Thanks for all the thoughtful responses people - they're really very, very much appreciated. I suppose the best way to learn which route is for me is to try them both, but I'm leaning toward racing.
A couple people asked about my goals. The kind of skiing that interests me most is off piste, steep and deep stuff. For cultural references it's Seth Morrison skiing deep backcountry snow that I like to watch, not world cup racers on a race course. I have tremendous respect for racers, but what they do is just not particularly my cup of tea. Of course Mr. Morrison came from a racing background before he got into the big mountain stuff.
I would imagine most people on this forum can lay down trenches on well groomed hero snow. Probably many can strap on some reverse/reverse powder boards (love those DPS Lotus 138's) and have a blast in perfect champagne blower.
But maintaining beautiful form on tracked out, baked, choppy, pitted, manky, nasty snow that's also steeply pitched - that's what I find difficult and need to work on. We get a lot of days like that out here at Mammoth. The snow tends to come in big dumps with a week or more of sunshine in between. After a few days of sunshine with people tracking it up, it can get quite yucky.
I've had some lessons focusing on this type of snow. And it seems to me that several things necessary to master these conditions are:
1 - great physical fitness - both power and endurance. So I've been putting a lot of time in the gym during this off season in strength training, and now I'm doing Crossfit several times a week to work on power, endurance and agility.
2 - agility and balance
3 - form that is so completely drilled into your brain that you don't start skiing defensively and in the back seat when confronted with anal-sphincter-puckering pitches
So for 2 & 3 above I thought that what I need is long term coaching, thus I came up with the PSIA or racing ideas.
Like someone mentioned, continuity of instruction would be nice. The only way to consistently work with the same coach as a "civilian" is to pony up the $165 / hr that private lessons run now. The affordable group lesson alternative has the downside of luck-of-the-draw instructors, and no continuity.
PSIA is appealing because of all the clinics they have throughout the season (I love clinics and instruction) all over the country at affordable prices. Racing is appealing to me for the opportunity to have a whole season of instruction under the same coaches. And drills. I love drills. :)
I'm gonna contact Mammoth and see if they accept total racing newbies into their masters program - from responses here it sounds like that would be a good way to go. One thing I don't want is to have to wear a spandex weenie suit. :) I'd be perfectly happy running gates and training in my regular ski clothes. If it costs me time on the clock I could care less - I'm just out there to beat myself and improve, not anyone else.
Much appreciate the responses everybody. Happy skiing!
Edited by calisnow - 11/2/12 at 7:55am