By Ron Kubicki, Director of Holiday Valley Snowsports School
This is the question that is the bane of every child’s ski instructor. At the end of the lesson, the expectant parent asks their child “What did you learn today?” If it is not the child’s first lesson, they probably did not learn anything new. They probably got better, but they probably did not technically learn anything “new.”
Let’s look at skiing: turn left, turn right… repeat. Throw in speed control and stopping. You pretty much have it. Based on your child’s age, physical development, attitude, experience and athletic ability, plus many other factors, your son or daughter will do the turn right, turn left, control speed and stop thing at their ability and skill level. The newer they are to the sport the more dramatic their advancement. The higher their skill level the more subtle the improvement. Ted Ligety trains every day and gets better, but we probably would not see any difference without a lot of knowledge about ski racing and a great “coach’s eye.”
Think of your child’s first lesson: the first awkward movement in ski boots as they learn “games,” which are simply camouflaged tasks to get them familiar with a new environment. This leads up to learning to turn left, turn right, control their speed and stop. All this occurs in the first lesson, turning your child from a never-ever to a skier!
The second lesson picks up from there; in this lesson they will turn left, turn right control their speed and stop. The third lesson will pick up from there, when they will turn left, turn right control their speed and stop.
It is similar to taking golf lessons or tennis lessons. Do you really learn something new every time, or do you have tasks and drills to enhance skills and become more aware of your body in motion? Skiing is the same.
The role of the instructor is to enhance your child’s abilities – or yours if you are taking a lesson. We focus on four basic skills in skiing: balance, edging, rotary movements and pressure control. These are common in all levels of skiing.
The better we get at these skills the better skiers we become. There is no epochal leap from “pizza” to “French fries” – two terms I am not particularly fond of – but it is more a gradual transition based on many things. We teach children to “turn their feet” to change direction. As they do this, they will develop the ability to put pressure on that outside ski more, learn how to balance against that outside edge and end up as a solid parallel skier. It is not uncommon for children who are athletic to be making wide-track parallel turns by the end of their very first lesson.
What your child will get from their lesson is tasks and drills that may isolate movements or focus on one of the specific skills, but the ultimate goal always is to enhance your child’s performance on snow. You may see them “hop,” “shuffle” their feet through a turn, change the size of their wedges or count out loud as they make a turn. These and a myriad other fun things are all designed to assist your child’s learning.
We also do not teach with terrain. Just because your child can ski “blacks” does not mean that is where we will take them. Just because they can drive a go-kart does not mean they belong at the Indianapolis 500.
Believe me, we can teach high-end skills on “green” terrain, and we do so because people learn when they are in their comfort zone. Watch your child ski. If you insist they ski “blacks” with you, but what you see is a huge “death wedge” and they are leaning way back, that is not skiing. That is surviving! We keep them on appropriate terrain so they will learn faster and more correctly. You may soon need to take a coaching/lesson to be able to keep up with them.
Many of our staff has national accreditation as Children’s Specialist 1 and 2. All our staff is trained by certified PSIA/AASI trainers – for children and adults. Think about a session for yourself while your child is in their lesson. Getting more adaptable makes skiing more fun for the entire family!
Learn – Turn – Smile – Repeat