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Ski Lines: Training next generation of instructors

Ski Lines: Training next generation of instructors

Phil Johnson's weekly ski column
Ski Lines: Training next generation of instructors
John Beach, left, of Gore Mountain Ski Patrol, and Biff Daino of the Gore Snowsports School.
Photographer: Phil Johnson

The teenagers are hard to miss at Gore Mountain. You see them zipping around the area, displaying ski skills that most of us only wish we had then and maybe now.

There is, of course, the New York Ski Education Foundation (NYSEF) racing program at Gore under long-time director and coach Rich Burnley. It has 180 participants this season who are either training or racing almost every weekend between December and March. They are easy to spot in their colorful Lycra-race suits in the base lodge, or around the Echo trail race course, or the program headquarters near the base of Twister.

But not every teen regular at the mountain is a racer.

For some 20 years, Gore has sponsored a program for 13-15-year-olds who are interested in becoming ski instructors. It is a part of a regular effort to replenish the ranks of qualified ski teachers and you can become an instructor at age 16. About 20 of those on Gore’s current roster of 180 instructors are graduates of the program. 

Many areas have young instructor programs. But the one at Gore comes with a twist that makes it unique, at least in the East. This year, the program, now called Instructor Patrol in Training (IPT), includes exposure to ski patrol training, first aid procedures and mountain operations practices.

The emphasis is still on learning to teach, but now up to 25% of the time is focused on ski patrol practices, plus a sampling of how a ski area works, including snowmaking, lift operations, food services and even hospitality. It is possible that the person who offers to help lug your gear from the parking lot to the lodge when you arrive in the morning is a participant in the program.

This is not a drop in activity. Those involved in IPT can spend every Saturday and Sunday from December through March in the program, starting each day at 9 a.m. through wrap up 3 p.m.

The expanded program came up through the Ski Patrol which like the Snowsports School faces the challenge of recruiting new members each year. John Beach from Clifton Park, a longtime Gore patroller and regional ski patrol official, heads up this new part of the program at the mountain. 

“There are 22 teens in the IPT this year and all of them are spectacular” Beach said earlier this week. 

“Some of the experience they get is right there on the front line, shadowing ski patrollers as they respond to accident calls on the hill. By the time these young skiers finish the program, they will have a very good idea what a patroller does, and we hope at least some of them will continue on to full certification.”   

Participants in the expanded Gore program this year are not only from our area, but come from as far as Connecticut and New Jersey. The cost is between $420 and $620 per year, depending on whether a season’s ski pass is included and can last up to two years, at which time teens are eligible for the Young Adult Ski Patrol program. 

As part of the program this year, regular participants will receive CPR certification when done.

Gore, like many of the larger ski areas, relies on National Ski Patrol member/volunteers to supplement paid patrollers. At small areas like Royal and Willard in our area, all patrollers on the hill are volunteers.

Biff Daino from Galway has been a ski instructor at Gore for 36 years. For the past 12 years, he has been in charge of the training program, which up to this year was aimed at future instructors only. He’s pleased with how the new broader focus of the program is working out.

“This has always been a great training program for young people who have technical ski skills and are interested in learning how to teach rather than race,” Daino said. “The NYSEF program has been a great feeder for us. 

“When they finish our program, they can become paid instructors. That is appealing to us because in addition to technical skiing skills, they now are confident giving lessons because they know how to communicate and create a safe and comfortable environment for learning.” 

Details on how to become involved in the Instructor Patrol in Training program can be found on the website www.goremountain.com. There will be a new class forming in the fall. 

PRESIDENTS WEEK

The coming weekend through the holiday Monday leading in to the school vacation week is usually one of the busiest times of the year for ski areas. With recent snow and a promising weather forecast, the ski outlook for our area is promising. And that means the crowds will come. The best approach at this time is to arrive early, generally before 8:30 a.m., and try to ski lifts and trails that don’t wind up back in the base area. An alternative is to visit the smaller areas in our region. These are likely to offer great conditions without the crowds.

ROYAL DAYS

Royal Mountain in Caroga Lake is again offering its holiday week special — any five days of skiing for $150. All trails and lifts at Royal are in operation and the popular Alpin Haus Demo Day where next season’s new gear can be sampled is set for Thursday. 

HALFPIPE UP AT OKEMO 

While most ski areas now offer terrain parks with various jumps and elements, the once common halfpipe has almost disappeared from the Northeast. The commitment to build and maintain such a feature has proven too much for most areas to support. But Okemo is an exception, and a 400-foot halfpipe with 13-foot vertical walls and 46 feet between decks is up an running at the Ludlow, Vermont, resort. 

Phil Johnson can be reached at [email protected].

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