‘Ski Coach’ could be music to skiers’ ears
Ski instructor Chris Braisby has witnessed the struggles firsthand at Banff, Alberta.He has watched students and other skiers strive to master the sport he fell in love with on the dry slopes of England. He has seen the frustration and overwhelming sense of helplessness. Braisby often wondered what he could do to help ease skiers’ disgruntlement and help bolster motivation and confidence. His new invention, the Ski Coach – the first training tool of its kind and the culmination of five years of testing and 20 years of study – could provide the help for which millions are looking.”I remember hearing and watching people in lessons,” Braisby said. “They would tell instructors, ‘If only you’re around when I’m out practicing so I can eliminate my bad habits.’ I wanted to do something to help skiers keep practicing correctly outside of lessons.”Balance and tipped shoulders are the major problems that plague skiers and stunt their ability to advance beyond the intermediate level, Braisby said. The majority of skiers have a tendency to lean too much into the hill, which causes the ski edges to slide across the snow.
Braisby’s solution was to create a product that looks like a Camelbak but delivers an auditory response instead of a beverage. It straps unassumingly over the shoulders and back of a ski jacket. Inside is a metal tube shaped like an upside-down banana filled with three ball bearings.If a skier’s stance is correct during a turn, it forces the bearings from one side of the tube to the other, producing a distinct ‘clink’ sound, Braisby said. Lean too much to one side and the skier will hear no response. “In order for change and improvement to be permanent you need to practice, but if you practice incorrectly, old habits return,” Braisby said. “We are only with students for an hour or a day, and I know it takes a bit more time.”As a supplement to, rather than replacement for, ski lessons, the Ski Coach provides feedback long after students head out on their own, Braisby said.While the product is for skiers of all abilities, it targets skiers stuck in the middle. Complete beginners have more techniques and drills to work on and master before they worry about turns and balance. The device could serve a purpose for advanced skiers as well, Braisby said. As skiers become more confident and aim to push themselves on more challenging, steeper terrain, bad habits resurface. The Ski Coach delivers a constant reminder on every turn, which helps keep skiers on track.
The Ski Coach, released in late August, is still in its initial stages, but the feedback has been promising. Braisby tested the product on skiers while teaching at Mont Tremblant in Quebec, and students showed signs of improvement after a short period of time. Ski professionals from British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec have started using the product as part of their lesson regiment, and there have been inquiries from ski schools in Vebier, Switzerland, Val d’Isere, France – even New Zealand.The lukewarm reception from the consumer market hasn’t discouraged Braisby. To date, he has sold 400 Ski Coaches, which retail for $49.95 and are sold exclusively on the web site (www.theskicoach.com). Braisby likens his initial struggles to those of Burton founder Jake Burton, whose idea – snowboarding – took time to gain footing in eastern resorts.”I have developed something that no one can easily relate to,” Braisby said. “But if it helps people have more fun and ski more effectively, it can only be successful in the end.”Convinced that consumers are skeptical and weary of what they see as a potential gimmick, Braisby has sought validation by working closely with the Canadian Ski Instructors’ Alliance. He has also leaned on the relationships he forged during a career spanning three decades and two continents. Braisby’s vision: Have ski schools worldwide incorporate his product into sessions. He said he believes such an idea is possible in the next five to 10 years, with word-of-mouth as the conventional marketing tool providing the necessary momentum.”If one person likes it, then they will tell more people,” Braisby said. “The process is cumulative.”
Braisby’s passion for the sport is as palpable now as it was when he first put on skis during a grade-school trip to a dry ski slope – where patrons ski on a plastic surface that’s bristled like a carpet to mimic snow. “It was a cool thing to do instead of cricket or soccer,” Braisby said. He decided that when he was old enough, he would head to Austria to be a ski instructor. He left England at 18, teaching in France, Switzerland and Austria.A few years later – once he realized he needed schooling to fall back on – he studied sports science at Brunel University and the University of Exeter in England. While Braisby was an instructor at England’s Sheffield Ski Village, he and partner Chris Worrall first set out to improve a skier’s foot movement with the help of two mechanical devices attached to each ski, and a sensor near the ear that beeped to announce a wrong movement. It was an idea that earned the two a grant from Great Britain’s National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts in July 2001. It was also an idea that, while effective, proved costly. Once the grant money was exhausted, and he traveled to North America to teach throughout Canada and at Colorado’s Winter Park and SolVista resorts, Braisby endeavored to concoct a simpler device, relying on his on-slope experience and sports science background. The Ski Coach was born. This winter – the product’s first season on the market – Braisby is cautiously optimistic.
“This product will be filling a void,” Braisby said. “The market for this is tremendous. There are millions of skiers out there who want to ski better, and even if we get a small percentage of the market, we’ll be successful.”Braisby is hoping the familiar ‘clink’ sounds will be heard this winter on the slopes of Banff’s Lake Louise and Sunshine Village resorts, scheduled to open this weekend. If word spreads and the business takes off, Braisby said he is poised to venture into the American market and potentially set up shop on the I-70 corridor. Annually, 11.8 million skiers visit Colorado resorts, according to Colorado Ski Country USA.Braisby said he knows the process will take time to develop. The satisfying feeling of knowing the Ski Coach can improve the performance and level of enjoyment for skiers across the globe, however, is the only driving force he needs. “If I truly believe this will help the sport I love, than I’m going to stick with it,” Braisby said. “It’s a simple device that will be very effective for most people.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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