June Mountain

Teaching at June Mt.
Feb-Apr, 1997

Owen Maloy

See the Children's Carnival Slide Show.

I responded to a need at June for a beginning ski instructor a week after my 65th birthday, knowing that there was no way I could make enough money to affect my tax status. I taught Alpine beginners, although certified in Nordic Downhill. The first lesson for all three skiing disciplines (Alpine, Nordic Downhill, Track) is almost identical, and covers most of what's in the Sierra Club 4th Class Test. I spent more time on uphill technique (sidestep, herringbone) than most downhill instructors do, and I think it paid off in balance skills learned. I also taught my students to glide on the flat, which is part of the Alpine progression but sometimes neglected. They were a menace, zooming around in the ski school area using track-style double-poling. I figured this would keep them from getting exhausted walking to the lift.

The instructors at June operate like some telepathically-linked society of organisms described by Isaac Asimov, doing the right thing without need for verbal direction. If the supervisor is distracted by a student, an instructor automatically fills in. It's an elegant example of teamwork, held together by regard for each other and the needs of the job, rather than some artificial corporate "team playing." Not that the lineup is not rowdy on occasion!

Each day we would clinic for a couple of hours, led by various clinicians playing hooky from Mammoth. Instructors get paid the minimum wage for this. Even the clinician has to take a cut in some ski areas. I usually did these clinics on tele skis. Sometimes the telemarkers skied with the late Allan Bard. Allan said he'd never bothered to get an Alpine certification, and it drove the bosses crazy. Why, he asked, do I need another certification to ski with my heels latched down when I can already ski with my heels free? He told me he could sure tell when I learned to ski. I asked him if he could hear the Beatles in the background. Allan was a delight, and he's sorely missed.

The most fun part of this experience was the Children's Carnival at Easter, a June Mountain tradition. There were games with prizes, and an Easter Egg hunt. I was the Official Photographer. See the Children's Carnival Slide Show.

Ski instructors cannot possibly make enough money being paid $8-$10 an hour for four hours a day of teaching, so they all have other interests. It's essentially a paid hobby. One instructor who had taught for many years flew his own plane up from LA to teach. There were heavy discussions about computer graphics in the instructor lineup. There are two sides to this neoliberal economic arrangement. Some people who are dedicated can survive by becoming private instructors for the wealthy. The others can give it only what they can afford. The net result, in my view, is less than optimum performance in serving the public. The professionalism of the PSIA certification system is what keeps the system together. If you love your HMO, you would love a ski school without the PSIA.

One of the economic problems is high overhead. It takes a lot of indirect people to sell lessons, handle the supervision and safety, and so forth. Selling lessons takes time, because people ask questions and need advice. A ski school also must have "coordinators" (usually teenage girls), who take care of the children and run errands. Without their help a ski school could not handle the hordes of children it must teach.

I enjoyed this experience, but did not return the following year because of various conflicts (including El Niño weather). I also would prefer to teach somewhere where telemarking is a real part of the program.

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