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The fungible instructor

post #1 of 26
Thread Starter 
In another thread, Ott made an insightful post that included this nugget:

Quote:
PSIA still goes on and it is because they are not built on one person's mantra.
There are indeed steep limitations to any program built on elevating one person to ski god status, but at the same time collectivism can lead us too far the other direction.

If you look at the PSIA manuals published since Horst's exit, you will note that they give no credit to the author on the title page. If there's a ready supply of up and comers who will write the next manuals, then this policy is fine, but I know a number of people who have written one manual for PSIA.

Anyone ever heard of Marie Russell Shaw? She was the author of the Children's Instruction Manual.

The same philosophy is apparent in U.S. ski schools, in which the business model is clearly predicated on the notion that instructors are a fungible commodity like pork bellies, one interchangeable for the next.

It's a paradox. On the one hand, it's good for the organization that any of its parts can be easily replaced; It's unhealthy for the organization to rely on the inspired efforts of one person. On the other hand, this policy tends to stifle creativity and inspired effort by individuals.

On another thread, ant proposes that a collective of instructors and investors purchase an ailing ski area and restore it to health by developing a robust skier development program. I'm curious to know how this model school would balance 1) the needs of the collective to have fungible instructors with 2) the needs of the individual instructor to let his/her light shine with 3) the desire of every consumer to have the best instructor in the lineup?
post #2 of 26
Nolo,

I just pulled out my copy of one of the latest PSIA manuals (The Alpine Technical Manual). Sure enough - no author listed on the cover. Megan Harvey is listed as the author on page 1 -Acknowledgements. It would be interesting to know if other professional associations did the same thing with their manuals.

My observation is that PSIA does appreciate the manual writers. I've attended several events where awards have been given in appreciation for members contributions (including document authorships). The moments are usually quite touching, but they are "private" within the organization.

Also, one of the comments at National Academy was that the quadrennial Interski event has been used as a driver for producing updates to the manuals. Demo team activities to prepare for Interski include deciding what's new and important and agreeing on concepts, terminolgy and methods. Between these efforts and the new ideas received from Interski, new publications get born. I got the sense that the demo team did this as a team effort even though a single person was the main author for a specific document. This may be a contributing factor for why the author is not on the front cover.

For the record, I have nothing against ski goddesses. [img]graemlins/thumbsup.gif[/img]
post #3 of 26
Quote:
For the record, I have nothing against ski goddesses.
That's a shame, The--you're missing a great experience! Perhaps if you skied faster you could get closer to them. You can always try sitting closer on the chairlift....



Best regards,
Bob
post #4 of 26
Bob,
You're starting to sound like me! :

S
post #5 of 26
I'll never get the accent right, though, Fox--ski goddesses love that!

:
post #6 of 26
I believe it was Spock who said it best when he stated "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few... or the one."

Spag :
post #7 of 26
Quote:
Originally posted by nolo:
On another thread, ant proposes that a collective of instructors and investors purchase an ailing ski area and restore it to health by developing a robust skier development program. I'm curious to know how this model school would balance 1) the needs of the collective to have fungible instructors with 2) the needs of the individual instructor to let his/her light shine with 3) the desire of every consumer to have the best instructor in the lineup?
Objection. The question assumes a conclusion, and one with which we need not agree. A "collective" of the kind proposed has no need for "fungible" instructors.

Other questions regarding the instructor-and-consumer centered ski area model may bear more fruit.
post #8 of 26
Thread Starter 
The only PSIA manual in my bookcase that has an author on the title page is ATM by Horst Abraham. The days of a PSIA where one person alone holds the keys to the kingdom are long gone. Did that happen by necessity (because there was no heir to Horst Abraham in the PSIA) or do you think it was because PSIA's leaders deliberately chose to be a clan instead of a cult?

Okay, switch gears a bit: would there be a problem if ski schools priced lessons according to the credentials of the teacher? Wouldn't this put the customer in the driver's seat as far as getting the quality he or she desires?
post #9 of 26
Quote:
Originally posted by nolo:


Okay, switch gears a bit: would there be a problem if ski schools priced lessons according to the credentials of the teacher? Wouldn't this put the customer in the driver's seat as far as getting the quality he or she desires?
Assuming the customer knows what credentials to look for would instructors with no credentials be assigned enough work to make it worth while for them to show up? Are ski schools going to provide the training necessary to meet the educated customers needs?
post #10 of 26
& then you get back to the old question of "how do you rate the different credentials?"

Is an APSI Level 2 really worth the same dollars as a PSIA 3?? (aaarrrgghh ...)

CM's +1 can comment on that - because she went through the whole shenanigan last season (USA) & ended up just sitting her PSIA 3 (with no help from the SS) because they refused to pay her at the appropriate rate...
post #11 of 26
nolo, I think you are correct about fungibility, but the problem isn't simply solved.

like all erroneous mindsets, there is a grain of factual evidence behind the "fungible teacher" perspective. Before I started working with Yoda, I received about 15-20 hours of instruction from various ski schools around the nation, and the rest was self-taught (though I hope wellfounded).

in comparison to Yoda, every other instruction I've had was fungible in that it helped me only in obvious ways with pedantic statements about obvious technique flaws, and little in the way of corrective measure. They had no depth, no feel for my personality, no feel for my ability other than how they did their little mental comparison of me vs. their ideal.

In the first 15 mins with Yoda, I learned more than in all the prior lessons combined. He took the time to talk to me about life and how I got started skiing, what types of terrain I've skied and which ones I've preferred, blah blah blah, and then gave me a simple drill that automatically helped me develop a much more powerful, stable and predictable turn.

The fungibility is there, nolo - but I think that those of you who dwell in ski instruction in our living Valhalla are immune from the fungibility. That's why you're at the top.

It's the same with academic education too, ya know? It's gallingly true.
post #12 of 26
Quote:
Originally posted by nolo:
In another thread, Ott made an insightful post that included this nugget:

</font><blockquote>quote:</font><hr /> PSIA still goes on and it is because they are not built on one person's mantra.
There are indeed steep limitations to any program built on elevating one person to ski god status, but at the same time collectivism can lead us too far the other direction.

[snip]

The same philosophy is apparent in U.S. ski schools, in which the business model is clearly predicated on the notion that instructors are a fungible commodity like pork bellies, one interchangeable for the next.

It's a paradox. On the one hand, it's good for the organization that any of its parts can be easily replaced; It's unhealthy for the organization to rely on the inspired efforts of one person. On the other hand, this policy tends to stifle creativity and inspired effort by individuals.

On another thread, ant proposes that a collective of instructors and investors purchase an ailing ski area and restore it to health by developing a robust skier development program. I'm curious to know how this model school would balance 1) the needs of the collective to have fungible instructors with 2) the needs of the individual instructor to let his/her light shine with 3) the desire of every consumer to have the best instructor in the lineup?
</font>[/quote]This is really a great set of questions. Let me state for the record that I have never been a credentialled instructor. I have great respect for those who study and continuously learn in order to better help others grow (such as, it seems, many of you here). However, the "vast unwashed" of the instructors I have been around are "fungible" (great word!). And that is unfortunate, indeed.

Now, I am a business person (all groan : ), and this problem is not limited to the ski industry. There is a constant tension between allowing the real stars within an organization to shine and managing the organization's risk in the event that the stars are lost (through one of the many possible mechanisms).

For example, if Sol Vista's ski school loses HH, what happens to it? What will it take to rebuild it? What are the business risks?

As a business person, I have consistently let the stars shine and worked to retain them within my organizations through the way I manage and reward the team. I have also designed the organizations to synergize the skills of all the stars while benefitting the less experienced or talented members of the team in the process. This is, at least in my opinion, the hard work of skilled management (which is far more rare than barely adequate management!).

What you are pursuing, Nolo, is a risky but very productive approach to the pursuit of growing an industry. It is the only way that I have seen an industry grow. But, it takes visionary, risk-taking individuals and organizations. The ski industry has not historically been managed by such individuals, although, ironically, it is populated by many such people simply by virtue of the inherently risky nature of the sport.

People are never truly "fungible". To appear so, they need to be "dumbed down" to lose their individuality. It is much more powerful to guide people and allow them to become all they can be rather than fit them into some mold. But it's risky! You don't really know what they will do or become! But, there is nothing more exciting in life in my experience than watching it happen. It's a lot like the "aha!" that happens with students.

I don't think it actually is
Quote:
good for the organization that any of its parts can be easily replaced
unless you want a boring, grey, "average" organization. If you want to be extraordinary, you have to take the risks in letting people make a difference.

In Good to Great. Jim Collins and his team explore what it takes to move an organization from being merely "good" to being "great". The first two steps have to do with having the right people involved in the organization doing what they are best suited to do. This is true across all industries! I don't think it's been tried, yet, in the corporate ski industry, at least as far as I know.

ssh
post #13 of 26
If a ski area were to be owned by a group interested in advancing the cause of instruction, then for those who want to put their money where their mouths are, how about an open hill? Let the flowers bloom - let customers bring in anyone they please to instruct them. This thought can be tweaked, of course, but - what about the basic concept?
post #14 of 26
Quote:
Originally posted by oboe:
If a ski area were to be owned by a group interested in advancing the cause of instruction, then for those who want to put their money where their mouths are, how about an open hill? Let the flowers bloom - let customers bring in anyone they please to instruct them. This thought can be tweaked, of course, but - what about the basic concept?
Advancing the cause of instruction? Or advancing the state of skiing? They are different goals...

But, that said, this is an interesting idea. Liability issues would need to be addressed in the relationship with the instructors. Also, since the area would lose the "normal" revenus from instruction, there may be an appropriately small fee to support the area, arrangements for lift ticket purchases, and the like.

I'd like to see "privatization" of ski instruction. It usually improves products and services when markets open to competition, and we have a model in European ski schools.

ssh
post #15 of 26
Quote:
Originally posted by oboe:
If a ski area were to be owned by a group interested in advancing the cause of instruction, then for those who want to put their money where their mouths are, how about an open hill? Let the flowers bloom - let customers bring in anyone they please to instruct them. This thought can be tweaked, of course, but - what about the basic concept?
Brilliant, sir. Simply brilliant.

I'll do what I can. Count me in.

[img]graemlins/thumbsup.gif[/img]
post #16 of 26
Imagine a ski school in which the public is guaranteed their instructor will be PSIA certified to teach at that level as a minimum. Moreover every single instructor on staff would be considered to be on track for full certification and periodically evaluated on that basis. A certain percentage of staff at any given time would be Apprentice instructors, helper trainees. The percentage would always be small, a burden on the school but a long term investment. Imagine the concept: only qualified staff! Does that sound so outrageous? Imagine actually turning away business when qualified staff are unavailable! How different from the current model: "None of our doctors are available to see you today but we do have a janitor available. We've put a doctor suit on him and you won't notice the difference." Granted certification only guarantees certain minimum standards have been met but the object in this ski school would be the creation of an excellent professional staff. This could mean cutting those who fail to progress or meet standards but also the creation of conditions that would make possible instruction as a profession. This does mean cultivating each instructors skills as an individual , excellent compensation and retention. The goal would be a deserved prestige and reputation for excellence that would draw people to "the home of the best ski school in America". Seems like a worthwhile project to me!
post #17 of 26
BobB -> I charge $5 for straight lines, but you get a rebate for delivering an excellent punch line.

An observation:
One big factor supporting fungibility is that there is a vast supply of upper level skiers willing to try teaching in exchange for (low pay and) free skiing. With season passes at some resorts down to the $200-400 range, maybe the pool of piglet laborers will dry up?

For all of "our" complaints, it's funny how much of the model school I see in schools throughout the country. How many ski schools have/had "stars" (Billy Kid, Alf Engen, Stein come to mind)? How many resorts have prospered partly because of the excellent reputation of their ski school (e.g. Taos, Smuggs) bringing in significant volumes of visitors? Look at the results of the new survey. Nearly half of the respondents generate >50% of their lessons. I'll bet they get 1/2 of the lesson price for privates. Nothing shines brighter than cold hard cash.

Here are some ideas for the model school ...

Snow Time's PA resorts (Whitetail, Liberty and RoundTop) won an NSAA award this year for their "Bounce Back" program. It started with an early season $25 learn to ski package deal. Throughout the whole season we gave out Bounce Back cards to all first time students. The card enabled them to buy a return visit lift/lesson/rental package for $39 (but they had to buy the package at the end of that day!). On the return visit, the guests were given a free frequent skier card entitling them to 40% off. The first year we tried this, instructors got an extra $2 for every bounce back that got used. Last year, only the instructor with the most returned cards in a pay period got an award. As I understand it, there are a few resorts that are offering "head" pay (i.e. pay based on number of students taught). This year my resort is planning to hand out gift certificates to the instructors that teach an "excessive" number of students (i.e. if you consistently handle large groups, you get extra bucks). One year we got a 15% kicker every paycheck where we worked over a certain number of hours. Our resort also offers higher private lesson pay rates, better benefits and preferred scheduling to experienced instructors. It is not much and I'd bet there isn't a person on staff who would not trade all of this for an extra 1000 feet of vertical or 100 more inches of snow. But I think these are valid contributions to the list of things you're looking for. So I'll add one more item that I've only heard rumors about: clinics going out at every line up.

And you know, there's not a single instructor who's best for every student in the line up unless there's only one person taking a lesson. Or only one teacher available, especially if she's a goddess.
post #18 of 26
Thread Starter 
I'm quite happy with my home area. I want to make that clear. The ski area and ski school management have been fantastic to work for. The ski school and ski area retain employees like crazy for a lot of reasons but for me the main thing is I feel like I belong there and that they really want me there. It's a fun place to work, in the locker room, at lineups, on clinics, dealing with employees from other departments, and I can talk to the GM any time I want--he's usually around, talking to people, checking out the product, always with a smile. The guy loves his job and it's contagious.

What makes Bridger Bowl such a great place to work? It's a not-for-profit whose purpose is to provide the Bozeman and surrounding communities with great skiing. That's it.

Quote:
I don't think it actually is "good for the organization that any of its parts can be easily replaced"
unless you want a boring, grey, "average" organization. If you want to be extraordinary, you have to take the risks in letting people make a difference.
Ssh got exactly what I was getting at.

Oboe, You are right--I had drawn a conclusion prematurely. Why don't you tell us more about your concept?
post #19 of 26
Good points all......

But I am not convinced the hill has to be a 'not for profit' enterprise for an innovative ski instruction program to flourish.

However; I do think everything except the 'overhead' for the ski school should be kept out of the ski area's business plan. The concept probably shouldn't be allowed to become too radical; because the real goal should be to create a concept than can be applied across the industry, and have an impact on skiing(and instructors) as a whole.

[ November 03, 2003, 04:04 AM: Message edited by: feal ]
post #20 of 26
Quote:
I don't think it actually is "good for the organization that any of its parts can be easily replaced" unless you want a boring, grey, "average" organization. If you want to be extraordinary, you have to take the risks in letting people make a difference.
Why do I get line up flashbacks when pork belly is mentioned. I also recall a drunken quip from last winter "its like office work around here"

Good topic, nice to see some good public forum conversation going on. Don't let me interrupt.

Oz [img]smile.gif[/img]
post #21 of 26
"We have three thousand high school students coming in between 3 and 7 pm every day with contract packages of lift/rental/lessons, so make sure you have 100 intructors available so you can get them out in three hours."

So said the manager of BM/BW to the ski school director at the start of the season. Since there are a lot of lessons with pick-a-day packages during the day, along with walk-ins, privates, tiny tots, mogul mites, racing programs, etc. etc., how is the SSD supposed to assure that only qualified, much less certified bodies will show up to teach?

It took many years and comparatively good pay and good relations with management to bring 500 instructors to that level and retain a very high percentage year after year.

So when you dream of an ideal ski school with all certified instructors, keep the first paragraph in mind and start thinking to where you are going to find these instructors willing to grind out these lessons. BM/BW with less than 200 ft vertical, last year was in fourth place in the USA in lesson/hours taught.

And by far the most were good lessons because of the seasoned staff.

....Ott
post #22 of 26
Quote:
Originally posted by feal:
Good points all......

But I am not convinced the hill has to be a 'not for profit' enterprise for an innovative ski instruction program to flourish.

However; I do think everything except the 'overhead' for the ski school should be kept out of the ski area's business plan. The concept probably shouldn't be allowed to become too radical; because the real goal should be to create a concept than can be applied across the industry, and have an impact on skiing(and instructors) as a whole.
Feal,

I'm not sure I follow your recommendation. What would you keep out of the plan and what would you put in?

BTW, personally, I don't think that non-profits and for-profit corporations are really that different over the long-term. Short-term-minded for-profits are usually managed (mangled?) differently, but those are clearly not the organizations that would take on the risk/reward scenario we're discussing here.

Frankly, I think a radical change to the general approach to ski instruction would be a boon to any area that takes it on and would also be a benefit to the industry as a whole. As another post mentioned, Taos is a great example of this (although with Blake's passing, it seems to have shifted a bit).

ssh
post #23 of 26
Quote:
Originally posted by oboe:
If a ski area were to be owned by a group interested in advancing the cause of instruction, then for those who want to put their money where their mouths are, how about an open hill? Let the flowers bloom - let customers bring in anyone they please to instruct them. This thought can be tweaked, of course, but - what about the basic concept?
This model assume the customer is well informed about chosing a good instructor. In the fitness industry, people do not know the difference between a good trainer and a bad one until it is too late and they have spent too many dollards with a good saleperson but not a qualified trainer. This leads to burned clients about seeking instructions and services on a personal level. There is so many different bogus certifications and confusing info about what is the right approach that people could easily fall into a fad. Some trainer learn one fad after another one, just to keep marketing themselves without even knowing sound basics. The same could happen to ski instructing.

To my opinion the hills should conduct the hiring process or authorized a number of freelance instructor on a list. This would make sure only qualifed instructors will be working there. To let any instructor teach there will not improved the cause of ski instructions, it will increase the revenu of the best at marketing and not necessarely the best at teaching. It is sure that the ability to market yourself as a ski instructor will increase the success one have as a ski instructor but as far as public protection is concerned, there should be a selection process.

I would favor that the ski hill would be own by instructors (coop)or a non profit organisation. Some of the teaching revenu can help support the hill so instructors have a place to teach in case the hill need some help. Some of the hills revenu would help the improvement and continous education of the instructors so they have a team in place that is up to date and some training program that would help to keep enough qualify one on staff. There would be some economy of scale involve if you wanted to invite a world known presenter or schedule a group for a seminar somewhere else, which would be more costly on an instructor by instructor basis. There should be some clinicing on the hill, but even with the best group, there is a need for some new ideas from the outside from time to time. I don't think the freelance design will be conducive to this. Furthermore, freelance would encourage competition instead of a healthy cooperation toward a commun goal.

However, freelance instructor on the hills would be a huge improvement over the actual situation for the consumers and the instructors as the competition would at least give the consumer a choice and probaly sort the bad instructors from the good ones.

This is probably not the only way to make this work, so please keep talking! [img]smile.gif[/img]

[ November 03, 2003, 09:35 AM: Message edited by: Frenchie ]
post #24 of 26
Thread Starter 
Maybe the reason Bridger is great is not because of its IRS status but because its purpose is to provide the community with great skiing. Along with renaming themselves "winter/summer resorts" comes a repurposing--at some resorts, skiing is not considered the primary business, but one of many activities on the winter menu (there also being a menu of summer activities). Bridger is only trying to be one thing to one group of no-nonsense Montana skiers.

[ November 03, 2003, 01:06 PM: Message edited by: nolo ]
post #25 of 26
Reading through this it seems to what is really needed is a ski academy for instructors. The process is backwards. You get hired as an instructor then you get a few hours of training and the rest of your education is up to you. If instructors were required to have the credentials first the quality of instruction would be much higher.
Isn’t that how it’s done in Europe?
EpicSki Academy takes on an entirely new meaning.
post #26 of 26
Quote:
Originally posted by nolo:
Maybe the reason Bridger is great is not because of its IRS status but because its purpose is to provide the community with great skiing. Along with renaming themselves "winter/summer resorts" comes a repurposing--at some resorts, skiing is not considered the primary business, but one of many activities on the winter menu (there also being a menu of summer activities). Bridger is only trying to be one thing to one group of no-nonsense Montana skiers.
I expect that this is the case. The advantage of the non-profit status is that the stakeholders are clear that the purpose of the organization isn't to make the greatest profit possible. That makes decisions much easier to explain.

I continue to advocate that the long-term health of any business, and therefore the long-term benefit to the stakeholders, is tied directly to addressing the needs of the constituency that the business serves and specifically not directly targeting the needs of the owners (that is, the stockholders). By building a long-term, healthy business, the needs of the stockholders are naturally addressed through the overall success of the business and its value in the marketplace.

Unfortunately, some ski resorts are owned by many people who not only don't ski but couldn't care less about long-term value. They simply want to use the change in market value of shares of ownership to increase the value of their portfolio. While I can't fault them for seeking profit, managing an organization in order to please those profit-seekers is both futile and self-defeating.

What we're discussing here is a mechanism for providing long-term health to not just a specific ski area but for the industry as a whole. This is much needed, but requires a very different perspective than most business managers bring to an organization. Again, it's about a willingness to take on risk.

ssh
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