MARTOCK, N.S. - The storm delayed his flight, both in Nova Scotia and again in Toronto, but he eventually he made it to Beijing, but Andy MacLean still had a while to go before reaching his destination.
After dealing with luggage issues and missed connections, MacLean found himself in a country where few speak his language – in a northern Chinese city, near the Russian border, where he’s helping to certify and train the next generation of snowboard instructors.
Speaking through a translator, and using his decades of experience in snowboarding and instructing, he uses techniques he developed to help others learn the sport.
MacLean grins widely recalling the two-week trip to China, meeting new people, trying new foods and seeing a whole new part of the world while being active in a sport he’s loved since his youth.
He recalls the city, Harbin, vividly after his return home. It appeared to be at a crossroads, rundown apartments along wide boulevards with communist symbols adorning the facades, while a futuristic monorail system tracked through the middle of the landscape.
It was, MacLean says, a surreal experience.
And bitterly cold, negative 20 or 30 degrees Celsius most days. He still has one of the army green coats that some of the attendants wore at the site.
Now 52, many know Andy MacLean through the Ski Martock Resort, where he’s the general manager, making sure everything runs like a well-oiled machine.
But each year, MacLean tries to take a trip abroad with the Canadian Association of Snowboard Instructors, which he is the president of, to help certify new instructors – it’s something that he loves and plans to keep doing.
“It didn’t start with going abroad, it was mainly within Canada, Quebec, Ontario, British Columbia,” MacLean said. “Then I became the technical chair within the association, which involved the development of technical material, which involved a lot of travel with that.”
He’s been training and certifying with the association since 1991.
“What’s happening more and more is that we’re training and certifying instructors in other countries,” he said. “The Canadian way of teaching instructors is well-recognized and respected across the world.”
MacLean has been all over the world in his various roles with CASI, visiting Norway, Switzerland, the U.S., Austria, Japan and more.
“I’ve been certifying almost as long as I’ve been snowboarding, it is satisfying for sure,” he said. “Just knowing that the techniques you’re teaching them are techniques that I helped to develop over the last 25 years, (that) are now going to be passed on.”
China is going through a major boom in snow sports and training new instructors in winter sports is a must for the growing nation.
China is hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, so the focus on sports like snowboarding is growing.
Hundreds of new ski resorts are being built across China as the nation’s population continues grow and enters the middle class.
“They’re trying to develop snow sports infrastructure there, but they also need instructors that can train and help do that,” he said. “There’s a huge appetite for certification, because they don’t have a national certification process, so they bring other countries in to help.”
MacLean said CASI has avoided China in the past, because they only instruct in the two official languages, but have opened up to the eastern nation this year, with the assistance of translators as a trial run.
“We were doing the training out of a national sport university in the city of Harbin,” he said. “Some of the people who were taking the course were students and some were actually professors at that university.”
MacLean was running the certification course with Jeff Chandler, from Kelowna, BC. Chandler and MacLean were the only two westerners at the site.
“It was awesome,” he said. “In Beijing, a lot of people speak English, but when you get to Harbin, where it’s so north, there were no other westerners in the airport at all.”
Communication, he says, could be a challenge.
“Sitting with somebody on a chair lift and being unable to communicate at all is wild,” he said. “Normally, you can talk about the weather or something, but on a chair lift there, if I didn’t have my translator with me, there was no communication.”
He gets a lot out of the experience, no matter where he goes.
“I’ve been doing this for a while, it started out where the people I was instructing were basically my age, now they’re the age of my youngest kid,” he said. “So, it’s about finding ways to communicate with them, to show them how fund the sport is.”
MacLean started at Ski Martock in 1984 in the rental shop and has worked his way up the ladder over the decades.
“I’ve always skied, I started doing that here,” he said. “I started snowboarding around 1987 when that sport started to come along.”
MacLean got into the sport of snowboarding when it was still in its infancy. It wasn’t in the Olympics yet - that happened in 1998 during the Nagano games in Japan - and it wasn’t taken too seriously at the start, but MacLean was infatuated with how it felt. And he didn’t mind being on the fringes.
“It was really hard in the beginning, the equipment sucked back then, they would just drop off this board and nobody understood how to use it, there was no YouTube back then,” he said. “A lot of people that I knew came at snowboarding from the skateboarding side of things. For me, it was purely from a snow side, as an ex-skier.”
And there was nothing like it, he says.
“It was down to the feeling, I know it wasn’t how I looked, because I know I didn’t look great at it back then, but it felt fantastic,” he said. “And it still does.”
MacLean still snowboards every day he can, often on the first chair up the hill.
“It’s still so much fun, if it sucked, I wouldn’t do it.”
Colleague recalls positive experience
Jeff Chandler, who joined MacLean in Harbin, China, said he was thrilled to deliver the first Canadian snowboard instructor certification courses in the country.
“Working alongside CASI's President, Andy Maclean, is always a great time,” Chandler said. “His experience in the industry over the last 30 or so years is unparalleled, and he brings a certain energy and positivity to his training that really allowed the course participants to come away with valuable knowledge from an organization that has many years of development behind it.”
Chandler agreed with MacLean’s evaluation of the country’s exploding snow sports culture, saying the demand for ski and snowboard instructors is growing at a phenomenal rate.
“For CASI to be there training these new instructors really speaks to our international reputation as one of the top instructor training bodies in the industry,” he said. “We are looking forward to continuing this project training and certifying new snowboard instructors in China at other locations and resorts.”
What does MacLean look for in a potential instructor?
“We’re looking for someone who’s passionate about what they do, someone who is able to communicate really well, someone who can snowboard really well and somebody who could be professional while doing all of those things combined.”