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Ski instruction quality control - spot checks

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 
It occurred to me that at our hill, no senior instructor/trainer EVER watches how a given junior instructor actually teaches a class.

This certainly doesn't happen in the ITC. Afterwards, you may have to shadow a couple of classes before they turn you loose, but once past this point, you are effectively on your own. We are required to take a few clinics each year, but no one ever checks your actual teaching performance (eg, a trainer drops in unexpectedly during one of your classes and gives you feedback afterwards).

I'm just wondering how common this "you're on your own" attitude is at other resorts. By the way, our ski school has several hundred instructors, so we are not some tiny, backwater ski area, but for obvious reasons, I prefer not to disclose which area I'm talking about.

post #2 of 12
At our ski area, our rookies also shadow, but then are shadowed in the first few lessons that they teach. Then there is ongoing training which is mandatory every season. Admittedly, a 15 year veteran would not have to attend the mandatory clinic for teaching level 1 lessons. This is a tough one to deal with because you would hope that the instructor would want to stay somewhat current. As a rookie, you might want to approah the instrucotr, our of pure curiosity, and ask him to explain what he was teaching, and what his intent was. Sometimes, you end up teaching some things that may look odd to an outside viewer, but have a specific intent for doing it. Being a rookie could actually make it easier for you to approach him, since it will be more obvious that it's out of interest and curiosity, as opposed to some malicious intent.
post #3 of 12
Thread Starter 
So JohnH, if I read your response correctly, it sounds like your area is like mine in that while clinics are mandatory, no L3's or trainers ever formally actually "sit-in" on lessons being conducted by lower level instructors as a form of reality spot-check.

post #4 of 12
Actually, they do get some oversight. I mentioned this (probably way too briefly) in the 2nd half of my first sentence. As the rookie goes out in his/her first few lessons, one of the trainers will shadow the lesson. But no, we genrally don't have a policy of doing spot checks throughout the season. Like many ski areas, SAM (Ski Area Mgt) is unwilling to pay for it. However, I have occasionally gone and spied on lessons. But that was of my own doing, and I wasn't getting paid for it. I have also done it as a prep/training thing for exam candidates. I will shadow their lessons and have them shadow mine.
post #5 of 12
Thread Starter 
I did catch your comment, but I was thinking of ongoing oversight, not only during the first few lessons of an instructor's career, but continuing as a regular thing in successive years for all instructors.

One would obviously have to be diplomatic in the feedback you give the old-timers, but I think something like this would be a real help in terms of consistency and quality of instruction that guests receive. Such oversight would even be useful to the instructors in their own professional development.

I know every buck counts, but its hard to belive that $$$ is a big problem in preventing this. If there are 100 instructors and you have a trainer observe each one once per season and just give verbal feedback at the end of the lesson, that's only about 100 man hours, or around $1000 for the entire effort. At $50 per lift ticket, that's equivalent to only 20 guests, certainly well within the daily fluctuations in numbers of guests at the resort.

post #6 of 12
There is little incentive from the perspective of SAM to do any spot checking. In the very recent past I observed an instructor teaching rotation and said nothing during the lesson. Afterwards I approached the instructor with a better way and it was received well. Over hearing is about the only spot checking out there and at least I don't jump into a lesson to correct things I hear. I wait till a more appropriate time more compatable with good business tactics.
post #7 of 12
Thread Starter 
Originally posted by Pierre:
In the very recent past I observed an instructor teaching rotation and said nothing during the lesson.
Deep powder day in OH, eh? Was he advocating throwing his hand up as well to get back to the surface?

Yeah, its good to give your comments at an appropriate time. We had an incident where a well intentioned but overly blunt L3 saw an L2 momentarily positioning his class directly under a lift with the skis whizzing by only about a foot over the heads of the class. The L3 apparently bellowed out something and a feud between them began which lasted the rest of the season.

post #8 of 12

You definitely need to be tactful, and mindful of not appearing to degrade the quality of the lesson or instructor in front of the class. If I spy on, or overhear a class, I usually don't approach the instructor during the lesson at all. On occasion, if I felt that I had to jump in and say something, I would usually ride the chair with the instructor (and no students) to say what I needed to say, or follow the instructor when he does a demo, and the class has been left behind, and talk before the students come down.

Even in cases where I was helping prep someone for an exam, and we were there together for the whole lesson, the student(s) never heard a word from me, even though they knew that I was there to offer my input to the instructor.
post #9 of 12
Thread Starter 
I guess that's why I suggested the idea that there would be a mandatory review of the teaching of every instructor, at least once in every year they are on staff, by a trainer popping in unexpectedly on one of their classes. That way, no one will feel singled out, the instructors will all receive constructive criticism, and the guests will benefit as well.

post #10 of 12

I work at the same resort that John H does. We don't always send out folks to shadow a rookie's first lesson(s). Shadowing lessons at all is hard enough because a lot of time we barely have enough staff to take lessons out. The ski school management certainly does not have the time to shadow everyone. But there are several things going on that most people are not aware of.

Ski school management does get very effective feedback about poor quality teaching from a couple of sources: direct guest feedback about problems and injury stats. Also, in the course of the day, they do get around and get quick glimpses of lessons and learn quite a lot. Similar to the way top instructors look at guests for only 2 turns to tell what is going on, effective supervisors can tell a lot about an instructor's skills from a few moments of listening and observation of the guests.

At our resort, all instructors take a "teaching first timers" clinic every year in addition to other mandatory clinics where basic skills are reviewed. Although the focus of these clinics for newer instructors is imparting information, the focus for more experienced instructors is to share their thoughts. All clinic participants are rated by the clinic leader on teaching and skiing skills in a written clinic report that is reviewed by management. Clinic participants are also encouraged to rate the clinic leaders. That feedback is used to improve the product of the training staff.

We also encourage the training staff to "rove" (sometimes paid, sometimes volunteer) to assist lessons in progress or to simply keep an eye out while they are teaching. This results in behind the scenes discussions of instructors who are doing well as well as discussions about problems.

Yes, it's hard to keep track of 200+ instructors. Yes, it's hard to give pros the freedom to teach "customized" (i.e. "student centered") lessons and maintain "standards of quality". It's hard to let rookies go out and teach knowing that, for the most part, their product is not as good as that delivered by experienced pros. It's hard to tell experienced pros that they are not wanted to return next season because they are not keeping up with modern teaching and skiing methods (or other reasons). Nobody's perfect. We do what we can to get better every year. Sometimes we make progress. Sometimes we don't.
post #11 of 12
There is little incentive from the perspective of SAM to do any spot checking
How can you say this? SAM has EVERY incentive in that they want the person to come back. I will agree that sometimes they act as if they have no incentive. But, they really do.

I firmly believe that we should have our most senior instructors teaching the never-evers. But, if we did, who would be available to teach the higher levels and privates?

post #12 of 12

I agree wholeheartedly. I think we all know that, in the long run, this sort of thing would benefit SAM, but you know the real issue. SAM (at least down here in the banana belt of skiing) is so focused on today's bottom line, that they don't see the forest for the trees. That's why some of us, who don't do this for the paycheck, take it upon ourselves to spotcheck once in a while. The problem with this, is that if SAM finds out we do this, it disincentivises him to pay us to do it, the same way that he is not incentivised to pay us more. (where's my pitchfork and torch?!)
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