What level of risk are you prepared to take when you’re skiing? Are you a risk averse, fair weather slider or driven by the adrenaline of skiing fast and steep? It takes all sorts and at TDC we ski with a huge range of performers and that is part of the attraction of this wonderful job. One of the great fascinations is observing, and sometimes influencing, how people approach learning and seeing how learning and risk interact. In order to learn one has to risk attempting something new. It may be a small step and a small risk but it needs to be there nevertheless. Without it the dreaded plateau beckons, and at worst – decline.
For some the very mention of risk is enough to set knees trembling yet most people want to get better at skiing. Fortunately it is not the level of actual risk but the level of perceived risk that is central to learning. For a nervous intermediate who feels frightened of pointing the ski downhill on a blue run, the perceived risk of doing so is potentially greater than that experienced by an expert skier who descends a steep, rock-filled couloir. The actual risk of failure is indeed greater in the couloir but because the performer is within their comfort zone and perceives minimal risk there is likely to be minimal learning. By overcoming a greater likelihood of failure we access a more significant learning episode. So who is in fact the risk taker in this example; the extreme skier or the nervous intermediate?
At TDC we frequently reflect as a group on the way we coach and upon how we build relationships with our clients. A common point of discussion is how to manage the expert skier who books lessons with the intention of improving. It is difficult for adult learners to relinquish old habits and accept the risk of failing at something new. More often than not a change in performance necessitates unfamiliar sensations, and a certain vulnerability as motor programmes adjust, proprioception recalibrates and expectations are reframed. Here progress depends on two factors;
A willingness to embrace perceptions of risk
The relationship forged between coach and learner.
Most people when asked “what do you wish to achieve during this lesson” will focus on success, however, it is openness to failure that sets the really successful learners apart.
TDC ski coaches are on the hill practically every day of the season; it’s fair to say that we see our fair share of nonsense, please enjoy these 5 of Kieran’s pet hates!
Parents of small children, taking them down a steep red/black run when they are clearly too small and inexperienced to cope! Small children have big heads, add a big helmet to that, and I think that’s why most little ones ski in the ‘back seat’. There is no rush to get a 4 or 5 year old to ski steep slopes, let alone when they still have a big pizza! Keep them safe, make it fun, and they will learn, trust us, we know!
If I have just spent the morning with a nervous skier, I will have been working hard to build confidence; confidence in themselves, and confidence in their ability to control their speed and direction. Skiing therefore becomes enjoyable, rather than a stressful experience where they fear they will hurt themselves. It’s a Holiday! Having just had a hugely successful breakthrough in a morning session. What happens after lunch? The other half (usually the boyfriend/husband!) says “come ski with me, you will be fine!” By 4pm the same person is now in bits, confidence ruined, and has un-learned the whole morning. Very frustrating when you have to start again the next morning. (Not to mention the arguments it can cause!)
Skiers who ski at a speed way beyond there capability – this is probably my biggest pet hate of them all! It never ceases to amaze me how many skiers hurtle down the hill, with no awareness, consideration for others, or just general safety common sense. You can probably picture the type – usually male, 15-40 years old, off balance, jacket undone, goggles all squinty, in a racing snow plough with no turns, doing about 50 mph!! When these people get close to us ski instructors and our lessons (especially little ones) we get infuriated! And boy, if we catch them on the lift, we sure let them know, politely and professionally of course, which is rather difficult! FIS ski code/rules
Skiers or snowboarders off piste with no safety equipment – Transceiver, shovel, probe is the minimum. When I am coaching my groups in off piste private lessons or off piste clinics, I often see others near us with absolutely no safety equipment. They are usually thrashing around all over the place, all on the same slope at the same time, charging over convexities and showing absolutely zero off piste safety knowledge or etiquette. It infuriates instructors and mountain guides when we see these people! The main reason for this is that they may start something (ie an avalanche) above you, and put your group in danger. As coaches we are very aware of this, we always try to ensure we are never placed in this position.
Massive ski school groups snaking across the piste!! We have all seen it, an instructor, with about 10-15 people snaking down behind them (sometimes even more!) taking up the entire piste. There is nothing wrong with skiers following an instructor down a run, as they may be working on line, or turn shape, or speed control, but 15 people! How can anyone in a group this size receive any individual attention or feedback, it is practically impossible for the instructor to develop peoples performance in groups this big. At TDC, we never take more than 6 people in a group, maximum feedback, development, safety and enjoyment per person!
Kieran is normally an entirely positive guy and absolutely loves: Really big dogs, Savoyade Food, Good Whisky, Powder Snow and Working lots of hours. [ed]
We all strive for awesomeness on the slopes, however not all success can be attributed to these on snow endeavours. Here are 5 simple and effective ways to improve your skiing…. without even skiing!
Get your skis serviced.This means taking them to a shop where the staff will sharpen the metal edges, grind down the bases slightly to flatten them; getting rid of unwanted rock gauges, and then add some wax to keep the base healthy. It was a pretty tough December here in Val d’Isere, and some of the TDC coaches’ skis took a hammering on rocks. I took my skis into SnowBerry here in town and got them back good as new! Now going into mid-January, we have some icy piste conditions, and my edges are gripping and working well for me. Making me better at skiing!
Get your boots fitted properly with a good footbed.We at TDC all feel that the support of your boots is paramount to your ability to ski well. A moulded footbed will ensure that when your brain wants to influence the skis, there is no slack between your foots command and the skis reaction. Whatever movement your foot makes is transferred directly to the ski. Many of the TDC team have their feet computer analysed and custom soles made by SureFoot in Val d’Isere.
Watch a Ski Movie and be inspired.There are many incredible ski films available, and we can all argue about the best. A great one to cut your teeth on is “Claim”. With big mountain powder scenes, acrobatic freestyle segments and a huge dosage of charisma, this film is a great way to spark inspiration and motivation to get better. Sometimes this bit of motivation is all it takes to become a better skier. (To take on the bigger cliff drops maybe think about getting one of us to teach you…! Off Piste Adventure Courses )
Drink some water, and eat more bananas.Altitude naturally dehydrates you, and I’ve heard Bananas are good for you. This will prevent cramp, and assist recovery. A great short term preparation before hitting the slopes. Simples
Off-Piste prep: Do some transceiver searching and watch this video.Many of our courses and lessons at TDC revolve around the amazing off-piste in the area. To personally improve your ability to ski with others in that terrain, you must work hard and practice. Having confidence in your avalanche knowledge and transceiver craft will allow you to concentrate more on the tactical aspects of your skiing and be mindful of any technical improvements you could make. You can search for transceivers around the house, in the garden, or out in bracken and bilberry fields. All good fun learning.
Terry prides himself on being able to improve peoples skiing, without skiing. With on snow coaching too – a definite recipe for success!