Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Snowboarding Technology

Over on the Highly Obsessed blog (link via Ski-Blog) there was a recent post on the aging of snowboarders.

The basic idea of the post was, snowboarding is a young sport with not too many older participants in it. What will happen when these riders get older? I've posed the question to a couple of my snowboarding instructors and friends.

All agree that as they get older it will become more difficult to ride on a board. Not due to anything that the actual riding will impair, but rather the strapping in and lift time issues. In any of the opinions there was no doubt that technology will have to change in the next 5-10 years. Some of the riders claimed they'll probably move to skis, but most made the bold prediction that they would never move. So let's look at the logistics of what would happen.

Bindings. Currently there are really three choices out there. The standard issue ratchet in type that require un-doing and reconnecting on each use. The flow bindings which require a one time fit with a quick latch entry/exit. Finally the step in side clip bindings which are step on easy to get engage, and push button release. Each of these bindings requires extreme balance and flexibility to do while standing up. The alternative is to fall on your ass strap in and hope you can get back up method which can put a tremendous amount of torque and pressure on the knees.

Lifts. Current state of the art to ride a lift requires taking one foot out of a binding and letting the board hang freely. This causes an awful lot of odd pressure and torquing on the knee. While the safety bar on the lift could remove most of the issues, it's not commonly used.

My theory is we'll see a drastic change in the snowboarding technology rather soon. Just like ski bindings have evolved, so have snow board bindings. But I don't believe they've reached their most optimal format yet. I think we'll find that bindings will incorporate a hinge motion for the lift and more of a twist release/bind format.

Anyhow a fun conversation to have with any snowboarder.

Wax How Often?

There have been a handful of debates in the pro/tech shop where I work. One of the more common ones I hear is the debate on when to wax your ride. That's probably because I only stop in when I'm ready to wax the boards and know that certain techs are working.

We have a couple schools of thought on this one.

1) Every day of riding. I personally find this to be a bit excessive and able to cost quite a bit. Considering some all condition fluoridated wax can cost $12 a bar, if you're riding 2 or 3 days a week, you'll run through this quickly. Plus the time spent waxing, ironing, scraping, and scrubbing down becomes a lot worse.

2) Once a season. When I was younger and money was a much larger issue for me, this was a rather common approach. The only saving grace I had at that time was most riding days were spent on ice, which let you slide regardless of the base. All said and done it's not really advisable these days. Yet I know a few professionals who believe in this route too.

3) Every Nth ride. I've been a regular believer in the every Nth ride, which in my mind is about 10 days of riding. I typically can't feel the difference on a daily wax job, but can after 5 days of riding. Days 4-8 to me are when I feel best on my boards.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Equipment Old vs New

About a year ago a friend of mine decided to learn how to ski at the age of 27. Having never spent a great deal of time in the snow, she wanted to take it slow. After two attempts last season of rentals, she decided to buy some boots because none of the rental boots fit her foot/leg properly. Later, I found some used skis in great shape from a co-worker of mine for about $20. They were a bit longer (160) than my friend needed (154), but as an intro ski they'd do great. She rode on these skis all last season and most of this, slowly progressing.

During a recent dump of fresh powder, she and a couple of friends arrived for some night skiing. Noticing her on the slopes, I suggested she try demo'ing some newer skis before the end of the season. More specifically, some of the women specific skis as I've heard only great things about them. She was nervous about trying new skis so I offered to ride with her once or twice.

I've been working with her off and on trying to move her to a parallel ski for a bit. She can match when turning to the right, but the left she has not been able to. First run on the demo skis I watched her make two carving parallel turns in both directions. No skidding, no wedging, just pure edge carving. Her hands were in the right positions, her weight not being thrown backwards, and she wasn't steering with her backside.

Half way down the hill I turned around again to watch her make medium and large radius turns instead of her usual small radius turns. Then she did her first hockey stop as she pulled along side of me. She was beyond stoked. She wanted to follow me into the powder both fresh and old. She fell a few times in the powder but was generally looking like someone who's practiced a lot.

I'm not a huge fan of blaming the equipment, and I've often felt awful that I couldn't get her past this point on her skis. Having seen the drastic change with just the ski swap though, I'm pretty convinced she needs new equipment. As is she. Right now she's hunting for some Volkl Attiva AC2s on a good deal.

If you're a female rider looking for a decent all mountain one quiver ski, check them out.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


On those rare slow days it's easy to forget that you're actually working at the mountain. Thanks to some rainy weather the day before, I had a few slow days in a row with little to no actual classes. One class in particular sticks out in my mind as an example of just sheer determination.

She was in her late 60s and returning to skiing after having had reconstructive knee surgery this past summer. She was nervous about putting weight on it, but a quick test on the bunny slope showed she still retained a lot of the skills needed. We talked a little about how it felt and then headed up the chair lift.

Getting off the chair she slipped, fell, wiped both of us out, and tried to get up quickly. The liftee wasn't pay attention and she was clipped by the next chair coming around the bull horn. This second hit tweaked her knee just wrong and sent huge amounts of pain through her body, asking for help.

Normally on any kind of injury we are told specifically not to move the rider until told to do so by Ski Patrol, but in this case she specifically asked that I take off her ski. I did and the pain disappeared immediately. I went to call for a sled and was stopped by her getting back on her skis ready to go asking if we could take it slow.

We took it slow down the hill. At half an hour into the lesson, we weren't a 1/4 of the way down, but she had her turns looking great. Then another fall and a bit more pain. I asked how she was to find she was more upset with herself than anything else. It was clear after this fall though she had become more timid on pressuring her new knee. A little while later, another fall.

The one hour mark passed and we were half way down. We worked on drills to encourage her to put a little more pressure on that leg, to keep a constant pressure on the ski through the turn, and to smooth out the turns. This means we did a lot of garlands to one side of the run. We worked on side slipping as a means to getting down the mountain.

At the two hour point we were 3/4s of the way down and I realized this had to end. Then her glasses fogged up. Using a tactic I find to work on little kids, I skied backwards in front of her, using our poles as a handle to keep space between us. I had her pressure to start turns and use me to finish them. We got down the mountain rather quickly. Her a bit frustrated, me tired. I left to go home and enjoyed a break for a few days.

I ran into her in the lodge a little later just exhausted. She said she wasn't giving up just yet, but needed a break. I gave her a few pointers to try and told her to have a great evening.

After the break, I had an envelope waiting for me in the office. Inside was a little card that said thanks and the largest tip received this year for anyone, $30. Thanks!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Mountain Helper

As an employee of the mountain I'm constantly having to keep an eye out for situations on the mountain. I offer help and advice to those who look like they could use it and only if they want it.

The other week, I had a rare day off from teaching which meant a chance to enjoy the mountain. While riding down a beginner slope I came across a father and daughter skiing who were obviously having difficulties. The daughter was crying just after the first lip of the run about not wanting to ever ski again. The father was just at his limit with no idea what to do next.

I stopped over, said hello, and asked if everything was alright. The daughter started crying really loudly at this point, so I talked with her for a little bit. The key, in my mind, to talking to her was that I was at her level. Dad was inadvertently talking down to her just by his stance. A minute or two later I got her back on her feet and trying to ski again. The father thanked me and we parted ways with some pointers for him to try.

The next day arrived and by request my second lesson of the day was the same little girl. We had fun learning, snow plowing a bit, building snowmen, throwing snowballs, and learning how to turn. She left the lesson rather excited about having been at the mountain.

The day after the ski school received, for only a third time in it's history, a letter of gratitude regarding it's instructional staff's professionalism, quality, and friendliness. The letter specifically highlighted the help mentioned above and the classes myself and another instructor did for this mans' family.

The letter now hangs on the ski school wall within a plastic case.

Monday, February 19, 2007

New link - My Snow Pro

I've been meaning to add this for a while now, as I've been following it on and off for a bit (his Turn the Stripes worked wonders but killed my legs this weekend) . Jonathan Lawson co-runs an interesting blog titled "My Snow Pro" where they're collecting posts from various instructors on skiing and follow up for students. An interesting concept.

While I personally find the site a little more challenging to navigate and read (3 columns clutter), it's making great use of the technology out there. More importantly though the content makes the site extremely useful. I suggest checking it out, I've added it now to my blog list for easier following.

Hats vs Helmets

After a class, I typically spend a few minutes wrapping up the details of what the students and I worked upon. I highlight what each one is doing right and point out what they can do to work on tightening up their new found skill or even how to progress further to the next level. Out of the entire discussion the most often asked question, "Should I (or my child) have a helmet?"

While this is clearly a personal preference, my typical answer is an emphatic "Yes. But... " Why the but? I clearly use one myself in all my classes and free riding time (Giro Nine.9) and feel naked when riding without it. I have two major concerns with helmets.

The first is the more important of the two. While a helmet may protect your head, it does not give you free reign to be careless or an idiot on the mountain. More to the point, a helmet may protect your head, but it does not protect your knees, neck, or spine. It does not make you instantly invulnerable to the conditions surrounding you. In other words use the helmet to protect your head and your head to protect yourself and the rest of the mountain.

The second issue I have belongs to the the ear covers. One of the first things I noticed on my helmet (and just about every I've tried since) is how the ear flaps muffle sounds from the front and back of the wearer. I say this is a lesser issue as I find riders with headphones to be in the same category. The ability to hear a rider approaching from behind is important, but as an instructor the ability to communicate with my student is even greater. There isn't a good solution to this one, so I leave it up to the riders to check before making a turn.

Why do I ride with a helmet? Rocks frighten me. Other riders frighten me. I've invested too much time and money into my brain to let a simple $70 purchase be a limiting factor for my life long enjoyment. I admit having learned without a helmet and having rode for years without one. What changed my mind? In the past 4 years I've been hit more often by other riders than I have ever in my lifetime on the mountains. I cannot control this aspect of the slope.

What helmet do I suggest? My criteria for a helmet is pretty simple. I want a lightweight helmet that's been ANSI certified. After riding for a bit a helmet can become extremely warm, therefore I want air vents of some type on the top, front, and sides. Some days will be warmer or colder than others so I want the vents to be easily sealed and opened. Because my head is an awkward shape I want the helmet to fit properly. It does me no good if it doesn't protect me.

Anything else? Yes, keep the chin strap closed. A helmet is only useful if it sticks to your head when you fall. Leaving the chin strap open may allow for better venting, but the helmet is essentially useless. Use the chin strap.

Some sites to check out regarding helmets:
Lids On Kids
Giro Helmets
Pryme Gear

Friday, February 16, 2007

Simple Steps to Saving Time

The most common mistakes beginners make before learning to ski or snowboard are really easy to fix with a little time and forethought. Hopefully this post will help at least one or two people fix this.

Before you leave home, check the weather at the mountain, even if it's the night before only! While trusting long term weather prediction is just plain crazy talk, weathermen are typically correct for a period of 12-24 hours. Have a good idea of what the temperature, wind, and precipitation will be like. If you can find it, check out where the snow level and free air freezing point will be as well. All of this information will help you decide what you should wear.

The Boy Scouts of America have a motto of "Be Prepared". Very simple in theory, but covering a vast amount of ground at the same time. The weather on the mountain changes rapidly, bringing a change of clothes or multiple layers is almost an essential. I've worked days that start off blistering cold only to find by lunch I'm in a t-shirt and fleece vest while teaching, and then back to bundled up by 4 pm.

Snow is wet. You will fall. More importantly this is exercise, so you will sweat. Showing up in blue jeans will just be uncomfortable once they get wet. Be it from falling or sweating. Invest in a pair of snow pants, it will make all the difference. Many resorts also rent them, check for that before you leave.

Gloves are good, gloves are great, gloves don't like their rope-tow fate. Knit gloves may look cute or stylish but really won't tolerate two runs on a rope tow. Your leather driving gloves will do better, but they will never look the same. Go to Costco or any sports store and buy a pair of cheap $20 gloves. Not only will they hold up better, they'll be better at keeping your hands warm and dry in spite of the rain and snow.

If you plan to rent and take a lesson, talk to the ski school first. Usually they have awesome package deals that you can work with. Going to rentals first while not bad, just creates a bigger cost headache for the two departments. Yep not your problem I realize that, but it will slow down your chance for getting to class.

Don't let your kids wear themselves out. In many cases, the parents will sign up kids for a class that won't start for a few hours. Let the kids play but start pulling them back within an hour of their class. Teaching exhausted kids just doesn't work well. They get nothing out of it, and the instructors have no energy which to feedback on.

Prepare yourself. Since you're paying for the time, it's best to make sure you're ready for it. Go take care of yourself before the class starts. Eat. Use the restroom. Make your calls to your friends. Take your pictures. Do whatever it is you need to do that way you can spend your class getting the maximum amount of class time. As an instructor, if you want to spend the class in the bathroom that's fine by us right up until you start making us late for our next class.

Thursday, February 15, 2007


In case there was any question, yes we work on days where it's raining as well. Why someone would want to ski or snowboard in the rain is beyond comprehension to me. But there they are, in their blue jeans waiting for a lesson.


Adaptive lessons tend to be one of those areas not really covered in the general progression of PSIA or AASI teachings. In fact, it's a speciality area, where the entire focus of a class or certification can be dedicated to one area of adaptive teaching. In other words, your average instructor does not have the capability or knowledge on teaching any kind of adaptive needs class.

I recently had a private class with a mentally handicapped child whose father wanted to enjoy the mountain. I fully support the enjoyment of the mountain and I've had my share of $50 babysitting jobs. But when your child falls into the category of special needs, do you really think leaving them with a group of non-trained minimum wage paid employees is the best idea?

I spent most of the class chasing the child out of the woods and pulling them (kicking and screaming) away from the snow cliff over the parking area. Before the class was sold, the staff urged the father not go through with this, as we're not equipped for adaptive teaching. At the end of the hour I was happy to be done.

Thursday, February 1, 2007


One of the biggest misconceptions on ski instructing is that you get paid. Allow me to correct that, we get paid a minimum wage for the most part. There are instructors who get paid a lot better, they typically won't be found attached to a ski school though. They're typically the freelancers who get hired directly by their clients. For the rest of us dealing with little Johnny or Sue it's the bare minimum.

If you've got a child taking a lesson who you know will be a bit of a handful, be kind and tip the instructor. It doesn't even have to be a direct tip, a beer in town or at the bar is often a great gesture.

My best tip has been $50 after a 3 hour private session with a group of 5 Japanese clients. They were a bunch of fun to work with and I've seen them on the numerous times on the mountain since the lesson. I still remember each of their names, talk briefly when we pass by, and occasionally even join each other for drinks afterwards. Most days I take home $0 in tips and have to wait until the once a month check to arrive.

Balancing Act

At what point does one reach their breaking point? There are plenty of books researching this very question, none addressing it purely from the standpoint of an snow sport instructor. But then again is it really any different?

Best advice for readers with young children (aged 5 - 12) who wish to have a session with an instructor; start earlier in the day.

Why? When most of us are given our first few lessons, we've got plenty of energy and little of the daily frustrations built up. Time and again I can see by the end of the third lesson in a row the energy levels waning from instructors. Sometimes it's because they've had too many classes in a row without a break. More often though is it's simply a lot of work.

Working with younger kids takes a level of excitement and energy that is hard to maintain all day long. Kids pick up on even the slightest change in mood. I'm impressed with pre-k, k, and grade school teachers who can keep their students attention beyond 3 hours. They are very clearly still learning about controlling their limbs and sense of balance.

That's all I can say, earlier lessons. You'll thank me for it.