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The art and passion of ski instruction



When Frances Ackerman first
clicked into a pair of skis at age
40, she never envisioned becoming a ski

Growing up in Virginia in a nonathletic
family, sport wasn’t on her horizon, and a
career as a hospital administrator further
added to her cautious nature. Pressure
from her three teenage children eventually
turned the tables, and Frances, along with
her husband Jim, took to the icy hills of
Virginia and West Virginia.

After almost 10 years without proper training,
the Ackermans began honing their
skiing in early retirement at Canaan Valley
Resort in West Virginia. A ski patroller, seeing
their openness and willingness to help
others, proposed they become patrollers.
When Ackerman expressed worry about her
ability, the patroller enlisted them both in
lessons, and ski school is where they stayed.

“I called my son and said, ‘This is the funniest
thing, these people want me to be a ski
instructor!’” Ackerman recalls.

In 1998, while teaching at Canaan Valley,
she received her Level I Certification
through the Professional Ski Instructors of
America. Two years later, seeking bigger
mountains and better snow, the Ackermans
moved to Angel Fire Resort, New Mexico,
where they lived and instructed for six
years. There, Ackerman earned her Level
II Certification and Level II Children’s Accreditation
through PSIA.

Trips to visit their son in Big Sky convinced them to relocate
again. They bought a home and got on the roster at the Moonlight
Basin Snow Sports School in 2006. Also a volunteer at
Ophir School, Ackerman saw an empty niche: a ski program
for 3-and 4 -year-olds. In 2010 she started the Ski Wees
Program with 11 students. Two years later it’s grown to 73
students and added a four-week session to the main six-week

Ackerman can still remember and relate to the fears of the
first-time skier.

“In the beginning it was pushing myself enough to do challenging
things – moguls, tree runs. It was really hard for me to
do those and feel comfortable.”

Nonetheless, she excelled at skiing, and at age 63 she is one of
the resort’s most popular instructors, according to Herb Davis,
director of Moonlight’s Snow Sports School.

“Frances is incredibly positive, and clients love her,” Davis
said. “She works great everywhere, from 3-year-olds separating
from mom, to adults that have been skiing for a long time.
Her vibe is infectious to both her clients and fellow instructors.”

When teaching young children, Ackerman’s enthusiasm
helps put them at ease, allowing the kids to have fun. In adult
lessons, she finds that understanding the whole person –
acknowledging strengths, weaknesses and fears – forms a bond
between student and instructor.

“No matter what level you ski, you can enjoy the sport,”
Ackerman says.


At 58, Ursula Howland has
nearly done it all. She’s walked the
runway as a child fashion model; flown airplanes;
raced downhill courses on 220 cm skis
and been a freestyle skier; taught gymnastics,
scuba diving, wind surfing and skiing.

Howland began skiing at age 19. A year
later, while attending university in her
native Germany, she saw a job posting to
instruct beginner skiers. Not being able to
afford skiing otherwise, Howland’s name
was first on the sign-up list.

“I went to the interview, and they asked
how many years of experience I had. I said
one season. I didn’t realize they were asking
about instruction experience, not skiing

Being a natural athlete, Howland got the
job and taught beginner lessons that winter.
In 1978, working as a school teacher in the
Black Forest region, she also instructed
at the Feldberg Ski School and passed her
German Level III. In 1986, she moved to
Garmisch-Partenkirchen where she worked
as ski and watersports instructor for the
armed forces. Three year later, she took off
to travel the world, searching for a place to
settle down. In 1990, she found Montana,
the place she would eventually call home.

Howland taught skiing at Big Sky Resort
that year. Next, she spent a season instructing
at Bridger Bowl, and several summers at
Mount Selwyn (now Selwyn Snowfield) in
New South Wales, Australia.

In 1991, while working as the first woman in the hard goods
department at Bob Ward and Sons in Bozeman, she sold a
duffle bag to Frank Smith, owner of the TowHaul Corporation,
which builds equipment for open pit mines. Later that
year, he signed up for a ski lesson.

“The first time skiing, it took Frank two hours to get down one
run,” Howland recalled. “He is a 150 percent thinker – everything
had to be explained and broken down into the physics
and biomechanics of it. We met every two weeks that season,
and by the end of it he skied [down] the Bridger Ridge.”

Today, Howland’s instruction style is still a combination of
this analytical approach, combined with a practical German

“There are three basics, and they apply to every skier, beginner,
intermediate or expert,” Howland says. “You need to be
on the ball of the foot, perpendicular to your ski and turn with
your legs.”

In addition, she says, there are “three ingredients in every
turn: rotation, edge and pressure. Add in three ways to
change edge, and you’ve got the simple math equation of
skiing: three times three.

“If you can get those in your head and in your body, you
got it, most of it.” There’s also the all-important 90-degree

You’ll have to read her book to learn more about that…
when she finishes it, sometime between skiing and flying.
In 1995, Smith gave Howland his airplane, a Cessna 205,
to learn to fly. By 1996, she achieved her private pilot
rating, and Smith hired her as a researcher for TowHaul.
Next, she added commercial, glider and instrument ratings
to her pilot skills and is now flying TowHaul’s King
Air as the copilot. She also tows and flies gliders for Big
Sky Jet, Inc.

Skiing is Howland’s passion, and though flying is now
her main job, she still finds time to bring her skills to the

“I love teaching … Skiing is what I love the most.”

Megan Paulson is the Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Outlaw Partners.

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