Students earn downhill instructor certification through school curriculum

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GLEN ARBOR — The Leelanau School is known for creating curriculum that challenges its students.

So when its winter “Snow Sports” class wasn’t demanding enough for a handful of students, the school enhanced the offering with a new option: ski and snowboard instructor certification.

Four students recently earned the certification as part of the school curriculum. Their achievement continues the school’s historic role in building downhill opportunities supporting local resorts.

The Glen Arbor boarding school’s snow sports legacy began in 1948 when Hans “Peppi” Teichner moved to Leland. Teichner had been a member of the German National Ski Team, coached the Spanish Olympic team, served in the 10th Mountain Division during World War II and contributed to Aspen, Colorado’s development as a ski resort.

Teichner coached The Leelanau School’s ski team and served as director of Traverse City ski schools. He applied his experience and skill to all aspects of developing the now shuttered Sugar Loaf ski resort in Cedar, including its ski school.

“He was one of the first to set down benchmarks for ski education,” said Laura Hood, The Leelanau School’s snow sports teacher. “We’ve come full circle by coming back to what he designed back in the day.”

Teichner recognized the need for trained ski instructors as more and more people took to the slopes, according to the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame. He developed standards and procedures for certifying instructors. Those standards were adopted in 1955 at the Central United States Ski Association convention in Traverse City. Teichner himself became one of the association’s first certified instructors.

He is also credited with establishing ski competition among Michigan schools. The tireless ski promoter was inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in 1967.

The Leelanau School presents a five-week Snow Sports class every winter term. Hood said she realized several students enrolled in the 2019 class were ready to advance their training.

“As teachers, we try to think of ways to challenge our students,” she said. “This added a whole different level to the class.”

Hood said it took a cooperative effort to make the Level I certification program happen. She collaborated with Crystal Mountain Resort’s snow sports manager/director of training and development Chris Fisher and Ron Shepard, the Frankfort-based executive director of the Professional Ski Instructors of America/American Association of Snowboard Instructors – Central States Chapter.

Shepard said instructors are in demand. At larger resorts, like Crystal Mountain, more than 100 full and part-time instructors are employed during the winter season.

“We are barely meeting the need for instructors,” he said. “We are a tourism-driven economy. When people come here for winter sports experiences, their connection with instructors is important.”

Crystal Mountain hosted the two-day certification training for the high school students. Certification and training required workshop attendance, observation of classes taught by Fisher, and successful completion of a written test. The snowboard certification training was initiated at the school’s request.

“It’s a given that they have mountain skills,” Hood said. “What really challenged all our students was learning how to put into words the skills to teach someone else.”

Shepard said students of the certification process grow confidence and life skills.

“They learn to see everything from a risk management perspective — like a shepherd looking after their sheep,” he said.

Junior Cecelia Denton and Senior Jacob Haines earned Alpine Level I certification. Juniors Lance Berland and Jacob Roth received Snowboard Level I certification.

Certification opens doors for students to work local downhill resorts and beyond, and also benefits resorts. School vacations coincide with the resorts’ busiest times when the need for instructors is the greatest.

“I was surprised to learn there is a big need for snowboard instructors,” said Roth, a downhill enthusiast since age 8. “It’s a growing sport and more people are taking it up — so there’s a need for instructors.”

Hood said whether The Leelanau School repeats the certification option in the curriculum next year will depend on the skills and desire of the class. But 2019 forged the way for the future.

“This year has paved the way and we have made the connections we need,” she said.

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