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Instructors: What makes the best teaching environment?

post #1 of 29
Thread Starter 
I have often pondered this. Do instructors prefer to teach at large Vail type areas with large amounts of terrain (and crowds/students) or do you prefer a smaller area with less people, but also less terrain available to teach on? Do you find it difficult to teach at a busy area, or do you feel that the terrain/experience you can offer the student is actually better despite the size and the crowds? I suppose I could turn it around and ask the same to students.
Later
GREG
post #2 of 29
From the student perspective I favor the larger resorts. Sure...in terms of numbers there are more skiers there, but in terms of skier concentration it's much easier for an instructor to find their own piece of the mountain on which to provide instruction.
post #3 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by HeluvaSkier
I suppose I could turn it around and ask the same to students.
As a student, I would prefer lessons at a large area. Not Vail in particular,for reasons that have nothing to do with the ski school; but maybe Beaver Creek (or Snowmass or Copper or Sun Valley...). Even though some of the best instructors in the world could be -- and probably are -- teaching at small uncrowded mountains, big mountains, like big cities, tend to draw people who are at or who want to be at the top of their game...at least during one phase of their careers. In other words, the odds are in my favor as a student for getting a great lesson at a big area.
post #4 of 29
My experience as a student is that it depends on the student's level.

When I was learning to ski, I really appreciated learning at a smaller area like Loveland. Crowds and class sizes were small, the terrain was not overwhelming or intimidating. Just trying to get the basics of turning, stopping, carving, etc., was enough to keep me occupied without having to think/worry about super-long runs with varied terrain, etc. It was more comfortable learning on the few runs that I knew well -- I knew where the steeper portions were, where the crud was -- so every time I could inch my way towards the harder sections without too much discomfort. I think if I had to tackle new terrain on every run that would have made it much harder.

As I improved, I liked learning at larger areas. More variety. I can easily think about when I started tackling moguls at Copper. If one bump run seemed to throw me, the instructor could easily take me to another run and get back into a groove. Lots of options meant I never got frustrated on only a few runs. Plus, the challenge I look for as I improve is varying condition and terrain -- perhaps easier to find at a larger area.
post #5 of 29
As a student in the 70's, I did most of my learning at Eldora (then called Lake Eldora). As I progressed with my skiing, I believe it helped me taking lessons at a small resort. At levels 5 and up, at small hills (size and staff, not necessarily vertical), a student is pretty much assured of a private or semi-private lesson at group rates. At larger resorts, this is not the case. At least in RM Div, a level 3 cert is a level 3 cert, regardless of where they teach.

As an instructor (now nearly 30 years later, I am teaching where I learned to ski), I have mixed feelings. It would be nice to have a vast amount of teaching terrain, but it's also nice working in a environment where, even on a busy weekend, you know all the instructors' names (and a lot of the rest of the mountain staff).

lb
post #6 of 29
There are a lot of things that can come into play:

terrain availability
terrain accessability
crowds on the slopes
group sizes
ski school system/environment
ski school management
types of lessons available
weather/snow conditions
grooming
lifts
lift personnel
rental operation

terrain availability
We have a nice wide flat beginner trail with a wonderful flat runout at the bottom for starting beginner classes, but it could be 30% bigger for the peak crowds that we get. Many much larger resorts would kill for the beginner terrain that we have. Having terrain features and park/pipe features available for all levels of skiers/riders is sweet!

terrain accessability
The best terrain in the world is useless if it takes you too long to get to it.

crowds on the slopes
Crowded slopes limit what you can do in lessons. It's hard to teach when unguided missiles keep taking out your class members.

group sizes
Although this is mostly effected by staffing levels and school policies, group sales can also create large class sizes. Smaller size groups are easier to teach.

ski school system/environment
A happy pro is a productive pro. How pros are assigned to tasks, how much time they have to work vs play vs rest vs clinic, who they work with has a big impact. One of these days I'm going to work for a school that has a shower available. It's the little things that add up.

ski school management
A bad supervisor can screw up the whole day. (therusty apoligizes to those who have suffered through his personal experiments on this subject)

types of lessons available
Have you ever taught a 30 minute learn to ski lesson? Yuck! Our resort recently started offering special group lessons for 4-6 year olds. This has drastically cut the number of under age cheaters ruining adult lessons.

weather/snow conditions
Teaching beginners in the rain or on blue ice is hard. Teaching on a nice sunny comfortable temp day on fresh packed fluffy is so east we should pay for the privilege.

grooming
Groomers can do a lot to make teaching lessons easier.

lifts
Beaver Mountain, UT has the most wonderful exit ramp on their beginner lift that I've ever seen. It looks flat but you just stand and magically drift away from the list without getting clobbered by the chair.

lift personnel
Some lifties stop the chair for too long when beginners crash. Some have just the right touch when helping beginners back onto their feet.

rental operation
You never realize how good your rental crew is until they start screwing up. The qaulity of the rental equipment has a big impact on the quality of the lessons.


Gnarlito - be wary of the schools at mega resorts. Vail/BC has over 1000 pros on staff. A lot these people are rookie kids. While they have some excellent people on staff, I'd bet that one's chance of getting an experienced pro for a lower level lesson are far greater at smaller resort.
post #7 of 29
They're definitely two different animals, but each can complement the other.
Small areas definitely will hone your teaching - you need to do spot-on movement analysis, nail a guest's issue in short order with them and then facilitate the change they're looking for.
Large areas will develop your ability to envision and then create a multi-day experience/adventure for your guests, which may include ski improvement with coaching in strategy and tactics, risk assessment and decision-making. All of the above would include an intentional terrain progression. Or, you can simply provide a great guided experience, again, in a variety of terrain.
As an instructor now working in a big place, I am forever grateful that I spent 11 years at a smaller one. The fun part is putting all that experience together and creating an adventure that will bring the guest back.
post #8 of 29
Hmm...
I work at a big resort and love it but I have also worked at a day area and loved it for different reasons. I guess it depends on what you want and where your skiing fits in your life. A full timer has more growth potential at a resort. A part timer can fit a ski career around their off snow career easier at the small area.
post #9 of 29
Because being a "ski pro" is rarely the road to great financial success, you will often find some of the better instructors at smaller resorts closer to "real" jobs. My personal experience is that one's chances of walking off the street and getting an absolute top notch level III ski teacher is a lot better at Bogus Basin (Boise) than at Sun Valley.

If your division has year end symposiums, size up the attending talent. I'll bet you a lot of it doesn't come from the big name resorts.
post #10 of 29

teaching environment

therusty did a great job of itemizing.

Under his categories several stand out as reasons that I'll not be returning as an instructor:

- ski school system and environment a happy pro, showers and tasks

Use the lowest paid first and most and make the rest of us wait around (unpaid) "in case someone shows up"

Use your little pets for all of the privates and ignore the written rules that first on the list get the private lessons .... most of these "little pets" were short on talent.

Cram us into a room the size of large closet because management needed more space for the "executive lounge", take out the lockers and listen to the SSD say "f' em' ... let them drag their gear to the car every day".

Charge us rental for the jackets and after we have paid for them, give them to the maintenance department.

Have your lap dog line supervisors scream at us for things like being five late for a line up. Look up the hill, there I am with two students I was handed in a split to take to the top .... who should have never gone in the first place. Guess I should have left them stranded to make the line up on time? In five years I never missed a line up (late twice, once as above and the other ... the lift stopped). I mean scream .... not in jest, tongue in cheek jibeing.

Lock the instructors room between lessons so we have to stand outside.

Showers ..... ???? see above Lockers ... "go rent one, no employee discount".

A few passes for self, family or friends ..... never happened.

- quality of rentals ........ Oh God ... tried them once, I feel for the poor bastads .... "Wax costs the mountain $$$ carry your own for your students" .. as if I have to have the time to wax ten pair of skis when the victims can't move on skis stuck to the snow!

Put HUGE PSIA emblems on everything .... how many are newbies have only did an ITC and what's the % of PSIA (miniscule)? Create illusions at all levels.

Ahhhhhhh! Never mind this is the short list, I could go on with specific examples for hours, name names and hills.

Stitzmark ... I was never in it for the $$$ but I don't need to run in the red so the SSD can drive a tricked out 911 Porsche and flash that gold Rolex. I'm lucky that I have a real job that pays pretty well.

The night supervisor that I got along well with was a older guy who didn't play petty politics, was let go. The guy assigned tasks fairly. John ("Santa Claus"), from the Poconos ..... thanks for the good memories!
post #11 of 29
Yuki,What a horrible story.Was this a big resort or your local small area? What a shame to treat people like that. You know they talk about winning customer loyalty but if the management has no loyalty to their workers the good will eventually leave then the customer service goes right into the toilet. I instruct at a small local area and have dabbled with a couple weeks of group lessons last year at a large resort. I'll take the small anytime. Yeah the terrain options are not the greatest but you get to be very creative with what you can find for bumps and off-piste skiing.The big plus for my small area ,I can't speak for others, is that we all seem to be like family and we are good friends thru out the year. I think the guests benefit from this in that we all try to help out each other as much as possible and as someone else mentioned above lots of the time guests will pay for a group lesson and it is 1-2 people at their level sometimes a private, good for them.

A few qualifiers though, none of us except the ssd is doing this for a living so we don't need tons of lessons group or private and our ssd seems to have a good feel when to back off from the overload of any instructors especially on the holiday weeks. Yeah there are times it might get hard i.e. 3-4 1 hour lessons in a day ( I know alot of you instructors are going to laugh at that one), but there are lots of times we teach 1 lesson in the day and ski & clinic each other the rest of the time, so I would say we tend to be a real laid back area.

Years ago I taught at a small area outside of Boston and the buses of kids would be rolling in by 1pm with lessons every hour on the hour for the whole afternoon, 10-15 kids hour after hour . That's tough so I have seen both ends of the spectrum I'll take the small and slow that works for me.
post #12 of 29

where?

I've been at two of the five Pocono areas and have seen the annual migration of instructors from hill to hill, hoping that the "grass is greener".

It's partly location (NY/Philly Metro), and the "guests" are the same as those who go to Great Adventure ... sold and packaged on the same marketing plain/niche. They demand little of "instructors" since they come for the weekend as just a get out of the city kind of thing. 97% will not become skiers, they just want a bit of holiday at a cut rate price.

My point is, there is little demand for quality of instruction, most of the customers don't actually intend to actually ski much anyway. About the only real intermediate lessons that are given are the (evening) high school "ski club" variety.
post #13 of 29
IMO, the best teaching environment is one that combines the following attributes:
1) Lack of crowds
2) Good terrain mix
3) Good annual snowfall
4) Has a comfortable place to teach indoors (video review, dryland exercises, etc.)
5) Fast lifts are a bonus but not necessary

In fact, that list is what we look for when we choose where to hold ESA events. (We also give weight to ease of travel, but we may discount ease of travel if the other attributes are particularly strong, as lack of crowds is at Big Sky.)
post #14 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by Yuki
therusty did a great job of itemizing.

Under his categories several stand out as reasons that I'll not be returning as an instructor:

- ski school system and environment a happy pro, showers and tasks

Use the lowest paid first and most and make the rest of us wait around (unpaid) "in case someone shows up"

Use your little pets for all of the privates and ignore the written rules that first on the list get the private lessons .... most of these "little pets" were short on talent.

Cram us into a room the size of large closet because management needed more space for the "executive lounge", take out the lockers and listen to the SSD say "f' em' ... let them drag their gear to the car every day".

Charge us rental for the jackets and after we have paid for them, give them to the maintenance department.

Have your lap dog line supervisors scream at us for things like being five late for a line up. Look up the hill, there I am with two students I was handed in a split to take to the top .... who should have never gone in the first place. Guess I should have left them stranded to make the line up on time? In five years I never missed a line up (late twice, once as above and the other ... the lift stopped). I mean scream .... not in jest, tongue in cheek jibeing.

Lock the instructors room between lessons so we have to stand outside.

Showers ..... ???? see above Lockers ... "go rent one, no employee discount".

A few passes for self, family or friends ..... never happened.

- quality of rentals ........ Oh God ... tried them once, I feel for the poor bastads .... "Wax costs the mountain $$$ carry your own for your students" .. as if I have to have the time to wax ten pair of skis when the victims can't move on skis stuck to the snow!

Put HUGE PSIA emblems on everything .... how many are newbies have only did an ITC and what's the % of PSIA (miniscule)? Create illusions at all levels.

Ahhhhhhh! Never mind this is the short list, I could go on with specific examples for hours, name names and hills.

Stitzmark ... I was never in it for the $$$ but I don't need to run in the red so the SSD can drive a tricked out 911 Porsche and flash that gold Rolex. I'm lucky that I have a real job that pays pretty well.

The night supervisor that I got along well with was a older guy who didn't play petty politics, was let go. The guy assigned tasks fairly. John ("Santa Claus"), from the Poconos ..... thanks for the good memories!
Yuki,

That's the worst ski school working environment I've ever heard of. And I hope you moved on.--------Wigs
post #15 of 29
Yuki, I was going to comiserate about the little ski area where I earned my stripes, but it doesn't hold a candle to the miserable situation you describe. It was just petty stuff. Your situation sounds like a Dickens novel.
post #16 of 29
Wow, Yuki! I didn't know that hell had a ski resort?

Like Snowbowler, I taught at a small resort where we were treated like family. We often worked very hard, but were treated extremely well by both management and the SSD. Our pay was a fairly generous percentage of the lesson cost, based upon certification and years of experience (but we still barely made enough to cover costs for the year). We enjoyed many perks, like a free season pass, comped family passes, free clinics and other special events. Most of us were part-timers who did not depend upon our ski teaching to eat. We were there because we loved skiing and teaching and most importantly, just genuinely wanted to be there with our buddies.
post #17 of 29

sad but ..?

I know there are better areas, they are just too far from home and I have a junior racer to consider.

I was flattered when I got a call from an area where two of our other instructors ended up and things are much better ... they are happy.

When their SSD called me to extend an invite (on their recommendation), it brought a tear to my eye ..... cause there are some good guys out there.

It's this cut throat NY/Philly "school of management".

I'm not sorry I did it ... met some great people and learned a lot.

Did I mention that I learned a lot? ..... and tomorrow and retirement are closer at hand. Many students were a joy (we both gained) ... I'll be back, just not there.

sorry for rant ... thanks for understanding .... Yuki ..
post #18 of 29
I would concur with many who have already said that for beginners and lower level intermediates, a smaller area is probably better. For higher intermediates and advanced skiers a larger area is probably better.

From my experience the smaller the resort the higher the chance that a high intermediate or advanced skier will be placed in a group with others that are not of the same ability. Smaller resort, less instructors at line up, more grouping of students. Bigger resorts seem to have more instructors at line up and more level 2 or 3 instructors who are available and eager to teach advanced lessons. Also, the higher the level of the student at a large resort the more likely he or she will be in a very small size group lesson or even the only student. I've found that in order to maximize the chances of getting a private for the same price of a group take the lesson on a weekday when there are less students and in general less people on the mountain. Just my $0.02.
post #19 of 29
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the responses so far. I posed the question because I find that i can learn better at a smaller area that has less of a crowd - especially when it comes to race training (different from normal instruction i know). My home area also offers the advantage of familiar terrain so i don't have to focus on what I'm skiing and can look toward improving how I am skiing. At a larger area I would certainly be able to work on techniques on better terraiin which would benefit me, but there is a certain comfort that comes from being at a smaller familiar area. Areas that I have visited that I felt comfortable at were A-Basin (small mountain feel) and Squaw Valley (bigger - but was very quiet when i was there). Yuki, thats a scary story... and I think the kind of treatment that keeps me away from ski schools. Race programs often seem more friendly and are usually separate from the ski school.
Later
GREG
post #20 of 29
I think you need to differentiate between "small" as in small acreage vs. "small" as in less well-known/less crowded. To me, you want less crowded, not necessarily less acreage. I can't see any reason to want less acreage. An area big enough to absorb the crowds to the point of making them "vanish" would produce the ability to get more finely-tuned groups of skiers, less congestion on the slopes and lifts and more varied terrain.

These areas do exist, usually farther from the metro areas.
post #21 of 29
heluvaskier,
I feel it is the luck of the draw what you get for a instructor at any area (for group lessons), especially during the week when staffed by full timers. Often adult lessons are given to less talented instructors who can't hack teaching kids, while some of the best instructors are teaching the kids. If someone comes for a level 8 or 9 lesson, then the instructor is pulled from the kids program to do the lesson, or the lesson is assigned at a later time when the more talented instructor is available. At our area, the lesson assignments for full timers are given to salaried instructors before the per dium full timers, which is not always best for the customer. Comp lessons to handle complaints resulting from this practice are given to the best qualified (and talented) instructors. It is about the area making money eventhough the mangement preaches customer service being the priority. It is also about status quo, of an adult were given the very best instructor once, then any other instruction experience they might have after that might me a let down. Some of the weekend part timers at my area are really good instructors and skiers, so the pool of talent is larger at that time eventhough the mountain is much more crowded. I feel it is best to ski and take instruction during the week if possible because of the croud issue (can't learn much while on the lift line). I teach full time at a medium size area in the catskills and have worked at a much smaller one. The experience was great at the smaller one, but feel it is more challanging and rewarding where I am now. More terrain and more customers, plus more really talented instructors are attracted to this area over a smaller one. This area is no Vail, but it is not a one lift hill either. If I could, I would like to work at a larger resort for the same reasons as above.
post #22 of 29
physical or mental?

I am by no means at the top of the ski instruction game. I am one of those solid, PT, worker-bee type instructors. I started instructing to become a better skier. It worked.

I have learned alot by taking lessons. I watch people and finally realized that the most basic element is how the student approaches the lesson. Some people are open and trusting. They let go to all that they know/are used to and really try to do what the coach tells them. I think those people get 100% more from the lesson than the others.
post #23 of 29

Small but Dedicated

I work at the best area in the Midwest for a SS instructor. We have no confining rules except as in any business there are a few such as no drinking etc. but as an avid skier and instructor; the world is my oyster. I teach as I see the skier ski or not ski. We do have an excellent boilerplate new skier lesson, developed by the SS training group which I am a very small part of, for those instructors lacking experience or creativity. We also have several magic carpets for our new skier terrain which help immensely new skiers and timid skiers making that little leap to the chairlift.

As a supervisor, within reason, I have virtually no limits on how I work with my Associates and pay them. Be there and be fair and I will make sure you have as many lessons as available for your level of teaching. Yes, I will “hold” my better instructors on busy nights for upper level skiers. That is only fair to the customer and the instructors. That hold is a limited gut feel on what is happening on a given night. On my night we have the “zoo” so in general my gut works out in the long run. If I happen to be wrong I may create a training session and then of course you get paid. Yes, as someone said, I do have my favorites. Guess why? They are by my side ready to help when I need them. Not personalities, almost fired one of my best last season, not gender, not level of ability, just there to bail me out when I need them. Do anything and go anywhere!

Children are taught through all our calls but on the weekend we have a kids group that handles the smaller children. Labor laws are a big part of this. On the shift I supervise, I do not have that luxury of this group but refuse to put out kids with adults if I can at all help it. (Unfortunately there are exceptions to every rule you make.) It is not unusual for an instructor from my crew to be paid a group ticket to take out a child. I do what is best for the customer 1st, within reason, and the instructor at the same time if at all possible.

While we are small in comparison to the mountains, we have a lot of great teaching instructors, SS trainers, DCL’s, and examiners. A large portion of our staff is Level 2 & 3 certified and yet we do not require a PSIA certification or membership for that matter. Yes, we have the others too but we fired about 16 part timers last year and from each shift it was the supervisors’ final comments that made the decision to dismiss along with comments from all the supervisors sitting around the meeting room, as to effort from the instructor in question.

Our terrain is limited but in the Midwest we do have Level 3 certified terrain. Most of all we have the best of the best because they care to teach. I can’t thank any of this dedicated crew enough!
post #24 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ron White
At our area, the lesson assignments for full timers are given to salaried instructors before the per dium full timers, which is not always best for the customer. Comp lessons to handle complaints resulting from this practice are given to the best qualified (and talented) instructors. It is about the area making money eventhough the mangement preaches customer service being the priority.
To clarify this point. At this particular area last season the Salaried Instructors were predominently South American college kids on a 90 day visa/work permit that were guaranteed a certain wage (minimum?) x a certain number of hours. None of them were PSIA or ISIA or anything remotely equivalent but all were pretty damn good skiers, just not good instructors. The per diem Instructors were mostly L2 & L3s who "got lucky" with an assignment every once in a while.

In another thread I mentioned the need this year for a certain guarantee of lessons before I can guarantee my making the 80 mile round trip at $4/gal.
post #25 of 29

south americans

Stache, the ones they brought in from Argentina were something like PSIA level 4/5 skiers ..... wedge turners. They improved as the season closed but they would never go out with us for the morning instructor "parade/doo-dah" run. They couldn't keep up with us ... not that we were that good, they were that bad.
post #26 of 29
Maybe we should be asking "What makes the best learning enviorment?"

Yuki, the South Americans were from Chili and they were not bad skiers, but as you said, better as the season went on. WE took Santiago to Hunter on a snowy day, he did well.
RW
post #27 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ron White
Maybe we should be asking "What makes the best learning enviorment?"
Certainly a good learning environment is one where the instructor is focused on the lesson NOT on avoiding the wrath of the SSAD, worried about the security or accessability of their gear in the locker room, or preoccupied with whether or not his total compensation package is making it worth his/her while to be there, or if s/he is just being played for a chump. Add on this season worrying about getting a tip so you have gas moeny to get home rather than getting a tip so you have money enough for a beer at the bar.

Terrain wise, At my home mountain we have a postage stamp sized beginner area that provides a constant worry about OOC beginners taking each other out in the too crowded space. More than once I have rushed a student to the "Real hill" to get them out of "the pit". I had the opportunity to teach for a week at K-mart last season and while they did have a wonderfully flat, expansive and isolated beginner area, it was extremely awkward to meet your students on snow and then move them to the parking lot to catch a shuttle bus up to the beginner area. However, as much as I have in the past avoided Killington for my own recreational skiing, the fact that they have novice and intermediate trails from the top of every lift allowed me to move my guests all over the six peaks and give them a lot of mileage and a real feeling of accomplishment to take home.
post #28 of 29

Exceeding My Quota

I was trying to limit my postings on this thread to ONE, but find I have to make one more commnet:

Quote:
Originally Posted by therusty
There are a lot of things that can come into play:

rental operation
You never realize how good your rental crew is until they start screwing up. The qaulity of the rental equipment has a big impact on the quality of the lessons.
When they're good, you never even know they are there. When they're bad, you wish they WEREN'T there.
post #29 of 29
If we have any major problem with our area management when it comes to SS, it is rental our equipment. Not that the equipment is bad, we change frequently, it is not conducive to novice skiers. Please, we need to go to shorter skis and softer boots for a specific ski school rental section. Do what you will with the rest of the rental equipment. Lord knows we have 3-4 thousand pairs of skis and probably 1 thousand boards. A SS rental section is possible.
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