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?