Monday, March 23, 2015

Just like that, it's over

I've been a ski instructor for the past 14 years.  I've been teaching in a seasonal program for the past 13 years.  In that program, I ski with the same children for the entire season, and often, for multiple seasons.

I started off with 4 and 5 year old students that first season in the seasonal program, and skied with them as they got older.  One boy from that first year skied with me for 7 seasons.  Another girl skied with me for 6 years.  Over time, as my students got older, and I became a better skier, I found myself skiing in much more advanced terrain on a regular basis.  The past four years, I had been teaching 12-14 year-olds and most of my teaching was based on tactics - how to ski advanced terrain given the conditions at hand.  I spent way less time teaching the basic movements of skiing.  And, to be honest, I found that my teaching was getting stale.  I wasn't getting better, and in some ways, I was regressing because I wasn't spending the majority of my time teaching the very core movements of the American Teaching System.

Last summer, I made a request to my boss.  I explained what I wrote above, and asked if I could move back to teaching younger students - preferably in the age 6-7 range.  She was very happy to honor my request.  She had 2 main points as she said yes.  First, she said that any time an instructor wanted a change because that change was important in allowing the person to become a better instructor, she had to honor the request.  The mere fact that I thought a change would improve my teaching was reason enough.  Secondly, she felt that we might have too many of our most experienced instructors teaching at the top levels, and they might be more effective if they could teach younger students, getting them moving correctly at a younger age.

(As an aside - this is an old issue in the ski industry.  Many long-time instructors do not want to teach adult beginner lessons.  This usually has to do with compensation.  Private lessons typically pay more than group lessons.  And, the tips from private lessons can be quite nice.  When I taught adult beginner lessons as a rookie, I rarely got a tip.  Long-time instructors want to work where they can make the most money.  I understand that.  At the same time, if we are going to create life-long skiers, shouldn't the best instructors be with the least skilled students, so those instructors can help create successful lessons, and create passion for the sport with early successes for the students?  Terry Barbour, the ski school director at Mad River Glen, wrote a great article on this subject in the national PSIA magazine a few years ago.  Regretfully, I can't find the article online, but I thought it was one of the best articles I'd ever read on the needs of the beginner ski student.)

In the end, my boss moved me to a group of 7 6-7 year old boys.  We have about 50 coaches in the program where I work, and only 2 of them are certified at PSIA level 3 (the top certification level).  She moved both of them to younger groups as well.  I think we have 4 or 5 level 2 coaches, and I'm one of them.  So, in terms of certification, she moved 3 of her most experienced coaches "down the ladder" to work with younger skiers.

For me, the change was everything I hoped it would be.  I did way more teaching this season than in previous years.  I had a very clear set of goals in my head for the class.  There were things I knew I had to get done, and a few things that I knew I probably wouldn't get to this season.  I will admit that I didn't have an average group of 7 year old skiers.  These boys can fly.  They like to jump off anything big.  They think trails - even steep trails - are boring, and the real fun is in the trees, in deep bumps, and in the air.  But, despite their fearlessness and ability to get down anything, they still needed to learn how to truly ski.

This past Saturday, I was working on two different lessons related to racing.  One of the boys in the group asked me if we could just ski, and skip the teaching, given that it was the last weekend of the season.  I reminded them that we had a team race on Sunday morning, and this would help us all to do better in the race.  So yes, I needed to teach.  I wanted to teach.

As I handed out evaluations to the parents yesterday, I went into detail about what we had accomplished this year and how it related to my plans.  I talked about a couple areas where the students still needed more work, and that my teaching this year had set them up to move on to those next topics when the snow flies next winter.  Every parent thanked me, and remarked about how much their son had learned this year.  I told them all that I'd suggested to my boss that we keep the group together for next year, and that I'd like to remain their coach.  I got nothing but enthusiastic responses to this.

It really feels like one of my most successful years ever, although I am certainly a bit biased.

I do know a couple things had become true the previous few seasons.  First, I dealt with some significant health issues last year.  That made the year very challenging for me, and I felt like I let a group of teen girls take control of the group from me.  That was disappointing to me, but it also reminded me that the younger students seem to want to learn, while the teens often truly don't want to be explicitly taught anything.  Last year, I found myself frequently counting down the number of work days until the season would be over.  If my "hobby job" gets to the point where I can't wait for it to end, maybe I shouldn't be there.  And, in the previous 3-4 seasons, I'd felt that way every year, at least to some extent.

This year, I couldn't wait to get to the mountain and teach the boys something new.  We had a lot of cold days and a lot of good snow.  I feel like we got a lot done.  I have so much more to teach them,  But, all of a sudden, it's over for the year.

Skiing isn't over for the season, just teaching.  I'm looking forward to skiing with my wife and friends over the remainder of the ski season.  But, even if it ended tomorrow, I'd consider it to be a successful season.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Rest, Train, Train, Train, Rest, Ski, Ski

This is how every week seems to be going for me recently.

I take a rest day on Monday.  I do CrossFit Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.  This week included (in rough order) running, heavy front squats, ring rows, sit-ups, box jumps, push-ups, ring dips, heavy bench presses, rowing, kettlebell swings, more box jumps, more ring rows, burpees (a lot of them), hanging knee raises, barbell strict presses, and heavy power cleans.

Plus, there was a whole bunch of mobility work in there, plus warm-ups.

Which leads to today - my next rest day.  I am sore today and I will be teaching skiing all weekend.  So, today is a rest day.  Then, ski, ski and start all over again.

I have only 2 weekends of teaching left in my ski season.  That won't mark the end of skiing, but I probably won't ski hard both Saturday and Sunday after the 22nd.

And, trout season is getting closer all the time.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

50 States of CrossFit

Marathon runners do it.  There are many marathon runners who try to run a marathon in all 50 states.  I've run a lot of marathons, but not in anywhere close to all 50 states.  I've probably run close to 50 marathons in CA alone.  I've also run them in AK, PA, MA, ME, VT, NY, and possibly a few other states.  If you count ultras, you can add CO, UT, CT, Ontario (not a state), MD, NH, AZ, VA, and NV to the list.  But, these days I do very little running and a lot more CrossFit.

Yesterday, I had a great workout at CrossFit 13 Stars in Morristown, NJ.  I started the day with 2 PRs, both in the same lift.  After a warm-up and progression, I did a front squat at 295 (vs. a previous best of 285) and I followed that up with a 305.  I probably could have done 315 or maybe 325, if I'd had the time.

I was thinking later about the place were I've done CrossFit - nowhere close to 50 states:

VT - My home gym is Champlain Valley CrossFit
NY - CrossFit Hell's Kitchen
NH - CrossFit Upper Valley Underground
CA - CrossFit Potrero Hill
NC - Raleigh CrossFit
PA - CrossFit Hanover and CrossFit Shadyside
MA - Crossfit Boston and CrossFit Fenway
NJ - CrossFit 13 Stars

That's only 8 states and 10 boxes.

A quick search of the web reveals that a number of people have done CrossFit in all 50 states.

It sounds like I have a lot of work to do.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Getting back to the "old" normal?

Lots of little things are going on these days.  These are the kinds of things that I don't necessarily think about all the time.  They are also the kinds of things that get preempted when your life gets turned upside-down.

Last night, I was home by myself.  I skipped the day in the gym so my wife could go to her monthly "girls night out" night, after missing it for the previous 4 months, due to health reasons.  She had a lot of fun.  I sat at home and listened to music and tied flies.

Today, I spent an hour in the DMV getting the new Real ID license.  This had been a mess as the DMV lied to me a couple weeks ago, sent me to the social security office, who then pointed out that the DMV was wrong.  My license is fixed.  In the past 18 months, I've had no time in my life to get mad at the DMV.  Next, I take my battle back to the social security office.  And then a new passport.

I gave blood yesterday.  I was banned from giving blood for a year after my last cancer treatment.  My hematocrit levels were high enough that they suggested a double red cell donation next time.

My wife is done with radiation.  Her face still looks badly sunburned, but it's recovering bit by bit.  She is hoping to get to CrossFit and Sugarbush this week.

We are planning a trip to Pittsburgh later this spring, partly to see a hockey game and partly to just get away by ourselves for a while.

The super-cold temperatures have disappeared for at least a little bit, although it was very cold this morning.  Skiing this weekend should include more new snow and tolerable temperatures.

Trout season is just over 7 weeks away.  I tied some flies yesterday and ordered some more online.  I have 5 more weekends of ski instruction, and then March and April will be mixed weekends of fishing and skiing.

Now, if only my company could get a couple new contracts...

Friday, February 13, 2015

Almost forgotten in the midst of ski season

A year ago, I was still on the mend from surgery known as RALP - Robot-Assisted Laparoscopic Prostatectomy.  That surgery, on 1/6/2014, was the end of a 5 month period of time where I had a high PSA test result, two more high results, a biopsy of my prostate, and a diagnosis of prostate cancer.  To be honest, my wife has gone through worse issues in the past 6 months, but that diagnosis and surgery really shocked me and changed my life.  Aside from a simple skin cancer, I don't think that anyone ever feels like their life after a cancer diagnosis is ever the same again.  Mine certainly hasn't been the same.

Since the surgery, I've had my PSA tested 5 times.  In some ways, prostate cancer really is one of those "good" cancers.  If it does kill you, it usually takes a long time for it to happen.  And, when it spreads, it doesn't disguise itself.  No matter where it moves in your body, it is still prostate cancer and it still produces PSA.  So, unlike many other cancers, a simple PSA blood test will tell you if the cancer is active or not.  I have had tests in April, July, October and December of last year, and January of this year.  Two of the 5 tests were done using an "ultra sensitive assay", meaning they could detect lower levels of PSA in the bloodstream.

But, in all 5 tests, the machines failed to detect any PSA at all.  According to some calculators online, I have a 98% chance of being free of prostate cancer a year from now, and an 84% chance of being clear in 15 years.  Many doctors will start to use the word "cured" at 5 years.  At 5 years without recurrence, according to the online calculators, I would have a 91% chance of being recurrence free at 15 years.

My life has changed.  I will be anxious for every single PSA test for the rest of my life.  The side effects of the surgery truly suck.  I have done better than the average patient in my recovery, probably due to my fitness regime, or maybe just luck or the skills of the surgeon, but some things will never be the same.  To be honest, some of those permanent changes are frustrating, but I can't undo my treatment decisions.  I can only move forward and hope that future prostate cancer patients have better treatment options than I had.

So, where am I?  I appear to be free of cancer at the moment.  I'm in pretty good physical shape for an old fat guy.  I'm teaching skiing like I have for the past 13 years.  I'm in the gym 3-4 days per week.  I'm getting ready for trout season, which starts 8 weeks from tomorrow.  I have been setting new PRs in the gym for the last 6 months.

Life is pretty good.  My primary focus for the past few months has been helping my wife navigate the healthcare system due to a rare form of melanoma and a troubling uterine fibroid problem.  Her treatments are over and she is on the mend these days.  She even skied last weekend and did a CrossFit workout this week.

Bit by bit, we hope to get back to the less exciting (but certainly fun) way we lived our lives prior to all of this cancer nonsense.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Amazing skiing conditions

The past couple weekends have been pretty amazing.  We haven't had the snow amounts here in Vermont that people in Boston have seen, but we've had plenty of snow.  Because my students are mostly 7 years old, I am still somewhat limited in my terrain choices, but not for the reasons that most people would think.  It's actually the lift system that is the issue, rather than the terrain.  Most of the upper mountain lifts are fixed grip lifts, and my students struggle to get on those lifts and operate the safety bars properly.  So, we spend most of our time skiing on terrain that can be accessed by detachable chairs.

Another issue is that boys that age don't really think about safety.  There are a lot of rules that exist (for good reasons) to keep us safe when we ski in the trees.  Goggles on.  Pole straps off.  Everyone has a buddy.  Stay with your buddy.  Go 20 turns or so and then everyone regroups.  Keep a safe distance between skiers.  Ski in control.  Exit the trees onto trails carefully.  First person to exit spots for the rest of the group.  And there are a few more situational rules as well.

That's a lot of rules for me to remember.  Asking a group of high energy 7 year old boys to follow all of them all the time is an exercise in futility.  My biggest issue is the failure to regroup partway down the trail.  My students act like they are hypnotized by the terrain as soon as I say the word "Go."  They head downhill and they don't stop until they are out of the trees.  This creates a situation that is usually OK, but with the potential for bad things to happen.  In big glades, they spread out over a wide range, and I can't see them all.  It becomes easy for me to end up downhill from someone, or even leave a skier behind.  This could lead to a catastrophic event, and I'm simply not willing to take the chance.  So, despite the amazing terrain, I have to pull the boys out of the trees sometimes, simply to remind them that not following the rules has consequences.

The snow was so deep last Saturday that we actually lost a ski.  We were in un-tracked snow on the lower mountain and a boy took a fall in a stream bed.  He was leading and the 5 boys behind him then tracked up the stream bed behind him.  When I arrived, the boy had no idea where his ski had popped off, and we looked for over 45 minutes with no luck.  On Sunday, while out of bounds, the same boy did a pole plant, the pole stuck, and he skied almost 100 yards before he realized his pole was gone.  (Don't even ask me how that happens.) Luckily, I was able to backtrack and find the pole.  In May, I will go for a hike and find his lost ski.  But for now, the mountain owns the ski.

On Monday, I took a day off work to ski with a good friend, who is also a much better skier than I am.  We warmed up on a cruiser.  Then, a single black diamond bump run.  And then, straight to the trees.  By the time we took a lunch break, a bit after noon, we had covered a lot of steep tree terrain. Most, if not all, of the tree runs we had skied aren't on any trail map, even though Sugarbush has a lot of gladed terrain on the map.  My legs were begging for mercy.

After lunch, we did it all over again.  Luckily, my friend had to drive home to CT that night, so he had to quit at 3:00.  My legs were shot, but I would put Monday on my list of top 10 all time ski days.  The snow was great, the terrain was fun, and I was able to just relax and ski with friends.  As much as I love my weekend job as an instructor, it is a job and I have responsibilities all day long.  I sometimes forget how much fun it can be to just ski hard terrain.  Even when we do training before work on the weekends, it's not quite the same.  I enjoy that time, but we are constantly evaluating each other's skiing, dissecting movements, and having technical discussions about skiing and teaching.  Monday made me a little bit envious of people who just ski for fun.

This coming weekend is going to be a challenge.  It's the start of the final holiday week of the ski season.  We will have big crowds, given the holiday and the snow conditions.  And, the toughest weather conditions of the season will be hitting us, especially on Sunday.  Our current forecast for Sunday shows a high near -5F, with significant winds all day.  If I was skiing as a hobby, I would stay home and tie flies all day (trout season is just over 8 weeks away).  Most parents will probably keep their children out of ski school that day.  But, some will show up.  At that point, it's my job to keep the students as warm as possible and safe, and that includes safe from frostbite.  These are very challenging days for the students and the instructors, but I try to always keep a good attitude and keep the students focused on the skiing part of the day.

Other than skiing, everything else is about the same as normal.  I'm trying to get to CrossFit at least 3x per week.  Today will be my 3rd day this week and my 7th straight day of either CrossFit or skiing.  I'm looking forward to a rest day tomorrow.

My wife finished her radiation treatments yesterday.  She is feeling pretty run down, but she also did her first CrossFit workout in 2.5 months last night.  She scaled the workout quite a bit, but it was good to see her out there.  She still has a lot of recovery ahead of her - recovering from the side effects of the radiation, following up with doctors frequently, and then regaining her lost fitness.  She did ski this past Sunday - her first ski day since November.  She only skied 5 runs, but she was happy to be at Sugarbush and to see her friends again.

Life is pretty good right now, although I am looking forward to the day when my wife is feeling stronger she's a bit happier than she is right now.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

More tree skiing

Last week was off to a great start.  I had a great lifting night on Monday, hitting some good numbers on front squats after skiing trees all weekend.  On Tuesday, though, I really struggled with my workout.  By the time I got home that night, it was clear that I was getting sick.  I had a cold back in the second week of November.  I remember thinking that I was glad to have it then, thinking I'd go through the ski season without any head colds.  In mid-December, though, I got another cold.

Again, I thought that would be it for the winter.  I'm now on my third head cold of the fall/winter.  This time, my wife got sick as well, and she's pretty miserable right now.

So, I rested last Wednesday and Thursday.  Friday, I had plans that precluded going to the gym, and I was still less than 100%.  That meant I got to the mountain on Saturday fairly well rested.  Saturday was a beautiful day, with temps that climbed just above freezing.  After some warm-up runs, I did a little teaching, and we then headed for some intermediate tree runs.  The kids asked about skiing Slide Brook, a side-country zone with intermediate trees that leads well beyond the resort boundaries.  This zone requires a guide with wilderness first aid certification, and the guides were all busy on Saturday.  When I told my group that we couldn't ski Slide Brook, one of them asked if we could ski Rumble instead.

Every mountain has its own version of Rumble.  At Stowe, it would be Goat.  At Mad River Glen, it would be Paradise.  Essentially, picture something with all natural snow, no grooming, steep, tight, and with features to dance around the entire way down.  Every 1 of my 5 students wanted to ski Rumble.  I asked who had skied it before, and only 2 of the boys had.  So, we headed to the Castlerock chairlift.

After a fairly long wait, we managed to get up to the top.  I was surprised by the coverage on Rumble.  It wasn't completely clean, but it was pretty good overall.  The boys didn't listen very well as I described the trickier sections of the trail, so we had a couple minor "incidents" on a right-turning corner defined by 2 big rocks.  After we cleared that section, it was a race to the bottom.  Everyone cruised through the bump lines to the bottom.  We skied a few more tree lines in the afternoon, but Rumble was clearly the highlight of the day.

Sunday turned out to be a fairly cold day, and I was worried about hypothermia if we tried Slide Brook that day.  But, I was able to find a guide for us, plus my boss decided to come along for her first ever trip through the basin.  I was able to lead most of the way down (normally, I'm the sweeper in the trees, and leading is a lot more fun), and we went really fast at places.  The coverage was good enough that nothing too big was sticking through the snow, so we motored along.

Regretfully, when we were done, the line for the bus back to the resort was very long, and I think we waited almost 45 minutes.  This cut into our skiing time for the day, but I still showed the boys some new and adventurous terrain.

It's looking like #Snowmageddon2015 (that's the trending hash tag on Twitter for the past 24-plus hours) is going to mostly miss the Sugarbush.  I'm sure we will get some snow there, but anything beyond 6" or so would be a miracle.  The forecast doesn't show any days above freezing, so the snow should stay fairly soft until the weekend.  Regretfully, after 4 of the previous 6 weekend days being fairly cold, this Saturday looks to be the coldest ski day of the season to date.  But, we will still be out there.

My head cold is mostly gone by now, but not 100%.  I got to CrossFit last night and had another good front squat night.  My goal right now is to go to CF today, tomorrow and Thursday, and then rest on Friday.

On this date last year, I was 3 weeks post-op for some significant surgery.  I was starting to play around in the gym a bit, and I wasn't skiing yet.  So, when I complain about having a head cold, I know it's really minor compared to a year ago.  I'll take this January over last year every time.