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effect of teaching terrain on how and what you teach beginners

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 

How does the teaching terrain you have to work with affect how you teach beginners, day one?

What is your teaching terrain set-up like?

What are its strengths and weaknesses?

If you had ideal terrain, what would it look like?

 

How about day 2-3-4 skiers; does your terrain make an abrupt jump from easy-peasy to what those skiers will perceive as impossible headwalls and narrow steeps?


Edited by LiquidFeet - 11/14/13 at 1:59pm
post #2 of 11

My resort has created dedicated first time teaching areas (this year we are going to a separate area for snowboarders vs having one area with a skier section and a snowboard section). These areas have landscaped and groomed flat areas and ramps with runouts for station teaching when we are busy and progression zones when we are in groups. In the mornings we rope off these areas from the main slopes and set up props (bamboo, cones, brushies) to define lanes and facilitate drills. For the skier area, once the flatland basics and ramps are done, the skiers can either be taken up a chair or a magic carpet. The new snowboard area is at the top of the magic carpet.

 

Station teaching is cool in that students can move through at their own pace. You don't have a whole group of people waiting on the weakest link. It works great at getting new folks started ASAP after leaving the rental building vs waiting for the next class to start. It spreads the load better and handles volume spikes better than doing groups. But station teaching is more difficult to manage staff and students don't always get the best demos and instructions at each station and don't always move through the stations fast enough or slow enough. Our station teaching has eliminated the option of direct to parallel for group lessons, but it has opened up terrain for teaching DTP for private lessons that previously would have been clogged up with traditional group lessons. We don't teach a lot of DTP lessons any more due to management preference and it not being appropriate unless a lot of factors line up together including available space/crowds and conditions.

 

Killington has a flat trail from below the Superstar lift to mid Snowshed that they use for first timers. I'd love to have that kind of terrain available. It has a tiny bit of a double fall line and a few bumps to allow skiers to "work" mini turns in if they are feeling adventurous while still having plenty of flat room for just cruising. We have kind of mini version of that trail available, but it is logistically unreachable for beginners right now and is a bit too flat. Beaver had an outstanding off ramp off their beginner chair where you stood up and coasted away from the chair slow slowly that after 20 feet you were only 1-2 feet ahead of the thing.

 

When it comes to beginner trails, wider is better and wider without buzz bombs making 11s is even better. In the old days our beginner trail had the most snow in the middle and the sides tended to double fall line beginners off the edges. Now our groomers build little berms on the edges. That helps a bunch. Also our snowmakers and groomers also team up to make whales on the slopes that act like way stations/speed bumps (not the bump part - just the slow down part).

 

We've experimented with mini features on our beginner trail (mini pipe w/ 1-2 foot walls and rollers). These are hugely popular with kids, mostly level 2 and 3 versus level 1 and you can see the skill development happening right in front of your eyes. But we stopped doing those features after we put a magic carpet in that went through that area of the slope. Our resort has 4 distinct zones of trails (beginner 5-10 degrees pitch, advanced beginner 12-20 degrees, intermediate 16-25 degrees and advanced 20-28). The different zones have an intimidating difference in look of pitch as a big step up, but each zone has small optional sections where one can try out the pitch level of the next zone. Most guests do not figure this out on their own, but it works out great for coaching. Our 3+4 lessons pretty much stick to the steeper beginner run and the advanced beginner terrain. A few years back we added another trail to the advanced beginner terrain that lessens the pitch by going away from the main trail and then coming back. For skiers stepping up this is scarier because it is narrower. For other skiers it is easier because it is less steep. This creates an interesting dilemma for pros moving level 3 groups up to the advanced beginner zone. The routine choice for the first run (i.e. the flatter option) is not always the best choice over the wider option. On our main advanced beginner trail we have two areas where we build moguls later in the season when we have enough snow. These areas have proven incredibly valuable for level 4 and 5 lessons.

 

There's way too much on this topic to put into a single post. Sorry for the brain dump, but you asked.

post #3 of 11
Thread Starter 

That's exactly what I'm looking for.  Sounds like your ski area has worked hard at making the beginner terrain very learning-supportive.  
Do other instructors have similar, or dissimilar, stories of how beginner terrain and teaching interlock at their mountains?

post #4 of 11
At my mountain, the beginner progression can happen in a few different ways. We have a corral area where the 7-14 year old program gathers, and that has a nice pitch for doing a few short first runs. The only issue is that there isn't really a runout, and the slope goes into either a snow bank or the wall of the children's building. The next spot is the magic carpet. Up until two years ago, there wasn't much of a runout, so the kids could end up all the way into the fencing if the snow was fast. Last year the snow makers built a berm at the base. This served two purposes. First, no more runaway kids. Second, we could use the berm for initial straight runs. It was a little steep but very short, so it was great for getting beginners centered and not in the back seat. Finally, the magic carpet area itself. It had very minimal pitch, to the point that on sticky days the kids wouldn't move. This year they're lengthening the carpet, and they regraded it. I'm hoping the groomers groom some flats into it, we'll see.
post #5 of 11

I'll answer the title rather then the text.I've always worked at areas with poor beginner terrain. When pitches are too great direct to parallel isn't really an option because of speed (and fear) control issues. On something like easy mile at Stowe or Schoolmarm at Keystone its nearly possible to go right to the top and let the feel of the sliding ski do most of the teaching. Beginners are a funny level in that it is probably the largest single wad of new stuff you will drop on your guests in one lesson, while at the same time dealing with the widest range of emotions you'll see in one group.

 

The main way I mitigate pitch issues is teaching and using the herringbone. I like to have people moving forward. I like that people learn to independently steer and edge their skis while climbing, or occasionally skating on the flat. Mostly I like that it keeps people from getting farther up the hill then their skill level allows. After all if you have enough pitch to slide backwards you can slide forwards. If you've taught a solid star turn (AKA wagon wheel since the tracks look like the spooks as you step around in a circle) it's pretty easy to get people to turn from facing uphill to facing downhill, all the while practicing steering and edging. Use your favorite progression to get control established. I will at some point have switched to sidestepping to get far enough up the hill that it approximates the average pitch of the hill. After  turning and stopping, point out that we will be on the same pitch when we get to the top so even though the hill will look WAY steeper and longer from the top then it did from the bottom they do know how to control their speed. The first half of the first run usually consists of turning to a stop until people are confident in their ability to glide rather then hit the brakes. 

 

My Ideal teaching venue would have a flat slightly larger then an olympic skating rink. Next to it would be a bowl, similar size, with a flat all the way around where people could set themselves to go down the 5' vertical drop with pitches grading from 1 to 10 degrees along its length with a matching counter slope. All getting around on the flat or in the bowl is done under the students own power. The actual hill will be of any length and vertical but with a fairly steady 6-10degree pitch, the steeper it is, the wider it is,and no double fall line.  Most important the lift is a Poma lift. Sucks for snowboards, they get a chair or carpet, But for skis its great because you ski up the hill with no worries about speed control,just balance and glide. And as long as I'm dreaming, the bowl and the rink would be hard pack to reduce postholing and sitzmarks (remember "Fill your Sitzmarks" signs?) but no ice. The slope would be soft enough to posthole but not soft enough to auger a ski into. Any new snow kept to a couple inches at the most.         

post #6 of 11
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dave W View Post
 

I'll answer the title rather then the text.I've always worked at areas with poor beginner terrain. When pitches are too great direct to parallel isn't really an option because of speed (and fear) control issues. On something like easy mile at Stowe or Schoolmarm at Keystone its nearly possible to go right to the top and let the feel of the sliding ski do most of the teaching. Beginners are a funny level in that it is probably the largest single wad of new stuff you will drop on your guests in one lesson, while at the same time dealing with the widest range of emotions you'll see in one group.

 

The main way I mitigate pitch issues is teaching and using the herringbone. I like to have people moving forward. I like that people learn to independently steer and edge their skis while climbing, or occasionally skating on the flat. Mostly I like that it keeps people from getting farther up the hill then their skill level allows. After all if you have enough pitch to slide backwards you can slide forwards. If you've taught a solid star turn (AKA wagon wheel since the tracks look like the spooks as you step around in a circle) it's pretty easy to get people to turn from facing uphill to facing downhill, all the while practicing steering and edging. Use your favorite progression to get control established. I will at some point have switched to sidestepping to get far enough up the hill that it approximates the average pitch of the hill. After  turning and stopping, point out that we will be on the same pitch when we get to the top so even though the hill will look WAY steeper and longer from the top then it did from the bottom they do know how to control their speed. The first half of the first run usually consists of turning to a stop until people are confident in their ability to glide rather then hit the brakes. 

 

My Ideal teaching venue would have a flat slightly larger then an olympic skating rink. Next to it would be a bowl, similar size, with a flat all the way around where people could set themselves to go down the 5' vertical drop with pitches grading from 1 to 10 degrees along its length with a matching counter slope. All getting around on the flat or in the bowl is done under the students own power. The actual hill will be of any length and vertical but with a fairly steady 6-10degree pitch, the steeper it is, the wider it is,and no double fall line.  Most important the lift is a Poma lift. Sucks for snowboards, they get a chair or carpet, But for skis its great because you ski up the hill with no worries about speed control,just balance and glide. And as long as I'm dreaming, the bowl and the rink would be hard pack to reduce postholing and sitzmarks (remember "Fill your Sitzmarks" signs?) but no ice. The slope would be soft enough to posthole but not soft enough to auger a ski into. Any new snow kept to a couple inches at the most.         

 

Very helpful, Dave.  I think it's important for pros to know every hill does not have an ideal set-up, and that there are lots of ways to help beginners get over that first big "gulp" moment.

post #7 of 11
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by TheRusty View Post
 

My resort has created dedicated first time teaching areas (this year we are going to a separate area for snowboarders vs having one area with a skier section and a snowboard section). These areas have landscaped and groomed flat areas and ramps with runouts for station teaching when we are busy and progression zones when we are in groups. In the mornings we rope off these areas from the main slopes and set up props (bamboo, cones, brushies) to define lanes and facilitate drills. For the skier area, once the flatland basics and ramps are done, the skiers can either be taken up a chair or a magic carpet. The new snowboard area is at the top of the magic carpet.

 

Station teaching is cool in that students can move through at their own pace. You don't have a whole group of people waiting on the weakest link. It works great at getting new folks started ASAP after leaving the rental building vs waiting for the next class to start. It spreads the load better and handles volume spikes better than doing groups. But station teaching is more difficult to manage staff and students don't always get the best demos and instructions at each station and don't always move through the stations fast enough or slow enough. Our station teaching has eliminated the option of direct to parallel for group lessons, but it has opened up terrain for teaching DTP for private lessons that previously would have been clogged up with traditional group lessons. We don't teach a lot of DTP lessons any more due to management preference and it not being appropriate unless a lot of factors line up together including available space/crowds and conditions.

 

Killington has a flat trail from below the Superstar lift to mid Snowshed that they use for first timers. I'd love to have that kind of terrain available. It has a tiny bit of a double fall line and a few bumps to allow skiers to "work" mini turns in if they are feeling adventurous while still having plenty of flat room for just cruising. We have kind of mini version of that trail available, but it is logistically unreachable for beginners right now and is a bit too flat. Beaver had an outstanding off ramp off their beginner chair where you stood up and coasted away from the chair slow slowly that after 20 feet you were only 1-2 feet ahead of the thing.

 

When it comes to beginner trails, wider is better and wider without buzz bombs making 11s is even better. In the old days our beginner trail had the most snow in the middle and the sides tended to double fall line beginners off the edges. Now our groomers build little berms on the edges. That helps a bunch. Also our snowmakers and groomers also team up to make whales on the slopes that act like way stations/speed bumps (not the bump part - just the slow down part).

 

We've experimented with mini features on our beginner trail (mini pipe w/ 1-2 foot walls and rollers). These are hugely popular with kids, mostly level 2 and 3 versus level 1 and you can see the skill development happening right in front of your eyes. But we stopped doing those features after we put a magic carpet in that went through that area of the slope. Our resort has 4 distinct zones of trails (beginner 5-10 degrees pitch, advanced beginner 12-20 degrees, intermediate 16-25 degrees and advanced 20-28). The different zones have an intimidating difference in look of pitch as a big step up, but each zone has small optional sections where one can try out the pitch level of the next zone. Most guests do not figure this out on their own, but it works out great for coaching. Our 3+4 lessons pretty much stick to the steeper beginner run and the advanced beginner terrain. A few years back we added another trail to the advanced beginner terrain that lessens the pitch by going away from the main trail and then coming back. For skiers stepping up this is scarier because it is narrower. For other skiers it is easier because it is less steep. This creates an interesting dilemma for pros moving level 3 groups up to the advanced beginner zone. The routine choice for the first run (i.e. the flatter option) is not always the best choice over the wider option. On our main advanced beginner trail we have two areas where we build moguls later in the season when we have enough snow. These areas have proven incredibly valuable for level 4 and 5 lessons.

 

There's way too much on this topic to put into a single post. Sorry for the brain dump, but you asked.

Your description of your beginner terrain is fascinating; it sounds perfect.  I would love to teach on it.  But but but ... I'm having trouble envisioning station teaching.  Here's my best guess, which can't be a very good guess as you'll soon see.

 

On a beginner slope, (this is my stupid guess) there are big signs with numbers on them spaced along the sides of the trail.  One ski instructor stands at each sign.  The students are supposed to go to the next number in their progression and get instruction from the instructor standing there.  After receiving a talk from the instructor standing there, they ski off trying that thing.  They ride the lift up and come back for feedback and try again until they "pass."  Then they move to the next number (and a new instructor) for the next step in the progression.

 

But the instructor can't very well demo in this plan, or he/she would ski down the hill and have to trudge back up over and over all day so as to not leave the station unattended.  That's a sure fire way to skinny-up your overweight instructors!  But I bet your station teaching does not require this.  How do you do it?

 

I can't figure out how you get personal feedback to the students either.  By the time the student goes down trying out the new thing, rides the lift back, and appears back at the station for feedback, what's the likelihood the instructor will remember how that person did and give appropriate feedback, especially if other students have come and gone in the meantime?  I would have trouble remembering, especially since I wouldn't be getting to know the students.  How does your station teaching incorporate personal feedback?

 

Another concern of mine is this.  If the students are moving from one instructor to another as they move through the stations, no trust is grown, no awareness in the instructor of the students' strengths and weaknesses is growing, and the instructor is not traveling with the student down the hill so he/she can't see what that person is doing from below, from the side, and from above.  So no one instructor is really getting to know the student.  The student is not learning from the instructor's feedback to the other people in the group, either.  If the station teaching is strong because of something in its structure, that could override these potential problems.  But clearly I haven't got the imagination to figure out how that might work.

 

Plus, I'm thinking that a student will just decide on his/her own when it's time to move to the next station if there's no one watching over the progress from beginning to end.  Is that an issue with your station teaching?

 

Surely my guesses are all wrong.........help me out here!

post #8 of 11

Yup, all wrong. The stations are mostly a series of side by side lanes. When we're busy, there's at least one pro on each lane. When we're not busy, pros can handle multiple lanes or work multiple steps in a single lane (e.g. turns in both directions). Pros advise guests when it is time to move to the next lane. Sometimes the guests move before they get a "go". Sometimes they get a go, but hang back for more practice. Sometimes the go by the pro was premature. Sometimes the guest needs to repeat a previous station. Managing the movement between stations is part of the "art" of station teaching. So is managing the staffing (for instructor skill as well as workload). When the guests finish the stations, they gather in a group to ride the lift and get one run with an instructor and then they are done.

 

There are no numbers to the stations. Each lane is about 10-12 feet wide. There are about 10 lanes. Unless we're busy, 1/2 are used as spacers/climbing lanes. Each lane is 15-20 feet long. There are also 2-3 totally flat zones for boot and shuffling drills. Feedback is not a problem (every guest gets tons of one on one time), but developing a personal connection with the guest is because a guest will typically see 6-10 different instructors during the lesson. One good aspect to this is that there is an excellent chance that a guest will have at least some contact with one of our top tier instructors and virtually zero chance of being stuck with rookie quality instruction for their entire lesson. 

 

Each instructor can get different view points while working a lane and typically does while they cycle through to do periodic demos (e.g. as new people enter the station). Since people are pretty much doing the same thing over and over at one station, you'd think that people waiting their turn would learn from watching and listening to feedback for others, but the "lap" times are so fast that this is less than one would think.

 

I think the important selling point when we started this was that each resort has to do station teaching differently and that methods will evolve as the staff gets experienced and "the system" can be tried with different tweaks. The guy that helped us get our system started had worked closely with several other resorts to get this going. His experience was a big help.

 

I would not say our terrain is perfect. There are dozens of things that could make it more perfect (some doable, some not). What we currently have is a ton better than what we started with when the resort first opened (this is year 23). I am very thankful for the blessing of what we have to work with because it looks like we have it a lot easier than most resorts. There is no doubt that our mountain is topographically unique within the midatlantic area with respect to the available vertical (960 feet), the consistency of pitch at the various pitch angles available and the funneling of the orientation of most of the pitch angles into a central location (kind of bowlish).

post #9 of 11

Where I was teaching in MN we used station teaching for school groups. 

One or two stations on the flat for boot drills and moving around on skis.

 

The rest in parallel lanes width and length determined by that days snow conditions and crowd.

Generally lanes set up using traffic cones to define the lane as well as when and where to turn.

One lane for straight runs and stopping.

One lane for mini turns ending in a left or right turn to a stop.

One lane for mini turns ending in a right or left turn to a stop.

One lane of a slalom course forcing a large enough turn in each direction to control speed. 

An explanation of the chair lift, a quick quiz about the skiers responsibility code, and off they go.

 

From the instructors perspective. Kids get off the bus and are led to the lodge where expectations and rules for the day are laid out.  

Those few with their own equipment get ready, well the bulk of the kids are talked through the rental form.

The first instructor up takes the kids with their own gear out and leads them through the stations. Meanwhile the second instructor up takes all the renters who have skied before through the rental shop and through the stations. If they can indeed ski they're out of there in less then 10 minutes leaving those instructors free to cycle back to earlier stations as needed.

The rest of the instructors lead groups of 8-15 kids to the shop in ~10 minute intervals or as quickly as the shop says they can handle them. when all the instructors are gone the chaperons take groups to the shop.

On the snow instructors lead their group to the first station. Basically the Instructor gets in the loop walking/skating up and skiing down offering constant demos and feed back. When the next group comes up behind them one instructor takes the ones who have completed the task with to the next station while the new kids and an instructor stay and work the first station.

Basically kids and instructors cycle through until all the stations are covered then just cycle station to station as need for help at particular places become evident or at least the need to turn right after a half hour of turning left sets in.

After most had gotten through the stations the few who needed more help would wind up in more traditional groups as the need to staff each station lessens.

On an average day we could, with 5 or 6 instructors, take 150 to 300 off their bus to free skiing in less then 3 hours.

 

As a supervisor it made it easy to rotate instructors in to help with a crowded station even if they only had 15 minutes. Most of the instructors enjoyed working up their own station shtick. Best of all (from a supervisors perspective) it made instructors who really understood what you need to know to take the next step, and how close to perfect it had to be preformed to keep progressing. 

 

We occasionally would use them with the public if it was real busy, but generally we had enough staff on busy days that it wasn't necessary.


Edited by Dave W - 11/19/13 at 10:19am
post #10 of 11
Thread Starter 

So Dave, it sounds like the station teaching works very efficiently.  But that ski school would prefer to use one-instructor-per-group when there's not an influx of gazillions of people all at once .

Is the one-instructor-ine-group preference because it costs the school less in instructor pay than station teaching, or because people learn better from one instructor, or is there some other reason?

post #11 of 11

Among the reasons we did not make more use of stations outside of group settings, cost, one way or the other, was not an issue.I don't think there was much question that a straight station teaching set up is more efficient of instructors time, and thus labor cost. But there is more to it then that.

 

 While I was working at that area anyone over 13 who bought a ticket and rented skis from us got a free beginner group lesson. On busy days part of my job was to cruise through the rental shop and save peoples relationships by talking the non skier into a lesson with us instead of with the friend, spouse, whatever, who brought them. We made a serious effort in recruiting and training instructors so if we could get people to commit to a ticket and rental they had a great time and came back rather then the memory of the cold painful humiliation they received at the hands of someone they thought liked/loved them*.

 

That being the case it was easier to talk people into a traditional lesson. They get a more personal connection, and a good instructor learns to manage ego problems through that personal connection.. Students don't have to think about meeting scads of new people during the lesson, particularly when someone is slower accomplishing a station most adults feel embarrassed in front of strangers or get so competitive as to get in their own way. The school group kids already mostly knew everyone they were bunched with, and had the support of friends in the class with them and some sort of pecking order that, for better or worse, made for a lot fewer variables in a potentially stressful situation. In that regard a tradition lesson works better. However over time as we trained instructors in station teaching (Yes, even the examiners on staff that we knew were seldom going to be teaching walk-in groups at any level, much less beginners, went through station training) even traditional groups became more station like. Because the lesson was free people could take as many beginner lessons as they wanted. As, say, half of two groups got it the instructors would mix and match to get homogenous skill levels,mostly without people feeling like they were being held back or pushed out. In the end even though we were set up as traditional group lessons on busy days with good instructors it became modified station lessons.

 

The other unexpected reason, to answer your last question, is that while stations are very efficient with instructors time, they are not space efficient.The stations need to be in close physical proximity to work without too much time wasted in traffic management. To set up stations large enough to handle a typical weekend crowd there, let alone a holiday crowd, and still leave space for the public, ate up too much of our limited beginner terrain. The advantage of groups in that case is you can spread out. I have done boot and one ski drills while taking groups to flatter terrain at the base of the expert trail or elsewhere to get the space needed on a busy day. If it's that busy you can be sure there will be other groups also searching for space so exchanges could still happen even far from the view of the office which leads to another unexpected reason.

 

The annoying thing from an instructors perspective is that when we did mix and match we had to be sure to let the desk know ASAP what we did. The sup' deJour would know who you started out with, but we also needed to know who you wound up with. We did have cases that people (lawyers) came back trying (fishing) to find out who had taught so and so, as a year later they hurt themselves because of deficient instruction the first day on skis. Just having the records shut out nuisance cases before they got really expensive. For whatever reason the group waivers seemed to work fine with school groups, I guess that there weren't too many kids with high powered litigious parents in the public school kids we generally taught. Most seemed thrilled that for (I think) $5 in say 1994-5 their kid could ski till 3 pm for a phy ed class credit. 

 

 

 

*I've decided the reason guys bring other guys skiing is to point and laugh at the victims flailing. Unfortunately too many times they even subject their girlfriends to the GLMF teaching method: take them to the top of a lift and give 'em a push while yelling "Good Luck Mutha".

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