It's really starting to sink in as I start the process of reading the workbook for the teach portion and start to think about moving forward. Passed the next step and now for more learning.
Looking back I was going to give you some history but decided many of you have followed some of my L1 and L2 successes and shared my L3 attempts over the years so I will just focus on the past 2-3 seasons experiences. You can search for older reports.
Three seasons back I was starting to get as feed back, "stop taking clinics and just go ski". '"You have moments of brilliance but it needs to be all the time". This was telling me that I am skiing at or above the L3 Standard, some of the time but not consistently. All of those old "Straight ski bad habits" that were making me a very strong skier were the very things that were keeping me from this next step in my journey. Anytime I got in trouble (mostly steeps, crud and bumps) all of the habits that kept me from tumbling down the slope were kicking in. Athletic and strong maybe but not "good turn mechanics". I had also heard from several examiners that it is very unlikely for a part time instructor to pass the L3 ski but I was determined to press on..
The things on my " to improve on list" were
Fore/Aft balance. Everyone kept telling me I needed to have my hips further forward over my feet or to figure out how to get my feet behind me.
Learn to flatten and steer your skis instead of riding the side cut. "practice and ski on wider skis".
Balance against that outside ski
and the big one.. TOUCH. Learn how much or how little you need to affect the turn. "Less is more" "Ski Cuff Neutral" "be more progressive"
Fore Aft balance: in 2008-2009 early in the season I decided to start playing with ramp angle/boot balancing (I had already gotten my boots canted during my L1-l2 years) to help me find a more centered balance point.
I had been skiing on Salomon xwave 10s with cuffs and soles canted. Nothing done for ramp or lean. I pulled all the spoilers, installed booster straps and changed the way I buckled (boosters between cuff and liner instead of over cuff) and I removed the stiffening bolts from the back of the boots thinking the boot was too stiff. The affect was pretty dramatic. I was now able to really flex the boot and much more progressively. I also added 3 mm of toe lift due to a suggestion (wasn't sure what the affect was supposed to do at this time but figured I'd try it. My posture changed dramatically when skiing and I was able to turn my feet better but other things stayed the same. At the end of the season, I had a boot failure (crack started to form on the cuff) so I went in search of a new boot. Because the boot last fit so well with minimum change I called on the boot fitting knowledge here (I am a master fit U, certified fitter BTW) to find what was replacing the Xwave and was told the Impact was supposed to be the direct replacement. I purchased this boot and proceeded to re-check my cant, alignment etc and installed the same toe lift (foolishly not checking all the measurements) The next season when I took the first exam, I was told I had "gone back" to the same hips "behind the feet" posture. When I tried to make the adjustment in my skiing the second day, When ever I really "forced myself" to stand taller and over the skis I would get "THAT's IT " however the "THAT's IT" pattern feeling was "OMG, I am going to fall on my face" and I was struggling to just keep from going over the handle bars. That can't be right!. Except for that posture, the feed back for the exam was good. Turning my feet well, doing tasks well, moments of brilliant skiing, getting more progressive, etc.. But not enough. It was then I decided to recheck all my gear.. I had just switched that season to new boots and Different skis (wider). Unfortunately I had also just spent a full season ingraining all those patterns into my skiing. The result of the equipment check, Ramp was different in the 2 boots even though Salomon had advertised the Impact as the "Same last". Forward lean was a little bit more too. Also the Equipe 3V Race skis I was skiing had less delta (ramp) than my new Tornado TI skis. I added another 4mm of toe lift to get me to the same place as I was on my Xwaves (now a total of 7 on these new boots) and decided to take the exam again, just to see how much of a change it made. (mainly so I could get trained eyes on my skiing) to make sure I was going the correct way. Also this season my resort was closing early and I didn't have time to get a whole lot of training in with our trainers but I wanted to confirm my findings. According to the examiner I skied with, as well as the examiner from my previous outing, What a HUGE difference in my skiing. It was like I had just gotten several seasons of training in. I was pretty sure I was not going to get a pass because I was still finding my "balance" again after the boot changes but it was very encouraging to know. I also decided that I would continue my education on equipment so I scheduled myself to take the masters course for MasterfitU boot fitting to get a better understanding of "why" for the toe lift.
The change in balance with the extra toe lift also assisted in the flatten and steer department (gee wonder why that is?)
Balance against the outside ski I get. just need to practice more and more.. White pass turns, Javelins, Anchor Javelins, One legged skiing, and "stork turns" as much and as often as I can.
Touch... Just ski in every horrible condition I can find and learn how to keep that upper body stable, be light on my feet (as little input to the ski as I can get away with) and patience. Ski Cuff neutral as much as I can and still engage the front of the ski. Move forward before moving laterally and again, Just enough. This should help with the flatten and steer department as well.
Unfortunately at the end of 2010 (acutally right before my last exam) my new boots cracked at the cuff (again) so next year new boots again. This time with the Masterfit course coming up I would have a chance to learn and understand more about the mechanics of what I was learning in my skiing.
During evaluation of feet, range of motion, at masterfitU I had another epiphany (explained later). Something I had always done when looking at peoples feet but never really thought much of how it would affect skiing . I also began to look at body geometry and started to understand more and more about that as well.
I discovered that I have "hyper mobile" ankles. The normal range of motion for most adults is about 11-16 degrees. I have about 23 degrees of range. I also discovered that I have longer than average tib/fib compared to my femurs. Combine these 2 things and what I found is that standing in my boots cuff neutral, without all the toe lift, my knees were well forward of my toes.. (good thing you'd think) but for me to stay balanced something had to move back to counter balance where my knees were and guess what that is! My hips. I also found that the 110-120 flex of the boots I had been getting were allowing me to flex my boots even further since my ROM was allowing my ankles to flex that far which meant even more weight forward that needs to be counter balanced with the hips back.
When I got my credit for my returned cracked boots, I opted to go with a more upright and stiffer boot and ended up in the Salomon X3 Race CS. Flex of 130. As soon as I adjusted my cuff and cant's I got on my skis in the shop and had someone help me with my fore aft balance. We found that I still needed 3 mm of toe lift so that when I stand cuff neutral my knees were back enough to allow me to stand with my hips just forward of my arches. Now to the slopes to ski.. Even now standing cuff neutral, my knees are just over my toes
Bottom line. While we tell everyone it's not the equipment, it's the driver, If you are trying to "paint a specific image" and learn to use the equipment properly, It sure helps to get the setup and tuning right!
As an instructor, especially a L3 instructor, it really helps to know what's going on with equipment. Cause and effect will take you a long way..
On to my experience and thoughts about the "New Coached" exam process.
As a part timer, I found that getting training at your own mountain is often problematic. Since we are usually weekend only instructors when the work load is highest, there is little time to train. Most of the time we get 1 hr in the morning to free ski or train. A lot of the time, the Trainers and L3 instructors, if they are there, are working privates. Since there are not a huge number of instructors at this level, only one clinic will often go out. Of course they have to clinic to the lowest common denominator so Steep bumps, crud, high performance dynamic skiing is often put aside for lower level tasks and work. Before 2004 when I broke my leg, there were prep clinics for each exam. They brought them back after a few years but by then I was being told I don't need to "clinic" but I need to "ski hard" and develop that "touch" Practice your tasks, etc but just go ski. Without examiners and trainers in abundance at our resort, My best chance for good trained eyes and some coaching was through the PSIA-W Coached exam format (and EpicSki academy which also was not held last season). Where else would I be able to get coaching at this high of a level, with a group ratio of 5:1 for 3 full days for only 90.00 per day? So each event I attended was with an open mind, and no expectations. Just keep improving and working towards my goal. Of course it's always disappointing to get that paper that said "did not attain" but I left each time with more insight into my skiing.
Towards the end of 2011 (our really good season) There was almost always hero snow to ski on. I skied as much as I could given the teaching needs, but the down side of this year was the snow conditions were so good, sometimes it was actually hard to find snow or conditions that would really "teach" me how to ski the horrible conditions that put me that out of balance. While I'm sure it helped cement good movement patterns into my skiing, being put in some real tough conditions were still causing me to revert to old habits and patterns. From my feedback at Mammoth, "getting closer" but the "touch and fluidity" is just not there 90% of the time. Especially when I get bounced or thrown out of balance.
In 2011-12 season, I vowed to myself I would be out every morning, lunch, and free time, skiing off piste, junk, crud, steep, bumps, etc regardless of how "poor" the conditions were. Unfortunately for me, Nature decided that there would not be any of that to ski on until late February. On hopes of better snow to practice in, I signed up for the L3 Ski exam (scheduled in March) early in January. If I knew I would only get about 10 days of good skiing in before this exam I would have postponed taking it however I decided go ski, learn from the experience and move on.. It was probably a good thing too. The full first day at Squaw it was brutal skiing but I was skiing well. Well enough that my examiner said I had been skiing at or the standard most of the day. Sure there were things I needed to work on but most of the feed back was good. Unfortunately Day 1 had taken so much out of me (energy and focus) that day 2, I knew I was not going to get through it well. I skied hard and pretty good but not nearly good enough to pass. At that point I decided that I would continue to train as much and as hard as I could and 2 weeks before the next exam, I would re-evaluate and decide then if I should take another run at it.
We went to Alta for my dad's birthday the next week and with no new snow, and spring conditions, I got even more chances to ski Icy bumps, crud, spring mush, steeps for several days straight. Every chance I got, I was hopping into the trees, chutes, ungroomed crud and just skied hard. When we got back we had the great March of storms, followed by warm days and frozen nights and many more chances to just go ski. Business at the resort was steady but down so it allowed for even more free skiing and training with only a few lessons per weekend so by the end of March, I decided to press forward and take the exam to see how much I had progressed.
Day one of the last exam was Monday April 16th at Squaw.
Conditions were firm morning snow, icy groomers and sunny. Promise of 50+ degrees by 1:00. There were about 16 people there to take the exam. Most very nervous, several I had skied with in the past, Many more I had never seen before. At least one other from the March exam. Several were taking the exam for the first time. Some had just passed their L2. After some introductions we all just went out to warm up together and so the examiners could take a quick look at everyone's skiing and see if the assigned groups would be OK. Once we got a couple of runs in, we split up into our groups of 5 or 6 and the process started. We were given instructions on where we were headed (each group went to different areas on the mountain for various tasks) and what to start to think about. With the coached exam module the feel and atmosphere was more like a clinic and more "user friendly" than in the past. At the start of each task segment, we would travel to an area with a task in mind (so we could start to get mindset in place) then before actually doing a task we were told what is expected, what makes for good movements, what are considered flaws. What to watch out for. Then a demo by the examiner.. The examiner would pull off to the side and we would ski the task one at a time. When we had all gone, there would be some feedback, usually individual but often it was Dave and lou, you were both doing... Chris and Tim, your demo was good except for ... and "G" you need to do it more slowly. Then if we had space to do the task again we would, if not, we might ski to another spot on the hill and do it again. The next feedback might be "better on this but now work on.. " or "that was it" or "try the task with less or more of this" or "try adding a pole touch". Sometimes it was global feedback, sometimes it was just clarification of the task. Sometimes it was clarification of what makes for better or flawed movements in a task. IE, Why do we do pivot side slips? Just to show rotary? Just to show edge control? clean simultaneous release? balance?. Depending on the way the task is presented, it could be some or all of the above. If one portion was lacking, maybe they will do a variation on the task to highlight a specific skill or lack there of.
Or examiner did a good job of selecting appropriate terrain and conditions for each of the tasks. By 11:00 the snow was getting very sticky and mushy. Luckily we had gotten the one legged skiing out of the way on the "Ramp" before it started getting too sticky but it also meant trying to do hop turns later in steep mush. (of course that's probably where we would need to do these in real life anyway)
After a few runs a couple of other examiners (not examining that day) caught up with us and announced that they were going to skiing with us. More eyes to watch but they kept insisting that they were there to "keep an eye" on the examiners and the process. They claim it is actually helpful for the candidates. They are supposedly there to make sure the Examiners are all on the same page, and that there is little bias between candidate and examiners. I found it is also helpful because one examiner's take on a task or demo will differ from another examiner. Different diameter small radius turns, Reaching or short,, etc...
By the end of the morning, we had pretty much gone through most of our tasks and skiing. Early in the afternoon we had a second chance (after lunch) to ski as a whole group (all 16). Another chance for the examiners to compare notes on all the candidates and make sure they are all seeing the same things. When we broke up into small groups for the afternoon, we had a chance to revisit tasks we wanted another shot at, finish up the tasks we didn't do, and a chance to check that we were sure we covered everything we wanted to. By the end of the day, full on "Fly Paper Snow" even in the steeps and bumps. A couple of pitches on our way down to the bottom, our examiner would say "lets do this task ..... " and he would take off to give us a demo and right away he would hold up his poles and wave us off telling us it's too dangerous. So we just picked our way down to the bottom.
At the end of the day, we each sat down with our examiners and had a chance to get individual feedback for the day and what to expect for day 2. I knew what I had to watch out for, Mostly things I had been working on, just need to be more focused on them. What some of my weakness are (I like to go a little fast and ride my edges) so that masks some of my errors so I had to watch out for that. My examiner confirmed these for me. He also told me that he didn't want to give me too many things to "work at" because he knew that more things to focus on might mess up things that I was doing well. I also got a big boost during my feedback on the first day. My March examiner came up to me and said quietly, "that run through Tom's Tumble... You NAILED it".... Big boost in confidence!
Day 2 was much like day one with less on hill feed back but some good quick reminders. "hands" "patience", etc. We also had a different examiner shadowing us for day 2. Another check and balance as well as different take on demos. Different images for us to see. Maybe some different insight into what we were doing well or needed to work on. A few runs before lunch, the one confidence builder for me was after some dynamic short radius turns, I got held back for a moment by my examiner, as we were headed to the lift.. His feedback was "what ever you are using to stay focused, keep at it. You are skiing well"
Right after lunch, we went out as a group again. The first thing I heard was "Chute 75" and I was thinking. "Great, Right after lunch! and we just finished Hop turns right before lunch!"
This was where they told us at the top, Ski it top to bottom Variety of turn sizes and shapes. "Just good skiing"
By the time I got to the bottom on the first run I was struggling to keep the turns going but I pushed through.. They then took us up to the top and said, Do it again. and again for a third time. I knew it would not be safe for me to try to make the full run again so I decided to sacrifice an unbroken run top to bottom for better turn mechanics and a short break half way down. I did this for both the second and third run. I think I made much better turns all the way down than I would have been able to if I tried to make the full run. Some of the comments at the top of our last run were "Sure I'll make the same turn shape all the way down, "irregular"" or "you got to be kidding"
After the three runs down Chute 75, the exam just sort of ended (2:30).. It was getting mushy and sticky so I think they (the examiners) decided it might not be safe to push all the candidates too much more. They had probably all seen enough of our skiing to make a fair evaluation, and they still had to do all the paperwork, feedback forms and interviews before the end of the day. We were told we could take another run or two while they took care of the paperwork and that we would meet around 4:00 for interviews and feedback. I decided it was time to pack up and get some rest because I still had to drive home (4hr drive) that evening.
I was sitting in the room where we were to meet the examiners at 4:00 and since I was there he decided to give me my feed back first.
The first thing he said was "So, how do you think it went?'
My response was "I think I skied very well.. Except for a couple of "bobbles or hiccups" I think I skied consistently and strong. This was by far the best I skiing I've done in an exam..and that if not being able to ski top to bottom of Chute 75, three times in a row was going to keep me from passing, so be it, but I think the turns I made all the way down Chute 75 and both days were good solid turns"
That's when he smiled and said "I agree" and "You passed". We then went over the feed back. Most positive with hints on what I need to continue to focus on. Where my strengths were and what I need to get better at. But all in all I skied at or above the standard. He also confirmed that the examiner who shadowed our group all day had read his feedback to me and agreed with the assessment.
That is also when I found out that I was the only one in our group to pass. The one other I thought might pass was skiing well but had one specific hitch in his skiing that I knew would be a hard flaw to overcome.
I'm now hoping to get some video of the day to look at and evaluate.
Bob Barnes was actually on the mountain with us and joined us for a few runs (by invitation of our examiner) during our March exam. Maybe he will chime in a little with his thoughts or observations.