AASI Shows Its Hand To The Industry

The AASI/PSIA Team Training Week.

Contemporary, authentic, true to the sport, describing not defining, shaking things up and breaking the mold for the 38-year-old organization: These were the prevalent themes at the American Association of Snowboard Instructors (AASI) and Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) Team Training Week held at Copper Mountain, Colorado, in the first week of November 1998.

After a successful launch last year, AASI was finally able to show the snowboarding industry and media some tangible results of its work-and also give some important indications on which direction AASI and the PSIA wants to take snowboard instruction.

With the debut of a new snowboard-instructor manual and video, and the announcement of some major changes in the selection process of the AASI national demo team, the focus of the entire week seemed to be on snowboarding.

AASI’s viewpoint is especially relevant to the snowboarding industry. By developing certification standards and educational materials for snowboard instructors (which parent-organization PSIA has done nationally for ski instructors for almost four decades), this nonprofit organization has become the “teacher of the teachers”-setting the tone and scope for snowboard lessons around the country. If it’s off message or out of date, thousands of riders could potentially be turned off to the sport.

In fact, at the annual media breakfast attended primarily by Alpine ski journalists, hardly any mention was made of the Alpine or Nordic teams. Instead, the group of journalists was shown the halfpipe portion of the AASI instruction video, and received a briefing on the new snowboard instruction manual.

In fact, it seemed AASI/PSIA was bending over backward to show how it had become more in touch with contemporary snowboarding and in synch with the industry’s desire to keep the lock-step, ski-nazi instruction mumbo-jumbo to an absolute minimum.

“I’m going to be interested to see what the industry’s acceptance and reaction to what AASI’s done over the past year,” says PSIA Marketing Director Mark Dorsey. “The manual is obviously the culmination of a big retooling for the entire organization. Now our folks are going to have to go out and show off the product, get feedback, and make sure it’s in tune with where the industry is.”

According to AASI, the manual attempts to describe-not define-snowboarding, and is in essence a work in progress. “The concepts in the book are simple,” says Brian Spear, captain of the AASI demo team. “This gives us the ability to come up with short, detailed papers about different concepts in the next three years as we receive feedback. For example, dynamic turns are defined in the glossary and mentioned in some of the instruction models, but we didn’t go off and write fifteen pages about it. Rather than have this thick manual, we’ll have piece on the Web or a magazine article in the Pro Rider AASI’s magazine for snowboard instructors.”

Spear says he hopes to continue to strengthen the ties AASI has with the snowboarding industry: “Our job is to connect what’s going on at snowboard contests, World Cups, and ISF contests with the general population. So the closer we are to the top, and the better ties we have with the industry, the easier it will be to get those progressive concepts down to snowboarders. A familiar complaint in the Alpine ski program is what we’re teaching is five years old. That can’t be the case in snowboarding-it’s changing too quickly.”

A good example of AASI’s industry ties could be seen at the foot of Copper Mountain on the Saturday demo day. Snowboard equipment suppliers such as Exo, Elan, and MLY were all busy getting the AASI and PSIA teams outfitted with the latest products. According to MLY’s Marketing Manager Mark Miller, the relationship the brand established with AASI is paying off. “A lot of times when people are taking a lesson, the first person they talk to about which product to buy is the instructor,” he says. “We want those instructors to have an opportunity to be on a MLY snowboard when they answer that question.”

MLY’s Marketing Services Manager Doug Howard agrees, noting, “In general, the PSIA is a non-factor to most manufacturers. It’s something they don’t consider in their marketing-which they should. It would be good to see some other companies come in, and create some recognition for the PSIA.” Howard mentioned that 500 MLY boards were sold through the AASI VIP program last year.

One of the biggest changes AASI has planned is in its selection process for the national demo team. National tryouts will be held next year instead of the hand-picked regional method used now. While some members of the existing team may return, the competition is going to be tough. “What prompted this is AASI really doesn’t have anyone who is a true freestyle teacher,” says Miller, “and that’s what the kids are interested in. You can explain how to ride a pipe, but you also need to be able to show them. Credibility-wise you need to do that, and from that perspective this group is a little outdated-but it looks like they’re making the change.”

Dorsey points out that it was the existing team’s decision to change the selection process. “The current team is limited in terms of some of the things it can do and in terms of the contemporary snowboard image we want to have,” he says. “But the selection process is not just going to be hot feet-you’re going to have to also be a good teacher as well.

“Our primary goal is to introduce people to the sport and stay true to its spirit,” he continues. “Where we’ve sometimes gotten a bad rap is some people thought that wasn’t what we’re about-that we were trying to take away the true spirit of snowboarding. I hope the snowboarding industry can see that’s certainly not the case.”

-Sean O’Brien