Ski Instructors Confidential
Three years ago, I was assigned a private lesson with Saul; his first time ever on skis. Saul was a retired professional hockey player from the Big Apple, vacationing with four of his old teammates. After brief introductions, I asked Saul what he would like to accomplish in today’s lesson. During the course of my teaching career, I’ve asked this question athousand times. The responses are fairly predictable: “I want to be able to turn.” “I want to be able to stop.” Or, “I want to be able to ski with my husband.”Saul’s response was more specific: “I need to meet my friends at the bottom of China Bowl at 11.” It was now 9:15.For those unacquainted with Vail Mountain, China Bowl is a vast expanse of expert terrain on the backside of the resort, more than five miles from where we were standing. In order to reach the bottom of China Bowl, you need to be comfortable skiing on a variety of terrain, including untracked powder (sometimes up to your knees), fairly steep pitches, skiing through trees and navigating moguls the size of Buicks. Even with all of the tricks that I’ve acquired, I doubted that it was in Saul’s best interest for him to attempt meeting his friends at the bottom of China Bowl.So, I asked him, “How important is it that you meet your friends at 11?” Saul said it was VERY important.Over the years, I’ve learned not to second-guess my client’s requests. If it won’t sacrifice life or limb, make it happen. So, with a 30-second primer on today’s ski equipment, I put Saul into a braking wedge and we pushed off for China Bowl. After following miles of cat tracks, service roads and acres of alternative terrain, we slid into the bottom of China Bowl at 10:50.Ten minutes later, Saul’s friends arrived at the predetermined meeting place with their jaws dropping to their knees. How could he possibly have made it? Did he cheat and catch a ride on a snowmobile? Did he bribe a ski patroller to cart him down by rescue sled?Pleading with me to expose the myth of how a first-time skier could possibly make it to the bottom of China Bowl in his first two hours on skis, I testified that Saul had, indeed, made it all the way under his own power. With that, each of Saul’s friends dug deep into their pockets and handed him five $100 bills. It seems that the night before, Saul bet his friends $2,000 that he could master the sport of skiing in just one morning. Stephen DeGroatVail, Colo.
In the early 1950s, Austrian ski instructor certification criteria weren’t nearly as stringent as they are today. As long as a candidate could perform the basics, they were in. During one particular exam, a candidate was having trouble demonstrating a snowplow to the satisfaction of his examiners. This was back in the days of double-laced leather ski boots, which were much easier to pop off than today’s plastic models, without removing them from the bindings.One attempt after another, the candidate could not seem to spread the tails of his skis wide enough to perform an effective snowplow. The examiner offered him one last chance. If he couldn’t demonstrate a good snowplow, he would fail his examination. Fearing he was going to lose face with his peers, he told the examiner that he needed to make a “minor adjustment” to his boots.While the examiner’s head was turned, the candidate skied over to a bench, slipped off his boots and put them on the opposite feet. He stood up and somehow managed to limp back to the examination area, where he performed a perfect snowplow.When the demonstration was over the candidate asked the examiner if he might have a moment to “visit the restroom,” thinking he’d have time to switch his boots back again. The examiner said, “In a couple of minutes. First, we need to see your mogul run.” Herb SchneiderConway, N.H.
By the end of the ski season, it was fairly typical for the instructors in our ski school to get a little rambunctious. Practical jokes were often the order of the day, played on each other as well as clients.It all started when one of my fellow instructors, Richard, pulled out a toy cap gun at the morning split and informed me that he was going to have some fun. Two of us were assigned level 5 classes. Late in the afternoon, we found ourselves close to each other on Lostboy. Cap-gun-toting Richard happened to ski by the other instructor and pointed the gun at him. He pulled the hammer back and squeezed the trigger. Boom! Playing along with the act, the instructor hit the ground, and lay motionless in the snow. At that, Richard announced, “Good afternoon, everyone. Your previous instructor will be unable to ski with you for the rest of the day, so I’ll be your instructor. Please follow me and do exactly what I say.”Bewildered and not really sure what to do, the class members shrugged their shoulders and followed Richard without question, leaving the other instructor behind on the snow. Good instructors always knows how to control their classes. Tom HendersonVail, Colo.
One day I was riding up a chairlift with a couple of clients. We were fairly close to the top, when I very subtly “passed wind” as one sometimes must do.When we got off at the top, the woman asked very politely, “Do they keep farm animals up here?”I seized the opportunity and said, “Oh, you probably smelled the winter mountain goats. Since they’re white and blend in with the snow, you hardly ever see ’em!” Chalky WhiteBeaver Creek, Colo.These stories were taken from “Ski Instructors Confidential: The Stories Ski Instructors Swap Back At The Lodge,” a collection of more than 160 tales from ski teachers around the country. The book, compiled by freelance writer and ski instructor Allen Smith of Vail, is not in stores yet, but can be purchased at http://www.snowwriter.com, or by calling 1-800-201-7892, ext. 97. The book is $12.95, plus $4.95 for shipping and handling.
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