The Nitty Gritty — The Good, Bad & the Ugly

Here is another opportunity sent to me through facebook to feature ski tips and tricks.  I put this together for Snow Pro – not knowing if it will see print, but thought I would share it with all of you – skiers and potential skiers.  I love the sport and hope that everyone has the opportunity to try this sport at least once in their lifetime!

Subject: Be Featured in SKI Magazine
Dear seasoned PSIA instructors,
Whether you’ve been instructing for one season or 30, you undoubtedly have a wealth of knowledge about and experience with the good, the bad and the ugly of ski teaching. We want to bring your collective wisdom to SKI MAGAZINE readers (your clients) in a special instruction feature that will run in our January 2011 issue.

The goal of this article will be threefold: First, it’ll give readers specific tips for improving their technique in challenging situations. Second, it’ll give them general advice about getting the most out of a lesson, being a good student, picking the right instructor and how to put your kids/spouse/friends on a path to lifelong skiing. Third, and most important, it’ll give you and your ski school great exposure.

Name:  Nancy E. Cook

Ski School Experience:

1997-2000 – Keystone Ski School, Colorado
2000-2006 – Mt Sunapee Learning Center, New Hampshire
2006-2010 – Mount Snow Vermont Training Center, Mount Snow, Vermont

Certification level:  PSIA Level 2, USSA Level 100

Years of teaching experience:  1997 – 2010  (13 years)

Email address:

Phone number:  413-323-4196

The Nitty Gritty

What are some the most common problems you see in the following terrain types and what are your best/most effective tips or drills for each? Get specific and think outside the box here. Everyone has heard the tip “look two bumps ahead,” when skiing moguls. A better tip would be something like this: “Avoid the back seat in bumps by learning to tailhop. A tailhop is a hop-turn in which your ski tips stay in contact with the snow as your skis’ tails are displaced. Linked, these turns resemble a windshield-wiper action with your tails. The key is to drive your hips forward toward the balls of your feet as your ankles are extending. Try these turns at the tops of moguls—you’ll find you go down the back side in balance while maintaining ski-snow contact, and you’ll be ready to take on the next bump.”—Miguel Bilbao, Bogus Basin, Idaho. Or maybe you have tips/drills students can perform off the snow, such as jump roping to improve agility in the bumps. In other words, this door is wide open. The more creative and concrete your insights, the better!

a.    Bumps – Visualization – keep your eyes ahead, hands up while you stab the mogul (on the downside) and ride the luge to carve each turn!  A progression in the bumps is key to going there.  Start with short swing turns, hop turns and then translate that into different ways to ski the bumps, whether it is carving the bumps, GS turns in the bumps or the ZIPPER line!  Reach out with your feet and absorb each bump…  rotary movements are important to keep moving at a beat to move you down the hill. 
b.    Powder – Slow bunny hops to weight and unweight, keeping your balance steady & centered – Visualize yourself dancing on the clouds, puff, puff, floating, smooth turns are a must, balance is extremely important as always.
c.    Crud – Dive into it – its’ all about attitude and strength!  But stay balanced knowing one wrong move can put you head over tea kettle or in the back seat, truck and out the back end!  🙂  Once you start don’t stop, you could get stuck! 
d.    Ice – Edging, Balance needs to be right on to get this right and NEVER call it ice!  If it is indeed ice you need to focus on the next granular piece of snow where you can edge.  The goal is to look good on the frozen granular and make it look easy, like there is no ice!
e.    Trees – Safety first (pole straps off, goggles down & have a partner.  Know the boundaries & where to meet at the bottom).  Then have fun!  See the snow & do not focus on the trees, same skills in balance & edging and crud and powder now need to be translated to the trees!
f.    Steeps – Know the path, find the line, adjust your balance appropriately to maintain the turn shape and rhythm.  Balance, rotary and edging — focus on the edging as you make your way down the trail.  Hop turns are a good progression using less steep terrain to practice the movements necessary to translate into the steeps. 

What do you wish every parent knew before enrolling his/her child in ski school?

1. How to dress for warmth in layers and socks. 
2. What ski boots can do to make or break the experience in where the child is set up for success or failure.  Any boot that sets the child upright in their stance makes it harder to get them into a forward flex position and then centered on top of their skis. 

3. How to celebrate the success of each learning and the joy of the sport of skiing!  Have fun with your child, join in on their fun – be interested in their progress and ski with your child as much as possible.   Make it a family activity that is a part of your lives.

How can parents prepare their children for a successful ski lesson?  Proper clothes, good physical shape and positive attitude about learning a sport.  Communicate the sport as it relates to other interests that the child may have so they are not apprehensive about trying and learning. 

How can parents get children excited about skiing?  Share their fun skiing experiences, talk to the child about how much fun this will be to do as a family. 

What can they do in the weeks and days before a ski vacation to prepare the kids?  Activity that resembles skiing and practices balance.  Balance boards, trampolines, balance beam activities, and even other cardio sports to get them to a point where skiing is going to be no problem for them physically.  Wear the proper layers – sometimes it is tough for the child to want to wear a LOT of clothes, so it is good to practice, or try the layers on. 

What can they do the morning of a lesson?  Feed them!  A good breakfast goes a long way.  If they have enough energy to maintain the morning the instructor can keep them going on the snow.

Also, what should every child carry with him/her (extra pair of gloves, sunscreen, cash, phone numbers, prescriptions, lip balm, tissues, etc.).  Hand Warmers!  Toe warmers if necessary.  Something small to eat (granola bar?)

How can parents ensure their children remain excited about skiing after a lesson?
Celebrate success!  Ask what they learned, what was the most fun, who they met, and any highlights of the day.

What’s the best way to derail the progress a child has made in ski school?  Discard the excitement that the child has about skiing.  Challenge what the instructor has taught the child with other personal experiences.

Good, Bad, Ugly

What makes a good lesson? Progress in skill, positive learning experience, connection with instructor and understanding of lesson to grow your interest in the sport.
Or in one word – FUN

What makes a bad lesson? 
NOT FUN, Not challenging, not focused on goals that were shared in the beginning of the lession. 
No learning, no progress, more confusion

How can a student ensure he/she gets a good one and how can he/she avoid a bad one?
Trust your initial instincts.   Don’t worry about good/bad and make it your lesson!

What makes a good instructor?  positive, energetic and loves the sport to want to share it with others
What makes a bad instructor? tired, non enthusiastic, scattered with no plan

What makes a good student?  So funny that this answer is the same as the instructor question above for me, but the positive, energetic and desire to learn is the best student to have…
Bad student?  No goals or desire – as if someone made them take the lesson “for their own good”

What role should the student play in directing a lesson?
Communicate background, experiences, past lessons & learning.  Ask questions if they don’t understand to clarify instructions.

What are the advantages of taking a private lesson?
One on one focus with an instructor makes it possible to drill right down into your own goals for learning. 

You don’t get the advantage of feeding off the enthusiasm and successes of the others in the group.  The social aspect of skiing can be so much fun!

What are the advantages of a group lesson?
 Meeting other people.  Learning at the same rate.  Learn from others mistakes and successes.
Disadvantages? Not enough time to focus on each individual needs as much as may be necessary for maximum progress.
What size group is too big?

If a student doesn’t feel that the instructor is the right fit, what should he/she do about it?
Go to the ski school desk and request a new instructor in the beginning of the class, after the class and before the next class.
What are some of the most common downfalls to a lesson?
Lack of understanding of concepts and application of those concepts

There’s more to a good lesson than improving a student’s technical performance. What are the other benefits of skiing with a pro?
Learning the mountain – the trails, the love of the sport.  Gaining experience from a skilled instructor that has a background in the ski industry helps to welcome new skiers into the sport.

What is the best thing a student can do to prepare for a lesson? What physical preparations should they make? How about mental/emotional preparations? Gear prep?

You probably see a lot of ill prepared students. Can you give me some examples?
Wrong equipment picked up from their home town, not realizing the latest in equipment and size that would set them up for success.  Comfortable warm clothing is also a must.  Only one thin sock (never double up or wear thick socks) – layers are best so that you have the option to add more and take off layers….

What is the greatest disservice a student can do himself/herself when coming to a lesson?
Mentally set themselves up for success, having a negative attitude and bringing the stress of life to their lesson. 

When booking, should/can students request a specific instructor or a specific type of instructor?
Of course!  You always have the option to request a “type” of instructor.  Young, old, male, female — think how you best relate and could benefit and ask for that type of instructor for you or your child from the beginning.
 How can students ensure they’re matched with the best teacher for them? 
It is usually through intuition and “connection” – – but an open mind will lead to success without pinpointing a “type” is the best advice I have to offer.

What is the most important piece of information a student can give an instructor at the beginning of a lesson to help craft a good session?  Background, athletic experiences, type of learner (visual, auditory, sensory) and desire by stating outcome wish.

It’s easy to convince a never-ever or beginner level skier to take lessons, but once people reach intermediate and/or advanced levels, they often feel “too cool for ski school.” What’s your response? Why should people take ski lessons no matter their level?
As professional instructors we are always working on our skiing and learning.  It it so important as you continue in the sport to take lessons / clinics in order to be a more efficient skier and enjoy the sport to the fullest.  There is nothing better than improving in the sport you love to become the best you can be and taking a lesson or a clinic is the best way to accomplish that — make it a goal in your life!

How often should someone take lessons?
As a beginner / intermediate once a week is great!  Or at least once per “trip” if you are a vacation skier.  As an advanced skier once or twice a year I would say would be minimum to staying on top of the sport and the latest techniques. 

Tell us about your best student/lesson ever. Why was it so great? What breakthroughs was the student able to make? Why?
Jenna!  She loves to ski — she would be out there in all weather at the front of the line following me around right on my tail trying to be the best she could be.  Her determination to become faster and stronger and learn the right technique is truly an inspiration.  She was 9, now she is a J5 10 year old and placing in the top 5 in her races.  I am so proud of her!

Tell us about your most challenging student/lesson. What went wrong? How could it have gone better?
Top of Keystone we have a beginner area and to gauge the strength of a student near the end of the lesson was always a challenge.  I remember wishing we had more time to work on skills before going down the front side.  In hind sight I would have given her another day and tried the front the next day.

These are my thoughts, tips, musings, anecdotes about my time as a ski instructor.  Take the time to try it — or take the time to refresh and get back into it.  The thrill of the downhill, the refreshing cold air – being outside sliding around on the snow is just amazing — See you on the slopes!

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Nancy Cook 2021

About Nancy

Nancy Peck Cook is a trainer and speaker who has presented in front of large and small audiences for the past 25 years.  Her work as an executive and volunteer trainer for the American Cancer Society during the growth of the signature activity Relay For Life trained professionals to be more confident and successful in their roles. 

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