When I learned to downhill ski in 1967 at the age of 14 in Switzerland, there was one way to size skis – raise your arms over your head; the length of the skis would be the distance from your wrist to the ground. The picture of Ken Read, left, from the days of the Crazy Canucks, shows such long skis. Needless to say, I struggled. It was not fun. I was no downhill racer. I was a gawky, uncoordinated, long-limbed, self-conscious adolescent. I could have used an edge – pardon the pun – particularly since many of my schoolmates had already learned to ski some years since. My first year was tough: bumps and bruises with little improvement or control.
Nowadays, beginner downhill ski length is from the bridge of the nose, or the hair parting to the ground. It is also the preferred length for those of us in the middle-aged, advanced-intermediate-chicken rated ability. Now, presumably a more sedate individual, Mr. Read’s skis in this recent photo are shorter. What I wouldn’t have given for a more manageable ski back then!
The first run in my second year, Eva Zillig, my pal and accomplished skier, watched me thrash and windmill my way down the slope with the other beginners. She stole me away from the class. “Follow me,” she commanded. “Do exactly what I do.” We did that for three runs. Each run I felt my confidence rising as I imitated my instructor, turning where she did, aping her posture and moves. My skills got better. The next run, Eva followed me, shouting “Plant! Turn NOW! Bend your knees! Look downhill NOW! Plant.”… and so on.
By day’s end I had tackled my first Black Diamond piste and I could ski. Most important, I loved it! In my class, where I rated myself against others, it might have taken a deal longer for me to “get it”. It was thanks to that friend taking the time, having faith in me and having the patience to share her knowledge and love of the sport, that I learned as I did.
This is what our best teachers do (actual quotes from CRPS students): “He somehow always finds the time to listen… she is never impatient, will always listen and explain… she took the time to show me a different way… he gets who I am…” It’s about individual relationships and taking time to get to the love of learning. Happy trails, everyone.