Written by Joe Beer, Alpine Learning Curves
Understanding learning and how to get the most from your next lesson or winter sport holiday
In this first chapter I’ve split it into 3 bite-sized blogs and posted almost all the content and will do this at the start of all chapters.
- There is no right or wrong way to learn or be taught!
- There are no real shortcuts to perfection
In order to be taught and therefore learn effectively, it may prove useful to learn how to learn or at least understand the processes we may go through. With that in mind, ALC and I always encourage anyone of any level to take lessons with a professional instructor/coach/teacher because we never stop learning or trying to improve. It is almost impossible to know and do everything to the highest degree in any chosen activity. Therefore if knowledge is power, the more knowledge we share can surely only be a benefit.
There are many countries and associations that train and grade to produce excellent instructors and I have been lucky enough to work and ski with lots of them. Of course I’m biased to BASI (British Association of Snowsport Instructors, www.basi.org.uk) being qualified (Alpine L4 and Telemark L3) and involved in BASI as a trainer and on the current Board of Directors.
Here are a few tips for the first timer but they are often overlooked by many who are further along their learning curve.
There are many choices you make that will have either a positive or negative impact on your winter holiday or learning experience and will include in no particular order;
- The instructor/instruction
- The type of lesson
- The resort you go to
Gain as much info on the resort as you can for you or your party. Here are some important aspects to help you visit the most suitable resort for you, starting with,
- Does the beginner’s area require a lift pass? (you may not use the whole mountain on day/week one) Les Gets/Morzine’s nursery area does not for example
- Are there special beginner packages
- Is there a good progression of slopes from nursery area to easy green/blue runs
- Look for a resort that offers the opportunity for lots of easy mileage
- Are there enough challenges to keep you busy for the week?
Remember, advanced skiers, not all challenges are to do with steeps and speed – try challenging yourself in new and inventive ways – many are in this book and a good coach will find some for you (skiing slowly and accurately, backwards, on one foot and many others to come).
Not ALL ski resorts are the same and each resort will have its own pitfalls and benefits (See The Colours of Fear in Dealing with Fear* for more info on more resorts anomalies). (* these are later chapters that you’ll have to wait for)
Get a recommendation but beware what suits one person may not suit the next, even if they’re of a similar skill level. Also there can be a lot of snobbery in the snow world and some resorts get looked down on, some rightly and many wrongly.
Imagine this for example; you don’t need to go to Wimbledon’s centre court to have your first tennis lesson and alternately you wouldn’t want to play the final of a competition on the local rubbish tip, so getting the correct resort for your level is very important. I’ve taught many people who were nearly put off the sport by going to an over-challenging resort on their 1st snow trip, by no fault of their own (this can be the other way round too, better skiers ending up being under-challenged).
Every season much is reported in the press about going high and to premier resorts to guarantee snow, but consider this;
- The higher you go the more chance there is of closed days due to bad weather and if not closed having to deal with said bad weather
- The lower you go the more chance of no snow but I’ve had some great skiing in some low resorts, low in altitude and reputation
Obviously at the beginning and end of the season it definitely pays to go to glaciers.
Where’s the best?
I’m often asked “what is the best resort in the world or that you’ve skied?” I could list lots of favourites from around the world, which you could then visit at a bad time and disagree. My honest answer “the one you’re in if it has enough snow cover and blue skies!” (there’s no correct answer; NZ, Japan, USA and honestly Andorra – where I spent many of my formative years).
What makes a good instructor or lesson is very personal to the client and their needs;
- Safety, being well looked after
- Friendly, chatty and interested in you
- Amusing, being kept entertained, fun
- Being blunt, “tell me what I’m doing wrong” “bully me” “push my limits”
Also consider some examples of differences in content;
- New technical or tactical information
- Overcoming physical, psychological or emotional issues
- General or specific topics
- How the info is delivered/received, who makes the decisions?
Any instructor worth their salt will involve you in the learning process and here are some ideas to help you get involved in and develop a good learning relationship with your ski teacher.
Tell them your story to help your instructor to work out how you tick;
- Share tales of past highs and lows
- Share expectations and fears, your preferences and boundaries
- Past experiences in other sports and or activities (See Relating to other Sports/Activities)
Some people love the feeling of being on or near their physical or psychological limits. They tend to describe it as feeling pressure of being pushed. For others nothing could be more horrific than idea of constantly pushing the edges of their individual comfort zones.
Goal setting and expectation
I often ask people a version of the following:
“What do you want to get out of this session or series of lessons?” A common answer may be general improvement or a boost in confidence. Bear in mind that it may not be completely achievable in the time allowed but interim or stage goals can be set and reached and need to be negotiated.
Remember, that your choices of aims and challenges will impact on your learning curve. Make your goals and challenges achievable and realistic. If you do not quite get the result you were after, simplify the task to enable you to re-set the pathway to success. Then later on re-do the task you failed and see if the good work has helped you onward and upward. This will help you stay positive. Biting off more than you can chew is not a great thing if being unsuccessful is going to be a set back; i.e.
- “I want to cycle like Sir Chris Hoy in a year”
- “I’m gonna slice this ice up like Alain Baxter”
- “A hole in one this time”
Expectations too high = very big disappointment. Expectations met = one very happy bunny.
This is a time for the negotiating the direction you wish your lesson to proceed in. From the negotiation agreed sensible goals will be formed, so if you do not like what is proposed say so and at least expect a well reasoned reply.
- “We know you would like to do a bumps lesson. Before we go into the bumps shall we see if the type and size of your turns are suitable to allow you to enjoy the bumps safely?”
- “Have you noticed that your turns are a lot longer and wider than the bumps we were looking at? You might like to try some shorter turns on the groomed slope first.”
Note that negotiation is two way and a great part of this is inherent trust in the relationship between the pupil and the instructor. Of course you are totally right to question the instructors motive’s but will hopefully trust their judgement.