Featured Interview: Peter Kray, Author of American Snow

Posted By: The Ski Channel on February 8, 2012 9:37 am

Peter Kray is recognized as one of the most influential members of the snow sports industry. He grew up skiing in Colorado and went on to become an award-winning writer, editor and author. Kray uses his talents expose readers to the culture born out of skiing and snowboarding. He currently resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico and can been seen ripping down the slopes of Santa Fe Ski Basin.

His latest endeavor, “American Snow: The Snowsports Instruction Revolution” explores the historical role played by the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) and American Association of Snowboard Instructors (AASI). The book takes readers on a journey back in time, allowing them an opportunity to gain a newfound appreciation for the sports they love and an understanding of the very important role these organizations played in their evolution.

We managed to catch Peter in between trips to the mountain for quick conversation about his new book and the wonders of the American Snowsports Industry. You could hear the passion in his voice as he spoke about the individuals behind these organizations, and it is clear that he is beyond excited to share everything he learned.

The Ski Channel: So tell us about putting together a book like American Snow.

Peter Kray: Between researching and writing, the project took almost two years. The PSIA-AASI has had such a widespread impact on our country and around the world; it made for a very compelling and super fun project to dig into. There’s almost more history to cover than the book can handle. You think about the people whose lives have been affected by ski and snowboard instructors, its astronomical, its millions. Every one of us took a lesson at some point in our skiing and snowboarding careers, maybe even several lessons.

The Ski Channel: So essentially, the PSIA-AASI crafted the representation of what an American skier is?

PK: Very much so, and that’s where the title came in. When you think of snow throughout America, you realize what a wide interpretation that is. Throughout the country there is an extensive variety of mountain ranges, snowpack and conditions. The fact that the PSIA-AASI was able to create an instruction system that works in all these different places speaks to their success.

TSC:  What allowed the PSIA-AASI instruction system to achieve so much widespread success?

PK:  The thing that is most amazing to me about PSIA and AASI is they are so focused on the student. The lesson adapts to your best needs. You don’t have to go out and learn something a special way, the whole system is fluid enough its going to benefit everyone in their own special way. I think that’s a pretty radical idea, a lot of our schools aren’t built that way.

TSC:  How did they go about crafting this system?

PK:  A great deal of it occurred in the 1970s (what a sexy time period – what a great time to be living in the mountains!). You think about how much smaller the ski towns were, their lives were a lot different and they were questioning everything. They began to identify the basic elements that work for everybody, and boiled it down to the skills concept. The resulting system was student-focused and could be applied to snow sport disciplines at every skill level – and that blew everyone else away!

That’s when they took this back to Europe at the 1975 Interski, and everybody else was like ‘holy cow what are the Americans up to!’ That really set the standard, all of a sudden around the world people began to realize what innovators these guys were — and it has only carried over since.

TSC:  In terms of the world stage, how is the PSIA-AASI perceived among its peer organizations internationally?

PK:  I went to the 2011 Interski with the PSI. There are over 2,500 ski instructors there – all the top guys from the top teams around the world and they ALL came to the American presentation. Each represented country gives presentations throughout the week, but when it was time for the Americans to give theirs and the venue is just packed — standing room only.

TSC:  What was one of the most interesting things you experienced during the 2011 Interski?

PK:  After the American presentation concluded they sent all these people out on the slopes for clinics, doing things like talking about how to incorporate freestyle into every aspect of a lesson and discussing adaptive snowboarding. What struck me the most was the realization that they were the only guys (other than the French), who were talking about rocker!

TSC:  Seriously?

PK:  Yeah! Here’s something we all see as one of the greatest technological innovations our sports have ever seen, and only the Americans were talking about rockered skis. It blew everyone’s minds that rockers could have such a huge impact for beginner skiers and intermediates – not just guys skiing big mountain powder.

TSC:  What was the most rewarding part about undertaking this writing project?

PK: It’s been a stunning project. I think there’s a really cool story here, and in a lot of ways it is the story of American skiing, snowboarding, and the people that serve as the backbone of the movement. It was great to have the opportunity to talk to these people and hear how passionate they are about getting people into snowsports and making them feel welcome in the mountain community.

The people, they’re the real story here. There are some pretty amazing individuals at the heart of these organizations, many of them are in the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame – and I think more of them will be down the line.

The only thing I regret is that for the most part I spoke with them on the phone (I’ve probably met about half in person, but after my initial phone conversation). Every one of these individuals made you wan to jump right in a chairlift with them — the passion came through the phone!

TSC:  What should skiers and snowboarders to gain from this book?

PK:  One thing that is very cool about mountain sports is the shared experience it fosters within the people that participate in them — they keep inspiring each other. You just look at how skiing and snowboarding seemed so separate when they first started, nowadays I don’t know a single person who questions what your riding on — we just hit the hill together! I think members of the PSIA and AASI helped create that mentality by being the first ones to work together, ask each other questions and start trying out each other’s equipment.

TSC:  Looking ahead into 2014, what is the potential impact on the inclusion of ski halfpipe and snowboard slopestyle into the Sochi Winter Games? In what ways will instruction be affected?

PK:  Every one of these athletes competing for a medal has someone teaching them how to be better and coaching them to the gold. What’s the most exciting about ski halfpipe and the events coming out now is the ability to practice them on any mountain. Freestyle halfpipe and slopestyle are just as relevant for somebody at a 150-foot ski hill as they are for someone riding at 4,000 vertical feet. That’s the impact! If all we ever talked about was steep and deep powder skiing, it limits who can do it and where. What’s awesome about modern freestyle skiing and snowboarding is that it’s attainable for anyone that has snow. You can go to your local hill wherever you are, and if it has coverage you can go out and do some pretty cool freeskiing or freeriding! This is something that is going to have a big impact on the country and the world overall.

Its opening more doors for more people to enjoy the sport!

- End of Interview

American Snow: The Snowsports Instruction Revolution is a great read, and a perfect book for anyone passionate about skiing and snowboarding. Through Kray’s experience with the members of the PSIA and AASI he paints a vivid picture of the past 50 years. Readers will experience the birth of the modern ski and snowboard instruction and gain an understanding of the vital role these organizations played in progression of snowsports. You can get your very own copy here! Or call PSIA-AASI direct at 303 987-9390 to order a copy right now!