Mountain Blog

Instructor Tales from the Front Line
Nancy Story - Wednesday, March 19, 2014


 Several of our Snowsports instructors relate some of their memorable moments this past season:

One of my favorite lessons this year was in the Crystal Kids Program. We had 8 kids with 3 instructors, and one of those eight students was a “never ever” (ie never skied before). His name was Zack, he was 11 years old, and he was born with just one leg. In Zack’s mind, he had no disability. I had never taught a one-legged skier before, but used all my knowledge acquired over years of teaching to help him succeed. Zack's dad had purchased ski poles with small outriggers on the end to give Zack balance.  Our class made it to Emmy - and other than taking a few rests on the way down because his leg would get tired, Zack did very well and had fun. It was one of my best lessons ever, and has prompted me to go for my Adaptive Skiing Certification next year. Zack was an amazing kid and never gave up all day long. He inspired not only myself, but all the instructors who saw him. –  Bob Barker

I had a little girl who kept referencing speed in factors of percentages. If the group was going too slow, she would tell us to “ski at 100 %”.  If I told the group to slow down or speed up, I would reference “pizza feet” vs. “french fry feet”.  The other children in the group responded by either slowing down or speeding up - all except this one little girl.   It dawned on me that if I needed her to slow down or speed up, I needed to use language that made sense to her. For the rest of the lesson, I taught speed management to her by referencing percentages. If I wanted her to go faster,  I would say “Let’s add 10% to our speed”, or “Let’s ski at 30% for this drill”.  As I look back on that particular lesson, I realize why it is so important to have effective communication skills as well as the ability to read your students. They are expecting a lesson that is meaningful; it is our job to make it that way. -  Abigail Smeltzer, PSIA L1, Children’s Specialist 1

 As a passionate skier for over 20 years, I chose to become a ski instructor with the hopes of spreading this passion to new skiers.  I’ve had many examples of student success stories, and am sharing the stories of two of them.  I had the privilege of teaching Will Mallon on two occasions. A quiet kid with keen observational skills, Will had me as his instructor for his very first lesson. This gave me the chance to give Will a strong foundation for becoming a better skier.  Two months later, my colleague, Janel Farron, and I had Will for an all-day lesson on the hills.  It made me proud to watch his progression from the carpet tows to intermediate-level runs.

Beckett Bolt was another first-time student when she enrolled in a two-hour Adventure Cub session. I immediately saw the trauma in her eyes of first-time anxiety from parental separation, a very common situation in teaching Cubbies.  After helping her to be calm, I was very impressed with Beckett’s visual learning skills, which helped in facilitating her lesson.  By the end of her first lesson, Beckett’s anxious frown had turned into a bright smile as she made tremendous progression on the carpets, and then onto the Loki chair in her next lesson. I could see her love of skiing reflected on the look on her face. Students like Will and Beckett, along with many others, constantly reinforce the fact that becoming a ski instructor was the right move for me. - Travis  Fetters

There is nothing like the enjoyment of being part of a young skier’s first day on the snow. After our introduction, we talk about engaging topics (i.e. learn-to-ski techniques) such as pizza, French fries, ducks, and sharks, while we practice some boot work and try on the skis.  Then it’s on to the beginner’s surface lift, the little carpet, before advancing to the bigger challenge of the big carpet. For the young skier, the excitement intensifies with the ascent. Little eyes shine with anticipation while exiting the Big Carpet for the first time. Slowly down the hill we go, playing Red Light/Green Light to learn stopping and starting skills. Eventually, turns are added. Then, if the youngster is  demonstrating the necessary ability, I finally pop the big question: “Do you want to ride the chairlift?”

Excitement builds in the little skier’s eyes. Usually the answer is an irrepressible, “YES!” or sometimes a hesitant but hopeful “I think so.”  We move to the chairlift, reviewing how to load and unload before the chair scoops us up and we take off. It’s so much fun to be a part of this first trip! Most young skiers let out excited screams of joy as we leave the ground and take in the view of the big hill. On top, we stand up and glide away from the chair down the unloading ramp. Our inaugural downhill trip takes us down the gentle Emmy run, winding around the back side of the hill.  At the bottom, the young skier turns to me with sparkling eyes and asks: “Can we do it again?” What fun it is to be able to reply, “Absolutely! Let’s go!” - Carolyn Thayer, Level 1 certified instructor with a Children’s Specialist accreditation                                  


Teaching & Coaching in the Cold
Nancy Story - Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Crystal Snowsports instructor and veteran racing coach  Chris Fisher offers these tips for teaching kids when it's COLD outside:

It’s been a fantastic winter, with over 200 inches of snow.   But with all this snow, there’s often been the issue of extremely cold temperatures, even as spring approaches. (A high of 15 degrees was forecast for March 12th!)

As ski instructors and coaches,  weather can play a major role in how we approach our lessons and training sessions, especially when dealing with children.  This winter, despite temperatures well below zero with wind chill, I’ve noticed that in general, kids are quite resilient.  If they are excited to pursue a task and are having fun, there’s not too much that can dampen their spirits.  That said, as instructors and coaches, we are responsible for their safety and well-being.  Regulating body temperature is harder for children.  With extremely cold temperatures, we have to constantly monitor them and be aware that they may be moving toward hypothermia without even noticing they’re cold yet.

 Keeping our students warm means keeping them moving and active, and taking more warm-up breaks with less time on the hill in-between.  We have to be aware of any exposed skin (primarily cheeks and noses) and watch for signs of frostbite.  Fingers and toes are at the tips of the extremities, so they are the body parts that will be affected first by the cold.  Hand warmers are always a great idea.  Socks and gloves need to be dry when first put on,  and dried at night.  Thin socks (somewhat counter-intuitively) keep feet warmer by allowing better blood flow to the toes.  Layers are another effective shield against the cold.  A warm core will pump warm blood throughout the body.  Goggles protect the eyes from wind and snow, while also providing relief for the covered parts of the face.  Neck gators are great for keeping the wind off the neck and lower parts of the face.  They’re easy to adjust and are an inexpensive addition to any cold weather wardrobe.  Helmets are a must at ALL times, but they’re also warmer than knit hats.  Heat loss occurs fastest from the head, so keeping the head safely covered is like putting a lid on a frying pan:  the heat index rises rapidly and stays longer.

Finally, we coaches and instructors need to remind students of the importance of proper nutrition and hydration.  The colder it is outside, the harder the body works to maintain a constant temperature, so it will burn calories faster and use up water stores faster.  Eating and drinking more often helps stoke the internal fires that will maintain body heat.

It’s been a cold winter this season, but a properly prepared student can still enjoy snow sports.  I am inspired every day by the excitement and anticipation I see in my students - and when it’s way below zero, a happy student is a warm student!


Cross Country Skills Ward Off Chills
Nancy Story - Tuesday, March 04, 2014


Sure, we’ve been swept up in the middle of a polar vortex this winter. But the answer to staying warm outside lies on the backside of the mountain, home to our Nordic trail network. Chairlifts make you sit still, but with cross country skiing, you’re always on the move with your own motor.  Don’t make the frigid weather your excuse to stay indoors. There’s been no better winter yet for superlative snow and trail conditions - so take advantage of the warmth factor of Nordic skiing.  The better you are, the warmer you’ll be. Greg Babinec, one of our Nordic ski instructors, offers these tips to take advantage of the sport that keeps you warm in Arctic temperatures:

“Lose the poles to improve your technique. Whether you are a classic xc skier or a skater, a great practice drill will start with leaving the poles at home.  For classic skiers, this will help you become more aware of the timing required between the moment the kick zone is engaged to the forward movement of the trailing ski. A good exercise for this is to do a series of three strides in the tracks. On the third stride, emphasize the engagement of the kick zone along with a more aggressive forward motion when bringing the trailing ski forward. On each third count, you’ll be able to concentrate the motion first on one ski, and then the other. See how long you can hold your balance during the glide phase of each stride before starting the next sequence of three strides.

With both styles of Nordic, classical and skating, improving one’s balance on one ski at a time is the key to rapid improvement. During your next skate ski session,  get started with no poles and use an exaggerated arm swing in the same direction as the glide ski. An aggressive arm swing from side to side in time with each ski will help improve your feeling for the gliding motion necessary to skate effectively. Always remember to get your nose and knee over your glide ski, and keep the ski as flat on the ground as possible until you are ready to change skis and glide in the other direction. This is known as a free skate with no poles.”  

 The real lesson here is that you can beat the chill of downhill by heading over to the backside of the mountain. Cross country lessons are available daily by calling extension 4000.