By Toby Arnott, 2007.
Ski Instructors are consistently challenged throughout their careers by the first time skier. The instructor will be challenged by terrain available, the weather conditions and the student’s ability. For most instructors level one or first time skiers will be their first real lesson with paying customers. This is the introduction of potential life long customers to the ski industry so it is important that their first experience with skiing is a good one. Learning to recognize and prepare for potential problems is a tactical tool every instructor should have.
The Initial meeting
From the instructor’s perspective the initial meeting with the guests is crucial and a lot can be achieved here.
The instructor has the opportunity to set the tone for the lesson but needs to consider the that the student is completely outside their comfort zone, stressed from the morning they’ve had in getting to the lesson and nervous about learning to ski on snow that they have trouble walking on.
At this time the instructor needs to introduce him or herself, and reassure and relax the group, explain what is going to happen and how long they lesson will take. The Instructor can make some initial observations about the group, things like weight, age, race and even the way people walk in ski boots can give the instructor clues on the student’s athletic ability.
Before moving to the beginners slope the instructor needs to ensure the students have the right equipment. People often muddle their skis with others on the bus or the ski rack, resulting in one ski or both skis that don’t fit their boots. Also ensure boots are buckled properly and on the right foot, explain that boots are designed to be tight but not painful which will allow them to keep control of the skis.
Next show the guests how to carry their equipment, inevitably some people especially children will struggle with carrying their own skis and poles and will need your help.
Class management and terrain selection
Once leaving the meeting area the instructor needs to decide on appropriate terrain to hold the lesson. The Instructor needs to consider the following before choosing the area to put the group; will the group obstruct a run and therefore be in danger of being hit by a skier from above; are there other groups wanting to use the same area; have you left enough space for them and are you far enough away so not to interfere with there lesson; and is the terrain flat enough that when the students put skis on gravity wont pull them down the slope? Organise the group into a line or two lines depending on the size of the group thus avoiding taking up too much space.
At this stage the instructor should point out any hazards that may exist and introduce the skier responsibility code.
Introduction to equipment and the environment
Now we’re ready to introduce the equipment and its reaction with the environment. The students should now be relatively comfortable with their boots and understand that snow is slippery from the walk up to the beginner area.
Start with the poles, which will help them balance while they put their skis on.
Next, introduce the skis and bindings explain which way they go and how the binding works.
Put one ski on and explain that snow may stick to the bottom of the boot and making it difficult to place in the binding. Show them how to scrape the snow off using the toe piece on the binding, or they can take turns tapping it off using a pole with the person next to them. Also explain that the heel piece of the binding may already be down therefore not allowing the boot to connect to the ski.
Once the group has one ski on begin with small shuffling movements, gradually increase these movements of the leg with the ski on so the students can feel how the ski reacts with the snow. Now using the poles in coordination with the free leg have the students follow you using the terrain available to get the sensation of the skis sliding across the snow and the lack of friction between the ski and the snow. Once this has been done on both sides the students are ready to put on both skis.
It is now beneficial to explain the effect gravity has on a skier pointing down the slope. Teach the students the basic position and emphasise the importance or staying centered along the length of the ski. Again have the students follow you using small shuffling movements focusing on keeping the centre of gravity above the centre of the foot, but be careful to stay on flat terrain.
Now the students are familiar with their equipment and the skis reaction with the snow. Before you move the students up the slope they need some important skills: teach the students the bull fighter turn ensuring the poles are set up wide apart and they use small steps to turn around thus avoiding the skis crossing. Teach the Students to turn 90 and 180 degrees. Also introduce the sidestep where one ski moves up the slope then the other ski comes to match it. Some students will struggle to get grip on the slope because they are standing on a flat ski, rolling the knees into the slope slightly will engage the edge and provide grip.
By now the students are well equipped with skills that will aid their development throughout the progression. The students should now feel comfortable with the environment, know the rules of the ski area and are familiar with how their equipment functions.
At this level of the progression the teaching style is very command orientated – it is the instructors challenge to hold the interest of the students.