Level Yo-Yo: How it’s prevented. 

You’ve come for another ski holiday and been conservative in deciding which Level to put your child in to. They get their legs back and move up in to the level they completed last year. The next day, though they get moved back down, then moved back up. Then another day, another instructor, they moved back down. I have often referred to this phenomena as ‘Level yo-yo’. Children get moved up then down, then up then down.

Needless to say this a very frustrating scenario for everyone involved, you, the parents, us, the instructors and most importantly, the kids. So, why can’t we, the instructors, get it right for your child to have fun and learn in the level they’re supposed to be in?

There are several reasons why students oscillate between levels, and how to prevent it.

At the start of either the season or holiday, make sure you are conservative when determining their level. Even though they may have finished last year at Level X, depending on how much they have grown and how active they are, they will have some muscle that hasn’t skied yet. It is better to be placed in a lower group to ‘get their legs back’ than to start in the level they finished at and be on terrain or at speeds that would encourage bad habits and move them back to a lower group. This almost always negatively affects confidence, morale and motivation.

If they have grown, it is also likely that they have new equipment (even if its new for them, second hand) and could take some getting used to. New, stiffer boots, longer and/or stiffer ski’s can all affect their skiing at the start. When buying new boots avoid getting them too big on the assumption they will grow into them. This can be quite dangerous, as an ill fitting boot can have more leverage with which to break a leg. As long as they are the right size, rentals or second hand are fine. Orthopedic foot beds are also a good idea if they have unique and specific feet.

When dropping them off at lessons, be as accurate as you can with their ability. There is a big difference between having a physical ability to get down vs. accurate technical skill. For example, does your child ‘Death wedge’ down steep runs or do they turn their skis while in balance? What we as instructors look for to determine their level is efficient speed control through turning. Making sure they are turning with their legs rather than their shoulders and whole body. Ask yourself, What turns first, the ski’s and legs or shoulders and hips? If in doubt, check the resorts website for a level chart or videos to help you determine which level they should start at.

Their emotional state or well-being also affects learning and the retention of information quite significantly. At the start of the holiday there may a lot of excitement to get back out on to the slopes and a lot of energy expended as a result. Everyone was up early to make sure they had a substantial breakfast, cooperation between siblings to help get out on time with all their ski gear. Which results in an excellent first day back on snow and the lesson was great! There is a mild celebration and everyone has a late night. Which results in everyone being tired and sluggish the next day, waking up late, not having enough breakfast, siblings squabbling, rushing out the door, forgetting some innocuous (or important) piece of equipment, getting to the lesson after begging to be let in and missing the first part. Most of what was learnt the day before is forgotten, giving the instructor of that day the arduous task of saying, ‘Maybe you’ll have more fun in the lower group.’ Yes, I have been that instructor. And, No, it is not fun.

While your child may be able to do something with one teacher, then can’t quite do it on their own. One teacher will see it, move them up, then it’s lost with other teachers. A student not only needs autonomy of skills to stay in the level, but to maintain the effort that they have put in previously to get to the next level. This could have been the result of the relationship between student, instructor and the other students in the group. Encouragement between students often affects performance.

Alternatively, an instructor may try to make the student (or themselves) feel good by giving more ticks on the progression card than the student can do. This could indicate that more training is required to bring all instructors to the same expectations of skills. Sometimes students can recognise that they are getting more ticks than they deserve. This practice undermines the integrity of what we do. Children generally understand when they earn their ticks before moving up. I have known some kids to request an instructor because, ‘when we get ticks from you, we’ve earned them and your not going to take them away.’

Another common assertion is that the child has been down a Blue run from top to bottom with the significant detail that the child was skiing between the parents legs omitted. This has the potential of being highly dangerous at worst and a waste of the rest of the classes time (and the other parents money) at best.

“Perfect practice makes perfect.” (Bruce Lee)

I have had some parents ask me, ‘The last instructor promised they’d be moving up today. Why haven’t they?’ Good question. What the last instructor should have said was, ‘Given your child’s rate of improvement in today’s snow and weather conditions along with their mood, energy levels, performance arousal/anxiety levels (Stoke level) and learning environment* (if they stay with me). IF all these things remain the same tomorrow (next lesson), then there stands a high probability that they may be ready to move up.’ However, very rarely do all these factors remain exactly the same and they will most likely need more mileage and practice at the level they’re in. Appropriate speed and appropriate terrain can help to enforce positive technical outcomes, as well as being more enjoyable for everyone.

It also depends on the group and if they are ready to go to the terrain of the next level, too. In each level there is a spectrum of ability, ‘entry level’ can be quite different to ‘strong’. For example, if a student is a strong 3B then their skis are mostly parallel on green and easy blue terrain. However, if they are entry level 3B, then there would still be a wedge at the start of the turn on the same terrain. So, on the face of it, it may look like some of the kids in the same group are of different levels, some may have just come in to the class, while some are on the cusp of graduating.

As you can see there are a multitude of reasons your child may be moved up and down between levels. While we do everything we can to prevent it from happening, conservative and accurate determination of level at the start, get good rest, keep energy levels up and consistent effort from your child will help to ensure once they have moved up, they will stay up.

‘Let’s go Skiing!’

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The Rule of Fun

All too often when kids are being dropped off to their ski lessons, are the sage parental parting words, ‘Make sure you have fun!’ or the succinct, ‘Have fun!’. As if their kids not only have permission, but have an obligation to have said ‘fun’. Or maybe they were destined to forget about having fun because they’re in a lesson. ‘Okay, since you told me to ‘Have fun’, I suppose I better!’ And then, at the end of the lesson, when they pick up the kids the first question is invariably, ‘So, did you have fun?’

Ski lessons can be many things to many people, but a prime motivator for kids, or anyone for that matter, to do anything is that it is ‘Fun’.

‘Fun’ is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as ‘what provides amusement or enjoyment; specifically: playful often boisterous action or speech.’ However, ‘fun’ is subjective and there are many definitions of what ‘fun’ is or what may constitute ‘fun’. In the outdoors adventure world a ‘Fun Scale’ has emerged, the lines between the types of fun may be a little fuzzy, here I’ll try to explain.

Type I: This type of fun could be considered your standard, typical fun. Going to the movies or having a couple of drinks with friends, for example. The effort and commitment requirements are low, it is easy to maintain and you wish it would continue. Whilst there are fond memories of having fun, there is no emotional journey and as result, there is little sense of achievement. Participants either don’t need a specific skill set for immediate success or they already have the skills required, though, someones Type 1 might be some else’s Type 2.

We like to try to keep the first time skiing experience as Type I fun as possible. The more positive this experience, the more our guests will come back to invest more effort and become more emotionally involved. This sets them up for Type 2. Skiing with friends on familiar terrain fits Type I fun. As an experienced skier Powder days are definitely Type I fun!

Type II: This type of fun takes more effort and commitment than type I fun. Often, there is a certain mental fortitude required to complete the task at hand and won’t seem like fun at the time.Type II fun is about pushing boundaries, growth and development. There is fun recognised after the fact in the journey, or pursuit, of self-fulfillment.  But the journey is worth it as there is a considerable sense of achievement. In the context of a lesson, doing new things out of their comfort zone.

A child after a lesson a few years ago said to his dad, ‘He made me do things I didn’t want to do and it was really fun!’ (And yes, I did quietly question the wording of his exclamation.) We skied over a little drop where he was scared, at first I had to convince him that he had the ability to do it. Quite a lot of kids were scared at first, but once they’d done it they don’t want to do anything else. Exploring new terrain can be quite challenging in itself at times and once there is some familiarity, confidence can be developed.

“If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you”

Another example of Type II fun is when the weather is less than favourable and precipitation is more wet than light, dry and fluffy. The type of weather that mum and dad put the kids into lessons, then proceed to the cafe to stay dry. A specific goal of mine is to bring the kids back at the end of the lesson super keen to have one last run with mum and/or dad, when they’re both dry.

Type III fun is similar to Type II fun. But it takes a lot longer to realise that it was fun, if it was fun at all. Some extreme descriptions I’ve read mention Earnest Shackleton or books by Jon Krakauer as Type III fun. Type III fun could end up in the Patrol Hut, Medical Centre or Hospital, quite possibly on the first day of the season or holidays. The type of ‘fun’ to be avoided.

So, next time you pick the kids up from ski lessons the question isn’t whether or not they had fun. The question is ‘What type of fun did you have?’

References and Further Reading

“Fun.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Viewed on 25/08/17.

Dunfee, R. 2015. ‘The three and a half types of fun, explained’ tetongravity.com Viewed on 25/08/17 https://www.tetongravity.com/story/adventure/the-three-and-a-half-types-of-fun-explained

Wright, C. 2013. ‘Suffering for the Fun of it’ nationalgeographic.com Viewed 25/08/17 http://adventureblog.nationalgeographic.com/2013/11/26/suffering-for-the-fun-on-it-alex-honnold-and-cedar-wrights-worst-trip-ever/

Cordes, K. 2014. ‘The Fun Scale’ rei.com Viewed 25/08/17 https://www.rei.com/blog/activity/climb/page/2

Cordes, K. 2009. ‘The Fun Scale’ kellycordes.com Viewed 25/08/17 https://kellycordes.com/2009/11/02/the-fun-scale/

Staff Writer. 2016. ‘The Three Types of Fun’ steliasguides.com viewed 25/08/17 http://www.steliasguides.com/tech-tips/the-three-types-of-fun/

Rubin, G. 2013. ‘Consider the three levels of fun: Challenging, Accommodating and Relaxing Fun’ gretchenrubin.com Viewed 25/08/17 https://gretchenrubin.com/2013/04/consider-the-three-levels-of-fun-challenging-accommodating-and-relaxing-fun/

 

Intermediate Telemark Video

Here’s a little video that was made at Big White about balancing on both feet simultaneously through the turn.

Balancing on both feet enables us to steer the inside ski more effectively.

The big difference between Telemark skiing and Alpine skiing is that in Alpine skiing you need to have your weight balanced on the outside ski all the way through the turn. In Telemark skiing we like to have our weight equally distributed between both of our feet, giving ourselves the ability to steer that inside ski all the time.

One way we can determine if we’re equally balanced on both our feet is to give ourselves a little hop. We can take off and land on both feet at the same time, giving one sound with the ski’s.

Telemark skiing with our weight on the outside ski, results in the inside ski doing things we really don’t want it to do. It becomes ‘squirrelly’ and acts as if it has a mind of it’s own. Being balanced on both feet means we can take charge of the inside ski and actively steer it where we want it to go.

While the hop is a really good static exercise (it’s quite challenging when moving), an easier way to equally distribute our weight while we’re moving is to shuffle our feet underneath us, back and forth, while we’re going across the hill. It is really hard to favour one foot over the other during this exercise.

I hope this helps you out with your Telemarking and let’s go out and enjoy the snow!

 

 

‘Nice Turns’

Q. How many Ski Instructors does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A. Ten. One to screw it in, and the other nine to smile, nod, and say “Nice turns!”

Jokes aside, exactly what does your Ski Instructor mean when they smile, nod and say “Nice turns!” after watching you ski down to them. Alongside lovely, it’s a vague adjective, with neither describing specifically what makes said turns nice or lovely. Sure, the compliment feels good, however, here I am going to give these adjectives some meaning.

There are a few factors which make turns nice, and this is by no means an exhaustive list:

  • There is fluidity of movement;
  • The turns are round;
  • The turns are symmetrical.

Fluidity of movement refers to the blend of physical movements needed to produce round and symmetrical turns: constant and consistent movements in one direction to a point, anticipating the next turn, then moving in the direction of the new turn. Like a pendulum maintaining tempo or rhythm, which moves consistently in one direction as far as it will go to a point, before moving consistently in the opposite direction as far as it will go to the other point. The movements of skiing are smooth. There is no discernible start nor finish, and no sudden explosion of movement, followed by crouching – static – in a ‘skiing’ position to ride it through. This may be when a ‘burn’ is felt, which is largely due to the muscles being locked, static and rigid, when they should be moving and dynamic.

Round turns are a result of consistently steering the skis through the arc and then maintaining this effort to then steer the skis back up the hill a little, or ‘completing’ the turn. This is to help re-balance before ‘starting’ the next turn. However, sudden explosions of movement may result in the turns being a sharp zig-zag shape, and may also involve long straight traverses across the hill. One of the causes of this is the lack of confidence drawn from the skis increasing speed as they are turned down the hill, a micro-panic happens with the natural instinct to want to regain control and the skis are then turned – suddenly – across the hill.

Symmetrical means both left turn and right turns are close to a mirror image of each other. This symmetry also relates to the top and bottom of the turn, where the skis are starting to turn down the fall-line, and then continuing to steer across the fall-line. Being on appropriate terrain and feeling confident in one’s ability can assist with maintaining the same arc all the way through the turn, from top to bottom and left to right. Although, the more challenging the terrain and the more symmetrical the round shape, implies greater adaptability of skill set.

Now…you can be the judge of whether a series of turns is officially nice or not. Does the skier move smoothly, producing round and symmetrical tracks in the snow? If so, they could be considered nice turns and they will not only feel good doing them, they look good to watch! Don’t forget to nod and smile when you say it!

Let’s go ski!

6 Tips for the Start of your Ski Holiday….or Season.

I remember, as a child going on ski holidays, the anticipation of exploring the mountain, thinking that I could just pick up where I left off the year before. I had memories of hurtling down the hill as fast as a could, trying to keep up with my older siblings, or racing them to the bottom. But when we actually got to the skiing bit, my legs seemed like they hadn’t remembered anything from the year before and my coordination was lacking. What was going on?

It was highly frustrating. Of a 5 day holiday, the first 2 days were spent trying to get my legs back. By the middle of the holiday I was back to where I was on the last day of the previous holiday. And then it was the last couple of days that it felt like I actually made any progress. Even though this was the case when I was a recreational skier, these days I’ll have approximately 6-8 weeks off snow between seasons, instead of 358 days between ski holidays and I still take it easy at the start of the season, about 2 weeks, to get my legs back and warm into it.

P1020524

Keen on Green to get your legs back

Here are some tips for preventing injuries at the start of your holiday (or season).

1. Start Mellow. If you were skiing Blue runs last year, go to the Green runs. If you were skiing Blacks, go back to Blue. Keeping the terrain easy will help you to focus on what you are doing, rather than where you are going. Skiing with-in your comfort zone also boosts confidence.

2. Start Slow. Yes, you remember beating buddy down the hill last year and you were bought a drink because of it, however that was last year. Going too fast, too soon gives you less response time to avoid objects or people. Also, the faster you go and the more sudden the movement in a way you didn’t intend, poses the risk of tearing a muscle or ligament, amongst other injuries. Slow down, take it easy you have all week (or however long you’re on holiday for). It’s not a race to the Patrol Hut!

3. Keep hydrated. Your muscles will need it. Firstly, they haven’t been used in the same way since last year and you are, more than likely, going to be at a higher altitude than you normally are (unless you are skiing at le Massif, Quebec, at relative sea-level). The combination of lower air pressure and lower humidity means that moisture evaporates from the skin and lungs faster than at lower altitudes. And, it’s been reported that, for some reason, many people do not feel as thirsty in higher altitudes as they should. All great reasons to drink water frequently.

SkiingleMassif

Skiing at le Massif, Quebec

4. Keep your energy levels up by eating a substantial meal the night before and breakfast each day. Again, the combination of being at altitude, which may slightly increase your metabolism, and physical exercise, in the form of skiing are 2 great reasons to eat without guilt. You need energy to make good judgements and decisions, and to stay alert.

5. Dynamic stretching before, during and after your days skiing. This is really good for keeping warm as well as stretching the main muscles used for skiing. Swinging your legs back and forth, diagonally, and with the arch forward, like kicking a soccer ball, helps to stretch the hip flexor, gluteus, adductor’s & abductors.

6. And remember to call it a day. A lot of injuries are caused by fatigue at the end of the day. And try to avoid the ‘One last run’ syndrome. Your last run should be the one you just did.

If you are thinking of a lesson, I recommend going in the afternoon of your first day. This will ensure that you have enough of your legs back to get the most value. Then for the rest of the time having a lesson in the morning so that you have the afternoon to spend as you wish. Although having said this, a lot of resorts have priced the afternoon cheaper than the morning for this reason. Check the pricing and see what works best for you.

These tips are not a guarantee that you definitely won’t get injured, however, it will be more likely that you will go the distance. Taking it easy at the start of each season has paid dividends for me later on, and I hope it does for you.

What are some of your early holiday warm-up rituals?