Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Skiing Epiphany

I had a great weekend teaching skiing. Despite cold temperatures, I had a good turnout of students, and we skied a lot. I also taught quite a bit despite the cold. Over the course of two days, we skied over 40,000 vertical feet, which is somewhat remarkable considering the conditions. A year ago, I was lucky to get my group to ski 16,000 vertical feet in nice weather. This year, the group has really stepped it up and they are skiing more than ever. I felt like the girls learned a lot and improved their skiing and I was also happy with how I was skiing.

On Monday, I took a rest day, knowing that I would be skiing (in a group) with a world-class instructor all day on Tuesday. The Professional Ski Instructors of America organization has its own "team" - people who are the best of the best of instructors. There are currently 14 members on that team, all selected through a very rigorous and competitive process.

On Tuesday, I was in a clinic with other instructors and a member of the national team. I told Matt that my primary goal for the day was to get feedback on how my skiing is progressing towards the PSIA level 3 standard. There are three levels of PSIA certification and I am currently at level 2. I attained level 1 about 8 years ago and level 2 about 4 years ago. Since then, I've been wondering if I will ever ski well enough to achieve the third level.

So, I wanted input yesterday to see if our clinic leader thought I was close.

And then, all morning, I skied like crap. We had a task from our clinic leader, and while the task made sense in all of its variations, I seemed to regress in every other aspect of my skiing. By lunchtime, I was really frustrated.

On our last chair ride before lunch, I talked to a co-worker who is a level 3 instructor. I told her that I find it frustrating to care so much about something and then do it so poorly at times. No matter how well I teach or ski, I never seem to do it as well as I wish I did. I truly love teaching and skiing, and I want to be the best I can at this part-time job. And when I struggle, I get frustrated. My co-worked admitted that she feels exactly the same way. And this is years after she achieved her level 3 certification. So, maybe I'm not the only crazy one.

At lunchtime, I told our clinic leader that I was frustrated. I told him that I thought I'd been skiing reasonably well just two days ago, and now I'd lost it all. He told me to stop thinking about the morning's tasks, and go out after lunch and just relax and ski. So, I did. And after a couple runs, I felt better. Our coach acknowledged that I was doing better.

Then, we went to some steep bump runs. I felt OK, but struggled with my form on the bumps. I was able to ski aggressive lines, but I knew that my form wasn't pretty. But, everything was better than the morning, so I wasn't feeling too bad.

Partway through a really tough bump line, the coach skied up beside me. He asked me an interesting question about how my feet were positioned in my boot. Where was my weight? Where was my heel? Where was my foot when I started to dorsiflex my ankle? He suggested a small change to my stance. I made a few turns. I felt an immediate difference. The coach skied back up to me and said "Follow me." And I did. Right down an intense bump line, at a high speed, in control, and feeling great. I got some great compliments regarding my skiing from others in the group.

We took a short break and headed for a different part of the mountain. Our coach wanted to watch my adjusted stance on groomed terrain. He liked what he saw there. I sought out some bumps. And skied them as well as I've ever skied a bump line. I had to ski it again. It felt great. I got more great feedback from everyone in the group.

And then, the clinic was over. We skied over 25,000 vertical feet of challenging terrain and everyone was tired. After changing out of our ski clothes, most of us headed to the pub for an adult beverage, including our coach. I asked him about taking my level 3 skiing exam. I told him that I was thinking of taking a prep clinic targeted at that exam and then taking the exam next winter. He said that seemed very reasonable.

So, after years of wondering if I would ever even try the exam, I'm now really excited about the challenge. I'll spend the rest of this season doing as much skiing and training as possible. During the off-season, I need to improve my conditioning and drop some weight. That will make the skiing easier.

Next December, I'm going to take a week-long early-season clinic with a complete focus on the exam. And then, somewhere around my 50th birthday next year, I'm going to take my level 3 ski exam, confident that I belong there and that I will pass.

As we were leaving the resort last night, my buddy Jay asked me if I knew where the biggest change in my skiing had come from. I thought about it for a second. I assumed it was something technical that had changed. Instead, Jay pointed to my head. He thinks that a lot of my skiing is simply a matter of being relaxed and confident, rather than dwelling on the things I don't do perfectly. He's probably right. But, for right now, I feel like a decent skier again.

It's all relative. I know I'm a solid skier and I think I'm a good instructor. But, I want to be better. All the time, I want to be better.


CautiouslyAudacious said...

Good luck! Skiing is a hard sport you sound like you are already doing better than most! I am never able to get enough days in each season!

Damon said...

I never get enough days in a season (IMO) and I tend to ski 50 days per year. I think that if I could ski 70-80 days per year that it would be much easier to get my level 3 certification.