Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Busy Busy Busy

This is my busy time of year when I'm working like crazy at my 4 jobs. And Ace is feeling the crunch, too, working all over the place for PSIA. Here's our current week:

Saturday, 2/20Me: Teaching Skiing at Plattekill Mountain, taught morning lessons, then skied up on a people struggling in afternoon, gave them a couple of tips, and they booked me for a private lesson in the coming weeks. Ace: Examiner for Level I Exam at Thunder Ridge Ski Area.
Sunday, 2/21Me: Attended Kåre Andersen Memorial Telemark Event at Bromley Mountain, did the Tele Race in the morning, and Taught Tele Clinics in the afternoon. Ace: Day Two, as an Examiner of Level I at Thunder Ridge. Everyone passed, we have new members and good course evaluations for her.
Monday, 2/22Me: Understudy a Telemark Bump Event at Belleayre Mountain, teach all day, and drive back home at night. Ace: Back to work at "regular" job, 8:30-4:30.
Tuesday, 2/23Me: Continue to understudy Telemark Bump Event at Belleayre, certify a new 20 something year old instructor as Telemark Level I (again, good course evaluations). From there, drive up to West Mountain, where I teach a Community College skiing class on Tuesday and Thursday nights. Taught skiing from 8:30-2:30 and 5:45-7:45, with lots of driving in between. Ace: worked regular job from 8:30-2ish, then drove to Mount Snow, where she's understudying another event for the next two days.
Wednesday (today)Me: Finally back at "real" job, working 7:00-4:30 (I work extended hours to get every other Monday off). Stock club meeting with some buddies after work, then home to do laundry. Ace: Understudying and Teaching at Mount Snow.
Thursday, 2/25Me: Working at "real" job from 7:00-3:40, then going up to West to teach the skiing class (unless they don't open, in which case, I'll be teaching a ski tuning clinic at the college). I'll be doing that from 5:45 to 7:45, and probably getting home around 8:30. Ace: Day Two of Teaching and understudying at Mount Snow, then driving home.
Friday, 2/26Me: I'm taking another day off of work for a Plattekill Telemark Festival, and probably teaching telemark skiing all day. Ace: back at "real" job for her crazy busy day on Friday.
Saturday, 2/27Me: Back to work as a regular "Part Time" Instructor at Plattekill, where I have a group of kids who telemark in the morning, and private lessons in the afternoon. Ace: joining me at Plattekill, where she has private lessons booked all day.
Sunday, 2/28Both of us at Gore Mountain, where we thought we might take a day off from teaching and just ski, but a guy I met at the Bromley thing wants to ski with me and work on some stuff, so I'm going to help him out, and maybe a few other Telemark people I know from various places. Hopefully I don't get too sucked into this (because I'll desperately need a day "off" at this point), but once I start teaching, it's hard for me to shut myself down. 
Monday, 2/29Me: Adirondack Backcountry telemark event for the Community College. Hopefully being able to coach some telemark skiers up to Level 1 status to get more people involved in PSIA. Ace: back at "real" job, 8:30-4:30.
So there's a little taste of our lives. Currently, it is POURING rain outside, so I don't know how much longer the season is going to last here in the east. I'm still looking forward to more skiing, though. Here's a taste of that Monday/Tuesday event at Belleayre:

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

I'm going to Breckenridge!

I made the tryout for the PSIA National Team! If you're interested in the details, click here:

Here's the gist:
Round two of the 2016 PSIA-AASI National Team Selection process is complete and congratulations are in order for the dedicated, select group of ski and snowboard educators, and PSIA-AASI members who have been invited to the final on-snow interview in April, in Breckenridge, CO.
What is the PSIA-AASI Team and how are Team members chosen?
The PSIA-AASI Teams are formed every four years following a rigorous selection process that enables PSIA-AASI to select the nation’s best instructors to represent the association at the highest level. The outcome of the 2016 selection will be a team that embodies three attributes outlined by the Teams Taskforce:
  • Inspirational educators
  • Lifelong learners
  • Inspirational athletes
Currently, the PSIA-AASI Team comprises 30 men and women selected from among the best instructors in the country. They represent the full breadth of the ski and snowboard disciplines: adaptive, alpine, alpine freestyle, cross country, telemark, and snowboard.

Once chosen, Team members are responsible for promoting, supporting, and assisting with the development of PSIA-AASI education programs and activities at all levels. They set the standard for U.S. snowsports instruction!
There will be an on snow part, with skiing and teaching segments, and an off snow evening presentation that I'll have to prepare. 
I'm excited about all of it. I'm not really sure what kind of skier they're looking for, but I'm going to ski my way, teach my way, and hopefully come out of it with the greatest job in Ski Instructing. I'm stoked.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Football and Footwork

Just in time for the Super Bowl, I have another instructing article for you. I wrote this one earlier in the year, thinking that I might use it for my National Team application, but it ended up being too long, and I don't feel like it really dove into the technical details enough. I explained the things that you should do, but I didn't explain "how?" or "why?", and those things are pretty crucial to ski instruction. But I feel as though it works pretty well in this space. Enjoy!

Telemark "Footwork"

Before the ski season starts, I watch a lot of football games, and I watch a lot of football analysis. One of the favorite topics is “footwork”. They’ll talk about whether a quarterback is using a three step drop or a five step drop and what each movement entails. They’ll argue over an offensive lineman’s starting position, and whether it will allow him to move his feet to block that defensive end. Footwork, it seems, is very important in the NFL.

In skiing, footwork separates telemark skiers from the rest of the people at the mountain. While alpine skiers have limits in the fore/aft direction and snowboarders are locked into a constant stance width, tele skiers have more freedom to put their feet wherever they want as they slide down the hill.  But great freedom comes with great responsibility. If tele skiers aren’t practiced, positive, and precise in their footwork, the risk of calamity and catastrophe grows.

photo courtesy of Harvey Road

Practice is essential, in both skiing and football. By the time they reach the pros, quarterbacks have been doing 3 step drops for years, and know exactly how long the first step should be, how far the second step crosses over the rear leg, and where the last step has to be so that they can plant their foot and make a powerful throw. These ingrained movements take a long time to learn, and every time a quarterback moves his feet and legs in that specific way, he learns a little bit more, either consciously or subconsciously. We do the same thing in telemark skiing. With every turn, our bodies relay little notes to our brain: “That worked.” “That didn’t work.” “What are you trying to do now?” “Ouch.” The trick to filling your brain with useful notes is to make both great turns and bad turns. Make turns with a wider than normal stance, or with more fore/aft separation between your feet. Notice any footwork changes in variable snow conditions. What works best when you’re on something steep? Think about the duration, rate, and timing of your footwork, and how that affects the turn.

With practice comes positivity. If your brain absorbed all (or most) of the messages the body sent it, you start to develop a little confidence in where you place your feet. You know what works, and you can repeat those moves on demand. Now you can start to change little things in the footwork that will add to performance. You might find that tipping the new trailing foot when you pull it back aids in the development of your edging skills. You might realize that subtle moves in your feet and ankles allow you to adjust your balance in new and interesting ways. You might discover that sometimes, the best footwork is to leave your feet exactly where they are and do 3 monomark turns in a tight spot between trees. Like the NFL, other parts of the game open up to you when you gain confidence in the basics.

As you develop your telemark skills, the final hurdle to great skiing is precision. Plenty of quarterbacks never achieve greatness because they just aren’t precise enough. It’s similar with skiing, where a small change in edge angle, foot placement, or ankle flexion can make a big difference in a turn. In skiing, precision is the hardest thing to achieve, and even if you have it in one turn, it might be gone in the next.

Adjustment and adaptability are important in both skiing and football. Even the best pros make mistakes sometimes. And not every turn will be perfect. But if your footwork movements are developed with practice, enhanced with positivity, and refined with precision, it will allow you to make the next turn better than the one you just made. And that sounds like a solid goal for everyone.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

How to Get Better at Doing Things

Between this blog, PSIA, and random posts on forums, I've written a lot of words about skiing. But there are a lot of things that I've written that have never seen the light of day. Sometimes it's for the best, like the Party Ski screenplay I'm writing that never gets finished. But sometimes, I just feel like my writing doesn't really fit in any kind of outlet. As an example, here's an article that I was going to submit to the Eastern Division PSIA newsletter, but it didn't really come out the way I wanted it to. It's not bad, but I just felt that it wouldn't help people that much (maybe I'm wrong, I don't know). It's written to boost up people who are going for PSIA exams, so I apologize if it seems irrelevant to some, but I think everyone can benefit from the message: To get better at something, you gotta work hard on that thing.

Want to Pass Exams? Get Better

Exams are stressful. They’re arduous, draining, sometimes humiliating, and always intrusive. You’ve been honing your craft, skiing hard, teaching regularly, and you’ve come up with a bunch of dynamic moves, learning progressions and teaching methods that work great for you. And now those people are going to JUDGE you for those things? And their decisions have an impact on your pay, your standing in your ski school, and your life? The pressure can be extraordinary, so the most important thing to realize is that your fate is not determined by “those people”, it’s determined by you.

There’s no secret to success. The way to getter better at anything is to do that thing. As a young comedian, Jerry Seinfeld made sure that he spent at least some time every day writing jokes. He’d put in an hour or two hours of solid, no interruption, joke writing every single day, try to come up with some funny material, and he would put a big X on his calendar when he was done for the day. After a few weeks, he’d have a chain of X-es on his calendar and his job would then be to “never break the chain”, or, put differently, to keep working at what he wanted to achieve. And this was not a new, original idea. Benjamin Franklin had a similar system for a harder to quantify checklist that included “Frugality”, “Cleanliness” and “Humility”, things that all ski instructors should try to work harder on.

So, if you’re struggling with exams (or any goals you might have), I recommend using the checkmark method to make yourself better. When you wake up in the morning, even in the dead of summer, you should ask yourself two questions:

1. What am I doing today to make myself a better skier?
2. What am I doing today to make myself a better instructor?

If you’re trying to make yourself a better skier, then ski. Ski before morning lineup, ski after your last lesson. Ski at night. Take a day off and ski at a mountain you’re not familiar with. Ski with people better than you. Ski terrain that scares you a little. Ski terrain that scares you a lot. Use natural terrain features in a creative way. Use both sides of a berm to work on flexion/extension movements. Ski on one ski to work on balance. See how many turns you can make in a short section of trail. See how fast you can go, how many angles you can create, and what your upper limits are. Do skiing things that are out of your comfort zone like backcountry skiing, park skiing, and pond skimming. Ski, then cross off the day on your calendar.

If you can’t ski, do something skiing related. Exercise to work your skiing muscles. Break out the rollerskis and get an XC workout. Don’t have rollerskis? Simulate tree skiing by riding your bike through the woods on some singletrack. It helps your quads, your balance, and your vision. Water ski to work on some edge angles. Kayak to develop core strength. Do Yoga. Watch ski videos. Watch more ski videos. Watch ALL THE SKI VIDEOS (that’s a big part of my training regimen). Do something and cross it off on your calendar. You earned it.

If you’re trying to make yourself a better instructor, it’s not about just accumulating knowledge. Yes, you should know all of the basics, a few of your favorite “stepping stones” and some technical terms that come up a lot, but great teaching is about more than pulling facts out of the air. Watch videos of random people skiing. Listen to other instructors describe that skiing. Work on your eye. Work on movement analysis. Develop plans for fictional clients. Come up with some creative ways to say and do things. Write an article or five. Teach kids? Watch some kids’ movies. Learn what kids are into so you can relate to them.

Even if you have the teaching concepts down, maybe you need to work on other parts of the instructor life. Get better at public speaking. Get more comfortable speaking to strangers. Try to develop a more sunny disposition (easier for some of us than others). Learn about things other than skiing so you can engage with your clients. LEARN something new. Get taught something. Ask yourself: what did the teacher do that was helpful? Ask yourself about the unhelpful parts too. How could they be improved? Cross the day off! You’re helping yourself be a better teacher.

Next ski season, instead of dreading the exam at the end of the year, embrace it. Look at the chain of X-es that you developed and realize that you’ve been working hard at this goal for a long time. You’ve made yourself a better skier, a better instructor, and a better person. You’re coming in more prepared than you ever have, and you are in charge of how this thing plays out. You’re ready. Just do what you’ve been doing for months.

I've been trying to live that mantra this year. My goal is to make the Telemark National Team and I'm trying to get as much Telemark skiing in as I can. I have about 20 days in so far, and I'm itching for more. Also, I need to be in phenomenal shape (because of the elevation at Breckenridge and the long tryout days), so I skinned up about 1,200 vertical feet on Monday after skiing Gore all morning.

Finally, I'd like to get better at Park riding, so I spent 2 hours in the cold on Monday night sessioning one flat rail in the West Mountain Terrain Park until I was confident that I could nail it. Next time I'm there, I'll spend 2 hours coming in switch until I have that move down. This might not help my tryout that much, but I'm kinda doing that for my own personal motivation - I want to be better, and that means I gotta work at it.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Power, Versatility, Simplicity

I just got back from PSIA Eastern Telemark Team training at Killington, and I wanted to write this down before I forget. I was asked to teach a segment, and it didn't really go well. I started out with too broad of a topic, threw out too wide of a net, and had a hard time reeling everything in at the end. I need to refocus and figure out what I want my skiing and teaching segments to be like.

So, to that end, I wanted to come up with some things that I want to be known for - some things that I can put into every teaching segment that will represent what skiing means to me. I've come up with 3 little points that I want to keep in mind when brainstorming ideas for drills and tasks: Power, Versatility, and Simplicity.

Power is good for me because I like to ski strong. I have this idea that the Telemark position is a position of strength, and I want to move from position of strength to position of strength. Power means that I'll be able to overcome obstacles, and I won't be thrown aside when something unexpected happens (and something unexpected always happens).

Versatility means that I want everything that I teach to be applicable everywhere on the hill. We did a lot of race/groomer/carving focuses during training, and it was great to visit, but I don't want to live there. I want to have a style that is useful on groomers, useful on bumps, useful in the trees, and useful in the terrain park. I want to be able to transfer between those zones using the same general movements (but tweaking slightly to add a little more dynamism for carving, a little more pivot for bumps, etc.).

Finally, I want my moves, drills, and explanations to be simple. I've found that in golf, the simplest swings are the most effective, and I feel like skiing (and teaching) is similar. There shouldn't be a lot of extraneous movements or unnecessary words. I feel like I need to polish all of my stuff so that I can describe the specific movements in a few precise sentences. And I want those movements to be easy to accomplish for anyone.

So that's what'll be going through my head for the next couple of months. I'm probably going to use this space to expound on these ideas in a little more detail. I have a nice idea of power, and I wrote about it in the Eastern division newsletter, but I need to come up with a couple of other drills and precision descriptions of movements so that I can be ready to teach my style of skiing right on the spot, to a group of really amazing skiers.