Back in the day when I used to take in PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America) clinics to update my certification, it was always” what is the move they are teaching this year?” The PSIA think tank revved up over the summer and there seemed to be always a new objective or new movement pattern which was to be taught in clinics for the coming year. Not so much that way any more seeing that PSIA has developed into a continuing education forum that is well formulated. But back when I was certified, there was a specific way to teach skiing based on the current edition of the PSIA manual. There was a certain schedule of achievements that the student was expected to learn before moving up a level and it was all very mechanical and not really that intuitive. You could almost hear the manual come out of the mouths of new instructors as they barked instructions that were taught to them in ski school clinics as well as PSIA clinics. Very mechanical. Today- PSIA appreciates the value of knowing how a student learns. Some people are visual- they need to see a demo. Some are otherwise needing a detailed explanation of the task at hand. And some are somewhere in between. But the need today is to understand the student and how they learn and not necessarily handing them an inflexible way to learn to ski.
But some things just don’t come out of a PSIA manual or clinic and are learned and taught by years of practical experience. Organically learned as they say today. I have learned a lot over the years from the group above. One guy is a Level III instructor and the others are former racers. But the things we talk about are practical ways of skiing and what works and what does not work. It is interesting to see the racers perspective on things and then how that sits with me and the other Level III guy. Personally, I say that I have learned more about skiing from these guys than any lesson I ever took. There are things that we utilize that you would not usually see in a lesson plan. We always talk about how the racers ski and watching the World Cup racers or even local strong skiers, you see things like a wider stance with an early transition into the turn. It really shows up when you ski at a higher speed or on steeps that require a special technique not found in typical lessons. I have really tried to learn the wider stance because I am a tall guy and tend to ski in a narrow position. But I see the value of the wider stance to give one more of a chance to get the ski on edge. I also watch and see the lower position to allow the joints to flex and make you more reactive to incidents on the hill that tend to throw you off balance. Watch Mikaela Shiffrin ski and you will observe perfect balance because of a wider stance with a lower more flexed position. Check her out on You Tube or skiandsnowboard.live or Peacock. It is tough to learn this in a typical lesson. Sure, there are some guys who can teach that, but it is really learned by skiing with strong skiers and watching their movement patterns on the hill. When you watch a strong skier make trenches in the snow with an early start to the turn and see the commitment that early, you appreciate their experience and nothing is said. You just observe and try to do the same thing. Sure- we are older skiers and not as strong as World Cup racers and our ability to fully execute a strong turn is compromised by age and fitness. But for the most part- these patterns are hard to teach. They are learned by time on the hill and experience. Tough to get that in a one hour lesson or a half day lesson.
Bringing it down a notch, there are things that people have asked me where my answer is not necessarily taught in a PSIA lesson module. The narrow wedge, for instance, works out west when you have a lot of room. You can execute wedge turns from a narrow stance which can quickly lead to a wide track stance. Even the modern way of teaching a wide track parallel from the start is fine out west. But if you are learning in a smaller area in the east with crowds and ice, you need a wider stance and need to know how to quickly stop if needed. Practical. A wider wedge rules. Finishing a turn rules too.
If you start your run slower with methodical rounded turns, the rest of your run goes well instead of flying down the hill making 3/4 turns until you have to throw them sideways in a skid to arrest your speed. Rounded, finished turns will allow you to ski anywhere and let you make a series of well executed turns all the way down the hill. Speed is not necessarily your friend if you cannot finish your turns and make them more rounded. I also ski behind anyone who asks and tell them which edge to focus on. They get the sense that they need to start the turn early on the uphill inside edge and move their center of gravity towards the next turn. Belly button towards the next turn. A tough one to teach but when it works, you see the light bulb come on for the skier. They are excited because they learned something new and can work on it. Verbal cues can instigate success. Experience tells me when to give the verbal command about the pressured edge. I keep it simple. I don’t teach anymore but sometimes people ask me how to move up a level and I try to help them with something practical that I know.
A lot of skiers are athletic and can ski on a local hill with success. But I have helped a number of these guys down some pretty steep pitches when their local technique was basically thrown out the window. Simple things like flexing, committing to your next turn, finishing the turn, touching your ski pole downhill and off to the side. Pole touches can block your upper body rotation or assist it if needed by touching off to the downhill side to anticipate the next turn on the steep. Hands ahead and not back. Simple things like this are taught by experience and also in the “doing.” Not necessarily found in a lesson at your local resort. You have to pull out all the stops when a skier is sitting back like they usually do at home and now find themselves on a 40-50 degree pitch.
The importance of tuning and waxing skis is not often mentioned in a typical ski lesson but so important. A little work each week on your own bench at home, works wonders for your skiing. Ask an experienced skier to show you what you need and how to do it. The local shop can help too. How to correctly put on your boots and align and tighten the Booster strap if you have one is not often mentioned but so important. Boot fit and performance is critical in skiing and again, equipment is so important to success on the hill or in a lesson. Watch experienced skiers put their boots on. Very methodical and they take their time to get it right. Nothing but a thin ski sock in the boot. Not the crunched long undies.
There are lots of other things not typically addressed in a lesson but can be learned by skiing or talking with an experienced skier. What is good clothing, how long should your poles be, what is a good DIN setting on your binding, what to wear in the rain, why are ski straps important when you travel, what is the proper under foot measurement for a ski based on how and where you ski? Lots of stuff that is not necessarily covered in a one hour or half day lesson. There are lots of good instructors,(like Art Bonavoglia at Telluride- ask for him) and some not so good ones too, but it is hard to get a lot of experience in a one hour or a half day lesson. The instructor tries to stick to the script and give the student as much as he or she can in the time allotted. If you do get a PSIA certified instructor, pick his or her brains at lunch and ask these kinds of questions. Hopefully their experience will give you some answers. Otherwise, look for the good skiers that you know. Ask them because they are experienced. You will be amazed at the nuggets that they can give you for free and not necessarily found in a lesson. Stuff that works by way of technique and experience. And ski with them. If you are a visual learner like me, you will take on loads of good information. Thanks for reading and think snow.