Cert Week

I'm taking another snowsports certification test this week. If you've been hanging around Free Refills for a while, you might have read about my alpine cert and my children's specialist cert experiences, and recall that I found the process irritating and the value of what I learned questionable. I also wrote about the essential injustice built into the system--that instructors who are true pros and devote themselves to the craft can, with a tremendous amount of work, get to a point in which they can barely, just barely, scrape by.

This week, I'm taking my level-one snowboarding certification, and I'm finding the experience substantially different. The primary difference: how much more fun the experience has been thus far.

Part of that is the different quality of the examiners I've worked with. For my ski certification two years ago, my entire group of eight instructors grew to absolutely loathe the examiner we worked with and her endless, tedious explanations. By contrast, my examiner this week keeps his explanations light and well paced. Some of this is just the difference between the two people. But some of it is the difference between skiing and snowboarding cultures.

This cultural difference is actually kind of interesting, because the organizations in question, the Professional Ski Instructors of America and the American Association of Snowboard Instructors, are in fact sister organizations--the AASI approach to teaching grew directly out of the PSIA approach. Though they teach in very similar ways, there's a vast difference in the models they apply to what high-level performance in their respective fields should look like. The ultimate expression of skiing, according to the PSIA, is racing. We are taught to model our techniques after ski racers, and to teach accordingly. That approach does lead to beautiful, efficient turns. But to understand that that model might be misapplied to the recreational skier looking to have fun, consider this: ski racing is a competitive, athletic approach to the sport in which everyone races the same course, leaving very little room for self-expression.

But according to the AASI, the ultimate expression of snowboarding is maximum self-expression. It assumes freestyle skills--that you will spin and jump and explore--but doesn't assume that the perfect expression of snowboarding is Shaun White. If you want to be a park rat, that's an option. If you want to carve smooth arcs on the groomers, that's an option. If you want to shred the bumps and steeps, or fly through the powder, these too are options for you.

There's vastly more play in the AASI approach, and it has shown thus far in the experience of the test.

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