The candidates were nervous. They talked too much and laughed louder than the other skiers in the cafeteria.
They looked better on the slopes; all were ski instructors trying for the badge of professional status conferred with certification by Eastern Professional Ski Instructors of America.
The test held last week at Wintergreen ski area in Virginia was the first given in the South since EPSIA was formed nearly 15 years ago, and showed that snowmaking machines have come a long way, maybe.
All 40 candidtes were required to have taught for at least 150 hours and had attended prerequisite clinics. There were three days of instruction and two days of actual testing, including a written exam; slalom and free-skiing, disciplines (each candidate must show mastery of the basic American Teaching Method); and teaching a class in a specific skill.
There are about 1,300 certified ski instructors in the East, and to keep their EPSIA pins they must attend a two-day workshop/clinic every two years. "We do this to maintain a high level of professionalism," said Gwen Bevier, EPSIA executive director. "You need to review your skills and renew your thinking about your skills."
Edwin Miller of Blue Knob wasn't there to review his teaching skills.Although he was only been skiing for nine years ("I never put on a pair of skis until I was 36") and teching for only four, he had complete faith in his teaching.
"Us older guys are better teachers than the younger ones. We are more dedicated - we don't have to do it," he said.
He feels his emphasis on having fun, rather than being the fastest or most proficient skier on the slopes, helps him with his students. "I tell a lot of my older students that they never have to get off the beginner's slope, that they can become more and more graceful, ski better and better, and never get on the expert slopes - and still have a great time."
Miller's concern in the tests was the free skiing on a steep mogul field on Wintergreen's Big Acorn - a slope the examiners agreed is easily as difficult as the famous Haystack at Stowe.
"I'm worried about the bump skiing, because I am not as young as the other candidates," he said, pointing out that good ski teachers did not necessarily have to ski as well as their charges - "a good slalom teacher develops technique, a racer develops his own speed."
Miller's job did not depend on his gaining certification and he looked on the test simply as a challenge - "something I have to prove to myself."
For Walter Rogachenko it was different. He was taught skiing for 11 years at Spring Mountain, a small area just ouside of Philadephia. He is a fulltime instructor, but has to work in a chemical lab at nights to supplement that income.
"I teach because I want to help people become good skiers. I want to be certified because it gives me professional status," he said.
If Rogachenko passed, he'd be the only certified instructor at his area - including the ski school director. Rogachenko said the director, an Austrian who wants all his instructors to ski and teach his way, was ambivatlent about Roganchenko's seeking certification.
Rogachenko's skiing technique was flawless, according to EPSIA course instructor Ralph (Woody) Woodward, but Spring Mountain was not steep enough for Rogachenko to have developed as much strength as the idea skier needs.
Woodward is ski school director at Evergreen Valley, a small mountain near his home in East Conway, N.H. He took the second job at EPSIA this year because "I love to work with instructors, bring them along and see them enough."
It's subtler than with beginners, who make dramatic progress right away, Woodward said. With instructors he hones the fine points.
"More of the candidates pass the first time around. They are better prepared thatn they used to be.
"They don't use intimidation any more! It used to be like the marines. There is no fear like there used to be, just nervousness because the candidates want to do well."
Woodward said candidates used to be asked to do stupid things like a jump turn to a dead stop, or demonstrate how to teach the difference between the left and the right ski pole.
The written exam still is controversial. Even the examiners argue over what are the right answers.
Some of the questions at Wintergreen were straightforward: Who is Warren Witherall? (A racing coach and author of "How the Racers Ski") Others were more subjective: Should a skier ski close to the poles in a slslom race? (It depends on how the course is laid out; theskier should take the best track down the hill, and sometiems the poles are not set to accomodate that.)
After the written exam gave the examiners a good idea of who would fail; a score below 15, despite the fact the the written exam counted only five percent of the total score, indicated lack of preparation.
"We did not have to make any allowances for the South," Woodward said. "The terrain and the conditions were comparable to the North. We justwill have to convince people in the North that the mountain is here, and that the test is equally as valid as one given up there."
The disciplines claimed some casualties - one candidate moved his upper body too much in the beginning Christie, one thrust her hips on the wedge turn, another skidded his turns when he should have carved them.
Finally each candidate had to face three separate examiners had demonstrate whatever skiing or teaching skills they specified.
Friday night 19 candidates got their pins, which Bevier said was about par.
Miller did not pass. His assessment of himself was correct: free skiing was his downfall. Rogachenko did pass. His teaching skills more than offset his weakness over the bumps. Miller may come back next year.
"The mountain is still there," he said.