Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Shift in Lessons

I spend a bit of time reading other blogs on skiing and snowboarding. I haven't found too many of interest though. I'm picky. I'm not looking for one talking about the latest tricks, sponsors, or whatever. I'm much more interested in the mountain lifestyle and commentary there within. Justin Blackburn keeps an interesting blog over at about his attempts at keeping his family on the snow for the season. Mixed in are a few commentaries on the snowsport industry as a whole sometimes.

Which brings us to this post he made a little while back. Initially I read this post and thought "yep that sounds about right", snowboard theft on the mountain is high while ski theft has dropped dramatically, with a few automatic assumptions of the cool factor to snowboarding. It wasn't until this weekend that I really re-thought my stance on it. This season the staff is short ski instructors (many didn't return), and over the past few weekends we've had more snowboard instructors working as ski instructors than snowboarders. In this weekend case, we had 5 boarders teaching skiing, leaving 3 to teach snowboarding.

Taking this one step further, this season I've taught a total of 5 snowboarding lessons. Five. In past seasons that number has been significantly closer to 40 by this time of year, and it's not that we have a gluttony of snowboard instructors either. More of my lessons this season have been towards skiing. Reading through the blog posts I've clearly been more ski oriented even.

Could it be that snowboarding has reached a saturation point? No, I don't think that is it at all. Could it be cost of starting? Less likely. The lure of boots that flex is too great. Plus snowboarding is enjoyable once you get past the falling.

My guess, snowboarding has become stuck in a rut. It's exactly what the spotlighted snowboarders in this seasons' Burton film (Right Or Wrong) were worried about. Snowboarding has been marketed as needing to go bigger, crazier, and further then anyone before. Let's face it, most of us aren't getting any younger, our bodies enjoy the impact less, and there are only so many people talented enough to actually do some of these tricks. It's rare that you see a snowboard video full of big mountain riding without a cut scene to build a ramp.

How does the industry right itself? Does the industry even see this shift happening?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


I've been a little slow on my reading, but Skiing Magazine's December issue has a top 50 things every skier should do in their life. A pretty interesting list, with one close to my heart; be a ski bum.

They list ways to become a ski bum and one of the big no no's is becoming an instructor. Their reasoning being that first year instructors spend their time picking 4 year old off the ground. I can only disagree with this statement slightly. I've worked in both a corporate and individually owned resort, and their behaviors are drastically different. In a corporately owned resort there is the hierarchy of teaching, which can be identified by the first year students get the 4 year old with better classes going to more senior instructors. In the individually owned resort it can be summed up pretty much as a free for all (first available teacher to student, etc).

The trick to bypassing this crunch is a little forethought. A year before you think of becoming a ski bum, work a job part time as the instructor. Use that time to achieve your PSAI or AASI Level 1 certs, which can then be used anywhere else you'd wish to teach at. This should get you past the first year newbie setup and also help you feel a little more confident if the need arises to demand different clients.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Smaller vs Larger resorts

I love working at the mountain! How can you not? You get a beautiful setting, interacting with people of all different types, and really no stress at the end of the day. Let's face it, when you go home, none of the problems come with you, none of the problems are likely to be there tomorrow, and for the most part a beer after work clears everything up. There are on occasion squabbles that happen between employees. But then there is that mountain! A few free runs together and all should be forgotten.

I've been asked by friends why I work for a family run resort vs the corporate run resorts. It's hard to describe it, but the family at the resort extends beyond just the ownership. It also extends into the employees. It is my extended family, for better or worse.

Two weeks ago began the now weekend tradition of barbecue for lunch. Weekends are crunch time for classes, and the little things make it more tolerable. The free lunch of BBQ brought to us by management just makes you feel like they actually care. Somewhat.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Calling for help

Over the weekend, I had the need to put into use the on mountain emergency skills. These skills aren't something anyone wishes to put into use, but everyone should know just in case they come across a need to use them.

When coming across an injured rider, usually they can be found laying on the ground. Often it's possible to scrub some speed and simply ask if the rider is okay. If they're okay, they'll simply say thank you and you can keep moving on. If the response is a no, or there is no response, try to stop to the side or below the injured rider. Stopping above leaves open an opportunity for slipping and possibly further injuring the rider, or in a worst case, yourself.

Once you've established an injured rider, remove your skis or snowboard and place them several feet uphill from the crash site. If there is a sudden drop in altitude before the accident site, it might be best to hike up so as to warn other riders (remember you want a visible sign). Skiers should stick their tails in the snow while trying to achieve an X pattern. This is a sign ski patrol looks for regularly and acknowledges as injured rider. Snowboarders don't have it so easy. Typically placing the board bindings down on the snow is your best bet. This will not notify anyone of an injury, but will allow another rider the best chance to avoid running into the injured rider (and you) below.

Whatever you do, don't try to move the injured rider. Wait for ski patrol to do so. They will have the proper bracing equipment and emergency services ready to handle almost any outcome.

Your next challenge is to flag someone down and tell them to send ski patrol. A passing rider, or someone on the chair lift is a good start. Be specific as possible when asking for help. If you know the name of the run use that, otherwise a chair lift and your position near it, or a lift pole number will help cut down the search time. Your message for help should include as much identification as possible, possibly even what type of injury it is (provided you can see or are told it).

Small comforts often are the best thing. If the injured rider is able to respond, re-assure them help is on the way. Ask how they're feeling (warm, cold?). Depending upon the how long they've been there, a feeling of cold may not be uncommon. They're laying on a pile of shaved iced, this will eventually get cold. Providing them with a blanket cover of your jacket can really help to calm a lot of fears. And typically you won't be in the cold that long.

Last point is to wait until ski patrol takes your statement. This really won't be bad for you, but instead gives them the ability to help maintain the safety for everyone.

Remember it's supposed to be fun out there. Keep an eye out for each other.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Skill Levels

One of the first things asked of a student signing up is "out of a scale of 1 to 3, what skill level are you?". Most first time skiiers get this correct answering 1 to being the lowest (many jokingly ask for a level 0). Where this range falls apart are the more advanced skiers.

Level 2 and Level 3 are hard to define exactly but things (within the ski school) typically fall into the range of a Level 2 has successfully made it up and down the chair lift a few times, mostly on their own. Level 3 falls into the usual line of you're making parallel turns and feel comfortable on most runs.

This falls apart in two places.

First the rental shop. Most rental shops will fix your bindings for Level 2 as being an intermediate rider, meaning you ride blues. While on a snowboard this isn't a big deal, as a skier this changes the binding settings to hold on a little harder. This can be good or bad depending upon how you look at it. Level 3 is an automatic "does black diamonds or higher" setting. Granted at times there is over lap between the ski school's view of the world and rental shops view, but not often enough.

The second place this falls apart is on the student ranking themselves. Students with a high opinion of themselves will often rank themselves at a L3 status when they can barely link turns. I've also had students rank themselves at L1 or L2 when they readily admit to their regular enjoyment of a few black diamond runs.

I understand that 3 types is a lot easier to think about and comprehend for the non-skier (this typing started before snowboarding became popular). Unfortunately, it does not lend itself to really describing what skill level you really are at.

I've been advocating a 5 level rating system for the past two years to help ease these problems.

Level 1 = Never skied/snowboarded before
Level 2 = Can do basic turns and stops
Level 3 = Can ride up the chair and down green runs
Level 4 = Can ride down blue runs
Level 5 = Can ride down black runs

So far I've not seen any interest in such a system, but I feel that little bit of detail helps prevent injuries to students who are over confident.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Safety Week

This weekend marks the start of an important event at every resort. The NSAA has called for a National Safety Awareness Week to begin on January 13th until the 19th.

While it's good to see a little more attention paid to the skier responsibility code during the week, the challenge to make sure they stick all year around. To help, the rule intstructors are consistently told to use is CLOVER:

C - Control, always ski/ride in control.
L - Lifts, know how to use them.
O - Observe, observe the posted signs and warnings. Rope ducking sucks.
V - Visible, always be visible on the trail.
E - Enter/Exit, Be aware of all enterences and exits and their traffic.
R - Restraints must be used on your equipment at all times.

But do remember to still have fun too :)

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A Bit of the Odd

Not from my resort, but I figure this goes to show a little bit of the odd natured people at a ski resort:

Naked Skiing

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Fashion Stop

Ski clothing/fashions have evolved over the years. In the early and mid eighties the big thing were bright and bold colors, such as day-glo or neon style. Thankfully those such color choices have long since been replaced with a more subtle color selection (though still as bold and strong). Today's fashion seems to be the emulation of a suit, pin-stripped often, but matching pants and legs none the less. Which seems funny considering all the effort people made to get away from the one-piece snow suit of years past.

I mention all this for the moment when you realize slope side fashion is making a 180 turn again. This past week I watched as multiple one piece snow suits (on adults, teens, and children) were found to be sliding by.

More outrageous though were the return to the 80s fashionistas. Yes, there they were, an entire group of adults (young and old alike) sporting the latest in ski and snowboard gear (vintage 2006). Yet not a single one of them had on a jacket or pant whose color scheme was aged less than 20 years. The neon was back, and they were flaunting it a lot.

After awhile it made my eyes hurt and I had to avert my stares.