It would have made a great reality TV show: part The Apprentice, part American Idol. Last week at Snowbird, Utah, the American Association of Snowboard Instructors (AASI) held tryouts for its 2004 national demonstration team. Thirty-two of the nation’s top instructors showed up to compete for six spots on the demo team.

The AASI national demo team is the highest level a snowboard instructor can reach in the United States. To be named to the team means a person is one of the six best snowboard instructors in the nation. They serve on the team for four years, and work on creating an agenda and training manuals for the organization. Team members also travel around the country leading the top clinics and teaching other instructors.

In only its third official tryout since the inception of AASI in 1996, the event was open to any snowboard instructor who has a level three certification, has a background of training kids as well, and passes a divisional tryout. This year, a record number of 32 people tried out for the six spots, but unfortunately, no women tried out. AASI team coach Randy Price noted that getting more women involved at the highest level will be a priority over the next four years.

Over a five-day selection process, the crowded field was first cut down from 32 to thirteen competitors. This happened after two days of intense riding, where the four judges could see how well the group handled Snowbird’s steep and challenging terrain. A third of the riding score also came from ripping in the park.

Since part of the criteria of being on the team revolved around the person’s personality and them being outgoing, a great communicator, and a natural leader, one of the tests included a hot-tub interview. “We just wanted to see how people interacted with each other, and who was really outgoing and had that magnetic personality,” says Price.

By the time I showed up to watch what was going on in the middle of the week, the first cut had been made and tension among the riders was rising. With thirteen competitors left, the selection process moved to a planned ten-minute speech, and impromptu speech, individual interviews, and more riding on the hill.

While the competition was getting tougher, Price and the other judges worked hard to build the camaraderie among the group. During one day of riding, where each person in a group of five got to teach a lesson for 45 minutes, the emphasis was definitely on riding and having fun, not talking. It’s still snowboarding, after all, and that sentiment was repeated over and over among the group and judges.

As things progressed, the riders all got to know each other better, saw each other riding and teaching, and supported and helped each other when they could. Sitting in the bar early Thursday evening, one competitor, Kevin Thompson, said to me, “These are all great riders and people. I won’t be bummed if I don’t make it. I’m just happy to have made it this far and had a chance to try out.”

The final selection day arrived, and most of the group just went out freeriding, while Price and the other judges grabbed riders one at a time and had short, individual interviews with them. The group of 14 on the hill decided in a show of support for snowboarding, went up to the top of Snowbird, then traversed out to the Alta boundary. Just for fun, the group then dropped in and rode Alta, which was actually closed for the season, but still had plenty of great snow and even a few powder stashes.

After a mellow day ripping around Snowbird, the final team was named before a crowded room at 7:00 p.m. Friday night. As names were called out and riders headed to the front of the room, the audience cheered and clapped for the chosen ones. In the end, the six new team members included two who had served on the previous team (four incumbents actually tried out, with one getting cut after the riding sessions.)

The final team included Scott Anfang, Mark “Spike” Eisenman, Mikey Franco, Chad Frost, Kevin Gandee, and Butch Peterson. The group has 95 years of riding among them, and the latest any of them got into the sport was 1991. The youngest, Kevin “KC” Gandee, is 26 and works at Stratton, while the oldest, Spike Eisenman, is 37 and is Beaver Creek’s snowboard manager.

With the naming of the new team, it’s obvious that the Association of American Snowboard Instructors will progress to all new levels in the next four years. And with the lead of these outgoing characters, it’s going to be a great ride.

The following riders will represent the association and its members for the next four years:

AASI Team:

Scott Anfang, Rocky Mountain, Steamboat, CO

Mark “Spike” Eisenman, Rocky Mountain, Vail, CO

*Mikey Franco, Intermountain, Jackson Hole, WY

*Chad Frost, Northwest, Stevens Pass/Snowmass

Kevin “KC” Gandee, Eastern, Stratton, VT

“Butch” Peterson, Rocky Mountain, Aspen, CO

AASI Team Coach: *J. Randy Price

* Returning members