Tuesday, January 7, 2014

What Makes an Epic Ski Lesson

So what makes an epic ski lesson? After an great evening of twilight skiing I sat down with Damien Oliphant, The "D" of Ski with D, and talked about what he does to make his ski lessons special. Dock for Jocks (DFJ): What features do you think think make your lessons unique? Damien: I first try to establish a comfort zone for my students. I have to understand their concerns, fears, physical strengths and limitations. likes/dislikes, etc. People have to feel good about your interaction and trust you to take good care of them before they will really follow you. If a student trusts you, they invest in your opinion and value your confidence in them. A trusted expert's confidence in their capacity and ability is often the first step to greater personal trust and self confidence. The confidence to experiment and take small risks that push the edge of our comfort zone is a big difference between a skier who makes progress and one who doesn't. Most decent ski teachers understand the mechanics of teaching feet to turn left and right. The great instructors understand how to mitigate the situational and mental speed bumps or road blocks that keep a skier from performing and mastering those mechanics. Beyond that I fully believe in providing the highest level of service and attention to my guests needs possible. I anticipate my guest's needs and do all I can to fill any void before they are aware it exists. Skiing at it's best is a luxurious experience. People come to us to escape the the detail management that fills their regular days. I take on all those things so they can focus on enjoying their experience and making the most of a fantastic day on the mountain. DFJ: What is your favorite breakthrough moment with a student? Damien: I skied with a lovely woman one day a couple seasons ago. Before we headed out she described herself as a 'VERY nervous skier" making wedge turns on easy green terrain. On our first chair ride. She explained she skied to pass the time while her son skied in his classes every week. I asked about what made her nervous. She mentioned injury to herself and others, etc. I reassured her all that was natural and not to beat herself up for the good instincts that were working hard to keep her safe. I explained my job was to give her tools to ski in control so she could minimize her fears. We skied one assessment run on a short green trail. She was in pretty good balance and her steering was good but the fear and tension was all over her body. The muscle tension was impeding her ability to move the ways she needed to. Classic case of fearful brain getting in the way of a capable body. We took another chair ride and talked about anything other than skiing. At the top of the run I asked her to take her skis off. "Just take it all in and enjoy the view." Right away a smile washed over her face and I watched her tense body begin to relax. She said "I've never seen this before." I told her I knew she hadn't because she had only been looking at her feet. I told her views like this are a huge part of why I love to ski so much and to take a moment before each run to take it in. We stood for a minute or two in silence appreciating the freshly fallen snow covering the valley. Then it was time to make some turns. We clicked back in to our skis and were off. Right away she was a completely different skier. Renewed energy and relaxed fluid movements made for some really beautiful turns. She was skiing well and really enjoying herself. We took a few more runs over the course of our hour together and tweaked a few things but our greatest break through came about 15 minutes into the lesson when we stood to enjoy the view and found her enough joy to offset her fears. At the end of the lesson she gave me a big hug and thanked me. She told me before coming to ski that day she had decided it would be her last day on skis. She just wasn't enjoying it. She was going to continue to bring her son for his classes but would just bring her laptop and work while he skied. By the end of our time together she'd not only changed her mind but was so excited she wanted to go buy her own equipment! I have a lotta great success stories but this one is my favorite. I always smile when I think of her. DFJ: What is your favorite go to drill for your students? Damien: I really like combining two drills (patience turns and J turns) to make one that's been really successful for me. I call them Patience Js. When I choose an exercise I make sure it has a direct connection to skill development. I've found one big obstacle to effective skill development is skier's not understanding the relationship between turn shape and speed control. If we can't manage speed consistently we are always on the edge of control. That's not a good place to be if you want to learn anything new. Students on the edge of their control envelope spend they're time on skis hanging on for life. You can't learn new skills when all you're energy is focused on survival. I have had great success with the Patience J. It really gets students in tune with what good turn shape feels like and how it allows them to control speed. Once we build that platform the sky is the limit. DFJ: Do you practice yoga and meditation? Damien: Yes I do both from time to time. Not enough of either. I'm also experimenting with movements from ballet. The flexibility and leg rotation in the basic ballet positions are great for skiing.

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