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Why do people take lessons?

The answer may seem obvious at first but there are many different reasons and many different outcomes according to snowsports instructors. One of them, Steve Angus, has penned this article on his years of observations.

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Whether it be ski, snowboard, adaptive, nordic, telemark or any other sport or activity for that matter; the question us instructors should ask is “Why does this person want to be in this lesson?” 

The bog standard answer is of course “to improve”. But what is “improving”?

Teach long enough and you’ll soon see a pattern emerging of people coming for lessons either because they have been pushed into it by friends or family, or because they are trying in their eyes to be as good as their friends or family. Very often people perceive going to lessons as doing the right thing.

How often have we instructors heard the phrase “my friend or partner is an expert”?  The problem with snowsports is that in the vast majority of cases that it is unqualifiable to a large extent.

Racing can judge it as it is against the clock, but the rest of snowsports is opinion-based.

So why do people take lessons? Well because in someone’s opinion, their own, or another persons, they need to improve. But the question still stands; “What is improvement?”

Improvement may be in the eye of the beholder or in the minds-eye of the performer. What the instructor may see as an improvement may or may not be reciprocated by the performer, friends or family.

Popular benchmarking would of course be the colour of run the performer can do. But this leads on to the next question; “Why does the colour of a run matter?”

We all know that getting down a run is very different from performing well on the run. Take a fit individual with the right attitude, the right conditions etc and I think there is every chance that after a modest amount of time that performer could make it down an ‘X’ run. Replace ‘X’ with any of green, blue, red, black, black diamond, off-piste or whatever the benchmark is.

So colour of run may or may not mean anything, but to some it means the world.

From the un-initiated eye there are of course several key ‘stages’ a person passes through from the point of view of technique.

A snowplough or a parallel turn are two obvious ones on the ski side of things.

As instructors we could probably, wrongly of course, shortcut the learning curve and get people to throw the hips around the turn to force the skis parallel. Would that person feel they had improved? Perhaps. Would their family or friends feel the same? Perhaps. Again the improvement is measured by whom exactly?

People are very judgemental, and we really do need to ask ourselves the original question; “Why do people take lessons?”

A golf pro gives a putting lesson to person which should lead to a lower score. The golf pro is seen to have made a direct improvement. If there is any question of their ability then all they need do is play a hole, or 18, and prove they can shoot a good score.

A snowsports instructor does the same by ‘getting down’ a black run – but that proves nothing.

Happy sliding!

Steven Angus works as an instructor in Val d’Isere and runs the chalet company, Fresh Chalets. See here for details.

A longer version of this article first appeared in BASI News, the magazine of the British Assocation of Snowsports Instructors (BASI).

For the spirit of the mountains

 

 

 

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