Jim Cardenali, ski instructor at the Quechee Ski School says, “Passion is key. You really have to have passion,” Passion, and his mentors that have become lifelong friends are the keys that have guided him on his path as a ski instructor and coach – with many fascinating stops along the way.
Cardenali, a native of Webster, MA currently living in Norwich with son Luca (daughter Sophie lives in Burlington), is regularly on his skis; he works as a private instructor, helps with the Hanover High Race Team, coaches the Coast Guard ski team, and runs race camps at number of locations throughout the year from Stratton to France. Cardenali attributes the beginning of his ski career to his passion for music.
While studying trumpet in high school, his teacher, and first mentor, was passionate about music and brought him along on gigs that encouraged Cardenali’s love for music.
This love turned into a desire to teach instruments and direct a band after completing his degree at Berklee College of Music and The Boston Conservatory. Cardenali landed in Schenectady, NY, where, behind the school, sat a little ski hill named Maple Ski Ridge, similar, Cardenali says to the Quechee Ski Hill. Cardenali had never skied before but, a freestyle skating national contender in his youth, rented some skis and gave it a go on his own. After just a few runs, a woman approached him and, knowing he taught in the schools, asked him if he wanted to teach skiing. Cardenali protested that he didn’t know how, but the woman, the director of skiing at Maple Ridge Hill, said she would teach him.
Cardenali received his full certification in two years and soon found his way to Stowe. “I fell in love with Stowe immediately,” Cardenali said, “Stowe was the mecca for me.” He was able to make the connection to the folks working there, including Stowe’s original director Sepp Ruschp, and was hired as an instructor. Skiing alongside a group of Austrians, Cardenali says he learned even more as a skier, “They taught me what [skiing] really means, you know?” This is where, Cardenali says, it really began for him: “The mountain teaches you how to ski. You learn to ski by doing.”
Cardenali’s love for teaching skiing was nurtured by the environment at Stowe: “Everybody there was passionate about skiing. The whole town, the whole community, the “liftees’’ or ski lift operators, were all one unit. That was such a neat feeling. It was passion.”
Cardenali continued to grow in his career as he became a PSIA examiner and assistant director in charge of training at Stowe. This led to his working with Olympic gold and silver medalists Steve and Phil Mahre at their training centers, as a consultant for Nordica and Rossignol, and a Level 300 certified coach and education director for USSA. Through all these roles, Cardenali kept growing. “I’m a sponge; I just love learning,” he says. Through his work at Rossignol, Cardenali found his way to clinics in Europe, spending time skiing in Italy and France – where Cardenali still returns each summer – and meeting incredible race coaches, such as good friend Valerio Girardi, who continues to inspire him.
Cardenali was teaching his own race camps when another mentor appeared on the scene. In what turned out to be a fateful broadcast, Cardenali caught language professor John Rassias doing a segment for his summer language programs on 60 Minutes. Rassias’ teaching methodology snagged Cardenali’s attention right away; he recalls Rassias saying, “What you have to do when you’re teaching is break the crust off people. We just build these crust levels that we hide inside of, and you just gotta blow them off.” Cardenali wanted to meet Rassias and reached out for him to lead a seminar for the instructors at Stowe. Rassias agreed and it was the beginning of a life-long friendship.
Through his time with Rassias, the teaching style Cardenali still uses today in instructor training and private lessons at Quechee solidified. Cardenali echoes the lessons he learned from his mentor Rassias, “Never put a desk between you [and your student] and “really know who’s standing in front of you.” He and friend Peter Ruschp put together an outline of their teaching methodology based on Rassias’ work that is the backbone of Cardenali’s teaching style.
Cardenali also emphasizes that learning should be fun, incorporating “humor and large doses of positive reinforcement, and to never embarrass your learner.” Of utmost importance to him is having fun. “It’s about the chairlift rides,” he laughs. Here at Quechee, Cardenali says, “This group has fun. You can get what you want from students and still have fun at the same time. For an edge lesson,” he uses as an example, “You can have students skate and chase each other.”
Within this fun, is the crucial need for expertise. “You need to know the priority of skill development,” Cardenali says. He emphasizes the importance of knowing your subject matter so you can tailor it to your students’ needs. “There’s many, many, many ways to get people to be successful and that’s what you’re shooting for,” he says. “That’s what I still do, and I’ve learned it from all these people I’ve met [along the way], like Rassias.”
Cardenali began instructing here at the Quechee Ski Hill after moving to Norwich and coming here with his daughter Sophie, then 6. They returned regularly, finding Quechee: “A good little hill for kids and a great little hill to learn on.” On top of that, he enjoyed the atmosphere: “People were courteous. It reminded me of Stowe [when I worked there.] It was just a good feeling, so we came back a bunch of times.”
Ken Kramberg, then owner of the Quechee Ski School, had heard of Cardenali’s instructing abilities. “I had a reputation – a good one!” Cardenali laughs. So, Kramberg reached out to him to lead clinics with his instructors. Cardenali began to pick up private lessons, both with new faces and with friends he’d been working with since his days at Stowe, and he became a full-fledged member of the Quechee Ski School.
Referring to working with Ken, and now Paul Sadowski who bought the ski school in 2021 after working there for many years as an instructor, Cardenali says, “They’re really great teachers. They really care about the kids.” Cardenali remarks on the families that return to ski with their kids here every year, and the environment that fosters this positive relationship, “Everyone appreciates one another. It’s what happened at Stowe [also]. We all work together.”
Cardenali reiterates that his joy and success in instructing comes back to passion. “I love coaching and teaching, and people respond to that,” he says. “You can help people do what they choose to do and break through their fears. I’m nothing special, but it’s what I love to do.”
For Cardenali, it always comes back to the people who have mentored him along the way. “I think my mother put a guardian angel on my shoulder,” he says with a smile. “It’s all related to the people that I’ve met and had as mentors to me.”
This is at the heart of why Cardenali loves teaching and what has helped him succeed, “You connect with people. You make the world smaller.” The Quechee Ski School, according to Cardenali, values personal connections as much as he does. He says, “The school is really caring. And that, to me, is the most important, and that’s why I’m still here.”