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Got advice for teaching a first day skier with VERY wobbly feet?

post #1 of 18
Thread Starter 

I'm a relatively new instructor who sometimes teaches 3-hour group lessons for first day skiers.  I meet them in the rental shop and make sure their boots fit, take them outside and do introductory boot work on the flats, walk them side-stepping up a little incline, get them sliding down, then take them to the belt area to work on turning, stopping, enjoying speed, etc.  

 

Last weekend I was assigned to a group which included a woman with very wobbly feet.  When I realized she was not making any progress and the others needed more attention, I split the group and continued to work exclusively with her.  At the end of the three hours she could (sort-of) ski straight down the belt area in a wedge, but I needed to be in front of her skiing backwards.  She still could not turn nor stop in any way other than cruising to a stop as the slope flattened out.  

 

I tried every trick in my bag, but clearly I need more ideas to help me be more successful with the next person I get who is so wobbly.  

 

Can you give me some additional things that I might have used to help this woman get control of her feet?

 

Here's what I did:

1.  Boots were snug inside (if she described accurately the fit in there), she wore only one pair of socks, and the buckles were tight up the cuff.  I know because I got down on my knees and checked.    

2.  I worked with her to get the ski behind her hips when we did one-ski walking and sliding.  She was unsuccessful.  She just could not do it.  I had not yet split the group, so let it go.  (Bad decision.)

3.  At first she had difficulty side-stepping up the little incline.  She could not keep the skis parallel (she knew what it meant; I checked), nor point them across the hill so that she didn't slide forwards or backwards.  I worked hard with her on this and eventually she could climb up.  I got her to shout out loud "Little Toe Edge" every time she stepped up with the uphill foot.  That was a big success!  She understood the effect of tipping the ski so the little toe edge bit into the snow.  But she had to say it out loud, or the ski would land flat on the snow.

4.  She could not hold a wedge.  She was definitely in the back seat and had no control of the fronts of her skis.  She fell continually.  I had the group stand on the flats and practice closing the ankles (dorsiflexing) to get their weight over the tips of the skis.  I explained that the skis were like a car; we steer the car by turning the front wheels, but the car won't go won't go where we tell it if the front wheels are off the ground.  That made sense to everyone, and the others could with some awkwardness get their weight nominally forward enough to not fall over every time they skied down the incline.  But she fell almost every time.  She learned to get up, and that was a big accomplishment!  The rest of the group was doing fine, so we proceeded to the belt area.  (I should have split the group then, but I waited... next time I'll be quicker to realize the situation.) 

5.  I showed the group how to herringbone up a hill so they would have another alternative way to get onto and off the belt.  She had difficulty, so I had her shout "Big Toe Edge" with every step to remind her to tip the skis so they would be edged and grip the snow.  That worked inconsistently.  Side stepping was easier for her.  

6.  First task at the top was a straight run in a narrow gliding wedge down the little hill, ending with coasting to a stop.  Everyone could do it but her.  I split the group, finally.

7.  The two of us ditched our poles.  I skied backwards in front of her, my open hands out towards her, and had her put her fists against my palms.  We skied down the hill straight, with her goal to hold the wedge while I controlled the speed with my hands on her fists.  (Parallel skis went too fast.)  There was some intermittent success.  I continually told her to "wedge"  and "look at me" and "fists" (so she wouldn't grab my hands.)  I decided to focus on the wobbly ankles next run.

8. Next time at the top I had her take off her skis and focus on her ankles exclusively.  We talked about yoga sessions which have a relaxation exercise at the end in which you tense up your muscles without moving anything, then release them.  I wanted her to tense up her ankles as in the yoga exercise, and hold them tense while standing in the narrow wedge position.  I added edging the boots to the "Big Toe Edge."  We skied down, again me in front, her fists to my palms (when necessary).  The tense ankles helped, and she could ski to me without the support of my palms intermittently.  But edging the skis was too much -- they stayed pretty flat, and still got out of control some.

9. At the top again I had her try to tense up the ankles again, but this time I asked her to move the knee forward over the front of the binding by closing the ankle.  My goal was to get her to put more weight on the front of the skis.  She was still very much in the back seat.  She simply could NOT get her knees over her toes (I don't know why).  She did succeed in getting a bit more control of the wild skis on this run, skiing with less fist-palm contact, however, which was a success.  Still skiing straight down, no turning going on.  

10.  I wish I had tried having her lean over and put her fingers on her knees.  That has worked in the past, but I didn't think of it.  I suspect she would have been much more stable in the straight run, and maybe we could have proceeded to turning, then later to standing back up.  Next time I'll try that when I get someone like this.

11.  She ended the lesson in good spirits, but surprised at how little success she had had.  We discussed what people usually learn, and I assured her that there is a great deal of difference in what people can do after a 3-hour first-day lesson.  I encouraged her to continue.  I asked her to recite to me what she had learned to do, not what she was having difficulty with, and the list was quite long when we included getting onto and off the belt, getting skis on and off, getting up after falling, laughing while falling, sidestepping, and so on.  We had laughed a great deal during the three hours, and I think she had a good time.  But she would have had more fun if she could have turned and stopped on her own.  

 

Other than splitting the lesson earlier, and trying the lean-over-and-touch-your knees with your fingers, what have you instructors found that works for people like this?

post #2 of 18

My first thought is the boots, although you did say you checked them.  When I see beginners who are in boots that are too big, or not properly buckled, they ALWAYS look wobbly/unstable.  They're not getting proper ankle support.

 

You mentioned she couldn't close her ankle -- did she have any sort of injury or other physical limitation (from surgery, etc.)?  That's definitely going to impact things.

 

I've had lots of tentative students, but haven't yet found an adult that couldn't straight-run, wedge to a stop, and at least affect some kind of directional change after 90 minutes.  So you might be above my pay grade.  :-)

post #3 of 18

Do you think it was:

 mental / fear?

 

Or a physical strength / dexterity?

 

Did you she fall backwards? or all over ?

 

I usually lean forward in my boots (skis on) to show how

much you can lean forward and back.

 

I've had **some** groups of students bend at the waist only, with

tremendous fear of any movement of the hips past the ankle.

These students typically fall down/backwards quite a bit, almost

as if they believe the ski boot is a chair (like a newbie on a poma lift)

 

post #4 of 18
Thread Starter 


 

Quote:
Originally Posted by docbrad66 View Post

Do you think it was:

 mental / fear?

 

Or a physical strength / dexterity?

 

Did you she fall backwards? or all over ?

 

I usually lean forward in my boots (skis on) to show how

much you can lean forward and back.

 

I've had **some** groups of students bend at the waist only, with

tremendous fear of any movement of the hips past the ankle.

These students typically fall down/backwards quite a bit, almost

as if they believe the ski boot is a chair (like a newbie on a poma lift)

 

There was some fear, but she laughed every time she fell, so the fear was not crippling.  I've seen crippling fear and this was not her problem ... she was not frozen stiff in some odd body position, and she did not have panic scrunching up her face.  She was LIMBER and laughing, and falling backwards and to the side (back seat) ... and perplexed about her inability.  

 

What I think really caused her wobbly feet/legs was an inability to make them hold still in whatever position she needed them to be in when they were on a slippery surface.  It took all her concentration, very intense concentration, just to hold the two skis in   a slight wedge while moving, or to simply side-step up a hill with skis matching and edged on the uphill side.  Any distraction broke her concentration and the skis got away from her.  This was a smart professional  woman, young, and reasonably fit.  

post #5 of 18
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Matthias99 View Post

My first thought is the boots, although you did say you checked them.  When I see beginners who are in boots that are too big, or not properly buckled, they ALWAYS look wobbly/unstable.  They're not getting proper ankle support.

 

You mentioned she couldn't close her ankle -- did she have any sort of injury or other physical limitation (from surgery, etc.)?  That's definitely going to impact things.

 

I've had lots of tentative students, but haven't yet found an adult that couldn't straight-run, wedge to a stop, and at least affect some kind of directional change after 90 minutes.  So you might be above my pay grade.  :-)



Didn't think to ask about an injury.  I had everyone lean forward at the ankle as far as they could using the poles for balance; they were to have their bodies as straight as a telephone pole but leaning it diagonally forward.  She bent at the waist; nothing happened at the ankle.  The other students did fine and felt the cuff pressure; she didn't feel any cuff pressure.  I stood beside her to show her how to straighten her body up and out in a diagonal, and when she did she was totally vertical; no forward bending at the ankle.  She just couldn't do it.  

 

I've heard of tucking $20.00 bills in the top of the front cuff.... think I'll print up some artificial $100 bills and use them next time.  Maybe that will work.

post #6 of 18

Sounds like you were doing all the right things.  Did you try skiing backward holding her ski tips while she was wedging?  I've found that this will help them relax and get their weight forward.  Was she wobbly while standing still?  Could she lift one ski while standing on the other?  Wobbly feet sure is a sign of tension and fear, even if she was laughing.

 

I like your "ski backwards with her pushing against your fists."   But, that's a little up close and personal for me.  Another way to accomplish that is for you to hold your ski pole at the basket end and give her the grip end.  Then you can ski backward while continually asking her to "push me away from you".  You need to be directly in the fall line and be greatly aware that you have a ski tip in your hand, so you should be pushing back up the hill.  (Some would consider this dangerous, but, I've had good success with it and as long as the pole tip is in my hand I know where it is, but, be your own conscience on this one.)

 

Good luck, it sounds like you learned a lot in this lesson.  Maybe you should have paid her!

 

Bob

post #7 of 18
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by WVSkier View Post

Sounds like you were doing all the right things.  Did you try skiing backward holding her ski tips while she was wedging?  I've found that this will help them relax and get their weight forward.  Was she wobbly while standing still?  Could she lift one ski while standing on the other?  Wobbly feet sure is a sign of tension and fear, even if she was laughing.

 

I like your "ski backwards with her pushing against your fists."   But, that's a little up close and personal for me.  Another way to accomplish that is for you to hold your ski pole at the basket end and give her the grip end.  Then you can ski backward while continually asking her to "push me away from you".  You need to be directly in the fall line and be greatly aware that you have a ski tip in your hand, so you should be pushing back up the hill.  (Some would consider this dangerous, but, I've had good success with it and as long as the pole tip is in my hand I know where it is, but, be your own conscience on this one.)

 

Good luck, it sounds like you learned a lot in this lesson.  Maybe you should have paid her!

 

Bob

I thought of this but felt the poles would just get wobbled left and right by her flailing.  So I got up close - less chance of her running off to the side.  I've seen other instructors use this palm - fist method, and yes, it is close contact.  As a female instructor I wasn't as worried about the closeness as much as a male instructor might have been.  I do want to try the pole idea, however, someday.  My daughter learned to ski in the French Alps holding onto her instructor's poles.  She got the sharp end, however.  

 

post #8 of 18
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by WVSkier View Post

Sounds like you were doing all the right things.  Did you try skiing backward holding her ski tips while she was wedging?  I've found that this will help them relax and get their weight forward.  Was she wobbly while standing still?  Could she lift one ski while standing on the other?  Wobbly feet sure is a sign of tension and fear, even if she was laughing.

 

 

I've skied backwards in front of a 3-year-old bracing her knees in a first-day lesson.  That worked well, and in one hour she was skiing parallel all by herself coming towards me, and I didn't have to keep bracing her knees.  She was turning, stopping, climbing onto and off the belt all by herself.  The knees were about 8" above the ground, and crouching that low did not hurt my back.

 

But crouching low enough to hold onto a full-sized adult's ski tips seems a bit low, and leaves me feeling very insecure.  I'm envisioning my 5' tall adult falling over me and bringing us both down in a tangled mess.  Also, crouching that low, even if she did not fall on me, seems as if it would put enormous strain on my back.

 

How does this work with an adult?  Have you used it successfully?
 

post #9 of 18
^ At first reading, I totally thought "narrow foot in wide or plain big rental boot, big calves so cuff appears tight"
post #10 of 18
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by comprex View Post

^ At first reading, I totally thought "narrow foot in wide or plain big rental boot, big calves so cuff appears tight"


 

Good possibility.   I'll keep this in mind in the future, and pay more attention to the boot fit.  

 

To check the boot fit, I did ask her if her foot wobbled inside the boot.  I asked her several different ways.  I had her get one ski on and one ski off, prop herself up with her poles while standing on the leg with no ski, raise the leg with the ski on, and wiggle that ski in the air.  Then I asked her if her foot wobbled around in the boot loosely, or if it stayed firmly positioned in the boot.  She said it was snug and didn't wobble.  With that ski raised and moving around in the air, I'd think a boot that was  too big on the foot would have been wobbling all around on that foot.  But there may have been a communication error between us.

post #11 of 18

 

Quote:
How does this work with an adult?  Have you used it successfully?

Yes, I've used it successfully.  One thing that works in your favor is that you get the client to constantly look ahead.  You say to them "now, I'm going to do this for a minute, you have to promise me to keep looking ahead so I don't run into anyone."  When they are busy looking ahead (to save your ass) they are not looking down at their skis and in general are much more relaxed.

 

I'm 59 yrs old and 6'3", 240 lbs, so I only use this as a last resort.  It is very uncomfortable for me.

post #12 of 18

Seems like you tried most of the things I would have.  To me the wobbly feet and constant laughing sounds like major nervousness.  And not being able to flex ankle generally happens because boots are too stiff/poor fitting, limited ankle mobility and or fear of moving downhill.

 

In general when I working with someone struggling my thoughts go in two directions - 1) How can I make this task, or another task, easier? and 2) What are they doing well that they might be able to build on?

 

So the one of the two things I might have tried is sliding diagonally down the hill in a straight run.  Beginner areas have little pitch to the slope but some people freeze when they look straight down hill no matter how small.  Secondly I might try side slip down the hill.  Since she was have trouble holding her skis on edge to climIb the hill she may have been a natural at side slipping down.  From there you could introduce tipping/edging and fore aft balance movements.  I know it's not the movement you're looking for but if the student can start having some success their confidence might build and that might be what they need to do the things you want them to. 

post #13 of 18

Liquidfeet, Sounds like you learned a lot of things that will help you next time you get guests like this. 1st , people lie especially about how tight their boots are, did you try to put your fingers down between the cuff and her shin? Usually people say their boot is tight and I can drive a truck down there. Ask first before touching someone., also if rear entry rentals there is an adjustment knob over the arch sometimes, maybe you could try tightening that down.

 

2nd get rid of the poles for everybody, maybe your area has a policy about teaching 1st timers with them but they are a complete waste of time. You students will constantly try to keep themselves up right or stopping themselves with poles. they will even use poles to move themselves, all to the detriment of learning to use the feet and legs to move around.

 

there is not much you can do in group lessons when there is a big split except try to keep rotating thru to help everyone, sounds like you were able to get help and give more one on one attention to her though, thats good. She also learned a lot just as you said, but some people won't get it the 1st day and 3 hours is a long time for 1st timers to be out in a foreign environment i.e stiff boots, long planks on their feet, slippery tilted surface. Their muscles will get tired, they are probably using some of these muscles for much more than they ever had before.

 

You should try spending more time working on real low level but ultimately the most important stuff, walking in boots, side stepping, herringbone all in boots first, then with 1 ski( right)  then the other ski (left), then 2 skis, some will get it faster but if this stuff is rushed then the foundation of skills you are trying to build in your new skiers will be shaky at best and will lead to more problems down the road.

Good luck in your teaching this season!

post #14 of 18
Thread Starter 

Is there a consensus that such wobbliness comes only from loose/oversized boots?  Is there no possibility that she had ok boots, but just could not make her feet behave for other reasons?

 

I am committed to looking more closely at the boot fit the next time this happens, and since I have encountered students like this before I expect to get more again in the future.  I'm certainly going to be more probing as far as checking out the boots.

 

But should I conclude, as I am tempted to do from the responses so far, that there is only one reasonable explanation for this awkwardness on skis, and that it's got to be the boot fit?  That the only thing I need to pay attention to is the boots, and that once I get the boots to fit right, the problem will disappear?

 

Or have others encountered guests with similar issues even after confirming that the boot fit is as acceptable as possible on rentals?   If this is the case, what do you do to help them gain control?

post #15 of 18

 

Quote:
Is there a consensus that such wobbliness comes only from loose/oversized boots?  Is there no possibility that she had ok boots, but just could not make her feet behave for other reasons?

 

It could be some kind of psychological thing (ie, they won't make the movement you want them to make), but you said that the student wasn't overly nervous.  If they can do the movements on flat ground but freeze up on the hill, then I'd suspect some kind of fear problem.

 

If they can't flex their ankle or maintain an edge on the ski, even when doing things like just sidestepping up a small incline, I would think it's either very badly fit boots or some kind of physical limitation from an injury, medical condition, etc.  (e.g. I can't flex my right ankle as much as my left one due to an injury.  I imagine some people with more serious injuries or foot problems might have severely limited ankle flexion and mobility.)

post #16 of 18
Thread Starter 

So what I'm thinking now is that her difficulties resulted from one/more of these:

 

1. loose, oversized boots (this can be fixed if diagnosed properly)

2. fear shutting down/distracting her from paying attention to what her feet were doing (how might I have addressed fear more effectively???)

3. fatigue shutting down/distracting her from paying attention to what her feet were doing (more breaks maybe, but with 3 hours there's not much break time...)

4. cold shutting down/distracting her from paying attention to what her feet were doing (I could have noticed earlier that her gloves were inadequate and given her a loaner pair of warmer ones, plus a neck gaiter-it was COLD out there that day)

5. lack of familiarity with moving in the ways skiing calls for (which is what I thought the problem was, and still may have been a big part of it - what other things might I have done to help her gain control?)

 

thoughts? comments?

post #17 of 18

Hi LiquidFeet, 

 

First off, your lesson sounds like it was really awesome. You're obviously incredibly patient and you checked off so many more perspectives than I think I could have considered in the situation. 

 

I've had similar "wobbly feet" learners who can't seem to hold a wedge. I think you're right on the money about checking for boot fit--particularly since this participant couldn't balance on the flats on one ski. And since she insisted she couldn't feel the shin against the tongue when flexing in the ankle.

 

Once you're sure that the boot fit was as good as reasonably possible within the confines of a rental shop... 

 

 

Quote:

1. loose, oversized boots (this can be fixed if diagnosed properly)

2. fear shutting down/distracting her from paying attention to what her feet were doing (how might I have addressed fear more effectively???)

3. fatigue shutting down/distracting her from paying attention to what her feet were doing (more breaks maybe, but with 3 hours there's not much break time...)

4. cold shutting down/distracting her from paying attention to what her feet were doing (I could have noticed earlier that her gloves were inadequate and given her a loaner pair of warmer ones, plus a neck gaiter-it was COLD out there that day)

5. lack of familiarity with moving in the ways skiing calls for (which is what I thought the problem was, and still may have been a big part of it - what other things might I have done to help her gain control?)

 

2. Fear - I empathise with you about working through a learner's fear of pitch and speed. I imagine you're using a slow gradual progression between flat and slightly less flat pitch... I think you'll find that once the learner has some semblance of speed control, she'll be more comfortable on the pitch. Kind of chicken and egg in some ways as fearful learners are more apt to get in the backseat, leading to loss of control. 

 

3. Fatigue - Did she look exhausted? How long were the breaks on the magic carpet? Were you doing lots of skating/herringbone/sidestep or mostly carpet?

 

4. Cold - were you cold? If you're cold, the learner's probably cold. The learner can also tell you how warm she is. I'm guessing you ask this during the lesson on cooler days.

 

 

5. Movement issues - I started a thread about teaching never-evers (related to the same issues as your learner) and received a lot of good suggestions. One person suggested that the instructor slide the learner's skis fore and aft on the flats, where the learner's goal is to stay stable. You basically get down on the flats and pull the skis forward and ensure they maintain an athletic stance. Start with little pulls and work your way up progressively larger. It helps to give the learner a feel for the dynamic balance you need in skiing, and keeps the learner from letting the skis run away. 

 

Your idea to use the hands-on-knees drill is a good one. I've used it in similar cases and it really got learners out of the backseat. Mind you, then they're kinked forward at the waist, so it's a different problem... but at least they're moving on snow.  

 

You could try holding the learner's tips... I've found that when you do so, you're doing the work and you're the one maintaining the tension. 

 

Sounds like you really did put your all into the lesson. We need more instructors like that!

post #18 of 18
Thread Starter 

I've got a new idea.  Chocolate.

 

I'm going to start carrying little individually wrapped chocolates in my jacket pocket.  When I run into this situation again, teacher and student are just going to have to take a little chocolate break when the going gets tough.  

 

 

"Eating chocolate stimulates the brain's opioid production. Opioids are chemicals responsible for diminishing pain sensations, enhancing pleasurable ones, and creating a sense of overall well-being."
Read more: How Does Chocolate Affect a Person's Mood? | eHow.com http://www.ehow.com/how-does_5132052_chocolate-affect-persons-mood.html#ixzz1BvlpWPny

 

"Increased opioids raise the brain's levels of dopamine, believed to trigger the 'reward response'."
Read more: How Does Chocolate Affect a Person's Mood? | eHow.com http://www.ehow.com/how-does_5132052_chocolate-affect-persons-mood.html#ixzz1Bvlkil7K

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