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Beyond Boarders ... come ski with me

My earliest memory of skiing is an old picture my parents use to have. In it, I am about three and a half feet tall, bundled up tight, wearing the world’s largest sweater, woolen socks pulled up past my knees, and wrapped in a never-ending scarf. My ski poles reached the sky, their baskets were as big as my head, and my skis had the old traditional bear trap bindings. I could lie flat out on them, reach my arms over my head, and never have a hope of touching the tip or tail of the ski. Now, I’m thinking my folks must have gotten these as hand me downs; from a GIANT! Fortunately, skiing attire and equipment has come a long way since then and my love for the sport continues to grow.

Some friends convinced me to register for the Level I Ski Instructor’s course that was taking place at Sunshine Village Ski Resort. I had previously mentioned to them my dream of retiring from an administrative job and becoming a ski instructor. They felt taking the course would be a pre-retirement opportunity. Their son, Matt, was taking it, so why not join him? Continued encouragement included: my passion for skiing, I felt good when I skied, and, they felt I would breeze through the course because they think I ski well. I’m so there! There’s nothing like a bit of ego boosting to get you ready for the plunge.

Another major attraction for taking the course was the potential to become one of those phenomenal synchronized skiers in the red suits – the Ski Instructors. There have been hundreds of times that I’ve ridden up lifts and scanned the hills for them. At the local ski resorts around Banff, groups of instructors tend to go out for early morning and afternoon runs – officially their practice time to improve skills. The instructors congregate at designated spots and receive whatever instructions required for their next descent. A lead skier takes off. They are quickly followed by another skier, and another, until the entire group is snaking down the hill … in perfect unison, perfect form, carving smoothly and precisely down the slope. What a sight! Since I’m usually on the ski hill early, I hunt them down. My favourite sightings are when I’m riding up the lift and I can watch them going through their paces from the top – it makes me hold my breath, no blinking … nearly gives me goose bumps (I know,– I could possibly be accused of stalking with this type of obsessive behaviour). My fantasy is to join those ranks, to be part of that line, and ski just like them. (my family thinks I need to get out more and live a bigger fantasy). I’m so going to take the Instructor Course. I AM TOTALLY pumped because I love skiing, I feel good when I ski, I was born on skis, I want to wear the reds, and how hard can it be?

Day 1 of the course - OH MY GOODNESS! Reality check! You want me to go down the hill how? Looking like what? You've got to be kidding? There’s people watching – what will they think? This can not possibly be how instructors learn to ski!

I keep hearing a very loud voice barking out commands: “get lower”, “hands out in front”, “wider stance”, and “cut out the fat” (now I know I’m not signed up for a weight loss program so I’m choosing to ignore that one). It doesn’t matter where I turn; those persistent orders follow me, continually replaying the same instructions and sounding gruffer with each repetition. I’m guessing, since he’s the instructor, this must be going somewhere. I'm just not really seeing how or where it’s going. Did I mention I’m truly hurting - in my knees, my hips and my thighs are on fire! Each run is more painful than the last. I'm told it’s progress! The kids in the group are stressed about passing the course; I'm stressed about ever being able to walk again! (and, heaven forbid that someone I know will see me ski this way!) I think I failed to mention that I’m the oldest in the group – in fact I’m old enough to be everyone’s Mother (not that age is an issue, it just helps me justify why I am hurting).

I spend the whole day skiing totally out of control, unbalanced, a “fish out of water” feeling. It was the worst ski day I've ever experienced. Who would ever pretend to balance a wine glass across their poles, or form a picture frame or better yet, intentionally ski down the hill looking like a total geek?!!

Day 2 –I hit the hill early to try a few runs before class. I’ve decided if all my body parts ache by the end of the run, I'm using some of the techniques from yesterday (possibly a sign of acquiring the appropriate stance). Okay, we can adapt/adjust, try to do it their way.

The morning class is excellent; sun is out, sky is blue, the snow is getting soft. When our group skis down the run, I always bring up the rear – it’s the Mother in me, continually “gathering the flock” syndrome. Now that they’ve armed my” flock” with sharp sticks and placed slippery boards on their feet, I know I’m in the safest position. Just before lunch, Brent takes us on a free ski over Headwall (one of my all time favorites). The run starts with a steep drop and lands in a bowl filled with numerous moguls. I see Brent go over the edge of the Wall but the rest of the group puts on the brakes and peers over. Dang! My run is feeling great and I'm going over (and I’m going to be so embarrassed if I eat it during the process). I take the plunge, hit the moguls, utilize my awkward newly developed stance; relax and I’m loving it. That run felt really good! I even admit to Brent that maybe all this stuff does work. I'm energized, I can do this! I know I can!

To my utter dismay, this euphoric feeling only lasts for a brief period of time. Next run I seem to lose whatever I’d found and am right back to being the infamous fish out of water. The whole afternoon is a repeat of Saturday. To end off the weekend, we all have to do a few turns for the video camera. The grand finale for the day - the video critiquing session with the course instructors. Now there's a warm fuzzy feeling to leave on! During my few on camera turns I’d felt not bad, not great, but definitely not as bad as I now see on screen. Ouch! ! All the way home (and it’s a three hour drive), I spend the time beating myself up about how badly I’d done (obviously accepting constructive criticism may be a skill that I need to work on).

I will not be beaten! I will succeed! I skip work for a couple days prior to the next part of the course. First one on the hill, last one off; I even take a private two-hour lesson. Jen Collison, (a Level 3 Ski Instructor at Sunshine) proves to be a patient ”saint on skis”. She assists me with developing the skills I need to survive the course. Jen, who is incredibly tolerant; breaks the skills into small pieces and I am able to ask and ask and re-ask anything that is not sinking in. This was so much easier to do when you’re one on one versus being in the class situation where the rest of the group is rolling their eyes because you're so dense and can't get it. I can tell that life experiences, (or interpersonal

management courses), have taught her to control her facial and body expressions to convince me I’m not frustrating the daylights out of her. I spent the rest of the time focusing on what she’s taught me; practicing, practicing, and (did I mention) practicing! Every now and then, I am discouraged because it doesn’t feel good, I lose the rhythm. Never mind, I’ll just do a fun run. But on my fun run, I can’t find my happy place (where/how I use to ski). It’s gone, and the new style is feeling way too stiff. Solution - turn up the tunes, tuck it, get over it and try again.

My daughter and her boyfriend come up one afternoon to assist my progress. Kalie is a devout snowboarder who has only been on skis a couple times. Mark is a ski racing coach and had recently certified as a snowboard instructor (I think the daughter had a bit of influence in that). We rent skis for Kalie and hit the slopes. I made her “balance the glass”, “get down lower”, “create a wider stance” and “get those hands up”. She willingly co-operates. Mark’s job is to criticize my teaching techniques and NOT adjust anything Kalie was doing. Previously, he had tried to teach her how to ski. That event had ended with Kalie plunking herself down in the middle of the run and refusing to move any farther – I am trying to avoid a repeat scenario. By the end of the afternoon, we are making our way down blue runs - incredibly slowly - but with the style and grace of a beginner skier. What success!

Day 3 – There is a couple inches of powder in the morning. We are at the hill early again to get those extra runs in. I ski with Matt; he’s a twin tip free style skier whom I thoroughly enjoy skiing with. He pushes me hard, makes me take jumps and try tricks that I’d normally bail on. We decide to do one free run and then get serious and practice the stuff we’re trying desperately to perfect. On our first run, we’re making fresh tracks, carving hard, flying down the hill. I glance over my shoulder and Matt is on my tail, completing the figure eights … BACKWARDS … as fast as I’m going forwards. It’s a beautiful thing! We skip the serious runs and continue carving. I’m elated, it’s such a good feeling … I can do this and I will survive!

The morning class goes not bad (not yet a happy place, but not bad). Just before lunch, I do an extra run with Patrick and a few others to see how we are progressing. Egad! You want me to get rid of what? How can that be? It’s never been mentioned before (maybe there were too many other things that needed work and this was left behind - literally). Yet another flaw in my stance - obviously one I’d worked on too hard and the result was … I now skied with an extremely exaggerated pose. A pose that I needed to get rid of by tomorrow! This will not make me cry (although it is definitely a prime opportunity to switch from goggles to mirrored shades, focus on focusing, and work rapid eye movements). Is there no end to this adapting/adjusting?

During day three, we also have to demonstrate teaching a lesson (applying all the skills we’d learned). I’ve been working on my lesson plan all week; I’ve practiced and rehearsed it, tested it out, even brought treats to entice the pretend students. However, the section of the hill I am assigned to use today is nearly flat – we’re talking gaining minimal speed if you pushed really hard on your poles. Obviously, the skills I'd previously selected and practiced are not going to work, and here I am, stumped in front of the group (brain scrambled and trying desperately to reconfigure prior to meltdown). The day feels like an emotional roller coaster.

By evening, I convince myself that I will phone Patrick in the morning to tell him I‘m not coming. I'd completely maxed out on frustration, hated the thought of having to work at skiing (let alone ever teach anyone to ski), and just am not confident that I’ll succeed. My supportive family members tell me to suck it up, get up there! They're always behind me, totally encouraging and emphatic to my needs – NOT!!!

Day 4 – Today I bring the tunes with me. The whole group does some free runs together. One of the tests on the final day, is the ski off. The tension for this has been building from the beginning of the course. The mere mention of the ominous “ski off” turned student’s faces tense and the frowns would appear. It looms threateningly ahead - just down that next run. I naturally assume my mother hen position at the back of the pack. I admire the guy that goes first – what courage! One person at a time; the group watches each skier take their turn. Occasionally we discreetly glance at the stern faces of the instructors. Definitely no clues from them as to how we have done – they appear focused, converse in hushed voices and scribble notes after each skier. My turn. Prior to the ski off, I have mustered up a new attitude - with a bit of a beat. My new outlook dictates that although I am barely comfortable doing what I am doing, it’s too late to change anything else, so I am just going to have fun with it and bee bop down the run. Away I go. Now there is one more teaching lesson to work through and the course is done, the marks are tallied. We wait nervously for the report cards to be distributed.

I have this deal with Matt for revealing pass/fail marks when we receive our results. The deal is if I didn’t tell him, he is not allowed to ask in the group setting. Reason being, if it is bad it might not be a pretty scene and I’d rather control composure until we were out of sight. I am reluctant to open mine. Some people had already started high fiving and pounding backs. I lean way back, trying to stay out of the main flow of activity, take a deep breath, and pull out the top corner of the paper. There is a Pass grade for skiing, and another Pass for teaching. I check it again just to be certain … they definitely read PASS! WOW, from everything I’ve been through – this is a total shock!! I could feel Matt glancing over and from his grin I could tell he’s happy, but a bit hesitant as to how I’m doing. High Five Matt!! I’m on my way to getting the red suit.

Brent Hahn and Patrick Cais ran an excellent course. They were so patient and I know there were numerous times when they would have quite willingly choked me and thrown me over a cliff with my continual “show me”, “what?”, “do that again!,” and my all time favorite, “I don’t understand this!”.

Red ski school suits have been the traditional color since the 70's. It is a visible color for clients to follow and is easily recognizable on the hill. It is the CSIA National Ski School color, and the majority of ski schools use it. The CSIA is the longest running non-profit organization in Canada, over 65 years now. It has a membership of 23,000 and growing.

About the Author
Loves to ski and has hopes of retiring on the hill. Would love to pass on her passion for the sport and any/all learned techniques that will make the trip down the run a painless experience.

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