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My first lesson in a decade.

post #1 of 24
Thread Starter 
I've been reading Nolo's thread with some interest, and didn't want to jump in with something that's slightly off-topic, BUT, on the subject of supply and demand, I thought it might be interesting to relate to you my latest ski school experience. I'm not 100% sure where I'm going with this, so please excuse any ramblings, and feel free to redirect with questions.

First, a little something about myself, I've been skiing about twenty years and used to take a lot of lessons. I skiied about 50 days a year until graduating college, then was forced down to 3 or so per year by work concerns. The last three seasons, I've probably had 15 days on average. To paraphrase SCSA, I'd say that I'm better than 97% of all skiers (which when you look around the hill isn't saying that much).

My last lesson was in '91 or so at Jackson Hole. We went up to the meeting point to skiers right of the top of AV where there was a ski-off of at most 10 turns in soft proto-bumps. My brother and I who were very much in our Blizzard of Aahhs stage (both wearing Steep Tech clothes and wanting to jump cliffs) were placed in the top group with about 4 other guys. We all consulted with the instructor, and it was agreed that "Extreme skiing" would be our agenda. We took off a couple hundred meters down the catwalk to the right. From there it was short ski to the Thunder or Upper Sublette lift (I forget which). We set off toward the lift, and it immediately became apparent that the other 4 guys could not ski bumps at all. Long story short - about halfway through the lesson, the instructor took us aside and told us "you guys aren't gonna learn anything today".

Since then, my only instructors have been Plake, schmidt and Hattrup, and we had frequent clinics in my living room (as well as ski condos across the USA). Also, skiing the trees with Stowe locals, and following my friends who have moved out west have helped me get better.

This March I had my first human-led lesson since then. My family and I went to Lech, Austria for the first week of March. The players included my brother and his fiancee, my wife, and my Mom and Dad. Bonnie (my wife) and I had been to Lech the year before and decided that everyone HAD to go. In December we booked an instructor for a week. It was our understanding that if you want one, you must book way ahead, and this proved to be true as the ski-school was unable to confirm an instructor until a week before our trip.

Why did we hire an instructor?
1) We could all use some improvement in our skiing (who can't?).
2) The Arlberg is huge and I knew our previous week had barely scratched the surface of what skiing was available. Also, Thomas could guide us through the variable conditions througout the day. He knew which faces would be too icy, and what would be softened by the sun.
3) We really wanted to ski off-piste, but didn't want to get buried, or ski into places we would be forced to hike out of.
4) It also meant I din't have to be the guide and would not be responsible for leading us onto a trail that nobody liked.

A side benefit was learning what all of the German names for things meant (Kreigerhorn = Warrior's Peak, etc.)

What did we learn? Four of us skiied with Thomas.

Me - I thought that a fair amount of what Thomas wanted me to do was a little archaic, so I have to admit that I didn't do everything he wanted, and sometimes I did it to humor him. Skiing the Arlberg is alot different from doing laps on Okemos high speed quads and courdoroy, or even skiing in Jackson Hole though, and as the week progressed, I could see the point more. Also, I think that I am able to turn parts of my skiing on and off, so it's not like skiing his way would detract from my skiing elsewhere.
1) Thomas wanted me to open my arms up and put them out to the sides as well as forward more, with the elbows bent (he did a funny charicature of me skiing with his hands almost under his chin, and elbows at his sides). It felt a bit weird to do that, but I did, and it stayed that way two weeks later when we returned without an instructor.
2) He also asked me to angulate my upper body more (Correct me if I'm wrong on the terminology here) he wanted me to bend slightly sideways at the waist so that my inside shoulder would be leaning in.
3) He also wanted me to rotate more, and earlier. This is something that I have been removing from my skiing the last two years as I have opened my stance (with the exception of SL turns).
Ultimately, the on-piste skiing was less of a carved turn than what I normally do, and involved a flatter ski with a skidding tail. Looking at his tracks, they were a broad swish across the trail and you couldn't see where his edges had been. On the pistes this was generally a good thing though because the pistes were pretty narrow and crowded, and really carved turns would have had us going too fast for the crowds. Off-piste in crudy conditions, I felt that his style did help me to get both skis to turn instead of having the outside ski go off on it's own. Also, the angled hip thing helps on the really long off-piste traverses. It keeps your uphill thigh from burning.

Everybody else - this post is getting long, so I'll keep this part short.
Bonnie - improved a lot over the week. I didn't know this, but she had never had a lesson in her entire life! Her turns are very abrupt, and he did his best to get her to make them more round instead of the zig-zag that they were.He got her to start initiating earlier. The light went on during the final day, so hopefully with some lessons she can make a big improvement next year.

Dad - has always been a very up and down skier. More than is necessary. He also doea a bit of a zig-zag I think because he puts so much pressure on the ski all at once. Thomas tried to help him with this.

Cole - is always in the backseat. His ankles don't bend at all. It looks like if there were achair tied to his tails, he'd be sitting in it every turn. I think this probably contributed to tearing his ACL, and is probably also why he was too tired to ski 3 out of the 6 days. He didn't really want to listen, so nothing changed.

Cole's fiancee - took lessons in the beginner group. She learned that she likes skiing. So that's the greatest success of all. Cole was elated to hear that she was enjoying herself even if she never got past the tow lifts on the lower slopes.

What does this all have to do with Nolo's post? Lech has about 400 instructors. I am told that Oberlech has 300ish. Zurs has a ski school, St. Anton has two, and I'm pretty sure St. Christoph and Stuben each have their own ski schools. The instructors are always booked. You have to reserve months in advance (if not years). Thomas has clients that he has skiied with for the same week every year for the past decade. I don't know what skier visit numbers are like there, but I know that the crowds were in no way comparable to what I've seen at Vail. Overall, the ratio of instructors to guests has to be way skewed relative to US resorts. Oh yeah, it was a lot less money to hire Thomas than it would have been in the US. I'm not so sure that the instructors there make that much more money than you guys do though.

I hope that is somewaht helpful. It's long for sure, but after a decade, what can you expect?
post #2 of 24
First- let me refer you to CalG's recent posting Re: what to expect from a lesson, and what to do if it does not meet your expectations.

Secondly-, though it was a very difficult situation for your instructor at Jackson, he should have been ablle to make it a positive day for you.

Third- It's great you had a good week in Lech, but are you sure what your instructor was offering you was archaic? Could it have been information you could have used, but just didn't realize it DID pertain to you?

Fourth- If you really do want a human -led extreme skiing experience, find an organization which specifically offers them. I know Chris Anthony an Vail leads some pretty outrageous groups, and then there's Eric desLaurier(sp) out in Tahoe,(Sugar Bowl?), Doug Coombs leads trip to the Chugach . I'm sure somewhere there is a more extensive list of what is available.

Fifth- At the larger areas in NA, I think you'll find the exact same scenario as in Europe. With approx 1500 instructors at Vail, and the huge number of instructors at Aspen and Deer Valley, etc., you also had better book almost a year in advance if you want the better, more experienced instructors. I have clients/ friends I have been skiing with for over 15 years, the exact same week every season. Some will come one week every month. A few even followed me from California when I moved here 17 years ago. And there are several hundred (if not more) that are in the same situation. Many of us don't even take bookings from the ski school. We'll take referrals from existing clients, but if we don't book it, we don't teach it. ( I don't mean for that to sound elitist, but that's the only way I can control my schedule to accomodate my returning clients, and to actually get an occasional day off!)

Sixth- (and sadly), you are absolutely correct in your last point. The cost of hiring an instructor in Europe is significantly cheaper than here in the US. And even more sad- they make a lot more than US instructors. I taught in Switzerland (St. Moritz) and never have I made so much pay for doing so little. We started at 10 (at the earliest), had long lunches(2-3 hrs), and were usually done by 3. But the other edge of the sword- I didn't get to do nearly as much skiing as I would have liked. But things are definitely more on the social plane compared to the students we see here. European instructor who come here to Vail for the first time(we do have many) have a hard time reconciling the amount of work we do with the amount we get paid. Therefore, many do not return. We work them to hard.

So - don't give up! There are ways for you to get the information/instruction you want, right here at home.

post #3 of 24
Heavens to freakin Betsey, it sounds like "Signor Mussolini of Bormio" is disguising himself as Thomas from Arlberg! [img]smile.gif[/img]
post #4 of 24
Lisamarie, I don't think that Epic said he got a bad lesson, he learned to open his arms,(we used to say like hugging a big tree) and he learned that he needed to agulate more, especially since he said it helped the burning of his uphill thigh in a traverse, and he learned that not every turn has to be a carve, matter of fact, most turns don't have to be carved.

What I got from his post is that what he was told was not a continuum of where he left off ten years ago. I skied Lech last year and if I had carved just one run that would have put me out to pasture for the rest of the day [img]smile.gif[/img]

Those instructors are super skiers and guides, and for them to give an experienced skier like Epic two or three valuable tips isn't wasted money. Lesser skiers than him could get more from a lesson because they need more.

You know, we all learned to ski on straight skis with our feet glued together as you were taught in Bormio, it shouldn't have been too hard for you either, should it? One can ski quite well, even excellent that way [img]smile.gif[/img]

post #5 of 24
Thread Starter 
Damn it! I can't get the whole quote thing to work, so...

re: points 1 and 2

I think I already replied to that thread or one like it. Suffice it to say that my response and my expectations at age 21 were different from what they would be now. At the same time though, I think the majority of students would walk away disappointed. I also wonder what the SSDs response to a "College Kid" would have been.

re: point 3: My initial thought on day 1 was that it did not apply. I'm sure that what he was doing was different from the current US teachings, and was different from what I've been targeting. BUT, as the week progressed, I took more and more, and found it to be useful stuff. I put it in my bag of tricks, and can take it out or put it back in when I want it.

re 4: I'm absolutely doing one of those next year. I wanted to this year, but the only one that could have really worked was 2 weeks in Cham, and after having already done two weeks in Austria, that was a no go.

re 5: I guess that must not apply on all levels of the school? It sounded to me like part of the problem you guys face is a glut of teachers and not enough lessons. It seemed like all of the Arlberg instructors were busy as hell.

re 6: We had Thomas out every day at 9 and skiied 'til 4. I am a big fan of the Weiner Schnitzel lunch though, definiteley beats a Clif Bar on the lift.
post #6 of 24
Thread Starter 
Actually Lisamarie - I considered the whole thing money well spent. What I'm really trying to say is that they sell themselves as more than just lesson givers, they are guiding your whole ski experience, and that was as valuable as what I added to my skiing. Also, I was by far the strongest skier of the four of us, so Thomas was working on the others more. Bonnie was twice as good at the end of the week - and she wasn't too bad before. Still a lot she could work on but Thomas helped her a lot (actually, I think she shares your fear of the fall line and that holds her back the most, I don't know how you cure that one).
post #7 of 24
Epic brings up another major difference between NA ane Europe that I have help back on. I lived and skied in Switzerland for three years so this is also a personal observation.

A major difference between NA and Europe is skiing in bounds/out of bounds in NA versus skiing on piste/off piste in Europe.

I have never found a ski area in NA where I have fealt the need to hire an "instructor" to ski in bounds. There are some areas I haven't hit but I include in the list all Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah and Oregon areas. And many across BC. For the most part I would say the same about out of bounds skiing in NA.

Skiing in Europe (only got to the Swiss and French Alps) you don't come to a hard barrier (rope) signifying on piste to off piste and the terrain is, for the most part, somewhat more challenging as you step over the invisible line in as you ski off for example les Grands Montets. If I were not skiing with friends who knew the Alps well or my family (definately "on Piste") I would have seriously considered hiring an "instructor/guide" for many of the reasons epic did.
post #8 of 24
Thread Starter 
Oh, BTW Lisamarie - was your instructor's name really Mussolini? Ott can correct me if I'm wrong, but I think Hitler was a really popular name prior to WW II, but a lot of people changed it after the war. I wonder if a lot of Mussolinis changed their names too?
post #9 of 24
Sorry, epic, but I knew of only one Hitler, and he was the man. He was born in Austria, so there may have been more Hitlers there, I'm sure he had relatives in Braunau.

post #10 of 24
No, it was not Mussolini. I just called him that because of his attitude. Actually, my apologies. I read your thread very briefly, about 2 minutes before going in to teach, and all i picked up on was 'archaic'. On second reading, it seems it was valuable time spent. Sorry to jumpt to conclusions!
post #11 of 24
Ja, die comma position ist zer gut!
I'm with ott, what he taught wasn't necessarily antiquated, just points to help get you to the next cafe fertig. When I taught in Austria, the comma postion (angulated from the waist, sideways over the outside ski) was definitely part of the curriculum. Wide, outstretched arms also were part of the austrian image. These things arn't necessary, but they are images that can help at times, especially after a few cafe fertigs and a hair raising traverse over cliffs to get home from the cafe.

Also, All Mountain Ski Pros Camps at sugar bowl were metioned, and I'm biased, but I thing they are great. You get a good blend of excitement mixed in with some sound core movements. Check out www.allmountainskipros.com.
Cheers, Wade

[ April 17, 2002, 05:40 PM: Message edited by: Holiday ]
post #12 of 24
The Euro's attitude to skiing is differnt from the US. There, skiing is a respected sport with traditions, and a culture.

Taking lessons is a part of skiing for them...also to a lesser degree in Australia, as our scene is very euro. Skill in skiing comes with good teaching and practice, they know.

Here in the US, especially at bigger resorts, I get the distinct impression that many regard skiing as being like going to Disneyland. You pay your money, get your ticket, get on the ride, and go. Those who take lessons are in the minority, and at the bigger volume resorts, more beginner lessons are sold than advanced. Many i had this year viewed the lesson as a necessary evil, they had to learn how to stop, so they could "go skiing". I had one friend, who is full cert from the french school, get very upset after teaching a great level 1 lesson...when he got to the bit about what they'd be learning in their next lesson, they smiled happily at him and said "we don't need any more lessons, now we know how to ski".

I don't think this will ever change in this country. Skiing is being mass marketed, as the resorts need the volume to pay for the snowmaking, grooming and super lifts.
post #13 of 24
Ant, quite right. I think it's part of the "instant gratification" thing. Much as I love to tease my northern cousins I don’t mean any disrespect when I say that I believe the desire for instant gratification is possibly stronger in the US than anywhere else in the world. I feel that in Europe skiing is considered more of a skill that is learnt over time, where as in the US it’s something that you just do.
post #14 of 24
Unfortunately, many US ski schools use this American need for instant gratification as a means of marketing their programs.

"After 3 lessons, you will be able to ski down from the top of the mountain", "Anyone can be an expert skier".

post #15 of 24
Yes and it was this factor that actually put me off Harold Harb's book in the first instance. It was only when I finaly gave in and bought it (I was running out of other ski books to buy) that I realised that there was some really good stuff in it.
post #16 of 24
Thread Starter 
I don't think that it's neccesarily true that American skiers will be content to just putz around the mountain. I could go and hit a golf ball right now... but it wouldnt go very far. American golfers spend a lot of time and money trying to improve their game. They go to driving ranges after work, they buy Big Berthas, and they take lessons (I think). The ski industry has already sold us all our Big Berthas (i.e. slalom carvers), now it's up to the instructors to teach us what we can do with them. I don't pretend to have the answer, but I think its easier for people to say "Americans are too fat... too lazy and complacent" than it is show them what skiers they could be.
post #17 of 24
Epic, perhaps you have taken this as a bit of an American bashing, which was not what was intended. My point was that many people expect to be able to do something straight away, good or otherwise. A few will continue to pursue the sport and get good at it.

Yes you could go out and hit a golf ball but (by the sounds of it) you don't. How much would you enjoy the game of golf if you couldn't even hit the ball. Golf also makes these same promises of instant gratification ie "buy these big brotha clubs and you'll gain 20 yards" It's the same in every area because that's the society we now live in.
post #18 of 24
Thread Starter 
Actually Pete, I didn't realize you were an Aussie. Americans bash themselves too. I know the guys that I work with spend a lot of time working on their golf game and I hear them talking about instructors and lessons all the time. This applies to the rank beginners as much as the amateur tournament players.

Maybe skiing is a bit more like cycling where once you are able to ride at all, you are good to go (and there are no instructors anyway), but I see guys riding by in pacelines all the time, many with HRMs. Even my mom who is now 60 works at getting faster every time she rides.

Fly-fisherman hire guides and go to casting clinics. The Sporting Clays range I go to is always hopping and their certified instructors are always booked. I have to have a reservation if I want a lesson (and it does help). There are new high-performance driving schools popping up all over the place.

Maybe the majority of skiers dont know what good is? I've had people tell me that they were good skiers, only to get to the hill and find they could barely put their skis on!
post #19 of 24
No worries, just wanted to make sure you know that I wasn't having a go at Americans.

I think one difference between skiing and the sports you mention is that people may plan a ski holiday without ever being exposed to the sport before. Especially true I think if they live a long way from ski fields. Compare with golf for example. Many, many upmarket resorts promote themselves as golfing destinations, I understand it's quite a lucrative field too. But I personally cannot imagine a family, who has never played golf before, planning to go on a week’s vacation to a golf resort. Same with fly fishing, or clay pigeon shooting, or whatever. These people are already people who have made a commitment, however minor, to the game or sport.

Once again, compare with skiing. Many people plan, say a week, at a “ski resort” without ever having skied before. When they get there they expect to be able to ski, otherwise they’d think they were going to a “snow resort”. Again it’s this expectation and desire for instant gratification than will either have them leaving satisfied … or not.

As an aside, possibly the same concept can be found in whether the student felt the lesson was good or not. Let’s just say you had a “never ever” and spent the lesson basically just teaching them about their ski gear, how to put on their skis, boots, lift safety, etc etc. But they never actually moved on the snow. I would think the chances are they will come away disappointed because they expect (expectancy) to be able to ski (instant gratification) at the end of the lesson. This is despite the fact that this information is essential, or certainly will be once they progress.

I’ve spoken to people who have taken up snowboarding instead of skiing. In many cases the reason they cite is that they’d heard it was easier to learn, and at the end of one day they’d be able to get about the mountain ok.
post #20 of 24
almost every first timer group I get here in the US, the people can't comprehend the concept of having more lessons. You just learn to stop and turn, don't you?!

Soemtimes I compare skiing ot golf, and they start to realise, but in the most part, the lesson is to teach them how to ski. Then they can go and ski....that's the end of it.

Having experienced the Euro attitude, and the US, there is a huge gulf in their attitudes to skiing, and understanding of what it's about.
post #21 of 24
I think one of the things we keep forgetting is many people are "goal" oriented. When they reach their goal, what ever it is, that's when the lessons usually stop.

For most sports there is a measuring stick, Golf, it's a lower score, running, it's a faster time, etc...

Skiing it's usually getting down a specific slope. Don't care how good it looks just doing it and surviving it is usually first in peoples minds. One of my students this year came to a level 2 class and when asked what her goal was, "get off the chair more than once without falling down!" When they can navagate the whole mountain and ski with their kids, then the learning begins to plateau and lessons stop.

I often wondered if I could ski a SL or GS at x speed but the courses are almost always restricted. My friends have also wondered but many are too cheap to pay the 1.50 to make one run and look like a fool. Why pay to be the laughing stock.

Even during a high level private lesson at Telluride we were told we could not ski in the training race course. Even though no one was anywhere near the course. They were done training for the day.

I think if resorts would setup short race courses (very easy runs) with cones or rubber gates, self serve timers system and a "sign out" waiver system to allow the general public to run the course for free, have some pro's around to offer quick free tips they could generate a lot of new ski school business. Now there is a solid value to how you are skiing (I know only one part of skiing) if you are improving, and it would be lots of fun.

Just a thought.
post #22 of 24
Why do that when they can build more jumps and sliders in that location?
post #23 of 24
I don't think the 'Euro' attitude really applies to Brits. Every time we go away for a week skiing (rather than a long w/e) we book lessons, but talking to other guests in the hotel/chalet we are in the minority. They assume we must be beginners if we want lessons.
post #24 of 24
Thread Starter 
I was just revisiting this to find ESkis web-addy and re-read DChan's post. I just wanted to mention that over in Lech, they did have Slalom Courses, "Carving Arenas", and Speed Traps lying around for anybody to ski as well as the obligatory half-pipe and terrain park.
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