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PSIA-AASI celebrates 50 years of on-snow innovation

The Professional Ski Instructors of America and the American Association of Snowboard Instructors are celebrating their 50th anniversary in Snowmass this week, with a list of members that includes WW II 10th Mountain Division veterans and the world's most successful Olympic snowboarding coach.

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Overwhelmed by two standing ovations and cheers of “Papa Bear,” that greeted him onstage at the PSIA-AASI 50/50 Celebration in Snowmass, Colorado on the night of April 6, 2011, Curt Chase fought back tears before taking the microphone to announce, “When I grow up, I want to be a ski instructor.”

That Chase was one of the seven co-founders of the Professional Ski Instructors of America in 1961–along with Max Dercum, Jimmy Johnston, Bill Lash, Don Rhinehart and Paul Valar–and one of the people responsible for the celebration in the first place, only meant that the 500+ instructors and snowsports luminaries in attendance cheered even harder in response. Along with former PSIA president Mark Anderson, Chase was one of two recipients of the PSIA-AASI’s Lifetime Achievement Award during the weeklong celebration. A veteran of the fabled 10th Mountain Division troops of World War II, he is also a living link between snowsports’ future, and its past.

“My journey in skiing began almost 80 years ago,” Chase said. “But it is not a journey that I have made alone. It’s a path that I have traveled with many friends and family helping along the way. To receive this award now really means a lot.”

PSIA was instrumental in standardizing ski instruction across the country in the 1960s, creating an American style of teaching and later of skiing in an era when French, Italian, Swiss, Austrian and even German national techniques were all still being taught across the United States. Beginning in the 1970s, the organization developed innovations in everything from adaptive skiing to telemark to, perhaps most importantly, how lessons focus on the needs and aspirations of the guest. In the late 1980s, PSIA began to set the standards for snowboard instruction, and created the American Association of Snowboard Instructors in 1997 in response to the swelling number of ‘boarders in its ranks.

Bud Keene, who was one of those first snowboard instructors, is now regarded as the world’s most successful Olympic snowboarding coach. Keene coached Shaun White to two Olympic halfpipe gold medals, and helped American snowboarder Louie Vito win the halfpipe gold in the European X Games on March 18, 2011. As the keynote speaker at the 50/50 Celebration, he said that the techniques he learned while teaching–in particular the balance, pressure and edging-based focus of America’s Skills Concept–were instrumental in his development as a world-class coach.

“The tools and philosophy of teaching that I learned as an instructor continue to make a difference–especially when I am working with a great athlete who may not be as well versed in the basic techniques,” said Keene. “The basic skills and humanistic approach are what have allowed me to take people to the top of the podium. So I just want to say to PSIA, ‘thanks for all of that.’”

Keene also addressed the famous curse word he used prior to White’s gold medal winning run at the 2010 Winter Olympics–a word that NBC cameras picked up and broadcast around the world.

“How many of you heard me use the F-bomb on national TV?” he asked, and watched as a roomful of hands went up. “Well I don’t have a ‘go get ‘em Shaun speech,’ for those kinds of moments. And that’s not how you motivate a guy like that.”

The celebration continues through the weekend, with a focus on what the focus for the next half-century will bring to the association, as well to snowsports themselves. After already introducing new ways to incorporate freestyle techniques into lessons, and also rocker technology, PSIA-AASI Executive Director and President Mark Dorsey said that there will always be room for new technology and new styles of riding, but one thing will remain a constant.

“What we do is get people excited about skiing and snowboarding,” Dorsey said. “What has always brought us together–from teachers to students to each other–is the mountain experience.”

–Peter Kray

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