sport? This article will explore your options.

Steadily Downhill and Loving It

J.R. Gurney’s play, titled Love Letters, follows the 50-year correspondence between Melissa Gardner and Andrew Makepeace Ladd III. In one scene, Melissa tells Andy that she is in Aspen. “What are you doing in Aspen?” asks Andy. “Going steadily downhill,” she replies.
Such is the state of the international senior skiing scene. Like Elsa Bailey, an increasing population of baby boomers are refusing to trade in their skis checker boards. And rather than switch to cross-country and snowshoeing, many are sticking with downhill skiing. As such, they’re going steadily downhill.

This makes sense. After all, it was the baby boomers who popularized the fitness movement, and they are taking advantage of their maintained fitness by staying on the slopes. Case in point:
Over the Hill Gang

According to their website:

Over the Hill Gang members receive discounts for lift tickets, lodging, food, rentals and much more. Over 300 discounts are available at ski resorts throughout the US and Canada.
Over The Hill Gang, International® …unsurpassed camaraderie, outstanding discounts and great trips for people 50 and over! We’re enthusiastic, fun-loving people who enjoy sharing the experience of skiing and other outdoor activities with other physically active seniors.
Membership is available to individuals and to couples as long as one spouse is at least 50.
Three thousand people (and counting!) can’t be wrong! More than 3,000 people in the U.S. and around the world enjoy OTHGI membership. >

Many people join local OHG chapters, and ski with the same group on a regular basis. For example, the Copper Mountain OHG meets on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. The ski groups include:

Club Incline:
Club Incline is only for the serious skier/rider. If there is anything you don’t want to ski, this group is not for you.
Club Decline:
Club Decline skis moderate bumps and powder, but usually stays on marked trails.
Groomed Zoomers:
his group skis mostly groomed black and blue terrain.
True Blue:
True blue skis all blue terrain, but with some stopping along the trail for stories and tales.
No Worries Mate:
The terrain skied is green and blue at a pace that fits individual needs.

Each group has its own designated guide. In some cases, the guide is actually one of Copper’s ski school instructors. Many of these instructors have discovered that this is one of the best ways to gain new clients. Additionally, the club often hires instructors for special ski clinics.

The Over the Hill Gang also conducts workshops on Balance and Injury Prevention. These are essential topics for senior skiers.

Boomeritis: The Down Side of Going Downhill

“Boomers are the first generation that grew up exercising, and the first that expects, indeed demands, that they be able to exercise into their 70’s,” said Dr. Nicholas A. DiNubile, a Philadelphia-area orthopedic surgeon, told the New York Times.

“But evolution doesn’t work that quick,” he continued. “Physically, you can’t necessarily do at 50 what you did at 25. We’ve worn out the warranty on some body parts. That’s why so many boomers are breaking down. It ought to be called Generation Ouch.”
This is a serious concern for senior skiers, and it can especially apply to the Club Incline crowd. It’s the proverbial spirit willing vs, weak flesh conundrum.
Other issues include:
Reduced Proprioception and Spatial Awareness
Aging Eyes in Flat Light
Mike Stebbins of Senior Skiing — a superb website — wrote an informative article on [training the fine muscles used in skiing.](
These are ideas you can share with your senior skiers.

The Bottom Line

The most important thing about successfully teaching senior skiers is a sincere desire to do so. This should be a no-brainer, but, unfortunately, the group lesson system is often set up by who’s available, instead of who’s a good fit. Consequently, people who have no tolerance for children end up teaching kids, and young player dudes find themselves teaching people their pàrent’s or grandparent’s age.
One 50-something woman, an adult learner, complained about what happens when she takes a lesson from a 20-something female instructor:

“These young women benefited from Title IX, which gave them the opportunity to engage in sports in elementary school. Meanwhile, when we were children, the girls were in home economics classes, learning to make tuna-noodle casseroles. We were not athletic as children. Some of the younger instructors do not understand this, and openly show their frustration. They seem to forget that without the political pressures that came from the baby boomers, they would never had the opportunity to develop their athletic prowess.”>

If you do specialize in senior skiers, build it into your brand, and let your ski school director know your preferences.

Staying in Touch in the Off Season

As the ski season comes to an end, many instructors will lose touch with their students. “Instructors” will lose touch. True coaches understand that coaching is a year-round obligation. During the summer, your ongoing communications with your students will solidify your relationships with them. strong relationships = return clients.

You Can Learn to Ski In the Summer

Who here remembers Horst Abraham, a former VP of Education and Training of the Professional Ski Instructors of America? Apparently, he distributed a newsletter to his certification candidates. It was called “The Abe Letter.” One of these letters featured the following sentence: “You learn to swim in winter and you learn to ski in summer.” Joan Rostad of Epicski posted this on the forum. An interesting discourse ensued.

Although the statement has many potential interpretations, an encompassing philosophy prevails: Learning is an ongoing process, and it doesn’t stop when the season ends. In other words, when the lifts stop turning, the mind must continue to turn its own wheels, and come up with new ideas. If you’ve taught your students well, they will make connections between their winter and summer activities.

Here’s an example. A friend of mine was walking along the beach of Cabo San Lucas. The tide was high, and swimming was prohibited. The giant waves, however, had other plans for her. When one of them swept her off her feet and pulled her into the water, she panicked. Then, she remembered her ski instructor had told her about avalanche survival. “Ski sideways.” So she swam sideways, and lived to tell the tale. So even though skiing and swimming bare almost no resemblance, my friend was able to apply an extreme skiing skill to an extreme swimming skill.

Here’s another example. Your student hikes to the top of the mountain. On the way down, she discovers a steep, rocky pitch. She stares down like a deer in the highlights. She’s stuck in the moment, and she can’t get out of it. Then, she has a EUREKA moment. She realizes that she does not have to straight-line it down the path. She can break the speed with small, zigzag movements. Sort of like a ski turn.

Where You Come In

Some of your students might intuitively find a link between skiing and their summer activities. Others need a little help from their instructor. BY staying in touch – either through your Facebook page, weekly email newsletter or blog, you can continue to offer hints about summer activities. Here are some ideas:
1. Ski specific fitness tips, such as balance training, stability ball, BOSU, etc.
2. Activities similar to skiing, such as inline skating, skate to ski, water skiing, etc.
3. Outrageous activities such as sand skiing and grass skiing
4. Places where you can literally ski in the summer, such as South America, Australia and New Zealand.

They’ve Got Brand: These Ski Pros are Doing it Right!


In Kate Howe’s branding video, she gives an example of two different ski instructors with very different brands. If you don’t know the Aspen Ski School staff, you probably don’t know who she’s talking about. However, everyone who did know them nodded their heads emphatically. Why? Because these instructors have created a recognizable brand. If their brand is recognizable to their colleagues, it’s also recognizable by their ski school director, and by their clients. This means that they are always working with their ideal client. This article will present examples of ski instructors who have elevated branding to an art form. Follow their lead.

The Four Questions of Branding


Here are four questions to ask yourself when developing your brand:

1.What do you want clients, peers and supervisors to associate with you when they think of your name?
2. Is there a certain type of skiing or terrain you want people to associate with your name?
3. What do you want your voice to be?
4. What is your story?

Your story is the most important question, because it encompasses your passions, hobbies and lifestyle. An engaging narrative makes you more interesting to potential students. Consider Leon Joseph Littlebird’s story.

Leon Joseph Littlebird: Colorado Authenticity

Leon Joseph Littlebird is a Summit County Colorado icon. Everything from his Native American heritage, his music and his ski instruction embodies what it means to be a native Coloradan. It’s this authenticity that draws his students. He’s also a man with a story. A cancer survivor who lived beyond his doctor’s expectations, Leon is an inspiration. When he’s not teaching skiing, he performs Native American concerts, and officiates over local wedding ceremonies.

Thanks to his ability to blend these aspects of his life, Littlebird has a distinctive brand. Although he’s a PSIA trainer/examiner, his signature teaching style requires students to feel the movements, rather than analyze them. In fact, Leon makes fun of the techno-babble that many instructors favor.
In an interview with the Summit Daily, he describes the connection between skiing and composing:

They’re the same. It’s about freedom and self expression. I love writing and performing original music because there will be an idea, a brand new seedling and it will start to grow. All of a sudden there is a song, where before there was nothing. It’s like when you hike up to some amazing place on your skis and look down at a virgin powder field. Then you take off your skins, tele down and leave your signature on it.

Kate Howe: Inspiring and Versatile

Her blog is called “Skiing in the Shower.” She’s a ski instructor, a yoga teacher, a massage therapist and an artist. When the lifts stop turning, Kate travels to India to explore the culture and teach yoga. Furthermore, she has a story. Kate started teaching skiing when she was 35 years old, and 60 pounds over weight. Herstory inspires anyone who thinks that age, weight and parenthood limit your possibilities.

Mermer Blakeslee: Conquering Fear and Empowering Students

Mermer Blakeslee wants her student to have a conversation with fear. In fact, she wrote a book on the subject. Mermer is also a novelist, and an avid gardener.
Her brand is so established, that she earns good money for her workshops at Windham Mountain.

These three instructors share one thing in common: Their names come up on the first page of a Google search. This is what happens when you devote enough time to developing your brand, and letting people know who you are.

If your name is hiding on Google’s back pages, it’s time to take control of your ski instruction business, and develop your unique social media strategy!

Ski Instructor Brand Development

If you watched Kate Howe’s video on Branding for Ski Instructors, you know that brand logos personify their product.

What do you think about when you see the PSIA logo? A document on The Snowpros Website explains that the logos represent the PSIA brand personality, which encompasses the following traits:

Hopefully, as a member of PSIA , you identify with these traits. However, as Kate points out, these character aspects do not distinguish you from the other red or blue instructor jackets on the mountain. Branding makes your unique personality traits stand out, in a manner that attract your ideal client. But who is that client? Marketers call this the “buyer persona. For the purposes of this article, let’s refer to the buyer persona as “ideal ski student persona.”

Ski Student Persona

Marketers developed the concept of the buyer persona in 2002. Marketing expert Tony Zambito elaborates on the definition:

Buyer personas are research-based archetypal (modeled) representations of who buyers are, what they are trying to accomplish, what goals drive their behavior, how they think, how they buy, and why they make buying decisions. (Today, I now include where they buy as well as when buyers decide to buy.)

Check out the “Sample Sally” image from Single Grain. What can you guess about this skier from looking at the image? How would you fill in the different categories? Does this ski student persona match you brand? If not, who would you refer her to?
Use this type of chart to create your own ideal ski student persona. Once you put it together, you can build your brand according to this student’s needs.

Defining Your Brand has an insightful article on brand definition. The author identifies some of the essential elements of defining your brand:
1.Mission Statement: A clear and concise definition. “My mission is to have fun while teaching students new skills.”
2.Vision: This describes your goals on the horizon: “Students who ski with me will become mogul-meisters.
3.Essence:Refer to the exercise in Kate Howe’s video. Choose one word to describe your teaching brand. Examples: Motivating, Patient, Fun, etc.
4. Unique Value Proposition: What do you bring to the table, aside from your teaching experience? An advanced knowledge of gear? Secret stash spots on the mountain?

The article also mentions personality. This requires its own section.

Uncover Your Brand Personality

Big Brand System offers a free worksheet to help you develop your brand personality. Download it here and print it out. This is what the chart looks like:

Personable and friendly___________________________________Corporate, professional
Spontaneous, high energy __________________________________Careful thinking, planning
Modern or high tech___________________________________Classic and traditional
Cutting edge___________________________________Established
Accessible to all___________________________________Upscale

Examine the different brand personality aspects, and place dots closest to wherever your brand personality falls along the spectrum.

If most of your dots are to the left, you take a contemporary, fast-moving and energetic approach to ski instruction. You’re a risk taker, with a friendly and approachable communication style.
If most of your dots fall to the right, you prefer an established method of instruction. Your professional style of communication appeals to an older, corporate client.
Here’s how these traits translate into ski instructor personality types.

Ski Instructor Personality Types

Ski Instructor Brand Personalities

This photo shows examples of four basic ski instructor brand personalities.
1.The Nurturer takes a maternal or paternal approach to ski instruction. He or she works best with fearful skiers, or skiers who started in their later years. Lift conversations often revolve around family.
2. The Professor finds joy in the science and biomechanics of skiing. He or she works well with students who want to know why things are done a certain way. Lift conversations are often about the mechanics of skiing.
3. The Ski Bum lives for the thrills. His or her motto is “just do it!” This type of instructor works best with advanced, adventurous. Lift conversations will revolve around local bars, gear shops and ski town lifestyle.
4. The Fashionista,also known as the Sophisticate, works at upscale resorts. This instructor brand has skied around the world. So have their clients. If they’re lucky, their clients take them along on European ski vacations. Lift conversations might revolve around travel, or upscale restaurants in the area.

Keep in mind, these are generalizations. Many instructors will fall into more that one brand personality. However, problems arise when a student persona clashes with an instructor personality. Unless you have developed a distinctive brand personality, your ski school director might inadvertently assign you to someone who is a bad match. As Kate Howe says, developing your brand helps out your ski school director.

What Is Branding and Why Do Ski Instructors Need It?

There comes a time in every ski instructor’s career when they will attend a resort branding pep talk. Kate Howe, an instructor-trainer at Aspen, took this concept one step further. In a video titled Building Your Brand, she talks about branding for ski instructors. Kate argues that in order succeed as a ski instructor, you need to treat your instruction as a business. In other words, you need to become the “CEO of Ski With Me Inc.” A business, however, must have a brand. This three-article series will help you build, define and evolve your brand. The first article will pose some questions. There are no right or wrong answers. Respond as honestly as you can.

Branding Is About Belonging

Maslow Needs
Kate uses Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to describe the basic principles of branding. The physiological and safety needs apply to all ski students. They all need hydration, fuel, and a chance to use the restrooms before class. They all — even the moist adventurous students — need to know that there’s a relative level of safety. Things get interesting at the third level of the triangle: Belonging. In fact, the sense of belonging is intrinsically tied to the next level: Esteem.
Case in point: The Level 4 Student who puts himself in a Level 7 ski class. His sense of self esteem is tied into the idea of belonging to the Level 7 group.
People Identify with specific brands because they want to belong to that group.
Kate uses examples of political campaigns, along with products such as Coke and Pepsi to show how different compànies design their brand for different groups.

Branding Examples

Check out these two car rental companies. Notice the difference in branding.


At the top of the Silvercar page, you see a bold headlines that reads: CAR RENTAL THAT DOESN’T SUCK AT DEN
Scroll down, and you’ll a picture of an Audi — the only car they rent — and a picture of an iPhone. They offer free satellite radio and free wi-fi. The Trunk Show, at the top of the page, links to the company’s blog, which features articles about the FIS World Championship at Vail and the Audi in pop culture.

The Hertz page is rather stark. Its extras include baby seats, infant seats, booster seats and “skierized” vehicles. These two companies obviously appeal to different types of people.
Two students arrive at Denver Airport. One rents from Silvercar. The other, from Hertz. Which one would choose you as their instructor?

Now let’s compare ski jacket manufacturers:



What do these jackets say about the students who wear them? Which student matches your teaching brand?

Re-branding Hillary Clinton

An article in the Washington Post asks: “Is Hillary Rodham Clinton a McDonald’s Big Mac or a Chipotle burrito bowl? A can of Bud or a bottle of Blue Moon? JCPenney or J. Crew?”

Apparently, as Hillary prepares for her 2016 presidential campaign, she has recruited a team of consumer marketing specialists. Their mission: “To help imagine Hillary 5.0 — the re-branding of a first lady turned senator turned failed presidential candidate turned secretary of state turned likely 2016 Democratic presidential nominee.”

Sealey, who is credited with the successful “Always Coca-Cola” campaign in the 1990s, said that Clinton, like Coke, “has incredible top-of-mind awareness, and it’s a huge asset.”

“The issue is: What is her promise?” he said. “With Mercedes, it’s quality. With Volvo, it’s safety. With Coca-Cola, it’s refreshment. If you can get her promise down to one word, that’s the key.”

“Look at Budweiser,” said a former campaign adviser to President Obama, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly. “That’s what Hillary Clinton is. She’s not a microbrew. She’s one of the biggest, most powerful brands ever in the country, and recognizing that is important.”

What’s your promise to your ski students? Describe it in one word. If you were a beer, what kind would you be? Do you have “top of mind awareness” at your resort, or are you just another red jacket?

The Evolving Brand

Throughout the video, Kate stresses the importance of a continually evolving brand. We leave you with this analogy:
Branding is like a pair of skis. They need to make you look good on the slopes. They need to make you feel good. Since brands are aspirational, they can be a little bit long. But not so long that they make you look silly.

Tip: Become a Funcaster, Create Memorable and Fun Experiences

This tip comes from the Winter 2013 Issue of the 32 Degrees Magazine from PSIA. In the Article “Instructors Teach, Funcasters Create Experiences” by Eric Rolls.

Eric talks about the importance creating experiences for your guests that they find fun and truly memorable. We are encouraged to get background information from our guests to enable transference of skills from other activities into their skiing and riding. Eric suggests taking this same approach to fun by finding out what your guests enjoy doing. Then find ways to deliver experiences that reflect the same fun factors on the hill.

Bowling Fun

As an example, suppose your guest really enjoys bowling. Bowling involves a set of movements and positioning of the body to get the ball to a specific target. There is also a bit of a thrill of the anticipation once the ball leaves your hand until it reaches the pins. Sliding a box has many of these same fun factors. Setting yourself up for success with the approach and takeoff and then the anticipation of the ride until you exit.


Dig a little bit to discover what your guests enjoy about their favorite sports and activities. Use this information not only for skill transference, but finding common themes to build truly memorable and enjoyable experience for your guest.

Tips From the SnoCoach Twitter Feed

@SnoCoach 1-update yr profile 2-contact old guests 3-get in shape, 4-write season goals down #ski#snowboard. From: @ShredBetter

@SnoCoach Make the initial connection personal & be a resource. Clients don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. From: @rchinatti

@SnoCoach – less talk more action; show by doing; keep moving; vocalize with positive tips & encouragement; communicate the joy of skiing… From: @gaburke

@SnoCoach wear old gloves with holes in on a Friday to get extra tips from your guests! #SIA #Lifehack. From: @SIAkaprun

@SnoCoach Get your story on the site and hand out lots of cards! 😉 From: @tcstix

@SnoCoach Follow your passion, listen to your heart and inner wisdom. All answers are found within. Namaste. From: @snowga

@SnoCoach There’s no better reward than positively influencing your students on or off the snow. Glad you are having fun! From: Snowboard_Coach


Communicate your passion to your students in all you do, the rewards will come.

Tip: Ask Better Questions

This tip comes from Daniel Pink from his book “To Sell is Human”. I read this highly recommended book to help with growing my consulting practice. Several places in the book Daniel points out the benefits of an interrogative approach, simple questions. The right question gets your client, student, prospect or even yourself to dust off the cobwebs and engage with the problem at hand with a fresh look.

In one example, Daniel presents how cajoling a reluctant teen to study more for an up coming exam or asking the simple question “why?” can set the teen’s mind to justifying their current behavior. Asking these two, seemingly irrational question can bring a new outlook: Question 1) Rate your preparation for the exam from 1 to 10. Question 2) Why didn’t you rate yourself lower? These questions actually gets the teen to start to think about how much work they have already put into the exam, and they will come up with their own reasons to study more. More details at Move People With Two Irrational Questions by Daniel Pink.

I recently had the opportunity to ask a bump challenged student to rate themselves in the bumps; they said they were a 3, I then asked why not lower? This led to a great discussion on their understanding of proper balance and tactical choices. We started the lesson by building on past accomplishments and a list of their skills to bring to the lesson instead of a more negative list of past failures and fears.

Find Better Questions

The first question often asked when meeting someone new is “What do you do?”. Which might work ok for a business networking event, but it sometimes gets a cold response on the ski hill. The client may not like their work or want to get away from their job while on holiday. Ask around find out what your fellow instructors use as opening get to know you type questions. One I like is “What keeps you busy?” This allows the client to respond with a work or recreational answer.

There are lots of sources for questions. Daniel presents the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) from the folks at It is their belief that teaching educators and students to ask better questions can improve our educational system and build a stronger democracy. Our ambitions might not be so high, but taking the time to develop better questions will improve your student’s engagement, leading to more returns and private requests.


Just as with any other tool in your teaching quiver, take time to improve the questions you ask. Then listen to your student’s answers.

Tip: Stay Close to The Family Decision Maker

I had the opportunity to attend a clinic of the top ski instructors at my resort reflect on building a private practice. One of the tips that came out of the meeting was “Stay close to the Wallet”. On a crass level that is where the tips come from. But as we talked about it, the deeper meaning is it is important to understand who makes the decisions in the family on how vacation time is spent.

With families, more often than not it’s the mother is the key decision maker. The Father and kids may express enthusiasm for your lesson, however, make sure Mom sees your value. If Mom is in your lesson make sure, she is getting the most out of it and facilitate her understanding the benefits other members of the family are receiving from your lesson or those of other instructors. If she is not in your lesson, find time to talk directly to her about the progress of other family members.

Ask and Listen

A major theme of the clinic was to listen to your guests and respond to their requirements and desires. With this in mind ask questions and find out who the family decider on vacations is. Ask leading questions and listen and act on the answers. Talk with her about the goals of the lesson, even if the lesson isn’t for her. After the lesson make sure, you demonstrate to her how her goals were met. For best results make sure you are direct your invitation to return to the family decider.


Find out who the family decision maker is, highlight how you responded to her (because it usually is the Mom) goals and needs, even if she is not in your lesson.

Tip: Experience the Power of Gratitude

This tip comes from Tina Mackintosh, a Ski Instructor at Boyne Mountain Resort.

In my 40 years of teaching, I have never failed to show appreciation towards a student, no matter what their age or ability. They are as beneficial to my growth as I am to theirs.

Gratitude is my attitude

The Power of Gratitude

According to Robert Emmons, a pioneering researcher on gratitude, gratitude includes two components. It’s a fundamentally positive mindset, where we recognize that there’s some good in the world. Because it’s always directed at something outside ourselves, it’s also a recognition that we’re dependent on others.

There are two types of gratitude: a momentary feeling we experience when someone benefits us, and a more long-term mindset, where we see everything in life as a gift.

In contrast, ungrateful people see life as a burden. They focus on the negative and see everything they don’t have, instead of what they do.


Use the power of gratitude for your student and the opportunities they provide to strengthen your engagement with them and enrich the experience.