Photo of skiers in a ski clinic standing in a circle

It's December, and the ski season is in full swing. This is the time of year when many of us skiers are eager to take a lesson or sign up for a ski clinic to either brush up on our skills or learn something new. From my perspective, when I pass by a clinic on a Sunday morning and see adults of various ability levels, fitness levels, and body shapes participating, those individuals are my heroes. They genuinely give me goosebumps. However, all too often, I come across a class or clinic that makes me cringe because the "instructor" lacks fundamental skills for interacting with students, has no teaching skills, and has a poor technical understanding of skiing. I have observed clinics and lessons where the instructor was using outdated teaching templates, neglecting their students' actual goals and needs, and instead, instructing based on what they were familiar with. 

Every adult who ventures out to learn something new, especially as challenging as cross country skiing, deserves a genuine standing ovation. It takes courage to take up learning something new as an adult, which makes us vulnerable and is just plain hard. But there's something else these adults deserve – a competent instructor who can maximize their time on the snow and make the learning experience as rewarding and pleasant as possible. To achieve this, a coach or instructor needs to be proficient in the areas of interpersonal skills, teaching methodology, and their own skiing skills. These skills aren't innate; they are learned and verifiable. 

Just because a Nordic center has organized a clinic doesn't guarantee that they've booked a competent instructor for it. A name tag and a fancy jacket identifying someone as an “instructor” or a “coach” are not expensive to buy and have no meaning if not supported by verifiable credentials. It's essential to inquire about who will be teaching the clinic and request their exact credentials, not just their years of teaching experience. Simply having done something for a long time or having raced in college doesn't necessarily make someone good at teaching the skills for cross country skiing. 

If the instructor has experience with well-recognized organizations such as CXC, there's a high likelihood that they are excellent at what they do, regardless of their credentials. However, serious instructors dedicated to teaching proficiency most likely have pursued ski education and credentials through organizations like U.S. Ski & Snowboard or PSIA in the U.S., or CANSI in Canada. Therefore, ask the Nordic center or the instructor about their credentials before enrolling in a clinic or lesson. Individuals without credentials or verifiable experience from recognized and reputable organizations or ski clubs (which tend to uphold high teaching standards) may not be worth your time or money. 

I believe that being entrusted with the responsibility of teaching others is a privilege, and the only way to honor that trust is by becoming an effective teacher and continually maintaining teaching proficiency. 

Here are some tips on how and what to ask when hiring a ski instructor or a coach:

Take some time to find a competent instructor who can help you achieve your goals and accelerate your learning curve. Contact a cross country ski school where you'd like to learn and don't hesitate to ask questions about the instructors. Remember, you're purchasing a service, and you have every right to inquire. Make your goals clear to the ski school and ask if the assigned instructor is capable of helping you reach them. Here are some questions you can ask: 

  • Does the ski instructor hold any ski teaching credentials? If so, which organization awarded them, and at what level? PSIA certifies at Levels I, II, III; USS&S at Levels 100, 200; in Canada, CANSI at Levels 1, 2, 3, 4. The higher the certification number, the higher the ski education level of the instructor. Level 1 should be teaching beginners, Level 2 beginner to intermediate skiers and Level 3 beginners to experts.
  • If you're seeking instruction for a child, does the ski instructor have any certifications for teaching children?
  • If you or someone you know has a disability and requires adapted skiing instruction, what is the instructor's experience in adapting the sport to suit individual needs?

To check a coach's or instructor's credentials:

  • U.S. Ski & Snowboard:
  • PSIA: Unfortunately, PSIA provides no tools for the public to search for certified instructors. However, each instructor is issued an annual membership card that lists their credentials. Alternatively, instructors can print a PDF of the card from the PSIA members portal.