By Richard Butler
Versatility is a common theme in our industry. We often try to promote versatility to our clients, trainees, and peers. Whether it’s giving them the tools to deal with changing snow conditions, or the skills to perform strong demos of different types of turns.
However, whilst we promote this within technical skiing, we often stick to one way of presenting the underlying knowledge, with one set of progressions and one set of terminology.
In the beginning stages of a career as an instructor, this is important – otherwise we would run the risk of overcomplicating everything and confusing ourselves (as we are largely still in the earlier cognitive stages of development). And if we don’t understand the syllabus, then what chances do our clients have?
However, as one’s susceptibility to learn increases, branching out and learning a second pedagogy can be very beneficial to you, your school, your association and our industry as a whole.
There are ways to go about diversifying ourselves within New Zealand. One way would be to look into another avenue in our industry – Coaching.
Coaches have a different overall goal from instructors. While we are train people towards ideal technique, a Coach trains their athletes to other ends – whether it’s getting down a race course as fast as possible, or being able to land certain tricks as cleanly as possible. While the pathway towards these end goals will share a lot of common elements (for example, a certain level of good technique is required to ski down a race course at all) they will also differ, and going out and understanding why they do so is a great way to expand our understanding and ability as an instructor.
This idea isn’t only limited to staying within Snowsports. Exploring other sports and activities and seeing how they’re coached is another way to broaden our understanding of what it means to be a good teacher. Some of the most successful teachers (Coaches or Instructors) within our industry are those who also explored other sports in order to further their understanding of what it means to be a good teacher. One example of this would be NZ National Team coach Nils Corberger who branched out into other avenues – such as joining the All Blacks coaches – in order to further his own ability as an Alpine Coach.
One other way of branching out, and the main focus of this article, is to join another Snowsports Association. This does not necessarily mean gaining their qualifications – simply taking the time to study their ways can give us a huge advantage.
Branching out into another association isn’t only about making us better instructors though. There are many other benefits to doing so as well.
The NZSIA doesn’t simply train and qualify instructors for New Zealand snowsports schools. Although many of our newly qualified members will go on to work in a school with a central NZSIA & SBINZ ethos, the majority will also work for snowsports schools in other countries. Furthermore with the success of our programs abroad in Japan and Switzerland we now have members who may never actually work in a New Zealand Snowsports School at all.
In New Zealand, we expect our foreign instructors to follow the NZSIA/SBINZ syllabus to create some consistency for our clients as they may change instructors regularly. Similarly, as NZSIA members abroad, we must be willing to conform to the syllabus set by the foreign school, even if we do not immediately agree with it.
The difficulty we face as instructors coming through the system is that, due to the necessity to keep the program simple and more structured for the beginning levels of assessment, it is quite easy to become very dogmatic in our views of good skiing. We face the same challenges that some of our clients who have changed instructor do – someone we recognise as our teacher or superior has told us one way, and to be told something different from someone who has yet to prove themselves to us can be hard to take on board.
When working for a foreign ski school, being able to overcome this stance really affects how successfully we can present information to our clients – it’s hard to stay willing to learn when it’s clear your teacher doesn’t believe in what they’re teaching you.
Being happy to forward on the foreign information is one step in the right direction, but taking the extra time to study and understand the differences is what will make you a great teacher.
As an example, the wedge-turn progressions used within Swiss Snowsports differ quite significantly to our own.
We have a strong focus on femoral rotation and balancing against (or “standing on”) the outside ski – as result of Newtonian laws. The starting stages of wedge-turning within Swiss Snowsports has, by contrast, a strong emphasis on angulation to get the outside ski on edge and promote the differing paths of our centre of gravity (CoG) and our skis (Fig 1.)
Whilst this step of the central progression differs significantly from our own, down the line both reach the same end goal. In fact both Swiss Snowsports and the NZSIA share very similar progressional steps for Basic Parallel and beyond.
An NZ instructor might argue that the Swiss method runs the risk of the client moving too far inside the turn and ending up balanced over the inside ski. What’s interesting is looking at the situation from the other side: The Swiss instructor can argue that our method can run the risk of the client standing too far over the outside ski, which without angulation can cause the ski to be too flat, restricting it from being able to travel across the hill. This is often a product of poor hip alignment.
We tend to avoid this problem in New Zealand by training our instructors to teach “lateral balancing” as a product of Neuton’s second law (leading to only moving as much as is required) and with our strong focus on femoral rotation in a stable pelvis to create rotational separation at our hips. But the important thing to be aware of is that it is a potential risk, which we acknowlege and plan around. The same can be said for the Swiss Snowsports approach to introducing wedge turns. Both methods, justifications, and risks are valid.
Engaging in discussion about the differences will not only help you understand the foreign system you are teaching under, but also further your understanding of your own system, it’s strengths and especially their weaknesses and how to handle them.
Being open to other methods, and taking the time to understand them properly won’t only benefit us whilst teaching abroad. It can also give you more tools to use whilst instructing and training in New Zealand. The above are examples of this.
Looking back to the use of angulation in wedge turning, it’s true that the ski can go too flat (as mentioned, often a product of poor hip alignment). Taking the Swiss approach, and focusing more on angulation for edge engagement than on rotation and lateral balancing can be one work around. We would probably default to arguing that fixing the root problem (in this case the alignment of the pelvis) would be more beneficial – but as we all know, there are times when no matter how well you present the information, making good use of all the communication modes, the client can still find the concept difficult to understand. One such example would be our explanation of femoral rotation to create the lateral displacement of the knees. Among instructors from different associations, even at ISIA and above, this can still be a confusing and difficult to understand concept. Similarly, explaining to an NZSIA-focused member the Swiss Snowsports idea of pre-rotation and counter-rotation (not to be confused with the NZSIA’s definition of counter-rotation) can similarly be hard to comprehend.
At the end of the day, meeting the client’s goal is what’s important. Having more options and routes to reach that goal can only be beneficial.
As we progress through the levels of assessment, the more we take ownership of our learning. At Level 1 we rely heavily on our trainers to give us the information. Much the same way as we expect our teachers to in middle school. By the time we get to ISIA Card level, the responsibility is more on us to find the answers, with our trainers more guiding us and helping with alternate methods to help with the issues that we have identified ourselves, as opposed to flat out telling us the issues. This is more comparable to the relationship experienced at university.
Taking the time to study different ways of thinking will help develop our understanding to this level where we can figure out the answers for ourselves, even if it is just considering the different language used.
A great example for my own development was the naming of the three phases of the turn:
One idea that really helped my personal skiing and understanding was the terminology used within the British Association of Snowsport Instructors (BASI):
This key idea helped me to better understand the timing of my movements throughout the turn – when I should be building a platform, when I should be moving away from it within alignment of the generated force from the snow, and when I should start trying to release the pressure and start moving into the next turn.
In conclusion, for instructors looking towards Level 3 and above, taking the time to explore different associations or types of teaching & coaching can be very beneficial. Both for personal development, and for the benefit of your ski school.