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Traditional Instruction: Missing Out?

post #1 of 20
Thread Starter 
The comments about the loss of recreational racing from traditional ski instruction models prompted me to try to add in another similar consideration. We (my 2 kids and I) just got back from a ski trip where we had numerous in-bounds and back country opportunities to ski with many VERY GOOD (this is an understatement to say the least) skiers. The advancements in this type of environment are always pretty amazing. Willingly skiing more agressively and confidently in order to hang with one or more great skiers can be often be transforming, expecially when there is a sufficient technical basis.

My experiences and observations suggest that, on something like a ten-point scale, this is perhaps present on average at a level 2 or 3 in advanced intermediate and above lessons. Obviously there are programs like All-Mountain Ski Pros and Extrememly Canadian that are much higher up on that scale.

I realize of course that different people will respond to a greater or lesser extent to this type of approach. My contention, however, is that more advanced ski instruction, even in some of the avante garde camps or clinics, is missing the boat in this respect. Although I don't have broad experience or observation, what I do see of intructors clinicing suggest that they spend little time on this type of teaching model. In fact, I find that the off-piste skiing abilities of many (if not a majority) of instructors I see at resorts suggest that they themselves don't have the flow and confidence in this type of terrain to bring advanced students along for the ride.

So, I guess I'd like to hear from PSIA and other folks about whether there are ways to enhance this component of the teaching model to reach more of the advanced skiers out there.
post #2 of 20
Si, if you ask at the ski school desk at any area that offers the terrain you describe and has NASTAR courses set up you will be assigned an instructor who will accomodate you.

..Ott
post #3 of 20
Si--Ott's right--the opportunity is there, and every major ski school has the talented and capable instructors needed to accommodate the need. But the demand is NOT there. For whatever reason, few "advanced" skiers seem to feel the need to improve further. Few take lessons.

Of course, some of the problem may still lie with the ski schools. For every instructor with the skills to lead highly advanced groups, most ski schools employ 20 more who do not. So your observation is correct--many instructors lack the ability to teach the very upper levels. That so many instructors are not themselves top-level all-mountain masters creates a perceptual problem of huge proportions.

But few teachers have PhD's, right? It would be unfortunate--for you, your colleagues, and your students--if people decided not to seek advanced education because the majority of teachers don't have advanced degrees.

So it's not the fault of "traditional teaching methods." (What ARE those, anyway? That term is the fabrication of a marketing effort to distinguish one proprietary teaching methodology, which methodology ALSO has very few instructors who are capable of teaching effectively beyond an intermediate level!)

The opportunity is there. No advanced skier has that excuse not to take lessons. While ski school desks and management receive their share of complaints about lessons, it is rare--virtually unheard of--for any student, at any level, at any ski school, to complain that the instructor didn't ski well enough! Unfortunately, that very point has been used to justify hiring lower-level skiers for ski schools, and to focus training on teaching, rather than on personal ski improvement.

But PSIA offers the training opportunities as well. In our Rocky Mountain curriculum, you can take a variety of mogul clinics, including TEACHING moguls, as well as "Mountain Challenge" (all-mountain skiing), "Extreme Mountain Skiing" (like it says), terrain park/half pipe clinics, carving clinics, race clinics--you name it! That's in addition to the exam-specific skiing clinics. Remember that, even at the lowest level (Level 1), PSIA tests instructors "off-piste," in moguls, crud, steeps, etc. At Level 3, the mogul and crud requirement is quite demanding, both athletically and skill-wise. At the Trainer Accreditation level and beyond, certification involves skiing very dynamically in extremely demanding terrain and conditions. But many instructors, of course, are not even Level 1 certified!

PMTS, by the way, which likes to describe itself as the "anti-traditional teaching system," does NOT require its instructors to ski the demanding terrain of PSIA at its first level of certification.

So--again--the opportunity for great training in the toughest terrain, at any resort, is definitely there. The perception that many instructors are NOT capable of teaching effectively in those conditions is accurate--but there are plenty who can do it, and do it well. And "traditional teaching systems" have nothing to do with it!

Best regards,
Bob Barnes
post #4 of 20
Thread Starter 
I think that both Ott's and Bob's responses match my perception. However I see some barriers here that are perhaps at the root of the issues I am trying to bring out.

First let me say that I was not referring to different brands of ski teaching or technique when I talked about "traditional" ski teaching. The issues I am adressing I feel are common to PSIA schools and PMTS schools alike. Perhaps a better way is to define the proportion of focus within a lesson between movements/technique, terrain/strategy, attitude/philosophy, challenge, and who knows what else. Most of the ski school lessons I observe (even at the more advanced level) are heavily weighted towards movements and technique (although certainly not exclusively). When I was at Whistler earlier this season I could immediately identify a group as part of the Extremely Canadian program without ever seeing the instructor's uniform. The terrain they choose, pace, amount of discussion, etc. was noticeably different from the traditional ski school groups.

Okay, back to other comments. Ott said, "if you ask at the ski school desk at any area that offers the terrain you describe and has NASTAR courses set up you will be assigned an instructor who will accomodate you." I see having to ask as being a big barrier. Most skiers with some level of skill are just assuming there isn't anything there for them. Bob himself said, "for every instructor with the skills to lead highly advanced groups, most ski schools employ 20 more who do not".

I believe there is a resistance at most ski schools to differentiate between lessons at various levels and this adds to the apathy. I think most advance skiers view the ski school offerings as "one size fits all." Whether that is actually the case is not the issue - appearances are what count in terms of marketing in this case. The types of changes at Sugar Bowl (where All Mountain Ski Pros is becoming its own separate part of the ski school) and Whistler (where Extremely Canadian is a resort sponsored program offering two day programs 3 times a week) speaks to these issues and to me represent non-traditional teaching organizational models.

When I was just at Jackson Hole I noticed that advanced group lessons cost more that beginner/intermediate. This caught my attention. Now if they would advertise the differences in approach and level of insturctor I think they might be able to further attract advanced intermediates and above where they might not otherwise consider a lesson.

I guess my point is that if you don't see some instructors "ripping" with their advanced level students you're not going to effectively attract advanced students. Both Ott's and Bob's responses say the opportunity is there. However, I don't think that most advanced skiers see it at all as they look around them at a resort. You can claim that advanced skiers aren't interested in lessons but I think that a big part of the problem is that they see nothing very enticing when they are on the slopes.

[ January 06, 2003, 07:21 PM: Message edited by: Si ]
post #5 of 20
Quote:
I guess my point is that if you don't see some instructors "ripping" with their advanced level students you're not going to effectively attract advanced students. Both Ott's and Bob's responses say the opportunity is there. However, I don't think that most advanced skiers see it at all as they look around them at a resort. You can claim that advanced skiers aren't interested in lessons but I think that a big part of the problem is that they see nothing very enticing when they are on the slopes.
Unfortunately, Si, I have to agree with you 100%. Perception or reality, the result is the same! Not only are the truly ripping instructors the minority, but even those few are seen more often than not leading or demonstrating for a lower or intermediate level class. And when they do go out and rip, they are usually not in uniform--often by preference, and unfortunately, often by decree of the resort, for liability/Workers' Comp reasons. So the typical instructor skiing is, for sure, not too inspiring!

This is one of my pet peeves, and a self-perpetuating problem!

Best regards,
Bob Barnes
post #6 of 20
Si
My lessons are pretty much geared at the sort of stuff you are talking about. Unfortunately that is because they are MY PRIVATE LESSONS. I can remember taking the bosses daughter along one weekend & she came back to tell her Dad that the lessons were not like ski school at all they were like "4wd skiing".
I have one instructor that uses trips outside the resort boundaries as incentive to encourage me to ski better. If I ski well enough he will take me when the weather is good.
I like being outside the resort [img]smile.gif[/img] - so I try hard to ski well.

I have many friends that are high level skiers - they mostly see no benefit to them in lessons.
Sometimes one will come along in one of my lessons - they nearly all come out WANTING MORE.

So I see the perception as the problem. Ski schools do themselves a diservice selling 2 hour group lessons to advanced skiers - make it a day or half day at least.

We do do the drills & stuff - but it is usually wrapped around what I need to improve to allow me to ski more terrain more comfortably. That gives me the drive to keep doing them.
post #7 of 20
I don't know Si, I was an advanced/expert hack for many years and never took a lesson. The reason; cost, I was skiing ok and having loads of fun, at least until I got into mashed potatos. I thought of lessons as being for beginners and the timid.
When I skied all those years I never noticed instructors skiing at all. Once in a great while I would notice someone who truely skied well. Usually someone would float by me on the steeps but I assumed they were to good to talk to me, some were no doubt instructors. What I noticed instead were the good hacks who had their feet together and lots of swishy Stein Ericson moves. These vain skiers were always willing to throw a tidbit my way on the chair. I noticed motion, not economy of motion and seldom thought about the ski school.
post #8 of 20
I work in a ski school with approximately 75 instructors on staff and many rookies. Our clientele is mainly local. Our mountain (when we have snow) offers outstanding challenges and it grows awesome skiers of the sort Si enjoys following.

I have 24 advanced students who come back year after year for lessons. Heck, they rip! Other instructors remark, "I saw you with your group today. Boy they must be fun to teach. They are really good." (They are good enough to give lessons and would do a fair job of it.)

It's one thing to ski well yourself; it's another when you have a group of great skiers continuing to take lessons from you.
post #9 of 20
Thread Starter 
Nolo, that is precisely the idea. An environment where such activity is a significant part of a learning enviromnment. I think we could capture and get further commitment (addiction) from many skiers that way. It is certainly what frequently happens at a tennis club but I don't think it occurs often enough at ski resorts.

Pierre, how would you have felt if you saw a few groups of other "advanced/expert hacks" like yourself improving their skiing in the terrain that challenged you? Might you have been enticed into joining such a group?
post #10 of 20
Si, the issues you describe certainly exist.
But please beware of generalizations. Where I work we are lucky enough to have plenty of off-piste, lots of rippin' instructors you and your kids would be psyched to follow and several low instructor-guest ratio formats within which advanced intermediate to expert recreational skiers don't spend much time standing around except to catch their breath along with some feedback. These programs are advertised as such.
Our three-day breakthrough program, for instance, on a weekly basis routinely gets 20-30 participants, many of whom are return clients from year to year.
As one of the "deliverers" who nevertheless continues to learn and grow herself, I can tell you we are indebted to some extraordinarily gifted instructors who are not yet at mastery level in Level 9 terrain. An interesting dynamic is that some of the rippin' instructors we all admire for their fast and clever feet have neither the interest nor in some cases personal ability to truly serve other sectors of our clientele who compose a much larger piece of the business pie.
And quite frankly, it is unfortunate the developing instructors often serve as a basis for comparison or generalization by skiers who are unaware of the training these folks already have undergone, the sacrifices they are making to live their dreams and the multi-year, challenging learning curve they are on.
As an educator yourself, I'm sure you can appreciate more than most the nuances of this situation, which probably exists in any large educational venue. [img]smile.gif[/img]
Your post indeed has raised some good points, and I hope you find the mentoring you seek. One seeking an advanced degree in any discipline I assume has the motivation, sophistication and experience to research options fully. They are out there. [img]graemlins/thumbsup.gif[/img]
post #11 of 20
In my own teaching experience I have never been asked to give the kind of lesson uou describe. About the closest I have ever come to it is a semi-private group I used to get occasionally which was composed of ex-racers who like to ski very fast and rack up a lot of vertical. Their interest was in cutting the lift lines, however, and this was the reason my presence was desired. They did not want to follow me and, actually, one of the unspoken rules for this group was that the instructor should not beat them to the bottom. They really were not as good as their puffed up egos (or wallets) lead them to believe and eventually I couldn't resist outskiing them and so I became their ex-instructor.

I don't know why the kind of lesson you describe doesn't happen. Possibly the market (other than yourself) doesn't exist or possibly the ski schools are afraid of the liabilty issues that they might imagine are associated with hot skiing. I don't believe hot skiing and safety are incompatible although safety is always a relative matter and we must all accept that, compared to more sedate activities, skiing is hazardous.

Most of the instructors I know spend their time teaching beginners, kids, and lower intermediates. Some of these instructors are very good skiers and accomplished teachers and a very few are skiers who would really catch your eye. If you ever do see them free skiing, though, they will be out of uniform. This is ski area policy in many, if not most, resorts. Its a shame because the very passion we have for skiing which attracts us to ski teaching is something we get limited opportunity to share.

It does seem to me that ski area management is loathe to associate their sport with risk. There seems to be some kind of unwritten rule against communicating the excitement of the sport. Perhaps this is all part of the fallout from the liability frights the industry was exposed to from the 70's onward.
post #12 of 20
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the responses so far. I find the range of opinion about these issues to be very interesting. I feel I should clarify that I am not peronally "looking" for this kind of lesson but only because I spent some time previously in these kinds of environments and now I am fortunate enough to have friends and family (and even myself!) to ski with who allow me to continue to explore an ever expanding range of skiing options. My point in bringing up these issues is that I think that there are a lot of skiers out there who are missing out on something very unique and special that skiing has to offer. I amjust trying to stimulate discussion as to how the instructional model could help in this respect. I enjoy hearing from those who think I'm off base with this as well as those agree so please feel free to comment further. I personally have a few ideas about how I might run a different kind of learning environment at a resort and find it quite interesting to learn about the perspective of others.
post #13 of 20
Arcadie and Bob Barnes both mention "liability" issues, and Bob Barnes mentions workers comp, as reasons that are given for not allowing instructors to promote upper level lessons through their own free skiing. Ski instruction and the ski industry is just one area in modern society where we acquiesce to the insurance industry and its aversion to risk of any kind.

Ski industry groups, including PSIA, should challenge the insurance industry to produce statistical evidence that upper level free skiing by instructors, if covered by work comp, would result in higher claim experience. PSIA should demand from the insurance industry an explanation of why there is not a specific work comp rating classification for ski instructors. What solid actuarial basis does the insurance industry have for its promulgation of rates for instructors?

PSIA should pull together statistics about injuries to instructors. The NSPS must have records somewhere. Are certified instructors MORE or LESS likely to sustain injuries while skiing? Does level of certification make any difference? If these statistics do not exist, why not?

Does taking lessons have any statistical effect on injuries among the skiing public?

It would seem to be a reasonable argument that qualified instruction and guidance from a certified instructor might result in fewer injuries to upper level skiers, and skiers in general. Can we prove that? If not, why not?

[ January 07, 2003, 09:12 PM: Message edited by: David7 ]
post #14 of 20
One aspect of this thread that has me a bit intrigued is the references to instructors being required to be out-of-uniform while free skiing.

Is that a common policy?

I ask because the only area where I may much attention to the instructors (Jackson Hole) doesn't *seem* to have that policy in force (but maybe they do and I've just never noticed). It would seem to me that having a bunch of uniformed rippers out free skiing would actually serve as good advertising for the ski school.

As long as they're skiing in control and following the Skier's Code, why would a ski area (or ski school) object to free skiing while in uniform?

Bob
post #15 of 20
Having uniformed rippers out there is good advertising. The problem comes with the uniformed non-rippers. The objective is to have only good advertising. As mentioned earlier, to have people in uniform out there struggling is not very good advertising. It also makes good advertising to have a uniformed ripper out there clinicing/teaching a bunch of instructors that are out of uniform. They might not quite be rippers, but the guest sees a bunch of upper level students learning to rip it up from an instructor who can.
post #16 of 20
Quote:
Originally posted by David7:
Ski industry groups, including PSIA, should challenge the insurance industry to produce statistical evidence that upper level free skiing by instructors, if covered by work comp, would result in higher claim experience. PSIA should demand from the insurance industry an explanation of why there is not a specific work comp rating classification for ski instructors. What solid actuarial basis does the insurance industry have for its promulgation of rates for instructors?
I spot a flaw in your premise, though well intended. When I took business statistics, the first thing the instructor wrote on the board was: "Statistics can be abused to support any point of view". When was the last time the insurance industry was held accountble for anything their maniputated statistical numbers pretend to justify? I've always found their concern about "insurance fraud" hypocritically ironic, in that it best describes how they do business. Keep us up to date on the success of that inquiry...

I think it would be interesting if certain foreign interests entered into the insurance market and had the same competition based, improved product value impact they had on the conceited clunker-barge producing US auto industry 25-30 years ago.
post #17 of 20
I find in North America one has too be oh so careful of thier clients egos. That goes for many of the instructors egos as well. There is a little too much "comfort" zone in this neck of the woods, maybe a smaller "wilder" resort would see more ski juices flowing.

That said I still manage to find advanced skiers that take lessons so they can get out and rip with an instructor. This winter I have had two great private lessons where it was like skiing with a friend who rips but wants feedback ... only two though.

There are some excellent ripping local instructors around but it just seems as if it is getting harder to find them as the "make money" big resort system claims their "ski souls" and the "true believers" slowly get older .... ouch!!!

The dumbing down process is hard at work in Ski Instruction .... rev it up some and get the people excited again!

Oz [img]graemlins/evilgrin.gif[/img]
post #18 of 20
THe reason you won't see instructors free-skiing in their uniforms is that management does not want you to see how many of their instructors ski. That's the simple truth of it. Of course you probably already know, or suspect, that some of them can't ski well at all. Perhaps you believe, mistakenly, that this characterization applies to the entire teaching staff. That may help account for the lack of upper level lesson sales.

I think there's more to this, though. Oddly enough, if you were one of the few signing up for an advanced ski lesson at the resort where I used to teach you probably would not have been assigned one of the really hot skiers nor one of the fully certified instructors. Instead you'd likely have been assigned a personable older gentleman who was really an upper level intermediate/ lower expert himself with little concept of advanced skiing or how to get you there. What you'd have gotten was a pleasant and innocuous experince that did not challenge or excite you or advance your skiing at all. This result may well be not unintended but rather a reflection of a philosophy, that many in ski area management have been attempting to recast skiing as something other than the rugged, thrilling, and somewhat dangerous sport that it was once seen as. It seems to me that the industry identified, some time ago, an affluent target group of largely urban/suburban consumers and attempted to remake the sport as something more family oriented and less challenging in order to woo them. Remember, this is also a real estate business, big time, in many resorts. Whether this quest was "on the money" or whether it has been unintentionally killing the sport remains an interesting question.
post #19 of 20
We ski in the East and we like to take an advanced lesson every fifth time we ski. If we're skiing midweek, it typically ends up being a private lesson because, as others have noted, most advanced skiers don't take lessons.

There's been a lot of discussion about instructors that are great skiers. Personally, I'd rather have a good skier thats a great teacher. I wonder if ski schools recognize this type of teacher.

As I mentioned in another thread, our favorite is the canadian ski week at tremblant. Four hours each day with the same group and instructor. A race and dinner at the end of the week. And they always have a good instructor for the top class. Price is $35/day U.S. but I would happily pay $50. Why does this work in Canada but not the U.S.?
post #20 of 20
Quote:
Originally posted by frugal_skier:

As I mentioned in another thread, our favorite is the canadian ski week at tremblant. Four hours each day with the same group and instructor. A race and dinner at the end of the week. And they always have a good instructor for the top class. Price is $35/day U.S. but I would happily pay $50. Why does this work in Canada but not the U.S.?
Why indeed???

That program sounds great.

Personally, I love taking lessons and have learned something from every single instructor I've ever skied with. The problem for me is that lessons typically are very expensive and I just can't convince myself to pay the freight very often.

Bob
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