Before I ever had a ski lesson, I had become a ski patrol director, certified (the highest level) by both the National Ski Patrol and the Professional Ski Patrol Association. One morning while working at Lost Valley, when I reported in, I was called into the base lodge by Shirley Brackett, the lady who scheduled the ski school programs. This tiny area actually within the city limits ran a number of programs mid-week, mostly for housewives, and this morning, they had a couple of no-shows among their instructor corps.

Dave Irons, Ski Columnist

After numerous phone calls to no avail, it was decided that I would have to teach one of the classes. I asked what level they were as skiers and was told level B, or it might have been C. Neither told me anything. I didn’t know an A from an E. I later learned that A were true beginners, never-evers. Fortunately, these ladies could ski enough to get down the hill. On this second week of their once-a-week program, they got the pro patrolman.

In front of the lodge, the ski school director introduced me to the four ladies before he headed off to also teach a class. Having no idea what to say, I simply stated, “I hope you ladies have a good sense of humor. We’re all going to learn together today. Not only have I never taught a lesson, I have never even had one!” One of the ladies laughed while the other three gave me strange looks.

I took them up the lift and watched as they skied down to the top of Bobcat intermediate slope. I explained that I needed to see what they had worked on the previous week, so I skied partway down Bobcat and asked them to demonstrate as best they could the turns they had worked on last week.

As each one stopped by me, I complimented them on what they had just done. As they were just breaking into parallel, I decided we would work on a combination of up unweighting and pole plant. I demonstrated the way I thought a real ski instructor might, planting the pole and rising up to ski around it. It seemed to make sense to them, so we worked our way back to the lift. We spent the rest of the time skiing around the area, and I made it a point to ride the lift with each one so we could talk about their progress. I also took them on a longer, flatter run (Squirrel), which circumscribed the area so they could let the skis run and feel how much easier it was to turn with a little speed. Mostly I listened and passed out tips and compliments.

When the lesson ended, I thanked the ladies for their patience and told them I hoped they had as much fun as I had. Later, I talked with Shirley, who had recruited me for the lesson, and she told me that two of the ladies asked if they could have me the next week. Unfortunately, that was the end of my career as a ski instructor.

The following week, they got Bruce Fenn, one of the PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America) gurus who had been in on the beginning of that organization, and knew everything there was to know about teaching skiing. Thanks to Bruce, and his clinics, Lost Valley, that small ski area, had close to a 100% pass rate on PSIA certification exams. And skiing with him and the instructors at those final form clinics were the closest I had come to ski instruction at that time.

For the record, I didn’t teach my two daughters to ski. I put them in lessons at Norpar, a small rope tow hill in Norway run by the Norway Paris recreation department. I also have to admit that, thanks to my daughter Debi, I am no longer the best skier in the Irons family.

Dave Irons is a freelance writer and columnist who hails from Westbrook. He has been contributing to the Sun Journal for many years and is among the most respected ski writers in the Northeast. He also is a member of the Maine Ski Hall of Fame. Write to him at

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