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Two approaches to ski teaching

post #1 of 79
Thread Starter 
My friend Weems sent me a fine book by the legendary ski instructor/coach/philosopher Dick Dorworth called Night Driving, Invention of the Wheel & Other Blues (2007), which I am savoring slowly, because it's so much fun to read.

He said something in the book that I found interesting and hope might instigate some conversation about the place of technique in ski teaching. He wrote this in the section about his experience of getting his French certification in the Seventies, a process that many at the time considered the highest certification an instructor could receive.

Quote:
Aside from things of technical, methodological and attitudinal nature, I learned one important difference between the place of emphasis in teaching skiing in France and in America. In America the emphasis is on explanation-demonstration and having the student practice a certain maneuver until he is proficient at it. The act of skiing is secondary to technique in American ski instruction. In France, however, the overriding attitude is that the student learns faster and better by emphasis on skiing itself, guided by a minimum of explaining and demonstrating. The French student is encouraged, forced or cajoled into educating his physiology as much as his brain. This approach makes a lot of sense to me.
How does this passage strike you? Blasphemous? Inspirational? Irrelevant? What? (Obviously, I think it's brilliant, or I wouldn't have singled it out and typed it up for y'all.)
post #2 of 79
The first ski school director I worked for was a former French national team member who brought to the US half a dozen of his fellow countrymen to make up the bulk of the instructor staff at this small resort. They all had some level of French certification. Some were more skilled in English than others.

We all taught three one-hour class lessons each day and then mostly had the rest of the day available for private lessons. The French guys who could explain more in English always seemed to get more privates than the couple who mostly relied on demos and saying, "comme se" (like me). Those guys and the boss spent a lot of time running gates.

I think maybe the markets are different. My wife's mother was French. We went there in the early 1970s to ski (my interest) and visit her aunts, uncles and cousins. Where we skied in the Alps, I saw a much more rudimentary style of skiing in the vast majority of skiers than I was seeing then on US slopes. The majority of skiers I saw in France in the 1970s skied more like I remembered seeing folks here ski in the 1940s and 1950s.

I guess what I'm saying is I don't think you can cajole folks into more skillful athletic performances. I think you need to get them interested mentally in improvement by providing them some verbal/visual information to digest.
post #3 of 79
It's so dependent on the student's learning preferences and the lesson length. An hour just isn't a lot of time to create changes. So what should we do? Ski or show and tell? I guess I try to focus on one change and we work on it whatever way works best. In many cases this involves asking some pretty up front questions about how they learn, or prefer information presented.
post #4 of 79
Take that quote and apply it to golf, tennis, etc. Does it make any sense then?
post #5 of 79
Nolo,

I've taught enough in the university setting to know that not all students learn alike. So, consider this as one skiing student's optimal strategy (until something better comes along.)

Like most on this board, I derive great pleasure from skiing well. The better I ski, the greater it feels. I start almost every day out with a few drills to lock in that good feeling and see where I'm less strong on that day and under those surface conditions. Then I'll mix drills and freeskiing. If I need major corrections, I'll do 4-5 runs of drills and then a few of freeskiing -- both for pleasure and to see what's locked in and what needs more work. If I only need minor corrections, I'll do 5 turns focusing on improvement and then 5 turns with my mind clear to see how it carries through and repeat. Periodically, I'll hike back up to examine my tracks during transitions. Tracks don't lie and any unintended smudge is valuable feedback to help me calibrate my judgement. So what you may ask because I'm an above average skier and your main student population is not. Well, this is how I got there and it was a fun journey. And this is how I'll make it to the next stage and beyond. Practice can be fun. Sure, mix it up with fun skiing, but ya gotta practice.

Max alluded above to sports with a scoring system (golf & tennis) that provides numerical feedback to learners and encourages them to practice to get that good feeling. Perhaps one of the roles of a ski instructor is to instill a "skiing compass" into students to help them navigate their way to excellence in the absence of numerical feedback (unless they hanker to run gates.)

Let me add another common physical learning activity: playing musical instruments. In my youth, I played several wind instruments. There's simply no way to avoid practicing your scales, arpeggios, rhythm and tonguing patterns, etc. and doing your breathing exercises. If you don't, people scowl when you play around them. If you do, you get a whole different reception when you do play for fun.

PS for those worried about 1-hour lessons and students they'll never see again. You'll quickly know which students are serious or are catching the skiing bug. If you 1) show/tell/explain/demonstrate to them the single movement or skill change that will improve their skiing the most and 2) teach them how to tell if they're improving on that axis or not, then most of them will eventually come back for more. (often that afternoon or the next morning.) I've been there and done that as a student. And for the students more interested in the social aspects of skiing, teach them how to stop and turn safely and then turn on your charm for an hour while they get to meet 5-10 other skiers in your class.
post #6 of 79
Mileage (kilometerage?) solves a lot of problems. That said I've worked with regular customers of other pros where there had been a lot of mileage but very little learning. Mixing the two properly results in instruction as fine art.

I don't believe the premise applies to American instruction today. For the last 15 years I've been beaten continuously (and relay the message in my clinics) about the importance of mileage and helping our students to develop a love for the sport by letting them see ours. Maybe I just had good mentors.
post #7 of 79
Quote:
Originally Posted by therusty View Post
Mileage (kilometerage?) solves a lot of problems. That said I've worked with regular customers of other pros where there had been a lot of mileage but very little learning. Mixing the two properly results in instruction as fine art.

I don't believe the premise applies to American instruction today. For the last 15 years I've been beaten continuously (and relay the message in my clinics) about the importance of mileage and helping our students to develop a love for the sport by letting them see ours. Maybe I just had good mentors.
That's what I think works best . Try to talk less .a short demo and lots of miles coached as needed.. If they aren't moving they can't be learning much.
post #8 of 79
It's quite obvious, by observing the majority of skiers on the slopes, that milage alone does not necessarily teach better skills. Without some technical direction, milage can end up just embedding substandard movement patterns.

My feeling is that lesson time is generally short, and not the place to rack up milage. Use the time to correct deficient skills, provide new skills, quickly develop them to a basic level of understanding and proficiency, then encourage the students to rack up milage embedding, honing and refining them on their freeskiing time.

This system depends on the student to do the necessary work outside of the lesson, as a part of their milage racking time. You can't be sure it will happen, but at least you've given the student a chance.
post #9 of 79

Just Do It

Nolo, I certainly don't have the credentials of some here at Epic but find myself agreeing with the French (whats that all about).

The primary reason I don't teach anymore is that I wasn't advancing (i.e. level II etc.). Yes I know in actuality it is my fault. I got tired listening and not doing. TOO many clinics on the side of a run, talking, talking, and talking and not enough skiing. God I'll be 70 before they finish talking. I couldn't resist the call of the Mts. and would find myself sneaking out and going skiing. I know its not original but Just Do It really resounds strongly with me.

That is the way I taught skiing - lets go do it ! You don't learn how to stay connected by just talking and doing demos all day. You have to put the miles on the snow.

Just my 2 cents worth from a lowly ex-Level I old ski instructor. Students are happier when they're skiing and learning at the same timel. Standing around sucks.
post #10 of 79
BTW,,, I been reading feedback from some skiers in Europe who have taken lessons over there that have basically been nothing more than "follow me" lessons. They feel short changed. Rightly so.
post #11 of 79
Here's one of the comments I was referring to. From a beginner student on a European forum.

Quote:
If you're paying for lessons you want to learn something. As a 'beginner' at Les 2 Alpes I wanted to get better - but when the instructor said "follow me and do what I'm doing" to the beginner group, how were we supposed to follow him?? If we knew what he was doing we wouldn't have been beginners ... and then when we had fallen over halfway down the slope the instructors weren't there to guide us - and couldn't see what we were doing (or not doing) because they were ahead of us!

Bad technique IMHO - if the instructors can explain what they want you to do then they can follow you. If they can't explain it to you, they shouldn't be teaching.
And here's a response from an instructor at the same resort.

Quote:
*****, Obviously you weren't with me! Sorry you had a bad experience - which school did you go to? You could PM me if you like, and especially if you remember the name of the instructor. I often have to pass people on because I'm full so who not to recommend is often as helpful as who to.
post #12 of 79

Frenchie

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rick View Post
BTW,,, I been reading feedback from some skiers in Europe who have taken lessons over there that have basically been nothing more than "follow me" lessons. They feel short changed. Rightly so.
Rick obviously I agree, the just follow me approach is just as bad as sitting on the side of a run, ad nauseum and talking. The obvious best is somewhere inbetween, do it alot but you have to teach them something to do.

The "look at me-do what I do" approach alone is too ego based, lazy and the pupil is obviously feeling cheated as your next example illustrates.

Good point - as usual.
post #13 of 79
The two most succcesful ways of learning to ski are:

1. Following someone really good and emulating their movemetns and staying in their track. If you can't nail their track you need to adjuts

2. Having someone watch you and tell you when you are changing and getting a new movement down so that you then know what it feels like.
post #14 of 79
Quote:
Originally Posted by Pete No. Idaho View Post
Rick obviously I agree, the just follow me approach is just as bad as sitting on the side of a run, ad nauseum and talking. The obvious best is somewhere inbetween, do it alot but you have to teach them something to do.

The "look at me-do what I do" approach alone is too ego based, lazy and the pupil is obviously feeling cheated as your next example illustrates.
"Follow me" is not a teaching method. The best approach "ski this" followed by "did you do that the way you wanted to, or not?" followed by " what do you need to change to do it the way you want to?" It's not about practicing drills, it's about finding a task that they can not perform, or can only perform with difficulty, then figuring out what they need to do differently. Most often they need to focus on maintaining better balance. It doesn't help to spent a lot of time talking about it, or even practicing specific movements. Japanese students spend a lot of time listening to instructors and practicing drills, but I've rarely met a Japanese skier who could ski anything but groomers.

BK
post #15 of 79
Quote:
Originally Posted by volklskier1 View Post
The two most succcesful ways of learning to ski are:

1. Following someone really good and emulating their movemetns and staying in their track. If you can't nail their track you need to adjuts
Everybody likes to do that, but it doesn't really help much. You can't "emulate" anyone's movements fast enough to learn much. The reason people like to follow good skiers is that it directs your attention down the hill where it belongs. Unfortunately, not many people learn to do that on their own by following someone else. It's like trying to develop an independent, agressive attitude by following someone else. It just doesn't happen.

Quote:
Originally Posted by volklskier1 View Post
2. Having someone watch you and tell you when you are changing and getting a new movement down so that you then know what it feels like.
I think that's right. When someone is learning a new response, they don't always recognize any improvement, or associate the feeling of the new response with the improvement they are trying to achieve. You need to pint out how they are improving, and direct their focus to the change they are learning.

BK
post #16 of 79
I like doing both together: watch me, correct me, show me, and I follow.
post #17 of 79
Quote:
Originally Posted by volklskier1 View Post
The two most succcesful ways of learning to ski are:

1. Following someone really good and emulating their movemetns and staying in their track. If you can't nail their track you need to adjuts

2. Having someone watch you and tell you when you are changing and getting a new movement down so that you then know what it feels like.
I like learning these ways the most. Get right behind a great skier and follow their tracks and the other being through much feedback so you can get to feel a good movement. Both of these help to get sensory input you can refer back to building muscle memories you can repeat and build on.

Everybody may be different but these work for me the best. Kinesthetic and visual learner I am . Kids learn this way very well also because it involves many of their senses giving them more to draw from for understanding.
post #18 of 79
Thread Starter 
The nugget for me is this sentence:
Quote:
The act of skiing is secondary to technique in American ski instruction.
Technique for the sake of technique leads to boredom. But if we emphasized (better) that technique serves the act of skiing I think a lot more people would seek out lessons.
Quote:
In France, however, the overriding attitude is that the student learns faster and better by emphasis on skiing itself, guided by a minimum of explaining and demonstrating. The French student is encouraged, forced or cajoled into educating his physiology as much as his brain.
This attitude seems pretty consistent with the Tao: I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.

How different the sentence would read if it said, "In American ski instruction, technique is secondary to the act of skiing." While Dorworth is writing about French and American ski instruction forty years ago, my contemporary observation of most ski classes and clinics is that technical demonstration is still getting a lot more emphasis than the act of skiing.
post #19 of 79
Quote:
Originally Posted by nolo View Post
My friend Weems sent me a fine book by the legendary ski instructor/coach/philosopher Dick Dorworth called Night Driving, Invention of the Wheel & Other Blues (2007), which I am savoring slowly, because it's so much fun to read.

He said something in the book that I found interesting and hope might instigate some conversation about the place of technique in ski teaching. He wrote this in the section about his experience of getting his French certification in the Seventies, a process that many at the time considered the highest certification an instructor could receive.



How does this passage strike you? Blasphemous? Inspirational? Irrelevant? What? (Obviously, I think it's brilliant, or I wouldn't have singled it out and typed it up for y'all.)
This reminds me of the one thing I remember most from my CSIA Level 1.

Tell me, and I will forget,
Show me, and I will remember,
INVOLVE me, and I will learn.

I still repeat that saying on all of my courses.


PS:
Funny, I quickly read the thread to see if anyone else quoted this saying....and it looks like the OP was thinking what I was. Who knew Tao was a ski instructor?
post #20 of 79
Quote:
Originally Posted by nolo View Post
But if we emphasized (better) that technique serves the act of skiing I think a lot more people would seek out lessons.
It's a lot more complicated than that. The main reason people don't take lessons is that most believe that they are at a much higher level than they are. You need look no further than the instructors and coaches on this board to see this mental self-deception in action. The public is the same. Skiing is also marketed in a way reinforces this or at least the concept that it is an easy to learn leisure activity. All you need is the right equipment and grooming.

Quote:
Originally Posted by nolo View Post
my contemporary observation of most ski classes and clinics is that technical demonstration is still getting a lot more emphasis than the act of skiing.
Wait a minute, you've been goign to PSIA events and clinics for how many years? The Kings and Queens of standing around talking are PSIA clinicians. OF course there are exceptions but c ome on. This is where the instructors take their cues from so is it any wonder that this is what happens.
post #21 of 79
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bode Klammer View Post
Everybody likes to do that, but it doesn't really help much. You can't "emulate" anyone's movements fast enough to learn much. The reason people like to follow good skiers is that it directs your attention down the hill where it belongs. Unfortunately, not many people learn to do that on their own by following someone else. It's like trying to develop an independent, agressive attitude by following someone else. It just doesn't happen.
It can happen if the leader is skilled. A skilled leader can lay down tracks that will encourage the desired movements. This won't happen if the student is not "close" to the desired end result. "Follow me" controls both direction and speed and provides immediate non-verbal feedback (i.e. can't stay in the track) when the desired movements are not being made. One of the more common comments I've received from "follow me" students is "you made it so much easier". Students with little experience can suffer from not "knowing" what line to take. When they don't know what speed is going to result from the direction they are going they will tense up. When you replace an uncertainty with a certainty they can relax. A picture can be worth a thousand words.

Also, as noted, kids generally have better modeling skills than adults.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bode Klammer View Post
I think that's right. When someone is learning a new response, they don't always recognize any improvement, or associate the feeling of the new response with the improvement they are trying to achieve. You need to pint out how they are improving, and direct their focus to the change they are learning.
This is one of the hardest jobs of an instructor. When a student does something right - don't just say "good". Say "how" or "why" it was good. Feedback needs to be specific and accurate and motivational.
post #22 of 79
Thread Starter 
VS1, the people whose clinics I attend are masters of pacing. The last clinic I attended was four days last spring with Mermer Blakeslee, Bob Barnes, Squatty Schuler and Weems Westfeldt at Big Sky. I assure you that they got their technical content across to the group without engendering any boredom whatsoever, and the clinic was entirely about the act of skiing a big beautiful mountain that called on all our technical resources. All these folks might be considered PSIA royalty.

That's just my most recent clinic experience. I began the season in an X-Team Clinic at Targhee, where I was never bored and always challenged by non-PSIA coaches Dan Egan, Eric DesLauriers, Dean Decas, John Egan and Adam DesLauriers. I learned a ton at both ends of the season, which demonstrated to me that continually climbing the learning curve is what makes skiing so much fun.
post #23 of 79
Quote:
Originally Posted by nolo View Post
VS1, the people whose clinics I attend are masters of pacing. The last clinic I attended was four days last spring with Mermer Blakeslee, Bob Barnes, Squatty Schuler and Weems Westfeldt at Big Sky. I assure you that they got their technical content across to the group without engendering any boredom whatsoever, and the clinic was entirely about the act of skiing a big beautiful mountain that called on all our technical resources. All these folks might be considered PSIA royalty.

That's just my most recent clinic experience. I began the season in an X-Team Clinic at Targhee, where I was never bored and always challenged by non-PSIA coaches Dan Egan, Eric DesLauriers, Dean Decas, John Egan and Adam DesLauriers. I learned a ton at both ends of the season, which demonstrated to me that continually climbing the learning curve is what makes skiing so much fun.
Nolo, as I said there are exceptions and I have had my share of great teachers but I can't believe that you are that out of touch with how much standing around and talking the majority of PSIA clinics do.
post #24 of 79
Thread Starter 
I don't think standing around talking about ski technique (or sitting in front of a computer typing about it) is an activity confined to PSIA members, VS1. I agree that ski instructors are prone to be in this group, and suspect that many would regard technique as the Holy Grail in skiing. I don't post much in the Technique forum and you won't see me standing around on the side of the run lecturing my students; I'm an outspoken and devout believer in experience being the teacher and the instructor being the guide. I hope to develop skiers, not technicians. I aspire to be a skier, and to follow the example of Masters ike Dick Dorworth, Mermer, Bob, Weems, Squatty, Dan E., Eric D., all their brothers, and of course, Dean Decas, a guy from Cham who perhaps taught me the most last season about the act of skiing and the artistry of the skier.
post #25 of 79
Quote:
Originally Posted by volklskier1 View Post
It's a lot more complicated than that. The main reason people don't take lessons is that most believe that they are at a much higher level than they are. You need look no further than the instructors and coaches on this board to see this mental self-deception in action. The public is the same. Skiing is also marketed in a way reinforces this or at least the concept that it is an easy to learn leisure activity. All you need is the right equipment and grooming.
I, for one, find that an incredibly smug and self-aggrandizing statement. How many of the instructors and coaches on this board have you personally skied with? And if you haven't skied with them, how would you know what they believe versus their actual abilities?

And by the way, does the highlighted sentence apply to *you* as well?
post #26 of 79
I am not an instructor nor do I have any official credentials, but I do have a knack for watching folks involved in sports and analyzing their movements. I have helped many friends improve thier skiing and other sports. Probably comes for coaching baseball for many years and all the ski lessons I took in conjunction with my 2 boy's heavy ski racing involvement. (By osmosis, I got a lot of coaching)

My view is that the French method, as described above, is more how children view movement. Generally they don't break it down into all it's little parts. They seem to have an amazing ability (of course there are always exceptions) to take in the overall activity and copy it.

Adults on the other hand (and yes there are always exception) generally try to analyze the individual movements that comprise the overall activity and then try to put the parts together into a whole. So, the American technical view seems most appropriate.

My trumpet teacher always used to say, I can tell you what to do and I can show you what to do, but I can't do it for you!
post #27 of 79
Just in case you haven't noticed, it's July.
post #28 of 79
Quote:
Originally Posted by volklskier1 View Post
Nolo, as I said there are exceptions and I have had my share of great teachers but I can't believe that you are that out of touch with how much standing around and talking the majority of PSIA clinics do.
I generally particpate in 1 or 2 events each season and I personally haven't experienced an abundance of standing around. Especially in the last few years, there has been a definite effort to address this issue. In many events a group monitor has been tasked with being the "boredom meter". When he/she sensed the group had enough talk, it was that person's responsibility to yell "shut up and ski". More often than not, the clinician was the one who recognized when it was time to ski and cut the chatter.

On accasion when the clinician(s) aren't getting the desired results from the group, a more detailed discussion will take place trying to understand why prior activities aren't "connecting" with the participants. From there, adjustments are made - which I think is far better than endlessly leading people around who aren't integrating the movements/concepts into their skiing.

Depending on group dymanics, some clinics have been a little "dry", but for me the majority have been well worth the effort.
post #29 of 79
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bode Klammer View Post
Everybody likes to do that, but it doesn't really help much. You can't "emulate" anyone's movements fast enough to learn much. The reason people like to follow good skiers is that it directs your attention down the hill where it belongs.
BK
Perhaps at your advanced level. But the single quickest learning experience I ever had was trying to follow in the tracks of a former D-team member. Often you can quickly identify your weakest link this way. It's probably a dud approach for never-evers but for strong intermediates and beyond it can be an effective component of a lesson.

Quote:
Originally Posted by nolo View Post
VS1, the people whose clinics I attend are masters of pacing. The last clinic I attended was four days last spring with Mermer Blakeslee, Bob Barnes, Squatty Schuler and Weems Westfeldt at Big Sky. I assure you that they got their technical content across to the group without engendering any boredom whatsoever, and the clinic was entirely about the act of skiing a big beautiful mountain that called on all our technical resources. All these folks might be considered PSIA royalty.
Ugh. I don't know any of these people, have never met them, and have only read the writings of Messrs. Barnes and Westfeld. So nothing personal, but this description is downright frightening. I'm from the U.S. and share with most of my countrymen a hearty disdain for aristocracy. Consider European royalty who are an inbred mutual admiration society and a bunch of preening peacocks. Or Egyptian pharoahs who married their sisters to keep the bloodlines pure, only to enfeeble their bloodline. Royalty seems a terribly offensive way to view these individuals.

I'd like to believe that with its examiner-led certification system that PSIA is a meritocracy and that higher-performing individuals routinely supplant the previous generation who then say "thanks for the honor of having served" and either rehone their teaching, skiing, and political skills to yet higher levels of excellence or else "retire" into teaching or ski school administration. Which does the average instructor on a big mountain see as the actual model of PSIA: meritocracy or aristocracy?
post #30 of 79
Thread Starter 
Sharpedges, you're not a very sharp reader. I am merely using the vernacular of the person I am responding to, VS1 in post #20.
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