Monday, December 16, 2013

First weekend of ski instruction

This is my 13th season as a ski instructor, and my 12th teaching in the seasonal children's program at Sugarbush.  Essentially, I teach the same students every Saturday and Sunday for 15 consecutive weeks.  When I started this job, I had very young students.  As they got older, I stayed with a core group.  There were always additions and deletions, but the core of the group remained the same.  Six years ago, I had a near complete turnover, keeping only a couple girls from the previous season.  That led to me having an all-girl group for a few years.  Also, as the students got older, our skiing levels advanced more and more.  Two years ago, I officially moved from the standard program to the "Adventure" program.  At this level, students are expected to be solid skiers.  Our focus in the standard program is teaching skiing skills and movements.

In the Adventure program, we focus on terrain-based tactics.  We deliberately seek out advanced and challenging terrain, in all kinds of snow and weather conditions.  This is a really fun program, but at times, it can be very demanding for the instructor.  You must be a solid skier and in very good shape to safely lead advanced skiers through the skiing we do.

Last winter, I struggled a bit.  My boots were pretty much worn out.  I really disliked my skis.  And, I struggled with my skiing.  This year, with new high end race boots and new skis, I feel like I've been re-born.  I am skiing better than ever, and feeling a level of control that I've never felt before.  It is exhilarating to be moving fast on difficult terrain, with a feeling of complete control and a calm focus to what I'm doing.

My group this year is all girls again, at least for now.  We invariably have some changes during the year, but I'm likely to stay with an all-girl group for the season.  Saturday, four of them showed up for a very cold day of skiing.  For one of my students, it was her first time skiing this season, so I needed to give her time to get used to skiing again.  It didn't help that she was on inappropriate skis.  She really needed longer skis, and by the end of the weekend, her father had agreed that a change was needed.  Next time I see her, I hope she is on different skis.

The focus on Saturday was light.  Get used to being on skis.  Reinforce a few basic movement patterns.  Keep the upper body quiet and facing in the general direction of travel, while actively steering the legs under the upper body.  And, stay warm.

We had a major storm on Saturday night, and Sunday morning was amazing.  There were people in line at the chairlift incredibly early.  By the time the first chair opened at 8:00 a.m., there were hundreds of people in line.  I managed to get two runs in before work, but just barely.  The new snow got hit hard, but we found some un-tracked lines to ski on those first two runs.  My first few turns were tenuous, but then I was able to relax and focus, and everything changed.

By the time I had my group, I had everything dialed in.  At one point, I was skiing an intermediate bump line and I skied past a former supervisor.  I got a very loud "attaboy" greeting from him as I went past.  I don't think he'd ever seen me skiing so dynamically and in control before.  I felt like I had the ability to independently pick up and place each ski exactly where I wanted it to be on every single turn.  It felt like time had slowed down and I was in absolute control, regardless of the terrain.  Now, a lot of fresh new snow does make everything easier to ski, but this was simply a new feeling for me.  To many long term skiers, this may be second nature.  But, despite the number of years I've been teaching, I got a late start in life in this sport, and I'm still improving.  This was truly an epiphany for me.

I'm sure my time at CrossFit makes a big difference.  My recent focus on mobility before and after CrossFit workouts has made a difference.  My new boots have made a huge difference.  And, the new skis are a huge improvement over the skis I used last year.

But, the sum of all those parts had me grinning from ear to ear yesterday.  I even has me dreaming about taking my level 3 PSIA skiing exam in the near future.

We will see what happens the first time I try to ski huge moguls in steep icy conditions.  I want to see how I perform then.  Or, how will I perform off-piste, in steep, tight tree lines?  But for now, I feel on top of my game and I can't wait to get back out there.

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