Matt and his family took a Family Private from me last year. They’re from Texas and the elevation really took its toll on Matt and he had to bow out of the lesson early. Matt’s wife Jennifer, two sons, Parker and Madison, and daughter Abby all went on to become pretty good skiers able to navigate all the green runs at Monarch. This year I saw the boys going up a chair lift that doesn’t service any green runs, just blues and blacks, so I know they’ve ventured on to more difficult terrain. Now Matt wants to catch up to his family so he can enjoy the slopes with them, so he requested a lesson from me yesterday to try again. He told me that he tried to ski with his family last year after they finished the lesson and he felt better but had a really hard time at it.
We started the lesson on Snowflake as though it were a never-ever lesson. I usually do this if I’m not sure of the student’s skill development, complete with the boot exercises and one ski traverses, platter turns, etc. If I find that they already have the aquired skills, I quickly go through to the next more challenging exercises. Matt did pretty well and so we were practicing gliding wedges in pretty short order.
I soon discovered that Matt was trying to use a great deal of upper body movement to try to make his skis go where he wanted them to go. He was using his poles to push himself along rather than let is skis slide with gravity. If he started to get off balance he’d use his poles to try and keep himself up instead of stepping or moving his feet to regain his balance. He was actually reluctant to let his skis start sliding downhill, even on very gentle open terrain. I believe he had developed some muscle memory from last year trying to ski on his own with his family that had become more proficient than he. It sounds like they probably took him on terrain for which he was not ready. As a result, Matt was trying to use his poles and his torso to control his direction.
The best thing I could do for him was to take his poles away. This forced him to rely soley (pun intended) on his feet to move around. Almost immediately he started to become more successful moving around, doing platter turns even on a slight grade, sliding into the lift line, etc. Matt finally was learning to use his feet to navigate on his skis. However, whenever he started to gain even a little bit of speed or get the feeling that he was loosing control his whole body would twist away from gravity and his skis would loose the wedge. I had to keep coaching him to stand up and try to stay in the wedge. Terrain selection was particularly important so that I could get him to feel comfortable sliding and feeling in control. All of my suggestions were directed toward his feet and ankles, pressing down on one big toe, pressing the shin into the front of the boot all the while standing upright between the skis.
Overall Matt did really well. By the end of the lesson we had taken a bunch of rides up the lift, were making traverses, garlands, and turns across the gravity zone. I really think that if he had taken another lesson last year before trying to ski on his own with his family he would be much further along in his development this year. I really hope he takes another lesson so we can really help his understanding and muscle memory.
I see this kind of thing often when someone tries to figure out how to ski on their own before they take a lesson thinking they will do better in the lesson if they get some practice first. What happens is they actually hinder themselves. I would say generally it’s much better if they come to the lesson if they have never even put a ski on first.