“Can I ask you something?” my student asked.
“Sure! What’s on your mind?”
“Are we slow for this type class?”
His voice sounded tentative and doubting.
“Oh gosh no. Trust me, you are quite typical for beginner ski class. You’re doing all the right things.”
In my sixth season working as a ski instructor at Winter Park, I’d taught all level of classes. From “never-evers” to all-mountain skiers who skied everything from trees to bumps. Every class has its own personality, and there’s no doubt that teaching advanced skiers can be a lot of fun.
But there is something about a beginner ski class that can be so gratifying.
This particular day, I split a class of four adults, taking two under my wing, while my fellow instructor took the other two students. How much courage it takes for adults to sign up for something they don’t know if they are going to love or hate. For kids, they are usually signed up by their parents, so don’t necessarily have a lot of say in the matter.
But as adults, we do this of our own free will. We sign up to strap two long slidey things on our feet and try to navigate around on them. Hoping by the end of the lesson, we’ll be able to navigate down a bunny slope intact and in one piece.
It takes guts.
It also is a lot more scary, because your center of gravity is much higher. When an adult falls on the snow, it’s usually with some force. As opposed to a four or five year old.
Not to mention how as adults we are much more self-conscious. We don’t want to look bad in front of our husband or wife, or best friend.
So the stakes are so, so much higher.
We start just like the kids. Sliding around on the ski, riding the “Magic Carpet” up the small hill. For the non skiers, that’s a conveyor belt that runs on the very small learning slope towing skiers up the hill. We show them how to do a wedge to a stop.
Strangely, I often find that what works with kids works just as well as adults. It doesn’t help to talk more and make things complicated. Feeling how your ski should work is just as important than talking.
“See here, I’m going to put my finger inside your boot. Now push hard, like you’re trying to crush my finger.”
I slide my index finger inside the tongue of their ski boot.
“Wow, I’m supposed to flex that hard! I didn’t realize” says my IT specialist from Texas.
“Only when we are flexing our boots, can we control our skis” I follow up and tell him.
Before long, they have mastered the wedge and we are ready to work on turning.
“Now, we tip the ski slightly and pressure that big toe, and that will make us turn right. Let me give you a demonstration.”
Miraculously, both my students manage a right turn! “That’s a perfect turn, Ashley!”
“Now, we’ll do the same thing with our right foot to go left.”
It’s a a little tougher, because that is their non-dominant side. Still after, three practices, they’ve got it. “Great job on that left turn, don’t forget to flex those ankles!”
I go on.
“Skiing is connecting the two turns. As you slow down on the one turn, you going to transition to the other leg, pressuring that ski, and link the two.”
Soon, they are both linking 4-5 turns down the bunny slope. I’m so proud of them!
“Leslie, would you take some video of me the next time. I want my husband to see.”
She hands me her phone, and I take video of her making not four or five, but a total of eight turns, looking like a natural. It’s the best feeling ever as an instructor, when you know they’ve gotten it and want everyone else to see. This day I’ve created two more skiers, who will have many more fun and happy days on the slopes. I reflect on the joy skiing has brought to my own life, and wish the same for them in the years to come.
What better job is there?