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by Chris Thompson, PSIA-NW Certification Vice President
All disciplines – alpine, snowboard, telemark, track and adaptive – have an approved exam program. Upgrades are implemented on a regular basis to ensure that the exam programs meet the current PSIA/AASI National Standards. The Alpine exam has most recently been upgraded with a newly revised PSIA-NW Certification Guide which was made available on-line at psia-nw.org in early November. Additionally the Snowboard National Standards have been updated.
Certification is designed to test levels of achievement; from your early skiing days and through your first class assignment as a new instructor and beyond. The skiing module is a test but should be viewed as a fun challenge, not unlike skiing with your peer group at your home area. In the teaching module, you are not only sharing information with your peers, helping them to understand what and how to teach, but also improving their skiing performance at the same time. Most snowsports schools as well as the division offer “exam prep” clinics. Realistically, all clinics are skiing/riding and teaching improvement opportunities and as a result should be seen as having an underlying exam focus.
The exams are based on National Standards developed and adopted by the National organization. These standards can be found in each of the PSIA-NW Certification Guides, at the psia-nw.org website or PSIA/AASI National website at thesnowpros.org.
In addition to the National Standards, each of the nine divisions, from East to West, utilizes the skills and teaching matrix, visual cues, etc. as resource exam material. Divisions typically break down the exam into modules – a written test, a skiing test and teaching/professional knowledge test.
To meet the needs of our predominantly part time snowsports instructors, the Northwest division has opted to host the exams in an accessible and affordable manner; a one-hour written exam module; a one-day skiing/riding module and a one-day teaching and professional knowledge module. Pre exam clinics, while strongly recommended, are not required. Once you have passed the written module, you are ready for the skiing/riding and teaching modules.
The spring exam series, held at one or more resorts in each region of the division, provides ample opportunity for testing. The exam dates are listed at psia-nw.org in a calendar or list view, and in the 2010/11 Season Guide which was published in the Fall 2010 issue of the NW Snowsports Instructor newsletter. Please refer to the Season Guide or website to plan your skiing/riding and clinic needs accordingly.
The skiing/riding and teaching modules each are lead by two examiners. In addition, you may have an examiner in training or a training director observing the exam process. This past season, we restructured the alpine teaching module enabling the two examiners to stay together throughout the day to ensure consistency, where both examiners are able to observe each candidate during the entire exam day. Although it is recommended that you prepare for two long teaching segments, you may only have one long segment, with a shortened movement analysis directed practice teaching opportunity.
This season, the primary focus has been the alpine skiing module – now listed as Skiing Skills & Technical Understanding in the Alpine Certification Guide. The Level II and Level III skiing modules continue with the same number of skiing tasks as the past few seasons. However, the tasks are now broken down into Skiing tasks and Exercises & Versatility tasks. This was implemented to help you understand that the latter were selected to test your overall skill blend but are also there for you to use as skiing improvement and skill development training tools. Once again, the tasks are used to evaluate a candidate’s mastery of skill blending, and depending on conditions of the day, not all tasks may necessarily be performed.
Also, there is now a technical component to the skiing module. As noted in the exam guide: “During the day, the examiners and examinees will discuss the technical skiing elements to ensure understanding. This does not influence the overall grade but provides an opportunity to rehearse the understanding of each of the selected tasks enabling performance as well as goal setting.”
This summer the alpine certification guide was rewritten to give it more of an educational focus as well as a “how to” guide. Redundancies have been removed; each chapter is more specific to the level. One of the major changes is in the Reference Chapter which is now Reference and Resource. One element of change is the addition of a list of proven exercises that are linked to a document that describes the exercise and lists the primary skill or skills affected.
Currently there are twenty alpine examiners, nine snowboard examiners, four telemark examiners, four track examiners and two adaptive examiners in the NW. These examiners, Technical Team members and all of the Divisional Clinic Leaders are well versed in the exam process and are there to help you succeed. In addition to all the written materials, these dedicated individuals are great resources, and are always eager to answer your certification related questions. Simply go to psia-nw.org, navigate to the “Who We Are” menu, then choose your discipline for a complete list of divisional staff.
Looking forward, updates will be made to the Alpine and Snowboard Exam Task DVDs. We will also be adding additional resources and links to training aids which will be useful in your day to day teaching/coaching, and to help you better prepare for your exam. Remember, the exams seem like a long way off but they are coming up quickly, so get ready.
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by Chris Thompson, PSIA-NW Certification Vice President
Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) and the American Association of Snowboard Instructors (AASI) divisions have been conducting skiing certification exams since the early 1960s, and snowboard exams beginning in 1996. We all know that testing is an integral element of the education process. Each of the eight other divisions inclusive of Alaska, Western, Intermountain, Northern Intermountain, Northern Rocky Mountain, Rocky Mountain, Central and East have an exam similar to that of the Northwest. Functionally they vary in time and duration however, all are looking for similar outcomes. As an instructor seeking to improve teaching and skiing or riding skills, look at the exam as an opportunity to challenge yourself and to learn; not as something to be feared.
Both the Alpine and Snowboard Northwest Certification Guides point out that the premise of the certification standards is based upon the concepts of “levels of understanding” which define stages of learning in degrees of understanding. As certification is a measure of understanding, levels of certification represent stages of understanding. Candidates are held to the knowledge and performance standards of the level at which they are testing as well as the criteria for all preceding levels. The exam guide is a living document constantly edited to best reflect current skiing, riding and teaching trends.
Divisional Staff training is held twice per season with the first training at Mt. Hood in mid-November and the second in early to mid-March, typically at Stevens Pass. The Friday of each session is devoted to the exam process. At the fall training, we focused on how to improve the overall exam process. In the spring, we review the current standards to ensure that the exams are conducted according to the certification guide. Although it is exam oriented, the examiners as well as the Divisional Clinic Leaders are engaged in the training process to ensure the message delivered at divisional functions is consistent.
The Divisional Staff is comprised of individuals from all levels of member ski and snowboard schools. They are directors, supervisors, full time and part time teachers or coaches. They work for resident and concession schools. They come from different walks of life and varying skiing or riding experiences. They all have a passion for teaching snowsports and are devoted to working with their guests including the public as well as other instructors.
Last season the focus of the alpine staff was on the teaching and professional knowledge segment of the Level II exam. The Level II topics were rewritten to better reflect the current Alpine Technical Manual – Second Edition, Core Concepts for Snowsports Professionals and other current teaching manuals and resource materials. Both Level II and Level III result sheets were reworked providing the examiners the opportunity to better express their findings. It is the examiners goal to provide the examinees with constructive feedback, including concrete, and attainable short and long term goals. Much is the same with the snowboard, nordic and adaptive exams.
There are three exam modules – written, skiing/riding, teaching/professional knowledge. The modules of the exams are designed to test the skill and knowledge you have amassed throughout your teaching career. It truly is your opportunity to showcase your skiing or riding skills, as well as your teaching skills and professional knowledge. Look at the exam positively and you will derive the greatest benefit.
Each day you are on the snow with your students or free riding, you are rehearsing for your time in the exam spotlight. The primary differences in the exam and day to day teaching are two fold:
Yet, your charge is the same, being prepared, working with the teaching cycle, communicating effectively. You will be working to enhance the skiing or riding, and knowledge of your peers.
Throughout the season, I am certain that you will have the support of your peers, trainers, supervisors, and divisional staff members you interact with. All of them are there to help you succeed, along with the examiner staff.
As is said, it is not the pin as much as it is the path along the way. The final outcome is more the personal gains and the ability for you to become a better teacher and coach.
The on-snow module of the exams is always staffed by two examiners. On the alpine side, this season, we are working to have the makeup of the teaching/professional knowledge module also have two examiners working together. We feel that this will make for a more complete and equitable exam. In addition to the staffing changes we have adjusted the Level II and III teaching topics and modified the skiing task descriptions.
If you have any questions regarding the changes or the exam process, the divisional staff email addresses are listed in the Who We Are section of the website in the individual disciplines.[connections_list id=14 template_name=’div_staff’]
by Jeremy Riss, originally printed in the Winter 2009 Issue of the NW Snowsports Instructor
I often hear the comment from instructors that they don’t have time to train for exams because they are too busy teaching lessons. Going out and clinicing with your coach is a crucial part of training but so is experience teaching lessons of all ages and abilities. Some of the biggest breakthroughs I have had in my teaching and skiing have happened while I was teaching lessons.
Whatever feedback you are getting from your coach during clinics, applying that feedback during low speed maneuvers all day while you are teaching students is ideal. This will allow you to dial in the change you are trying to make at slow speeds and will be a benefit to your students since the accuracy of your demos will improve.
The movements you are trying to change in your dynamic skiing are generally the same movements you want to change in lower speed maneuvers. At the beginning of last season I was really focused on trying to get my outside leg to soften through the second half of the turn in order to flatten my outside ski and move smoothly into the next turn. I was able to make some progress on this in my dynamic skiing but I struggled with getting the timing right consistently. It wasn’t until I practiced it over and over again in slow speed wedge turns that I could really make the movement consistent every time.
There are different dynamics in play while you are doing a teaching segment in an exam vs. teaching a real lesson, but the same fundamentals apply in both and you are likely to have the same strong areas in your regular teaching that you do during exam teaching. You need to make safety a priority, use the teaching cycle, stay focused on building one skill at a time, work on each step until your students are successful at it, keep your descriptions simple and to the point, give accurate demonstration, and keep the atmosphere productive and fun for those you are teaching. Take the feedback that you get from your trainers during your mock-exam teaching segments and try to improve on those same things when you are teaching lessons.
Even if you are teaching kids the things that will make you successful in exam teaching will also get those kids making turns and heading off to the chair lift. One common error I see during exam teaching is people moving from one focus to another before students have mastered the original focus. I often see the same thing when people are teaching first-time 4 year-olds. They will work with the kids on side stepping to climb up the hill but not all the kids will be able to do it right away. The instructor will move all the kids to the next step of riding up the magic carpet even if they weren’t able to do the first step successfully. The lesson suffers because the kids that can’t side step up the hill have to rely on the instructor to pull them up the hill every time. The same thing happens in exams where candidates move to the next step in their progression even if the group did not perform the first step accurately.
To make the best use of all your time when preparing for exams, get accurate feedback from your coach and use every opportunity, especially when you are teaching everyday lessons, to apply that feedback and improve. Remember the ultimate goal in training for certification is to improve your ability to instruct your students.
Focusing on the areas in your teaching and skiing you need to improve on while you are working will make you a better instructor for your students and help prepare you for your exam.[connections_list id=16 template_name=”div_staff”]