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Bad lesson at Alta, and How to pick an instructor / lesson

post #1 of 27
Thread Starter 

Spent last week in Utah skiing for 6 days, 5 different mountains, great time.

My wife wanted to take a lesson, and chose Alta for no particular reason. Signed up for a 2 hour "Blue to Black" lesson.

I would describe her as a solid intermediate skier with a fear / confidence issue, so this class seemed right at her level.

Instructor was an older guy named Brian. The class started with a quick run down a short groomer to assess skill level - not sure how 5 turns tells them much, but that was it.

Others in class were arguably less skilled than my wife, and two of them (all female class by coincidence) were working at Alta.

By my wife's account the lesson was utterly  useless. They were learning basic turn mechanics when the class had been described as providing tactics for dealing with harder terrain.

 

My wife has decent mechanics (haha) - but she freezes when confronted with 1) steep uninterrupted groomers, 2) steep bumps especially on open slopes (i.e. - she does better in the trees), 3) ice.  They all her skills sort of disappear and she reverts to the back seat and wedging, etc. Even when she gets the concept -- for example, to not ski in the troughs of hte bumps because it becomes like a bobsled track -- she has trouble with the execution when her fear takes over.

 

So anyway...the class just didn't do it for her. At the end of the class they were SLOWLY creeping down some black runs with wide turns, which frankly she can already do. Later in the day we skied some decent terrain together -- Catherine's, the stuff off the High Traverse, and some nice soft snow in the trees, and she did pretty well at all of those. So, either the lesson was oversold, or her/our expectations were not squared away with it. It didn't help that right on the 2 hour mark the instructor just said "Lesson's over" and basically skied off and left the group alone -- while the woman doign the "Intermediate" lesson had told her charges that she'd ski with them for an extra hour if they wanted (for no extra fee, so hopefully they tipped her well).

 

So that wa the first lesson either of us ever experienced. Not a good start, and now we're back in upstate NY at our little home "mountain"  Might go up to VT for a couple days before the end of the season...and she'd like to try another lesson.

 

Any advice on how to pick the right lesson for her needs?

 

 

post #2 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by billyymc View Post


...Others in class were arguably less skilled than my wife...

...By my wife's account the lesson was utterly  useless. They were learning basic turn mechanics when the class had been described as providing tactics for dealing with harder terrain.

 

Any advice on how to pick the right lesson for her needs?

 

 



Two words: Private Lesson.

It sounds to me like she was in a group with others who lacked some fundamental skill, so the instructor tailored the lesson to address that. 

A private lesson would allow the instructor to work on her specific issues.  Which might well be " basic turn mechanics " for all I know.
post #3 of 27
I second the private lesson suggestion, but know that the cost can be prohibitative. One thing that I have done in the past is to stay in a group type lesson, but commit to an all day lesson. 2 hours is really short, 4 hours is better but an all day lesson with a lunch break is really beneficial. This way, the instructors have the time to spend with everyone in the group and give them something to work on. In a longer lesson, you can also ask to change groups at lunch time if the lesson is not working out for you. If your wife likes, many mountains have great women's clinics. I've done one at ELK in PA for a few years now - its generally a small class, one or more full days and alot of fun! One thing to add though, is drilling the basics is ESSENTIAL. Your wife may wind up getting more out of the lesson than she thought she did - keep an eye out, you will likely be the first to notice it. I've spent more time in lessons working on basics than most of my friends. I might not have skiied as much terrain as them - but I am working to really nail some key fundamentals. This year I've spent a bunch of time on turn initiation/timing and body allignment. And although your (or your wife's) results may vary, this route has worked out well for me.  Just be on the lookout for her becoming a better skier without her ever noticing it :)
post #4 of 27
Thread Starter 

Unfortunately the experience was really off-putting for her, and she will be very reluctant to take lessons in the future. I know she'd like to ski better than she does, mostly to be more comfortable when she happens onto some more challenging terrain. I'm not really sure what to tell her, because I have zero qualifications to be able to give anyone tips. I have always been the learn by watching type of person -- but that doesnt' work for her. I can see someone who I think is skiing well and recognize a lot of what they are doing, and then try to incorporate it into my own skiing. She can see it, but either doesnt' get what they are doing or doesn't know how to incorporate it into her own skiing.

 

I really believe that much of her issue is just fear when she gets on steeper terrain. On more moderate terrain she skis pretty darn well -- she just has trouble transferring that as the terrain gets steeper.

 

I do think private lessons might be a good choice, and the women's clinic is probably also good. She's expressed interest in the local women's clinic before, just never had the opportunity to join in since it's Thursday mornings.  I'll talk to her about that...since I'm pretty sure she's still interested in lessons.

 

post #5 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by billyymc View Post
At the end of the class they were SLOWLY creeping down some black runs with wide turns ... right on the 2 hour mark the instructor just said "Lesson's over" and basically skied off and left the group alone

 


I'm not sure if this is the correct reading of what you wrote, but If the instructor abandoned a class on black terrain that was creeping down blacks then you should notify both the ski school director and the general manager/CEO of the resort because this is a serious safety issue. 
post #6 of 27
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by sharpedges View Post




I'm not sure if this is the correct reading of what you wrote, but If the instructor abandoned a class on black terrain that was creeping down blacks then you should notify both the ski school director and the general manager/CEO of the resort because this is a serious safety issue. 

 

No sorry...I think my writing was unclear. I believe he left them at the Watson lodge/area which is halfway up/down the Collins lift -- but I'm not 100% sure. I don't think he took off on them halfway down a run -- I'll have to check with my wife to be sure about that though...it was a week ago, bad memory!
post #7 of 27
In the past (I think this was actually at Alta once) I have signed up for an afternoon clinic and if after one run it didn't feel right I've gone back and applied the money to a private lesson.

It's funny. I've learned a lot from instructors who do drills and from instructors who pretty much just say follow me, but I've never learned from an instructor who did not address fear when it was the real issue that needed to be overcome.
post #8 of 27
Quote:
Others in class were arguably less skilled than my wife
Maybe a big part of the problem.  The instructor can't take the less skilled skiers where they'll get stuck.  Re-arranging the skiers in group lessons can be a problem depending on the area, the policies, which other groups are available, etc.  Of course, it has to be tried, and even on simple terrain she could have been shown advanced techniques.  Even in a group lesson a skilled instructor can give four concurrent private lessons, and a top instructor can give six.

The fear factor is a tough one.  I like to both show the techniques to handle the slope plus talk about the things one'll see that make the fear worse.  Tell your wife about the skiers' paradox...one needs to be very aggressive in their movements to have the control to ski as slowly as they want.  Getting into the back seat or leaning hard on the uphill ski is exactly the wrong thing to do, but does give one the false sense of confidence.  Tell your wife that the two ends of the ski have different jobs.  The front turns her and gives her control.  The back half of the ski takes her for a ride straight and fast.  If she engages the front half of the ski by balancing over the toe of her outside foot, she'll have control.  If she feels that her head and shoulders are the first thing down the hill, she'll have control.  Scary, but it works.  Look for a used copy or library copy of the out-of-print In The YIKES! Zone book--maybe an interlibrary loan through your local library.
post #9 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by SoftSnowGuy View Post


Maybe a big part of the problem.  The instructor can't take the less skilled skiers where they'll get stuck.  Re-arranging the skiers in group lessons can be a problem depending on the area, the policies, which other groups are available, etc.  Of course, it has to be tried, and even on simple terrain she could have been shown advanced techniques.  Even in a group lesson a skilled instructor can give four concurrent private lessons, and a top instructor can give six. 
 

This is true. Since it didn't happen, and there didn't appear to be any conclusion or summary at the end of the lesson, there might have been grounds for discussing the situation with the lesson desk. Since you're long gone from Alta, it's a bit late now.

Quote:
 The fear factor is a tough one.  I like to both show the techniques to handle the slope plus talk about the things one'll see that make the fear worse.  Tell your wife about the skiers' paradox...one needs to be very aggressive in their movements to have the control to ski as slowly as they want.  Getting into the back seat or leaning hard on the uphill ski is exactly the wrong thing to do, but does give one the false sense of confidence.  Tell your wife that the two ends of the ski have different jobs.  The front turns her and gives her control.  The back half of the ski takes her for a ride straight and fast.  If she engages the front half of the ski by balancing over the toe of her outside foot, she'll have control. 
I do not like to tell tentative skiers that they need to be "aggressive." This can lead to anything from ineffective movements to outright rejection if they think they're being told they need to ski faster. It's easy to misinterpret.

Note also that billymc has said:
Quote:
I have zero qualifications to be able to give anyone tips.
He is wise to be careful about what he tells his wife!

Anyway, speed is a Biggus Dealus with tentative skiers, and they need to know they can control it, and control it easily. Unfortunately, as you note, the best ways are somewhat counterintuitive. Further, the skis will gain speed while they're pointed down the local fall line, especially if the skier is leaning backwards and uphill, desperately trying to dig the edges in (which, of course, makes the skis want to carve more, skid less, and go faster in whatever direction they're pointed, as you've noted).

FWIW (maybe not much - I'm sure someone will tell me I'm full of it!), to achieve the same end, I first encourage tentative skiers at low speeds to stand over their feet almost as if they're wearing their running shoes on their front lawn. This allows their weight to create the necessary edge pressure (rather than frantic muscular pushing) and puts them in a position to control the edge angle so they can actually flatten the skis and allow them to skid, rather then getting an unintended near carve. It puts them more balanced over the outside foot at the end of a turn, so they can either keep turning for more speed control or make a very small downhill (positive) move to allow a new turn to start. And, standing in their shoes is something they already know how to do.

We're not talking high performance here. We are talking movements and tactics that can lead to high performance if the skier so chooses. We're talking methods of allowing weight and gravity to do most of the work, while still getting solid edge hook-up and easy turn completion. And turn completion is indeed required.

With tentative skiers, terrain increments must be taken in very small steps. If the fear and technique loss reappears, back off. You'll constantly be searching for the right level of challenge. Instructors often under-terrain groups, at least at first, because it's difficult to grasp and attempt a new movement pattern when one is concerned about losing control. But the group (or individual, if it's a private) should always know that they'll be invited to try their new stuff on terrain more suited to their abilities - and fairly quickly, in some cases. It depends on the student(s).
post #10 of 27
 Just an FYI a skilled instructor can tell how you ski in black diamond bump field by watching you ski a half dozen turns on a green groomer(assuming no fear issues). this guy sounded crappy but you can see movement patterns in a couple turns

privates are the way to go. 

Epic would be a good fit for you at stowe.
post #11 of 27
Even a great instructor is constrained by the weakest link.  So if you are determined to go for the bargain-rate group lesson, overestimate your skills - BE the weakest link, let other people get mad at you for a change.  (This is way easier for men, by the way.)

Otherwise, step up to a private.  The longer the better.
post #12 of 27
Thread Starter 
Thanks for all the comments everyone. 

I agree, we probably should have gone back to the lesson desk and seen if they would have upgraded her to one of their afternoon "workshops" for just teh difference in price, since she didnt' feel there was any value in the morning class.  But we wanted to ski together for a while so we did that and had a great afternoon.

Could have just been the luck of the draw that this particular instructor didn't work for my wife.  BWPA - we may be up in Stowe in a few weeks and I'll drop you a PM if we are. 

jhcooley - you're right that I'm best to not try to give my wife tips!  It's not that she doesnt' want to learn -- it's just that 1) I don't really know how to put movement into words that well, 2) Whenever it seems like she needs coaching it's because she's followed me into an area that she's not comfortable so she might not be real happy with me at the moment, and 3) I know nothing about the psychology of fear or of overcoming it.

I do believe her fear is mostly mental and stems from visual cues though. She gets freaked out on steep groomers, but can get down the same steepness of terrain in the trees or where she can't see as far down the slope. She also gets freaked out a bit by bumps -- and I think thats just a visual thing too -- like she sees the b umps and is afraid of them. I'm not a great bump skier, but I do ok and I understand how to use the bump. When we were at the  Canyons we did multiple runs down runs like Mystic Pines and Paradise Chutes in nice lightly tracked powder -- and she did quite well. But every few bumps she'd get scared, lean back and revert to bobsledding through the trough. Then I'd tell her to just do one bump and stop on the flat/back of the bump...and she'd do it and be able to link up a few more after. She often said she felt like she was fighting something though....like her movements werent' natural, and that her legs were workign t he wrong way...and I had no advice for her there.

I'm not pushing her to get lessons -- she wants to ski better for herself. I just want to find an instructor who can tap into what she can already do and just make the rest of what she needs click for her.
post #13 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by billyymc View Post

 

Any advice on how to pick the right lesson for her needs?

 


Come to Stowe and see me.
post #14 of 27
Not to be difficult, but if your wife took the lesson and was skiing well afterwards, perhaps the focus on basics helped? 

In either case the instructor clearly did a poor job explaining why he was working on particular areas if she felt like the class was too remedial. It's almost impossible to do the fundamentals too well, so I don't think that taking a skier of any level to a green run to refine a movement is a bad approach. However, if you take a skier expecting to work on tactics for challenging terrain to a green run and don't explain clearly what and why to focus on I expect they would feel shortchanged. 

I'd also really caution the "it's only fear" line of thinking. No doubt fear is a limiting factor and not committing to your turns prevents good execution, but she may also be afraid of those conditions because she doesn't feel she has a solid command of her short turn. Something obviously isn't working for her there, and she is your wife so certainly you probably have a good read on it, but maybe finding out what skills aren't working for her in the tough conditions might lead to good instruction. 
post #15 of 27
Billy, others here have said it, and I'll second their message.  Don't short change the importance of honing the basics on easy terrain to overcome fear and find comfort on more challenging terrain.  As Bushwacker said, a person may think they're skiing great on blue terrain, but an instructor with a good eye will be able to pick out in a flash the flaws that will cause them to struggle on steeper terrain.  Those flaws must first be first addressed on gentle terrain.  Taking a flawed skill base to the steeps is generally a dead end proposition.  Have a read.

http://www.yourskicoach.com/YourSkiCoach/Saying_Goodbye_to_Fear.html
post #16 of 27
Next time try going to one ski area for 6 days and take lessons in the morning and practice on your own in the afternoon. Then do this for several days in a row. After 4 or 5 days your skiing will improve noticeably.
post #17 of 27
Thread Starter 
Onyx - she skied same after as before - not that there was an expectation of an immediate change.

I think your comment about the short turn is probably accurate. She skis well on blue runs because she doesn't have to really use short turns for speed control. 

Rick - thanks for the link and comments. I'll take a look.

Dano - I think that's a good idea, assuming that the instructor is a good fit.
post #18 of 27
My wife had the same impression after taking a couple lessons at ALTA (including "Beyond the Blues"). It certainly seems that most people over estimates their ability so you need to slect your lesson with that in mind.

Also remember that for a group lesson if you get one solid "take away" then it was worth it.
post #19 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rick View Post

Billy, others here have said it, and I'll second their message.  Don't short change the importance of honing the basics on easy terrain to overcome fear and find comfort on more challenging terrain.  As Bushwacker said, a person may think they're skiing great on blue terrain, but an instructor with a good eye will be able to pick out in a flash the flaws that will cause them to struggle on steeper terrain.  Those flaws must first be first addressed on gentle terrain.  Taking a flawed skill base to the steeps is generally a dead end proposition.  Have a read.

Sort of what I was thinking.  Years ago when I had a moguls lesson, we didn't spend any time in moguls, but rather worked on some fundamentals on various grade groomers.  Idea being that I needed to nail down some basic turn mechanics regardless of the terrain I was on.  The difference in that case is that it was well explained to me, and I immediately saw the issues and the proposed approach made sense.  Actually, I was glad the instructor had me rewind to the root cause rather than dive right into bumps.

As far as confidence on steeps and challenging terrain, I think skiers need to learn how to: 1) find the slow line and ski it well, and 2) find the fast line and ski it in control (slow).  Either approach works to get down scary terrain where there may be confidence issues.  My read on the experience described above is that the instructor took a bunch of blue skiers and got them to the point where they could do #1.  But maybe your wife wanted to learn how to do #2.  I think that might be a good justification for a private lesson where an instructor can cater to your wife specifically.  Seems like #2 might be tough in a group lesson unless all the skiers were similar in skill level and focus.
post #20 of 27
At a lot of places in the east if you take an advanced, Level 6+, adult lesson in the afternoon you're likely to have almost a private lesson. Adults don't like to take lessons in the afternoon, and "advanced" skiers don't like to take lessons. Some places can guarantee you no more than three people in a group for an extra fee.
Stowe would be a good place to work on the fear issue. With a lesson from epic you'd  get approaches and things to work on. It's going to take some time - more than the lesson. A multi day group or women's group would also be a good idea. Go to Taos for a week, do an esa, etc. Programs like that are often much more cost effective.
post #21 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by tromano View Post

Also remember that for a group lesson if you get one solid "take away" then it was worth it.


 
Always, manage your expectations is a 2 hour group lesson. Overcoming deepset fears is just not going to happen.

- To Tormano's thought of finding a "take away" thought. At a minimum, if the instructor did not take a few minutes to find out what each student wanted to achieve, and, leave a clear "take away" or two, then she got less than a professional lesson.
post #22 of 27
Thread Starter 
Thanks for all the good comments - very much appreciated.

As I mentioned, neither of us have ever participated in a lesson - so maybe expectations weren't right.  I do think the instructor communicated one then, then failed to follow through on it -- but I really wasn't there for the lesson so I can't be sure.  I also think that perhaps he didn't do a great job of communicating why he was having them do certain things.

In any case - it was an experience to build on. If we can get up to Stowe this season I will plan to hook her up with Epic.  If not, we'll do it next season -- or perhaps we'll look to attend one of the Epic events / camps -- we've done similar camps for kayaking and had a great time so it might work out well. 
post #23 of 27
Billy,

Your comments seem to indicate that your faimily has only taken this one lesson in a long while. If so then your best untapped resource to consult may very well be the instructors and coashes at your home ski area.

Getting over a serious fear can take a sustained effort. Its not always something that you can solve in a day or even a week. I know Stowe has some great coaches. And my wife and extended family have benefited form the epic camps tremendously. I can't say enough good about both options. But it may be much more practical and cost effective to try to estabilsh a relationship with the right coach at your home mountain and take a series of lessons over the course of a season.

If your wife wants to improve her moguls then this is the perfect time. Spring is the season for bump skiing and she should dive in with both feet and get after it! Better not wait for next season IMO. 

If you don't have a home ski area, I highly recomend you try to find a place with an affordable pass and a good ski school thats not too far from home. Learning the hills and getting really comfortable there would be a sure step towards reducing fear of the unknown.
post #24 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by tromano View Post

Billy,

Getting over a serious fear can take a sustained effort. Its not always something that you can solve in a day or even a week. .... more practical and cost effective to try to estabilsh a relationship with the right coach at your home mountain and take a series of lessons over the course of a season.

If your wife wants to improve her moguls then this is the perfect time. Spring is the season for bump skiing and she should dive in with both feet and get after it! Better not wait for next season IMO. 
 

Feb 16, 2010

Hi Billy:

My thoughts exactly with the modification and addition of maybe "over the course of several seasons" unless your wife is an exceptionally gifted learner.

Think snow,

CP
post #25 of 27
Thread Starter 
Tromano, CP - thanks - but I think maybe I'm blowing her fear out of proportion.  It's definitely not debilitating or anything like that!  I mean...in utah last week she skied some decent terrain and did it pretty well. There's only a couple circumstances under which she gets frozen up -- and it's not like petrified frozen, just backseat frozen. 

Our home "mountain" is Greek Peak in upstate NY.  There is very little challenging terrain there.  The couple of "steep" runs that they have are inevitably iced over almost all season and really not fun to ski at all -- plus their straight down the hill nature makes a short run even shorter.

I believe what she  needs is someone to coach her on short turns, how to use bumps (especially in steeper terrain), and using the pole plant for timing of her turns (esp the short ones). 

I think I've made my wife sound like a total gaper - ha.  Not my intention. She surprises me sometimes -- for example when we hit Catherine's at Alta, or Paradise Chutes at the Canyons -- and she does it pretty well, better than some others out there. 

I'm not sure we'd be able to get what she needs at our local mountain.  We'll look into it though. I do like the idea of a week long camp type thing  -- like I said, we did that for whitewater kayaking a couple times and it worked out great. Funny...she's afraid of being upside down in her kayak too - even though she has a good roll. When it comes down to it, she's mostly afraid of getting hurt -- whether it's skiing, kayaking, or mountain biking -- and that leads to tentativeness even when she KNOWS she has the skills to do something.

You guys have all had great comments and thoughts -- and it's obviously hard to know what the deal is without seeing my wife ski. Maybe I'll post up some video soon for a MA -- ha...better not tell her.
post #26 of 27
 Does anybody remember TibetanTreeFrog's real name? He used to work out of Greek Peak. He'd  be a good find if he is still there.
post #27 of 27
If I have my facts straight TTF used to work at Whitetail, went to Hunter for a couple seasons and ended up moving out to the Tahoe area. I'm blanking on the name right now, though. (Mark?)
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