Lesson One (he said)3 Jan 2011
I hoped my students could not see my panic, hovering just below my calm exterior. It was 9:55am and I had just been handed six first-time skiers, each of whom had paid $140 (!) to spend the day with me. Today was supposed to be my second day of auditing (shadowing) an experienced instructor give a class lesson. But at the last minute, as I was about to leave on my audit, the supervisor looked at me and said “how fast can you change into your uniform?” “Seven minutes,” I replied without thinking. Great. Now I had seven minutes for the panic to settle in.
I never set out to be a ski instructor. In fact, I went to great lengths to avoid having to teach skiing. I consider myself an accomplished skier (I’ve done 28 years of ski patrolling, competed at the national level, and my smile gets bigger the steeper the terrain, etc.) but there’s something about getting up in front of a class and claiming to know what I’m talking about that just, shall we say, does not put me at ease. When we first considered moving to Beaver Creek, I specifically interviewed with the Race Department, my logic being that I could spend my days happily hauling fencing, setting up and taking down race courses, running the timing shack, etc. It was only after hiring on that I was told, “don’t worry, during peak periods you’ll do a lot of teaching,” (as if I actually wanted to teach skiing), that I began to second-guess my decision. Should I have been a lift operator instead? I don’t think they ever get called up to teach ski lessons, do they?
Not that I hadn’t been well trained the previous week. I and my incoming class of employees had spent 5 full days with a long-time Beaver Creek instructor, who very effectively taught us how to teach. By the 3rd day I was getting the hang of how to convey what I normally do without thinking into a set of instructions and exercises that will help guests discover the joy of my second-favorite sport (windsurfing is number one). And in reality, I had done a lot of teaching over my four decade skiing career (some race coaching here, a few lessons when my home area was short of instructors there, teaching friends and family). But I had never considered myself a “skiinstructor,” with people paying me to learn to ski. ”No problem,” I lied to myself as I walked to the front of my class.
And the truth was, it really wasn’t a problem. I took a deep breath and dove right in, describing the ski, demonstrating how the binding works, doing balance drills on the flat base area of the slope, trying our first tentative slides and wedge turns. It all went very well. And my biggest fear, that someone would ask me how long I had been a ski instructor (”um, actually today is my first day”), never materialized. Everyone thanked me profusely at the end of the day. They were a lovely group of people. I had a nice couple from Louisiana, a woman from North Carolina, two folks from Australia, and a girl from Venezuela (!). They all told me how much fun they had during the lesson. I even had two ask me to come back the next day to teach them again.
My second day was even better. To my two returning students I added a couple more, a girl from Louisiana and a girl from Kansas. They progressed so well we were able to graduate from the beginner area to the main mountain by about noon.
Day three was my day off, but we had some new snowfall the night before so I arrived on the mountain to get some fresh tracks. I logged in to the scheduling system, just in case, and my “Time Off (Allow Override)” had become “Assignment – Alpine Private 6”, which meant I was suddenly scheduled to show up at the Ritz Carlton (on the other side of the mountain) to meet my student in 25 minutes for a full day private lesson!
Good thing I checked my computer. Now the clock was ticking – change into uniform (in less than 7 minutes, by the way), jump on the skis, skate over to and ride up the Strawberry Park lift, then do the long traverse over to the Bachelor Gulch base area. Arrive with one minute to spare (*whew*). My client was about 20 minutes late, so I got a chance to relax in the Ritz lobby, which was pretty nice. Turns out they don’t have water fountains at the Ritz, they have glass dispensers filled with water and fresh orange slices, and fancy little cups with the Ritz logo. I guess that’s what $1200 a night gets you.
I found out my client (an advanced skier and really nice guy) had specifically requested an instructor from the Race Department (”you race guys ski way better than those other instructors”), and we had a fantastic morning ripping the intermediate groomers. Maybe my decision to join the Race Crew wasn’t so bad. We met up with his wife, plus a brother-in-law and his son, around lunchtime. Walking into the Ritz, his wife asked him at which restaurant he wanted to eat, and he said “the expensive one,” which was fun to hear. And he generously invited me to join them for lunch, his treat. I think I might get used to this private ski instructor thing after all!