The Best Snowsports Instruction Tradition? Closing Out the Season at National Academies

Tom Gabriesle went to his first PSIA National Academy when it was held in Snowbird, Utah, in 1992. Since then, other than a break for Covid and a brief hiccup in the mid-1990s, he hasn’t missed the event in 30 years.

“I keep coming back because the energy level you get here is so incredible,” said Tom, who teaches at Alpine Valley, Wisconsin, the Chicago Snow Studio (an indoor learning center), and Colorado’s Winter Park. “And it’s not just because of what you learn from who you’re skiing with, but also because all the other attendees are sharing what they learned from their coaches on the hill.”

From Snowbird to Breckenridge, Colorado, to one of three internationally staged academies, Tom has skied with former Alpine Team member Victor Gerdin in Val d’Isère, France, caught early trams to access the Utah backcountry, and skied with former Alpine Team member Bob Barnes just about everywhere.

“Bob is such a great coach, a goofball, and one of the best people I know,” Tom said. “I think I’ve skied with him more than anyone else.”

Like so many attendees at National Academy, Tom said it feels like winter isn’t really over until whichever legendary mountain is hosting the event stops running the chairs.

And for anyone who has never attended, he adds, “You’re missing out on the best snowsports coaching experience in the world.”

An Annual Reunion

Walt Sappington of Boyne Mountain, Michigan, went to his first academy in 1984. Why did he attend? Because, he said, at the time, some people told him he couldn’t go.

Originally a yearly conclave for examiners and top instructors from across the country, academies have steadily evolved with the times and disciplines to include adaptive, cross country, snowboard, and telemark, as well as a broader cross section of the many levels of professional development, often encouraging the participation of new attendees with scholarships and awards.

“It took a few phone calls to make my case,” Walt said. “But there I was that spring, skiing with well-known names like Max Lundberg and Junior Bounous. I remember taking a clinic about Centerline Teaching with Max Lundberg and really enjoying that.”

From skiing with legends like Max and Junior, to spending this academy with current PSIA Team member Zoe Mavis, Walt says it’s the people who keep bringing him back.

“I’m always still trying to improve, but it’s the people and relationships that continue to mean more to me now,” Walt said. “It’s the organization and being part of this community, too. “PSIA-AASI provides so much tremendous support for members to grow – and not just as instructors, but as humans, too.”

Finishing with the Best

For every snowsports instructor who is already putting next year’s academies on their calendar, one of the most thrilling aspects of spring riding and sliding with the PSIA-AASI National Team is the prospect of finishing the season performing at their very best.

“I really enjoy the format of skiing with all these great skiers,” said Mark Hanson, of Grand Targhee, Wyoming, who celebrated at Big Sky with his 30-year pin. “You get to spend every day working to accomplish your aspiration and learning good stuff.”

Bob Gallo, the mountain school manager at Mount Peter, New York, takes the opportunity each academy to hit the hill with riders from other regions who he hasn’t seen during the season.

“The coaching is insane here,” Bob said. “And I’ve been hitting the hill with groups from the PNW, and today will be going out with new people from Beaver Creek.”

Along with “game improvement,” there’s also a chance to try something new with one of the coaches and do something you might have never done anywhere else.

“I’m taking my first cross country ski lesson today, with Cross Country Team Coach Emily Lovett,” Cindy Miller of Central Division said. “In Yellowstone! How incredible is that.”

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