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EpicSki › Performance Articles › PSIA Certification Program for Ski Schools?

PSIA Certification Program for Ski Schools?

Should PSIA develop a certification program for ski schools? This article is intended to be a working document to flesh out details to be used in a program proposal.



Is the quality of a ski school important? How do you measure the quality of a ski school? This document is a proposal for development of a ski school certification process. The intent of the process is to provide a road map for ski schools to use to measure and improve the quality of the school with the goal of increasing the effectiveness of a ski school in delivering instruction and simultaneously contributing direct and indirect positive impact to resort profitability. The school certification process will work similar to instructor certification in many ways. First, the preparation for the exam should be far more valuable than the certification itself. Secondly, certification levels are only milestones on the road to continuous improvements. Third, certification status can be used by lesson takers to help choose who they take lessons from. Finally, resorts can use certification status to attract additional business.


This process will also be different from instructor certification in many ways. 

Since much of the certification process will be data collection and review, and some of the data will be proprietary to the resort, the confidentiality of the data must be guaranteed. However one of the main goals of this process is to share anonymous and aggregated data among the participants so they can determine where they rank among their peers. Schools will be asked to volunteer sharing of policies and procedures so that best practices can be shared and economies can be achieved. Exams will be conducted over an extended period of time. The interview portion of the exam will be part auditing of submitted data, part feedback on metric scoring, part consulting on where to go next and part candidate feedback on the exam process. At level 3, the exam will include onsite observation of the ski school in action.



Definition of Certification Levels

Level 1 - Ski School net promoter score above 6. First timer conversion rate over 17%. Lesson products comply with PSIA teaching and skiing concepts.  >50% of training staff is PSIA certified level 2 or higher. Exam score over 50.


Level 2 - Ski School net promoter score above 7.5. First timer conversion rate over 20%. Lesson products exceed PSIA minimum standards.  >75% of training staff is PSIA certified level 2 or higher. 1% of staff is PSIA education staff (min 1). Exam score over 65.


Level 3 - Ski school net promoter score above 9. First timer conversion rate over 25%. Lesson products are used as examples for other PSIA member schools.   100% of training staff is PSIA certified level 2 or higher. 2% of staff is PSIA education staff (min 2). Current or former PSIA demo team member on staff. Exam score over 80.


Exam Criteria


Customer satisfaction scores

Customer complaint scores

Injury rates - students

Injury rates - staff

Certification rates

Staff experience levels

Turnover ratios

Lawsuits (count and won/loss)

Student teacher ratios

First timer conversion ratios

Private lesson request percentage

Staff to trainer/PISA staff/ PSIA examiner/Demo team member(current+former) ratio

Hours worked to training ratio

Hours worked to total training ratio (including offsite PSIA clinics, etc.)

Repeat customer metric

Lesson to skier visit ratio

Staff satisfaction scores

Exam pass rates



Class lessons

Private lessons

Specialty lessons

Childrens programs

First time lessons


Events (e.g. women's day, competitions)


-Programs (e.g. season long training)




Lesson time flexibility

Lesson time vs ticket timing



price overall

price relative to region

price to satisfaction ratio

price to staff experience/certification level



-Teaching terrain

Suitability of beginner terrain

Crowding of beginner terrain

Snow quality of beginner terrain

Lift friendliness

Integration with rentals




breadth of Clinic offerings

volume of clinics taught

quality of clinic offerings

External clinicians brought onsite

Safety training




Clarity of product offerings


Web site pages

Mentions in external media

Market Research








foreign language support

availability of certified instructors



Replacement policy


Functional rating






Employee handbook

School rules

Schedule commitment

Scheduling tools (i.e. software)

Performance awards

Exam request signoff process

Inter department cooperation (e.g. coordinating/cross staffing with grooming, terrain park design/maintenance, lifts, patrol)

Employee communication (meetings, newsletter, social media, radio contact, phone access, instructor website)

Drug testing

Third party instruction policy (e.g. are groups allowed to use their own instructors? Is a person who is not on staff allowed to teach for profit? Is there a visiting instructor policy)

Uniform policies/deposit

VIP handling

Staff evaluations

Storage management

Security - physical and computer 

Legal compliance

Safety Management

Budgeting process and tools



Base Pay

Incentive pay


Rules for pay increases

Direct deposit


-Equipment Sourcing








Customer facing (e.g. lesson desk)

Locker Rooms

Meeting areas

First timer


Cleanliness/Attractiveness/Functional rating/ Green (environmental) rating




Indirect - pull through revenue, cooperation with other departments

Average vs marginal 


Low Hanging Fruit

This is a temporary section to identify the highest priority areas to evaluate for lower level cert candidates. These areas should be the easiest to fix and generate the biggest returns in quality and resort profitability. One goal here is to minimize the level of effort required to achieve level 1 cert while maximizing the return for the expense invested. The second goal of level 1 low hanging fruit is to tease about the possibilities of going for level 2 cert.


Profitability decision tree (ask a series of questions starting with is ski school outside the range of desirable profitability [too high or too low])

Back office efficiency

First timer "flow" evaluation (build scenarios from decision to try skiing to return trip home and determine road blocks to first time skier satisfaction)

Rental Gear selection - evaluate how rental gear type and set up influences how lessons are taught with an either an eye toward changing the rental gear or the teaching methods.

Line up procedures - How does student and staff flow at lineups? Does the lesson timing match the lesson demand? How does lesson timing impact staffing needs?

Staff training

Product rationalization - are you meeting customer needs - can they understand the product choice

Compensation rationalization - what do you reward staff for doing vs what you want them to do

Product pricing

Problem solving methodology

Time management

Staff morale

Staff evaluation

Staff communication

Staff recruiting tactics (active recruiting from upper level lessons, local colleges, parents of kids in programs, referral bonuses)

Management metrics


Integration with group sales - do you get #'s that help you forecast lesson volume?



Staff turnover

Does your school have a negative reputation?

Percent of gear renters taking lessons/percent of tickets sold



Schools can get volunteer help to do the data collecting/exam submissions from students working on school projects?

How to estimate the marketing value of school ratings?


Supporting resources/tools

An exam guide will be published.

A forum will be established to facilitate the discussion of policies/procedures/programs/best practices/answering questions/solving problems.

A database will be created to hold statistical data, support queries and generate reports.

Spreadsheet modeling tools to facilitate financial planning.

Decision tree software - profitability decision tree

Accounting module - how to determine ROI and prepare investment proposals


Prep clinics

Prep clinics can either be done as adjuncts to the Snow Sports Management seminars, optional parts of multi day events, or off season workshops. The concepts of a basic prep clinic are:

-Introduce the exam process/level set expectations

-Develop an exam prep plan

-Introduce management tools

-Solve a problem

-Develop one idea to improve customer satisfaction

-Develop one idea to generate more profit


Clinic#2 - accounting 101 with a ski school focus

P&L analysis

ROI calculation

When to use marginal costs vs average cost for decision making


Clinic#3 - metrics gathering

How to conduct customer surveys

Metrics ROI

Metrics accuracy/bias



Examiners Criteria

The examiner team should one representative from the following categories:

-ski school/ ski area management (retired/ not active?)

-PSIA examiner

-L3 certified line instructor

It is presumed that the initial examiners will be volunteers, but that over time a dev team and testing process will be developed to qualify additional examiners.


Exam scoring

Scoring will be weighted among the different categories and weighted on each exam element in relation to a benchmark. 

Measurements get more detailed as certification level increases. Higher scores will be granted to metrics maintained over longer time periods. Bonus scores will be awarded to metrics that are trending positive over time (e.g. 1/2 the value of what next years score would be if the trend held).


Exam process

Most of the exam will be occur through review of submitted data. Part of the exam will be interview oriented. The highest level of certification will eventually onsite inspection and mystery customer scoring. Certification maintenance requirements will include 5 year reviews, ongoing training and submission of school management articles in the divisional newsletter/national publication.


PSIA Marketing

Info about the school certification program should be posted on the public portion of the PSIA web site explaining the value of the program to the public. Information for school to participate in the process should be placed behind the member access permissions. A presentation should be developed for discussion with NSAA to solicit SAM buy in to the program estimating costs and benefits and explaining how the process works.


Implementation plan

It is envisioned that the exam process will initially start purely as a data collection effort to prototype collection methods and establish baselines. Examiners will initially be all volunteer and unofficial practice exams will be conducted to validate the concept. As data builds up and the value of the concept gets validated, pricing for the examination process will be ramped up to cover compensation to examiners and cover overhead costs to the organization.


Funding requirements

How much money would it take to get this implemented? The intent is to start as an all volunteer effort.


Next Steps

The ideas in this document need review, expansion of breadth and expansion of detail. A lot of the bullets above need expansion into question lists that go in multiple directions. For example, Security should cover things from how to get into a locked pro room, to who has keys to what, to who is allowed access to what, to how confidential information is securely maintained, to procedures for handling staff reports of lost or stolen equipment, etc. When there is enough detail to this plan it should be "shopped" to either a resort or to a PSIA ski school management committee for feedback on the viability of the idea. After that it can be turned into a formal proposal to a PSIA division for consideration as an official program.



By performing a comprehensive review of ski school operations and comparing the results against industry averages, ski schools will be able to use the school certification process as a road map to improved product quality (i.e. lesson effectiveness and customer satisfaction) and increased resort profitability. The identification of standardized operational metrics and data collection methods will allow resorts to perform an apples to apples comparison of metrics with their peers without sacrificing competitive secrets.

Comments (11)

My initial reaction is: 'Way too much data to manage' but perhaps not. Its a start.
Can this be eventually a self-funded program through license/school membership fees?
Would such a program entail requiring a separate affiliated division within PSIA to administer and to separate it from the organization's other functions?
Would the organization consider bringing representatives of a ski areas organization on board for discussion and planning purposes?
I like your outline (after initially being bowled over). The thing is, this is a matter of setting standards in very much the way PSIA sets standards for ski teaching itself. So, the question that ought to interest every ski instructor is: What standards ought a ski school to demonstrate?
Wow, you guys. The summary describes an impressive outcome that the NSAA just might support.
Great outline for the major ski areas. But, for the smaller ones, requiring Demo Team guys and Examiners/DCL is too much. Some smaller areas are lucky to have a couple of Level IIIs
Overall, though, I REALLY like the thinking. I wonder why we haven't had any comments from SS Directors.
I think this has real promise for PSIA, its members and the industry. Rusty brings a management perspective to this. I tend to think of this as an indirect way of benefitting the membership but it ought to succeed if it offers something constructive to all concerned parties and especially something marketable to ski areas. Long term, lack of growth in the skier base has to concern the industry and ski instruction has got to be a significant factor in this.
I think this certainly makes PSIA seem more relevant to the ski industry. While also increasing PSIA/AASI's influence on the market. you can be sure that the top tier resorts in the US(Vail, Deer Valley, ect.) are going to be clamoring for a LV3 cert for their snowsports school. I would say that i think a better indicator of a school is not how many lV2 plus instructors it has, but how quickly they achieve that. We can't fault a school for bringing up new instructors, we were all LV1's at some point.
Also i think there should be requirements for a ski school to be a member of PSIA. For instance the ski school i currently work for puts all age groups (12-80) in the same snowboard class. This completely disregards the CAP model, I think if a school does something like this they should have their member status revoked. (It will be my last season working for this ski school)
PSIA is like PADI you can put all this down on paper and it looks good but at the end of the day you either know how to ski and tech it or you don't. I have to give PADI a lot more credit as someone is actually at a pretty high risk undrwater and breathing compressed air. Its all about making money and not about skiing and teaching skiing. If PSIA really cared they would charge nothing and have the best instructors have volunteer dates vs charging to graduate like a PADI dive program.
Just because you graduate from Med school doesn't mean I want you doing my ACL next week just like many of the ski instructors I know shouldn't be teaching privates to anyone.
I am not a hater but it has gotten to a point with this PSIA stuff that none of it is even relevant in the real world... which is put your gear on and get out on the hill, have fun and if you want to get a lesson get it from someone who knows how to teach. Forget protocols, mission statements and corporate bulldogging.
PSIA is a protective measure just like lawyers and Realtors have theirs in place. Its all bullshit and I wish America would wake up and stop stadning in the way of competent, competitive people who know what they are doing and don't need a license to do it or prove it.
People who love the sport and want to teach can and should without being certified. I have a lot of respect for PSIA and have good friends who are awesome but my point is this: What PSIA is doing, the direction it is and has gone is for appeasing NSAA and profiteering...it's not for the sake of the sport of skiing.
When is someone going to start a new program that doesn't involve all this BS and get a major resort to adopt their new program which is- hire the best, pay them more and not worry about. As the article aboove pointed out "increased resort profitability" in the summary. Give me a break...it's skiing!
I just found this topic again.
Skiingblind has a point but how fast a ski area is at bringing its instructors up to speed is only indirectly relevant to the quality of actual ski teaching and their success at training their own staff is not exactly something that you would want to market to the general public. The actual quality of instruction available to the public is what is important. The number of certified staff is a rough measure of this. Ultimately you might hope that the result of ski school certification would be to increase the value of certified instructors to their employers. The result of being valued more highly due to improved marketability ought to be to improve retention of competent staff. Lets face it, training staff is time consuming and expensive and, if there actually is a standard for ski school competency, it is far more efficient to retain qualified professionals than it is to be continually training a new crop in order to try to bring them up to a level of certification. Economics, in this more usual scenario, means the trainees must be put to work and therein lies the problem as to quality of instruction. The public is expected to pay well for what may often be unqualified instruction.
I think the only justifiable objective of such a program, for an outfit such as PSIA to undertake it, is to benefit the sport by causing the industry to do just what you advocate:"hire the best" and cause the industry to value that quality and seek to retain it. The only way a profit centered industry is going to do this is to realize the profitability t o them in doing so.
I am not a hater but it has gotten to a point with this PSIA stuff that none of it is even relevant in the real world... which is put your gear on and get out on the hill, have fun and if you want to get a lesson get it from someone who knows how to teach. Forget protocols, mission statements and corporate bulldogging.
PSIA is a protective measure just like lawyers and Realtors have theirs in place. Its all bullshit and I wish America would wake up and stop stadning in the way of competent, competitive people who know what they are doing and don't need a license to do it or prove it." - Chad (3/4/12)
There are some highly relevant conversations currently going on in LinkedIn on this subject. Google the PSIA Discussion link. A rift between the National and Regional organizations points to major impasses that may result in the organization as a whole foundering. As a ski instructor, I look forward to it. I'm tired of paying dues to a group that has lost touch.
The proposal here is fascinating. I just think that it should steer clear of PSIA and forge its own path separately. With a bit of promotion, this approach should simply gather its own momentum.
Major ski areas run their own training programs. Smaller operations might want to attach themselves to one of the more major ski areas for training purposes. There simply is no need for PSIA anymore ... at least I don't think so.
This appears a bit like pie in the ski to me.  Here's a few of my thoughts and reasons for my reaction.
First, a one size fits all approach just won't work (large corporate areas down to small family operations). Second, no matter how noble the intent, resistance is automatic unless there is collaboration from the beginning.  Homework towards an initial discussion point is laudable, but a realistically feasible starting point should include 'ski area management/owners' input.  Third, so far, this doesn't seem to consider costs ($$, staff, time, ski school size-feasibility) to implement, and seems self serving in the numbers/%ages of PSIA L1-L3 staff 'required' for 'certification'.  Finally, (fourth) it seems this is a company/corporate decision (family owned to corporate conglomerate), not a PSIA decision. If PSIA or instructors owned a $$$ ownership stake in the business, then I'd agree. Otherwise, we're just hired staff.  . 
Relative to this last point, I have friends that were flight attendants to the long gone Northwest Airlines, and flew the overseas route to Japan and surrounds. Northwest (i.e. "Northworst") management made consistent statements that they (management) considered their flight attendant staff as a non-productive cost and did whatever they could to minimize their numbers on each 747 flight overseas, even to the point that they fielded half crew strength on 747's as compared to crew numbers flown on 747's by JAL.  It's part of the equation, dependent on who (huge to very small ski area/owner/manager) you're talking to. 
The immediate advantage to ski areas of certification is to gain something they can market. The advantage for instructors is that it thereby improves the marketability of their skills. I wouldn't make the criteria for certification complex. The number and distribution (various levels of certification) of certified instructors is a pretty good measure as is the ski schools training program. Your certification can provide marketable value to ski schools and their ski areas. Expect increase in pay scales if your certification and skills have direct value to your employer. The side effect of ski school certification is that, by acquiring bragging value, PSIA gains exposure to the public. The beauty of it is that it is a way to leverage promotion of the organization. By making PSIA certification of marketing value  to the ski areas these areas will effectively be footing the bill for marketing of PSIA. Think of it as a partnership that benefits both employer and employee.
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