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"Becoming the best skier I can possibly be"

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 

May 3, 2011


Hi Coaching Bears:


In another thread, a coach here on Epic Ski responded to the OP that to indicate ""Becoming the best skier I can possibly be" to a coach (unfamiliar with one's skiing) was vague and impossible for a coach to determine "why you are there".  In general, I agree whole-heartedly with this statement.  However, being a regular consumer of professional ski coaching services, I would like to know whether this would be true in the following situations (a) a private lesson with a high level coach (examiner level) (b) a lesson private or group, with an experienced coach totally familiar with one's skiing strength and weaknesses.  The reason I ask, is that I am prone to reply:  "I am depending on your expertize to decide/determine what to work on" when asked "why are you here, or what would you like to work on?" .    Now that it has been pointed out, I realize how stupid and unfair I've been in the past.  The only excuse I can offer is that this "smart alec" reply is usually offered in the situation when I plan to do a series of privates (once every two weeks), so that I feel justified to give the coach (very experienced) the freedom to decide on the curriculum.  This series of privates has been going on for maybe the last 10 years.  Sometimes during one of the scheduled lessons, I will digress and ask the coach to spend some time on some movement which I feel that I need a review or further strengthening.  My real question is at the beginning of the next season, should I have a specific goal in mind and let the coach know what I would like to achieve for the season or still rely on his/her expertize to decide how to get to "become the best skier I can possibly be"?   I am also in a season long "Senior" group lesson which is offered once a week by one of three coaches, who is determined at the beginning of the season.  After I know the identity of the coach for the senior group, I select one of the remaining coaches for my privates.  All three of these coaches are PSIA level III and on PSIA-e ETS.  Also note that these coaches can spot me  just by my stance and are totally familiar with my skiing.  However, should I take more responsibility for my own skiing development?  I sort of know the answer now that I've written this out.  But I would appreciate hearing from you and getting your professional insights.


Think snow,



post #2 of 11

Charlie, ideally in the type of situation you describe, where there's the opportunity to regularly work together, the coach should be able to best identify what the student needs to focus on, and should be able to structure the training sessions accordingly.  The student should not have to bear the burden.  The students full focus should simply be on following the program and doing the work.  


The above is dependent, though, on the coach being up to the task.  All coaches are not created equally.  Therein lies the role of the student.  It's up to them (you) to determine if the coach is up to snuff,,, if they're happy with the results they're getting,,, if they believe in and trust the coach enough to buy into the program, to follow it, and to do the work.  Any no's or doubts when contemplating any of those questions might warrant exploring other coaching options.  If the student doesn't believe, the needed motivation to devote themselves to the program won't be there.  It won't work.  


The instance I will point out as important for the student to provide input is in letting the coach know where you're struggling in your skill development training during your training time between classes.  If there was something you worked on in class, but you struggled with in your efforts to refine your skill at it between classes, let the coach know immediately so he/she can provide new methodologies to tackle and master it.  


I speak from experience here.  I come from the world of ski racing, where coaches are fortunate to have the luxury of working with our students on a intense and long term basis.  We get to know our student's inside and out, and know just what they need to work on, both mentally and physically.  We create, and implement the programs they need.  They buy into the program and do the heavy lifting of doing the work.  Eventually, it takes them to a place where their need for us diminishes, and they can self coach.  That's the goal.  Like sending baby chicks out of the nest, and watching them turn into soaring eagles.   

post #3 of 11

Actually Charlie the context was concerning the lack of open communication. I clearly wrote how the coach should have dug deeper and not accepted the altruism as the basis for the lesson, or a new learning relationship. It's way too vague and says nothing about what areas that student wants and expects to work on. I also questioned why the OP was taking a group lesson and not offering more information to the coach. It takes two actively involved people to have a learning relationship. If someone walked up and said fix me, I would ask them as nicely as possible what they feel is broken? Only when they know that information would we have a basis for me helping them. I can assess and prescribe areas of focus but that may not be their focus and like PJ they more than likely would end up dissatisfied at the end of the day.


On to your second scenario, It sounds like you trust your coach(s) because you have a relationship established and they knows your strengths and weaknesses already. I also suspect they have shared those with you several times. So an assessment and the idea of saying "i want an assessment" would be based on a totally different situation. I wouldn't say that is being a smart alec as much as relying on a trusted advisor.


Beyond that the idea of an athlete keeping track of their progress isn't new. The OTC in Colorado Springs insisted on seeing you training journal before offering advice about how to improve your training regimine. If you are a serious athlete in any sport, that is an assumed.

post #4 of 11

From the thread you mentioned,


"This all leads back to the idea that taking charge and responsibility for your learning means keeping your own records and if you take a lesson it's up to you to clearly express your wants and expectations, just like it's up to the instructor to ask you enough questions to clearly identify what those are. You can't alway control the instructor's end but you certainly can control your end by keeping track of your progress in a journal and clearly stating your concerns, goals and past frustration / disappointments with your coach. With that I want to express hope that you find the system that fits your needs better than showing up at the group lesson desk has."

post #5 of 11
Thread Starter 

May 3, 2011




I hope you don't take this thread personally and in the wrong way.  As I've said, I totally agree with you, in the situation in which your response was offered.  I don't know if you noticed, but I also suggested to the OP of that thread to keep a personal journal of his own and not to rely on any "system", with the implication of taking more responsibility for oneself.  Being a runner of 30+ years, I've kept journals on my running for many years.   Similarly for my skiing (also of 30+ years), I've kept a journal as well.  After reading your thoughtful and well written reply to the OP, it occured to me that I should also take more responsibility of my skiing progress.  Even when the coach knows my skiing, I realize from what you (and also from what Rick) said, that it doesn't hurt to give feed back to the coach so that he/she knows how to proceed at even a better manner.   In this way, teamwork only accelerates and strengthens the progress of the student's improvement.  Thanks for your advice on many topics through many years I've been a member of this forum.  My skiing and knowledge about skiing has certainly taken a turn for the better from the many pros and dedicated skiers posting on Epic Ski.


Think snow,




post #6 of 11
Originally Posted by CharlieP View Post

In another thread, a coach here on Epic Ski responded to the OP that to indicate ""Becoming the best skier I can possibly be" to a coach (unfamiliar with one's skiing) was vague and impossible for a coach to determine "why you are there".  In general, I agree whole-heartedly with this statement.  However, being a regular consumer of professional ski coaching services, I would like to know whether this would be true in the following situations (a) a private lesson with a high level coach (examiner level) (b) a lesson private or group, with an experienced coach totally familiar with one's skiing strength and weaknesses.  The reason I ask, is that I am prone to reply:  "I am depending on your expertize to decide/determine what to work on" when asked "why are you here, or what would you like to work on?" .

CP, I don't know your skiing background or skill level, but if you happened to come into one of my programs stating an open-ended objective like that, I would be happy to work from that starting point.  In one sense, this could make things easier for me because I would have more freedom in choosing what I believed to be most beneficial for you.


Whether you stated an open or very focused objective, my initial approach would still be the same.  I would acknowledge your goals, and then I would take a run to assess your current status, watching from front, side and rear perspectives.  For me, this applies to group or private situations, but if the group is more than 7 or 8, I will usually need a couple of runs to establish everyone's picture in my mind.  This observation introduction will give me the input I need to figure out what I will recommend to work on.   If you have a specific goal or skill in mind, I'll be assessing your current ability in that area, and thinking of how to develop from what I see.  If I think something else would be much more appropriate, I'll see if I can shift your thinking a bit.


I wouldn't think it's at all unfair for you to expect me to figure out what I think would be the best things for you to work on.  I won't try to do this unilaterally, so I'll be asking you a bunch of questions as I go along to make sure I really can give you something of value.  And I'll offer explanations of why I'm asking you to do things, because I want your buy-in to the process, for a better assurance of meaningful results.


post #7 of 11
Thread Starter 

May 3, 2011


Hi MM:


Thanks for your reply.  You've figured correctly my reasoning for my response of: "I'm depending on your expertise to decide what I should be working on".  However, I now realize that it is a two way street (it has always been though) and the more input my coach receives from me, the better quality the lesson will be.  Win, winbiggrin.gificon14.gif.


As a side note which may prove to be of interest to you, twenty plus years ago, at the twilight of his life I had the opportunity to make the acquaintance of the GREAT Canadian skier Mr. Ernie McCulloch  (see following for a brief write-up of his life), who was SSD at Blue Mountain in the 70s.  A more nicer person there never was and many a pleasant hour was spent enjoying a drink with him.  I was up at the Mt. Tremblant area, taking one of their famous Ski Weeks, and he would always pop in to the Auberge which I was staying for his evening refreshmentssmile.gif.  Hope you are enjoying endless, bottomless powder Ernieicon14.gif.  




Think snow,



post #8 of 11

Hi Charlie! You've pretty well answered your own question, I think, but I'll throw in a few thoughts. 


It's a great question you ask, and the issue you raise is a source of a lot of misunderstanding, in my opinion. On on hand, naturally, when you seek the services of an expert in any field, you generally do it because you believe that he or she has expertise you may lack, and you trust his opinion and judgment. In seeking an expert, pro, instructor, coach, ... carpenter, plumber, doctor, accountant... you put yourself largely in their hands, trusting them to identify and solve your problems for you. You go to them because you need them. It would seem ironic, then, for that expert to ask you "what do you need?"


And yet, of course, they must. What the expert needs to know, before he or she can help you identify your specific needs, is why you sought his services in the first place. As you suggest, they need to know "why are you here?" What's the problem? What do you want? You don't hire a carpenter or an architect and simply say, "make me a building." Are you looking for a home? A shopping mall? A hospital? An outhouse? Obviously, you do have needs that the expert cannot know about until you communicate them to him. Your needs--your reason for taking the lesson--may be specific, or they may be vague. But only if you truly don't care whether you get a doghouse or a prison or a hotel can you simply say, "make me a building." 


It is a partnership. You need to tell the instructor as much as you can about what you want, or think you want. Then the instructor can do his job and figure out the best way to help you get there. Otherwise, you must take whatever you get. Yes, that can be fun, too--Weems has often recounted his story of going out with an instructor and simply saying, "give me your best shot." But that really only works if you honestly, truly, don't care what you get, have not identified any specific goals, have no hidden agenda, and perhaps come with a highly developed ability to self-assess and self-coach. It would be entirely unfair to that instructor--and a waste of your own money and time--to finish that lesson and say (or even think), "I did not get what I wanted." If you don't identify any goals, wants, needs, or desires, then whatever you get in that lesson, whatever you do, wherever you ski, whatever drills or focus you work on, whatever terrain, speed, conditions, or park features you end up on, ... you got what you asked for. 


It's obvious from the discussions at EpicSki and elsewhere that the question of "becoming the best skier I can be" will entail different answers for different people. What is "good" (not to mention, "best") skiing in the first place? Who are the "best skiers"? Are they racers? Mogul skiers? "Big mountain" or "extreme" competitors? Are they movie stars? Are they freestylers? Free-heelers?  Aerialists? Are they specialists in any of these things, or generalists who can do them all to some degree? Simply asking yourself about what YOU think a "good" or "best" skier is would be a good start to giving the instructor the information he needs to help you become the best you can be. (And even if you think being a versatile "generalist" is the ideal, you can't work on everything all at once. What--if anything--would you like to focus on today? You might want to leave that up to the instructor--but you might not, too. Tell 'em, either way!)


Of course, I suspect that you will have already answered this question of what is "the best you can be" to some extent, simply by choosing an instructor who "knows you" and who you feel shares your ideals about skiing. But that is different. If the instructor already knows what you want, obviously, you can skip a lot of the "getting to know you" part of the lesson. If your goals and motivations are already "known," then you certainly can "depend on [the instructor's] expertise to determine what you need to work on," as you suggest.


Likewise, in some situations, some goals are more or less implicit already. Racing, for example. If you're a racer, or you've signed up for a "race camp," it's at least likely that one of your motivations is to get faster in the race course. While even that is somewhat of a generalization, and there is room for specific details and individual motivations within that larger goal (and a coach would be remiss not to inquire), a race coach is probably justified in making a few assumptions about why you are there, and what will make you happy.


However, you have spoken of skiing with "an experienced coach totally familiar with one's skiing strength and weaknesses," and I urge caution even there. It is actually not your "skiing strengths and weaknesses" that the coach or instructor is asking about when he asks "what do you want to work on?" A good instructor will become very familiar with the technical aspects of your skiing in extremely short order--sometimes within a turn or two. What the instructor needs to know is what he cannot see: what are your goals? What motivates you? What do you love about skiing? When you think of becoming "the best you can be," what image of "good skiing" comes to your mind? It's not asking a lot, and it certainly isn't an attempt to cop out or shirk the responsibility of identifying what you will need to further your progress. Like "taste," motivations vary widely. "Progress" assumes--and is measured by--a goal or destination. Until you know where you want to go, it's impossible to identify the right direction to get there.


On the other hand, it may well be the journey that you seek, not the destination. When that is the case--as it likely was for Weems in the "give me your best shot" scenario--you may well enjoy the adventure of being taken somewhere unknown, unexpected, and unplanned. Nothing wrong with that--and good instructors are experienced and effective at taking you into uncharted territory, physically, mentally, and emotionally, when that is your true motivation. But "the journey" is not the same as your stated goal (destination) to "become the best you can be."


Either way, it is always true that the more you can let your instructor know about what you want, the more effectively that instructor can help you progress. Don't worry if your goals are vague or specific--just tell the instructor either way. Give 'em whatever you've got. Good instructors are highly skilled at turning vague goals into specific objectives that are relevant to those goals. They can help you clarify your goals if they are vague. But you've got to help them out--it's in both of your best interests.


No matter what some people may claim, I really do not believe that they have absolutely no personal goals, hopes, desires, questions, or motivations, and that they are willing to leave what they "should want" entirely up to me. There is some reason you paid for this lesson. What can you tell me about that reason?


The most unproductive--and unfair--thing you can do is keep your instructor guessing at what you want, and whether or not you're getting it. Please do not wait until the end of the lesson to say, "you know, that was very interesting, and I feel that you've really helped me improve my edging and carving skills, but I had really hoped we'd slide some rails and get into the half pipe today...." 


So that's what they're asking when they say "what do you want to work on today?" What are your goals? What floats your boat? What's on your mind--today? They're not looking for what exercises or drills you think you should practice--unless that truly is what motivates you for some reason (in which case, of course, that would be exactly what they are looking for, although you could expect a sincere "why do you want to work on that?" in response.) Indeed, the more specific your reply to "what do you want to work on?" the more likely you'll face more questions about why you want to work on that. Kim Peterson, who authored PSIA-RM's "Guest-Centered Teaching(TM)" model, has famously observed that "better technique" really is not a motivation that brings people to lessons, even if they say otherwise. Technique has no purpose in itself. What really motivates us is what that technique will do for us--whether that is win races, make us less tired or more confident or more elegant, help us enjoy more challenging terrain, feel new sensations, attract the opposite sex, become rich (yeah, right), make us more fit, keep us safer, or just generally "have more fun" (what is fun for you?).


Most students haven't really given this question much thought, but they should. If you really want to leave it all up to your instructor, that is your choice. And once you convince your instructor that that is truly what you want, a good instructor will not hesitate to go there. But since most of us are going to be quite skeptical that a student would have no personal goals, motivations, or values in skiing, you can expect more inquiring to try to unearth those hidden motivations. 


What do you want, CharlieP? I've had the pleasure of skiing with you and getting to know you a bit, so I have some general ideas about your skiing preferences and ideals. If I were to ski with you tomorrow, though, I'd still want to know what's new. What have you been working on, and why? What revelations and breakthroughs have you encountered since I last skied with you? What questions have come up? What's working for you? What isn't? 


Addressing the needs of the student is the primary objective, and the single measure of success, of any instructor in a lesson. It is said (Kim Peterson) that "an instructor who meets the needs of the student cannot fail, and an instructor who fails to meet the needs of a student cannot succeed." And the first, critical step in meeting someone's needs is, of course, identifying those needs. 


When you get down to it, these activities--identify and address needs--are the two, and only two, critical functions of an instructor. They even represent the correct answer to a question that has long appeared on our certification written test: "What are the two important activities of an instructor in a lesson?" (And you thought the answer was "talk about skiing" and "talk about ourselves," didn't you?)


And when it comes to identifying needs, there are some that the instructor can figure out by observing, and others that the instructor can glean only by asking you questions. Yes, we can see your movements and technique, and good instructors bring a great deal of training and experience to the art of "movement analysis." That's some of the expertise you're paying for. But unless you tell us, we can only guess at what questions and goals you may have, and what motivates you as a skier--and elsewhere. The more we know about you, the better we can help you progress. And no one knows you better than ... you! In sharing honestly what you know about yourself, you become a partner with your instructor in identifying your needs and achieving your goals.


Hence the questions. Indeed, helping instructors to ask better, more revealing questions is a big part of all effective instructor training programs. "What do you want?" or "what are your goals?" may or may not evoke the answers we need. "What do you like about skiing?" may do it for some people. "What other things--sports, activities, recreation--do you enjoy, and why"--can reveal deep and important truths about you. "What's the best lesson you've ever had?" And so on. One of my favorite questions goes something like this: "If you were to look back at the end of today and think, 'wow--that was the best day and the best lesson I've ever had'--what would we have done--and what would I have done as the instructor to help make it such a success?" Answer that one and I'll learn a lot about what your definition of "fun" and "success" are and what you value in skiing, and I might even gain some insight into how you like to learn, how to pace your day, what teaching styles are most effective for you, where and when we should stop for lunch, and much more.


Answer well. It's in your best interest!


Best regards,


post #9 of 11
Thread Starter 


May 3, 2011


Hi Bob:


I knew that I could count on you.  You've crystallized the question which has been going on in my mind since I read JASP thoughtful statement that to give the response of "best I can be" makes the coaches task just that much more difficult.  Since day one, I've been impressed by your keen insights.  I don't know whether you recall during my first Stowe Tune-up in 2006.  On a chair lift ride you asked me:  "Why do you make turns?".    I recall that in my mind I thought "what a stupid/weird question" but replied: "Of course to slow down (you nincompoop, in my mind againbiggrin.gif)"  roflmao.gif ROTF.gif .  Well, you're explanation "opened" up a whole new realm of possibilities,  which to this day, I am still exploring and enjoying.  Another thing which you said:  "Don't take any axiom/rule/what you hear about skiing on face value.  Not even things which I tell you.  Think and figure out what makes sense".  I am still harvesting the benefits of these two discussions which we had 5 years ago.  I think that after taking years of lessons, that I have finally entered the threshold of advance skiing, since at the end of this season, I now can answer the question "what would you like to work on next season".  As a short term goal, I hope to go back to basics and devote most of the season to "slipping, sliding, pivot slips, garlands, 360s and releasing".  So Mr Barnes, when we next meet at Stowe, you are on notice.  That is my personal goal and I expect to be an "expert pivot slipper" at the end of the eventsmile.gif.  In all seriousness, my eventual goal is so that I can (a) since I am from a small mountain, to be able to enjoy more of the bigger mountains when I go on trips, but as a generalist,  (b) secondary, like Weems, it is the journey and not the "end of the rainbow".  Surprise me.  My experience with Epic Ski events has certainly helped me along in this questicon14.gif.


Think snow,




ps:  I've never used the reply: "best skier I can be", though that maybe splitting hairs, since a reasonable person might infer it from the even more invasive/irresponsible response I do give: "I'm leaving it up to you".  And you are wrong Mr. Barnessmile.gif, I would have replied: "To identify needs"jk.gif, which can also be inferred from my response.

post #10 of 11

You can lead a horse to water...

post #11 of 11

If I were to take a lesson today, I would likely want to work on mogul skiing, as that is my weakest link and needs to be brought up to speed.

Ten years ago it would have been short carved turns, as that was something I hadn't spent a lot of time improving and yet would be used regularly, I didn't really care to much about skiing moguls.

Twenty years ago it would have been long carved turns.

Thirty years ago, it would have been, "I don't have a clue what to work on."

It really depends on the skier and his history and desires.


Asking Why are you taking this lesson is a good first question.


When I first bought a lesson, I really was not dissatisfied with my skiing in any particular area, which isn't to say I was good, just good enough for me.  My reason for buying my first lesson was I had taken a fall and was concussed so decided as the day was shot, I may as well take it easy and find out what ski lessons were all about.  I enjoyed that so I decided to do another one.  On the second one the instructor did notice a couple of things that needed inmprovement, and suggested working on them, but after I informed him I didn't really care about those things we worked on something else I hadn't noticed and that would improve the skiing I liked to do.

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