or Connect
EpicSki › The Barking Bear Forums › Ski Training and Pro Forums › Ski Instruction & Coaching › How would you deal with this student?
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:

How would you deal with this student?

post #1 of 50
Thread Starter 
I've just finished a hiring and training clinic, and I'm starting to prepare mentally for teaching a class. One of the ways I'm doing this is reviewing past experiences of attempting to teach my friends, and analyzing what went right or wrong, and what I could do differently now that I know a little bit about teaching. One failed lesson I gave is very hard for me to figure out. I'll describe it and see if anyone has ideas about what an instructor ought to do.

The student is a woman who is overweight (by about 50 pounds) and is a level 2 skier. The student's stance is too far back. After getting some coaching, she brings herself forward. However, she mentions that it really hurts her to stand that way. I ask her if she's had any injuries that would account for the pain. She says that she's had several severe ankle sprains. I ask if she'd like to take a break, or maybe not take a lesson today if she can't do the movements without pain. She declines, and says she wants to continue. We spend about 20 minutes going over wedge turns, during which she falls many times (as a result of having her weight too far back). Finally, after yet another fall, she starts to cry and gives up.

I feel like I really screwed up there. I feel that there were things I should have done differently, but what scares me is I don't know what they are. If I had a student like her in my class, what should I do?
post #2 of 50
Check her boots to see if there's a problem with the fit. If she's large, there probably is.
post #3 of 50
If her ankle injuries were severe enough to be causing enough pain that prevented her from balancing, she should've been in an adaptive lesson. Did you try loosening her upper boot buckles? Hard to know without quizzing her on exactly where, what kind of pain. If she really couldn't balance forward enough because of excess weight on bad ankles, she might have needed outriggers to help carry her weight. I too will be interested to read others' (more experienced) responses
post #4 of 50
My favorite question, the one I start every beginner-level lesson with, is "what do you have in your boot besides your sock and foot?" Most respond with nothing at first, but then admit the bottom of their longjohns, the hem of their bluejeans and the snowcuff for their snowpants are all tucked into the cuff. After they remove all that stuff and pull up their socks so there's no wrinkles around their ankles, they can snug the boots down to just touching the leg all the way around and still be more comfortable.

This lady probably learned to produce a wedge by pushing out the tails of the skis. Because she's overweight, she probably also doesn't have good strength. So she uses her weight sinking backward to make a wedge. She needs to relearn wedge formation by flexing forward in the ankles and spreading the feet gently. If you flex forward, the wedge forms automatically when you separate your feet.

Here's how I teach the importance of getting the feet apart in a wedge. We sidestep up a small rise from a large flat spot. The bottom of almost every hill has this circumstance. Then, standing across the grade, I step my uphill ski into a wedge shape, pointing out that I'm on inside edges with the tips closer together than the tails. While maintaining the wedge position, I do really small star turn steps to point the skis down the small rise without sliding down it. I note that you can turn 180 degrees like this on a mild slope and not go careening off as long as you do not lose the wedge position while making the small steps. This is a braking wedge without sliding. It's the only time I teach a braking wedge. We use a gliding wedge thereafter.
post #5 of 50

do differently??

Perhaps the only "critique" may be that you did not "hit the re-set button" early enough,,,but who is to know,,,a judgement call at best. You are likely to improve that from here on out.
That said,,,If a student makes an attempt at a reasonable task in a reduced environment 5 times and "fails",,,seriously look at equpt/set-up/physical cond't. It is part of the "lesson", part of the reason they are there, and likely would provide a critical bit of infomation for their future enjoyment. MAny times solutions to issues are solved inside rather than on the hill. Outcome is what counts, and thats why you feel bad about it.
We are all human and have the capacity to fail but more importantly to improve.
There is also a zone where a student is marginal or somewhat below physically. Not yet adaptive if you will. This is where you can do the most good for a persons life and living. Skiing IS a sport, not a hobby!

Years ago, I was working the beginners hill and had an overweight female, understrength,comming from an inside environment. When I say overweight ,,she was measurably over my weight.You can only imagine "why" she was there. She put in a great effort, And I hurt for the next two days,,,,but at the end of the lesson, she knew and I knew that it was not the image of outcome expected. In closing, I held her both hands, looked into her both eyes which had either tears or sweat, and said "honestly XXX you need to go to a gym". My words even shocked myself, but it came from the heart, and gave her a hug good-by.
NExt year,,she was BACK! One piece suit [get the era], lost 60-80, radically improved core strength and Balance,,with her young family in tow, and seasons passes for all. The pieces now fell into place.
You cannot take credit only blame for a students effort and result, that comes from with-in. But can set the stage,,light the fuse, pave the way, provide an image, for where they want and can go.
After all ,it is not really about skiing,,,is it.
post #6 of 50

Significantly overweight and prior injury? That's a double whammy that most rookies are not ready to deal with effectively. In the situation you described, the first trick is to lower expectations. By telling the lady that the ankle movement is a key piece of skiing and that you are awed by how brave she is to try this sport, you set up the justification for deviating from a normal lesson plan (i.e. what everyone else is doing) and you set up for believable reassurance if the crying occurs later on (e.g. no matter how much you think you suck, you're not the worst, what you are doing is real hard to do, here is what you accomplished, these are the things that you were doing especially well, the next things to do are achievable on your next trip), you can be looking just as good or better than "those people" (pointing out examples on the hill).

With respect to the ankle sprains, I would have asked more about how the sprains occured, how often and where does it hurt when she stands forward. Most ankle sprains occur from sideways twisting/rolling. These should not be aggravated by forward (dorsi) flexion. But her sprains occurred in a forward motion, I would have recommended full rehab/recovery before attempting to ski. If there's any doubt, don't hesitate to test ankle strength/pain with boot drill or one ski exercises.

Otherwise, as others have noted, a detailed inspection of boot fit is called for. Her pain could have been coming from a tight calf fit. Most women have narrow heels. I would imagine that overweight women would be even more likely to have too much room in the heel (because of accomodation of calf fit?). If heel misfit was excessive (e.g. being able to hold the calf and wiggle the heel area to feel contact) , a "special situation" might be called for. Rookies typically don't have the freedom to call timeout, but at my resort I have blanket permission to break the rules for guest service reasons (we tell all the pros that they have this right, but practically speaking rookies just won't do this because we beat them up all the time [in a nice way of course] for the mistakes they make). One possible solution is to walk the lady over to the service shop and get some foam packing for her heels. Of course, you have a good relationship with the shop people, so you can get this done for rental boots on an emergency basis at no charge. Yes, this then screws up your teaching schedule and you'll be late for your next assignment. That's why you somehow leave word to the supervisor to let them know about your situation. If a resort is serious about bending over backwards to make beginners successful, these are the things that you have to do.

The main secrets I use for overweight people are to flatten the pitch out and to slow the pace down. Sometimes I will take level 2 students back to the flat area where we start level 1 lessons for "remedial" exercises. If the beginner run is flat enough and the snow is slow enough, a working gliding wedge with no turns can be enough for a successful day. Otherwise we're going to need other methods of extreme speed control. Most beginner areas have some room to use traversing to flatten out whatever pitch they have. Set the traverse angle so that it is almost hard to get forward movement. Start by stopping at rediculously short intervals (e.g. every 10 feet). Focus on turning uphill to control speed. Step the turn arounds at the side of the trail if there's any uncertainty. Impose little rest breaks by talking a little bit too much on purpose (mix of technical, jokes and chit chat). Early in the lesson you need to slow the pace even if they are not tired. Later, you can watch their body language to know when they've rested enough.

Flattening the pitch is one method of working around a back seat problem. On a flatter pitch, there's less need to be in the back seat and there's less leverage to dump the student on their butt. Otherwise there are times when you need a crowbar to get people out of the back seat. My favorite exercise for moving weight forward (after telling them to and moving to flatter terrain does not work) is tapping the ski tip. This will quickly tire overweight people. Do it on the flats at the bottom of the run, so that they will have the lift ride to recover. Control the difficulty by doing it standing vs moving, how high they hold the ski off the ground and for how long. The key point of the tip tapping exercise is to notice the movement of the hip and the upper body that has to occur to enable the tail to be picked up. Most beginners don't know that they need to make this movement to compensate for the skis sliding out in front of them.

The reality for most pros is that once a group lesson gets started, there is little that can be done for special needs people without "screwing" the rest of the group. At my resort, sometimes I get to "check" the beginner lessons for problems. This lets me "steal" special needs students out of group lessons and work with them one on one. We also use our junior instructors to help beginner lessons. They can walk people back to the shop for equipment fixes. Finally, we encourage pros to "trade" students when it's appropriate. Teamwork can be a big plus in these situations. But no matter how much you prepare, part of becoming an experienced instructor is encountering new situations, failing and then learning from them. Like Bruce Willis says to the cop in Die Hard when the dead body falls onto his car and it gets shot up by machine gun fire, "Welcome to the party pal!"
post #7 of 50
A lot of great responses above so far...

While I want every every one of my lessons to go great the sad reality is that there are people out there who would commit suicide if they ever found themselves happy. I'm not saying your student is one of these, rather the point I'm attempting to make is as a professional ski instructor, no matter how hard you try and prepare, you will on occassion have a lesson that you wished could have gone better.

The reason I make this point is after you have gone back and done the lesson learned/ how could I have changed it... part then let it go... If you do not then you run the risk of letting it get to you and that is not healthy.

Another rule of thumb I try to live by is... "Friends don't teach friends to ski!" At least until chair riding.

But lets pretend this friend of yours was a paying customer? when you perform your initial visual assessment upon greeting them, did you notice how they stood? Stood straight and balanced? or bent over and stooped? standing motionless did they look like they were leaning back?

Many never-evers and especially very cautious ones are often very really terrified on the mildest of easiest green beginner parking lot slopes when they start sliding. Their very creative imagination sees them doing all kinds of immpossible feats at 3 mph or less... sliding past the beginner area and into the parking lot unable to stop and being run over by a bus! or any number of equally tramatic daymares going through their minds, they normally won't admit it because they may be afraid they will sound loony but I suspect they come up with all kinds of physical issues preventing them from standing striaght up sliding when they just were do so statically.

From my experience the best thing a pro can do is to acknowledge their fear in a fun way w/o putting them down for having it. I will often speak what they might be thinking and then re-assure them that we won't let that happen to them. That's why they took a lesson, for the safety as much as to learn. Never-Evers, in the back seat when sliding, while standing statically balance is 99.9999% always because of fear of.... (you fill in the blank). We(instructors) must be able to acknowledge and help them deal with the fear before we can coax them out of backing away from what they percieve as REAL danger.

Good Luck and I hope my perspective helps, I do realize not everyone will agree, but for me it has worked wonders!
post #8 of 50
All great responses above. I'm with Kneale. Look in the boot first. It doesn't take much of a wrinkle in a sock to cause pain. Also, if you are dealing with rental equipment you are going to see or at least hear about shoes in boots, multiple layers of socks, boots on the wrong feet, mixed boot sizes.
I've been at it for 10 years and still learning that sometimes the most important part of the lesson has nothing to do with ski technique.
You'll do fine.
post #9 of 50
Never overlook the obvious.

The ankle pain may have been the excuse....Fear may have been the reason.
post #10 of 50
Great posts here above.

I would like to suggest the following: for a student like this what you should do is draw up a learning plan and put up and agree on some mutual goals. Like a 5x2h plan over the next two weeks. This will take the stress away because she knows it takes time. And so far I have never seen a student that did not learn something if she could do it in her own time.

The injury part is a serious issue. Here everything has pritty much been covered in previos posts.

I have obviously never seen her ski but I would bet her weight is too far back because she is afraid (like Uncle Louie noted here above). Why is she afraid? Because she thinks she can hurt herselfe. She thinks she cannot stop.
Your job is to see to it that she feels safe. Here you failed a bit because she fell many times and at the end she was crying.

Braking wedge danger!!! Warning!!! I allways teach every beginner student how to wedge but with adults, and especially heavy people, you gotta be careful that they dont glide backwards after they stop. This is very dangerous.
post #11 of 50
I am going to take a leap and guess that the student is a friend of yours. You describe her as a level 2, however she sounds somewhere between 1 and 2. I don't consider a student a level 2 till they can perform a series of linked turns without falling (Ok ... falling too much)!

How many prior lessons and/or times has the student/friend tried skiiing?

If the answer is that you were the "instructor" and the "student" is (was??), a pal, the complexion changes. The names also change .... substitute "student" for victim? ...... Me too, I'm not tossing rocks at you but "been there and done that"!

The difference may be that now you are savy regarding balance and body position issues that you did not even consider back then.

After all of the "injury" and fit issues were said and done, did you take away her poles and do "hands forward" (cafeteria tray) exercises?

If it was a "fear of forward" issue, did you demo (DO NOT LET A STUDENT TRY THIS) ..... let me phrase it this way ... I used to put my poles out to the side and go waaaaaaaaaaaaay forward with only my bindings holding me in to demo that (generally), you can't fall forward out of your skis.
post #12 of 50
sonja sonja,
A world of experience and knowledge posted above. 50 pounds of excess weight is not really that much for a skier. Rule of thumb, if someone is unsucessfull doing a task (after several attemps), modify the task. My guess the modification in this case should be flatter terrain. People lean back or fall to the side because they are afraid (usually of the acceleration experienced by the fall line). Also, modify your expectations of the students ability to progress quickly. Each to their own rate.

Evaluate the modivation of the student to learn to ski. That may also play a factor in her progress.

post #13 of 50
Originally Posted by sonja_sonja
...The student is a woman who is overweight (by about 50 pounds) and is a level 2 skier...
Good posts here. esp Yuki, Ron White, therusty and Uncle Louie (apologies to others, these just popped up for me).

One thing I always try to remember about levels is this: it's just a starting point for coming up with a lesson plan, and gets disregarded as soon as I see the student(s) moving on their skis. With this type of student, I would've dialed the terrain way back - if part of a group lesson, I would suggest speaking with your supervisor about a split with the student going to a high level 1 group.

When any student is leaning too far back, I try to think about fear level and what the student's expectations are with regard to control. Now for the really startling discovery that I made: sometimes, you can talk to the student to identify why the problem is occurring.

I heard a motivational tape a few decades ago about selling, but the advice can apply to "selling" the advice you dispense during lessons. The advice was, after asking your questions for identification, "Shut up, and listen." Better advice I've never heard.
post #14 of 50
I'm not an instructor, but I'd like to address a couple things about out-of-shape overweight women ( I live in WV).

The crying may have been strickly out of frustration. Very out-of-shape women can get VERY frustrated VERY easily with their inability or discomfort level in physical situations. REALLY over weight women sometimes have big self-esteem issues too - which plays into the low-frustration level - and a defeatist attitude.

She may also have been too far back because her center of gravity was screwed up due to her weight. Many overweight people have a hyperlordosis to counterbalance the extra weight, which is compounded by a lack of abdominal strength. Add in her ankle problems and you have instant back-seatism.

-my dos centavos
post #15 of 50
Ramp angle is alway a difficult issue for new hires. If her ankles would not bend forward then the only option would have been (would be) to seek a corrective equipment option. Taking a break and going back to the shop for some heel lifts/ different boots come to mind immediately. This would also give you a chance to figure out what she has stuffed in the liners.

Solve the pain isssue before proceeding, or expect that it will get worse. You rental shop is there to support you, ask them for help next time.
post #16 of 50
That's not Deutch, FRAU, nicht wahr?

If the woman says she injured her ankle and it hurts - and her weight exacerbates the problem - would it ever be appropriate to suggest she get clearance from her FRAU Doktor before she attempts skiing?

I know that What I say here is heresy - so, being a heretic, here it is:


Ok, there's the red meat - here I am! Come and get me!
post #17 of 50
I like the question about what is in their boot other than their foot and their sock. Another good one is...How many pair of socks do you have on? For some reason, many new people think they need multiple pair of socks on to keep warm.

Many skiers at this level are still in rental equipment. The boots are often not tight enough and the movement of the foot in the boot causes some pain. I never ask if a boot is too tight, I always ask is it tight enough, suggesting that it needs to be snug to function properly. As with many new skiers, this person may think that a loose, larger boot will be more comfortable.

Go back to the rental shop and try a different pair of boots...maybe in a smaller size...and solve the boots hurting problem. Sometimes, boots that have been worn by multiple people get wrinkles in the liners, removing the liner can find this...it will also give you a chance to see if the boot really fits their foot.

As for the the weight being too far back...how about a little exercise where you have her put her hands on her knees...get rid of the poles for this. This works best for kids, but it may work. Also, over exagerating your forward lean while demonstrating may be helpful. Any exercise that over-exagerates the forward lean should help.

Also, look at where her hands are...that can and will throw off balance. If the hands go back the natural tendancy is to go back with them. If using poles, have her balance the poles on her wrists or hold them in front of her (each hand on both poles). If the person is without poles, have them pretend to be carrying a tray with their favorite beverage...with kids, their lunch tray.

I am a person of size and I used to have trouble being back too far on my skis too. I learned to ski when I was a kid and I was average size then so I already had skiing skills and balance when this was pointed out to me. One thing that worked with me was an exercise a fellow patroller had me do. He had me stand as straight as I could with my feet about 8" apart (on level ground, no skis, just boots) and close my eyes. He then told me to rock back and forth and find the position I felt most secure in and freeze in that position. When I stopped he had me open my eyes and look at how I was standing. Next we did this on skis. I was in the same position. This has helped my skiing greatly.

Please...large people can and do ski...and they can and do enjoy it.
post #18 of 50

where's the beef?

Frau and Oboe are on the same page regarding conditioning and fitness. If a woman (or man), suddenly gets off the proverbial "couch" one day and, in the middle of their mid-life epiphany, they decide to "do something" ... hooo boy!

They decide to actualize their mid-life cirsis by skiing .... cause it's just gliding down a hill .... after thirty nine years of chips and soaps!

But it did sound like she had something working there .... endurance is an amazing quality.


You see two groups coming. Each group has five students for a Level 1 lesson:

A. Men, athletic and right out of the "Goulds Gym" .... average age of 24.

B. Women, average conditioning and age ... say 35 to 40.

Who would you pick?
post #19 of 50
A friend shared a story with me about learning to ski as a 'mature woman.' She was an eager never-ever, in good physical condition, took a group lesson and was progressing nicely though experiencing considerable pain in her ankle area. She mentioned her discomfort to the instructor and he asked about her equipment. Rentals, of course! He offered to meet her at the rental shop before the next lesson to refit. When she pulled her boot off, blood was running down her ankle. Some moleskin, different boots, and a bandaid or two did the trick and she continued her lesson. She eventually bought some boots that accommodated her high ankle bones and still skis with the instructor who helped her diagnose--and solve--her pain. Those instructors at Breck know their stuff!
post #20 of 50
Originally Posted by Ron White
sonja sonja,
A world of experience and knowledge posted above. 50 pounds of excess weight is not really that much for a skier. Rule of thumb, if someone is unsucessfull doing a task (after several attemps), modify the task. My guess the modification in this case should be flatter terrain. People lean back or fall to the side because they are afraid (usually of the acceleration experienced by the fall line). Also, modify your expectations of the students ability to progress quickly. Each to their own rate.

Evaluate the modivation of the student to learn to ski. That may also play a factor in her progress.


Fifty pounds could be a lot overweight for a woman who should weigh 98 pounds.
post #21 of 50
Thread Starter 
Wow. Some really great ideas here! I think these especially would have helped out:

-- check/fix equipment fit (including excessive layers between her and the boot)
-- send her back to a level one class
-- set goals of lesson to something attainable for her through mutual agreement
-- while working on easy tasks, exercises to get her weight forward (hands on knees, carrying tray, etc)
-- addressing/discussing the fear issues

By the way, just for background, she had taken a level one full day class at a ski school, and then I tried to teach her the second day.
post #22 of 50
Maybe try going to a direct parallel approach where there isn't as much pressure on her ankles from pushing them out.----Wigs
post #23 of 50
Originally Posted by Wigs
Maybe try going to a direct parallel approach where there isn't as much pressure on her ankles from pushing them out.----Wigs
Wigs, I like that idea. As a woman of size that often has to use the wedge (ski patrol with loaded sled) I can attest to the extra pressure exerted on the ankles. I am used to it, but it might be troublesome to a newbie and somewhat discouraging.
post #24 of 50

Back it up a little.

I agree 100% with adressing the boot fit situation first. Once that was done I would do some boot drills with a focus on flex/extend and opening and closeing the ankels. Moving to 1 ski drills with the same focus and so on. A direct paralell progession sounds like a great idea to me too.
post #25 of 50
promise her a trip to an all you can eat buffet if she behaves:

teach her to glide on fat...oops i mean flat terrain. do that until she is bored to death. 3mph max velocity. take a break, choke down a jumbo snickers and do it again for a couple more hours.
post #26 of 50
Rental boots are horrid - I'll stipulate to that.

To clarify, I did NOT intend that people who are "large" can't ski. I've seen too many "large" men and women whose skiing is amazing. Size insn't the factor.

There are some people - including people in excellent physical condition - who may not have the propreoception, or the will, to do what is needed to slide down a hill.

We tend to ignore this elephant in the living room. It's not "politically correct" in the ski instruction business to concede that some people can't, or don't have the will, to do it.

I shadowed one instructor in a never-ever class who went out of his way to concede that not everyone skis, and not everyone can. This leaves a graceful exit for those who really can't or really don't want to ski.

I have been playing tennis for a number of years. At tennis, I stink. I can improve. Then I will be an improved stinking tennis player. Acceptance can be a beautiful thing, and so rare, and so disrespected.

There are any number of people who can crunch numbers, play basketball, ski - WAY over my head. Many of them never, ever would have the will or the skill - or take pleasure in - cross examining a lying witness. So what?

Can we address the subject, or is it just so incorrect that we just can't, won't admit the truth?
post #27 of 50
Sonya try to get the TPS from this fall that has all of the boot fitting info in it. It will help you understand the importance of finding the correct ramp angle for a skier with limited ankle mobility.
All joking aside, the students who gives up will probably never ski again. If they are with their family, the whole family may never take another ski vacation. Pain and suffering are two words we hate to hear coming from a student's mouth. Especially in the beginner area.
In uniform we are the experts, and as such we need to do everything we can to make that students experience positive and rewarding. Different ski areas have different policies but I would ask your supervisor about how they expect you to deal with extra needy customers . Usually it is just a matter of communicating the problem to them and asking for their help.
post #28 of 50


There in lies the truth. We are not ski pros in any "traditional" sense.

Some of you indeed are.

Our "professionalism" is limited to ..... never mind; I hate the truth.
post #29 of 50

Overweight Beginner

Almost all the posts, great ideas and I'm learning a lot. Yes I have had similar circumstances and almost all the posts receeding are great. Frau sort of started to say something I agree with. My comments are a little touchy feely but sometimes necessary depending on the student etc. Ask her why she's there, have a real talk with her. Some ladies that are overweight have low self esteem (sometimes real, sometime imaginery and sometimes even deserved - especially regarding physical exercise, i.e., a sport such as skiing. So really ask her why she's there and try to learn her motivation. Aftr this discussion empathize and "both of you" set some realistic goals for her future in skiing. If this exchange is done with sincerity you will become her mentor and she will trust you and rely on you and in doing this you will have conquered FEAR #1 phase. What I am trying to add to the fray here is the ingrediant of Connection. One of the best tips I have heard on Epic is "stay connected" (credits NOLO), this tip was for turning - well add it to human relations and a student with real fear problems or special problems "get connected" with them and watch their trust and confidence in you grow and sucess follow.
post #30 of 50
Originally Posted by teachskiljp
Wigs, I like that idea. As a woman of size that often has to use the wedge (ski patrol with loaded sled) I can attest to the extra pressure exerted on the ankles. I am used to it, but it might be troublesome to a newbie and somewhat discouraging.
A new skier that might be over weight and is not disabled by an alignment issue has no problem with a direct parallel approach to learning how to ski if taught by a Pro trained in this method of teaching the sport, IMHO. And if the person is taken right off the bat to a boot fitter and temporarily aligned with wedges or foot beds, then even the folks that do suffer poor alignment of the lower leg shafts can learn to ski within a direct parallel teaching method.----Wigs
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:
  Return Home
  Back to Forum: Ski Instruction & Coaching
EpicSki › The Barking Bear Forums › Ski Training and Pro Forums › Ski Instruction & Coaching › How would you deal with this student?