Am I missing something here?
Yes, I think so, Noodler. There are many reasons why PSIA does not establish a preset, consistent, universal progression. Perhaps the primary and most obvious one is the simple fact that ski school students do not come with preset, consistent, universal needs or goals.
Think of some of the variations:
- What kind of equipment are you on--rental skis, new race slaloms, 20-year-old GS skis, all-terrain skis, park & pipe twin-tips, mogul skis, reverse sidecut rockered powder planks, snow blades....? How are they tuned? What kind of boots--and how are they set up?
- What are your goals? Skiing switch and throwing down in the park and pipe? Carving turns for the thrill of it? Confidence on the blue runs? Moguls? Crud? Steeps? Learning to do a classic "schrittbogen" so you can perform in a movie about skiing history? Scoping and skiing extreme lines? Improving your NASTAR performance? Looking "elegant" and getting less tired? Doing hockey stops and mastering the White Room? Just getting back on your skis after a fifteen year lapse? Only here for today, and really want to see the top of the mountain? "I'll be taking a lesson every weekend all season." "Just got these brand new rockered skis, 160mm underfoot, and I want to learn to rip on 'em." This is your first day....
- What is your skiing background? Lessons every day since day 1? One lesson fifteen years ago? First time? Raced in college? Took a Mahre Training Center camp/NASTC camp/EpicSki Academy camp/Copper's BumpBusters camp/PMTS camp/Pepi's Wedel Weeks camp/Taos Ski Week/Snowbird Steeps camp/Keystone Betty Fest/Lito's "Breakthrough" camp/you-name-it-branded camp? "I ski groomed runs well, but this powder really throws me." "I've had many lessons in Slovenia." "I learned on a ski deck in the Bahamas." "I'm an Italian-certified instructor." "I took an underground lesson from some guy I found on Craigslist." "I am coming off a horrendous accident with two hip replacements, and I need to get my confidence back." ....
- What is your non-skiing athletic background and fitness level? Coach potato. Professional football player. Professional hockey player. Tai Chi master. Tri-athlete. "If I get the urge to exercise, I lie down and rest until it passes." Ex-prima ballerina for the New York City Ballet. "I haven't done anything athletic in 40 years." "I'm four years old." "I lost my left leg in Iraq." Champion water skier. Snowboarder. Sagittarian. "I'm an endurance athlete and never get tired." "I just had a quadruple bypass last month." ....
- What is your motivation level and commitment? Casual, just skiing for the exercise, the company, the fresh air, a little fun, or to get your mind off your regular work? Extremely goal-oriented and willing to work very hard to become an excellent skier? "I hate snow." "I'm very timid." "I'm aggressive and fearless, and nothing frightens me." "I'm willing to slow it way down and work hard doing drills on green groomed runs to perfect my skills." "Green runs? Boring--I only want to challenge myself on the Double Blacks." "I value adaptability and want to be able to ski anything, anywhere, any style, at will." "I don't care about varied terrain or conditions--just want to master one preferred technique, for its own sake." "I want a sound foundation, but I'm not afraid to let it get a little ragged and use my athleticism when I ski." "I strive for perfection, and would rather ski slowly and precisely than ever get out of balance or have to improvise."
- How do you like to learn and to be taught? "I just want to follow you and mimic." "I love detailed explanations, because I'm as fascinated with the technical side as I am with performance." "Just show me and let me practice and experiment with it on my own until I get it." "I prefer constant, immediate feedback." "Keep it simple--show me one way to do it and give me feedback about how good I am at that particular technique." "I love step-by-step, logically ordered progressions of drills." "I hate drills--just want you to ski with me and help me improve." "In the best lesson I've ever had, my instructor never said a word about technique, but she created tactical situations that caused immediate, specific technical changes." "I believe that skill is more important than technique." "I believe that technique is more important than skill." "I don't have a clue how I learn or what is important." "I believe that technique is a means to an end." "I believe that technique itself is the goal and I just want to be told if I'm doing it right or wrong."
This list barely scratches the surface. Do you think "a defined progression" will work for all of these people and their diverse backgrounds, needs, commitment levels, goals, and motivations? Neither do I.
Next, consider that PSIA does not teach lessons. But PSIA-trained instructors work for all of the programs I listed in the third bullet above--each of which defines its own unique (at least from a marketing perspective) progression and agenda. Again, PSIA is not an instructional program, but its instructors do work in instructional programs, some of which incorporate highly proprietary progressions. PSIA instructors work for different ski schools across the country--and across the globe--with widely varying clientele, widely varying terrain and learning facilities, and widely varying philosophies driven by their individual directors. PSIA's mission is to prepare instructors with the skill and broad understanding of the sport of skiing that will enable them to succeed in any environment. Many PSIA instructors are the directors of these special programs, tasked with developing a proprietary, marketable program that can be differentiated from the rest. PSIA does not teach progressions--it trains and educates instructors with the background to develop their own progressions as needed.
It is worth noting that PSIA is not alone in recognizing that student needs are critical in developing an individual lesson plan. Most organizations that train instructors recognize the same, and do their best to promote "guest-centered teaching."
Finally, recognize that PSIA is not entirely as progression-free as you may surmise. At the very lowest levels of understanding and experience--PSIA's Level 1 Certification--instructors are, in fact, introduced to a consistent, prescribed basic progression. It's a job necessity--they will be working as instructors with very little training and education, so they are "given" a basic progression intended to be reasonably effective for the middle of the bell curve of typical students. They are trained to deliver this progression simply because, at this level, they generally lack the deeper understanding, skill, and experience needed to create customized progressions and lesson plans tailored to the particular, unique needs of varying students and situations.
Delivering a prescribed progression is easy. It just takes a little "knowledge"--no deeper understanding is needed. It is our first step. For many instructors, that's all they know--and all the training they'll get. For the better ones, continuing education and experience brings them to a level far beyond that of "defined progression deliverer."
As a result, superior instructors are quite capable of delivering a refined, logical, effective progression based on sound, universal, consistent skiing principles. They just can't tell you what that progression will be until they know more about you, your needs and goals, and the specific situation of the moment. "Canned" progressions that are more technique-focused ("mechanistic") than student-focused ("humanistic") are anathema to PSIA--and really, to any qualified instructor or teaching program. They are also anathema to you, if you think about it. Would you really want to invest money and time in a lesson that was all about "the progression" and ignored your needs and wants, as the paying customer?
But being "student-centered" does not mean that good PSIA instructors do not share (reasonably) consistent beliefs and understanding of good ski technique. Of course, thinking pros will never agree about everything all the time. Progress and technical evolution depend on conflict, growth, and challenging the status quo and "conventional wisdom." Instructors who do not challenge dogma and question beliefs don't ever amount to much--and indeed, are incapable of anything beyond delivering prescribed, canned progressions by rote. Great instructors are creative; automatons are not great instructors.
Progressions teach technique. PSIA instructors teach skiing! Skiing is as multi-faceted as skiers are.
Unfortunately, none of this guarantees a great lesson at any particular ski school. The reality is that PSIA has limited influence, and zero control, over the instruction and programs of most ski schools. Indeed, even in official PSIA-affiliated schools, many instructors have had little to no PSIA training. There is no law that requires instructors to be certified. Ski schools hire whomever they want, pay generally very little, and train them as much or as little as they want and can afford. Many instructors are uncertified. Some are Level 1. Some are Level 2. In most ski schools only a small minority, at best, are Full Certified.
Think some PSIA-affiliated instructors are sub-standard? So does PSIA. Not everyone passes our exams, at any level. Many never even seek certification. At least one major western resort, by its own admission, hired nearly 200 brand new instructors this season (half its staff), and put them to work before they had received any PSIA training whatsoever. (Some of these will pursue, and presumably by now already have pursued, PSIA training and certification, but many will not.)
If anything, perhaps these areas are where PSIA should focus its attention. No matter how brilliant an education program PSIA may offer, it is a moot point when instructors haven't been exposed to it. I've long thought that the requirements for being a PSIA-member ski school should be much more rigorous than they are. To me, a great part of the problem that is evident in threads like this is that many people have experienced or witnessed sub-par lessons and, to a large extent, these lessons reflect poorly on PSIA, even if PSIA had absolutely nothing to do with them.
There is no doubt that not all instruction that is available out there is going to be excellent. But a large share of the blame should point to the ski and resort industry as a whole. There are excellent instructors. And there are many others.
Anyway, these are a few of the reasons that PSIA does not identify or promote "a progression." Truly great instructors are extremely knowledgeable as well as creative. They will each have their own spin on things and, like physicians, engineers, and experts in most fields, they won't always agree on everything. But they will help you ski better, and while they may not be clones or automatons, the lessons of one great instructor will complement--not conflict with or contradict--a lesson from another. Different situations will, of course, demand different approaches, tactics, and (sometimes) techniques. All learning is good and, ultimately, it is up to you, the student, to become the skier you want and choose to be. No great skier focuses on a single technique or progression. Versatility, skill, adaptability, and expression are the hallmarks of great skiing--and great instructors.