Friday, April 27, 2007

Public Perception

While preparing for my certification exams this season, I'd often spend a lot of my free time reading and studying the printed material, commentary from other instructors, and even watch some videos to practice motion analysis. I often found the free time needed on the regional rail train while traveling back into town for my other job.

I'd occasionally get questions on the material, from other passengers who'd ask what medical exam/field I was studying for. It took me awhile to realize they'd only catch glimpses of the muscle or skeletal diagrams and assume only a medical professional would study such material. On one particular ride a young lady sitting across from me asked what I was studying.

After telling her, she made a joke about needing to actually be on the snow to learn skiing, not reading from a book. I corrected her on what I was learning and she went back to whatever it was she was doing. A few minutes later she piped up again with a statement like "Isn't skiing just for rich white kids?" This statement caught me off-guard. Looking at the young lady key features included that she was white, long dyed black hair, young (possibly early 20's but doubtful), overweight, and dressed as what could be described as a mix of skater punk and just punk.

I asked why she thought that and had no answer. I asked her if she watched a lot of TV (yes), if she's ever been to the mountains to ski or snowboard (no), and did she watch a lot of 80's movies (yes).

The last one is of particular relevance to her mental image. During the 1980's Hollywood produced a series of movies that poked a little fun at ski culture, and I'm sure somewhat helped to define it a bit too. South Park took the theme to a new high in one of their episodes. Very good stuff.

Through the 90's skiing basically disappeared as skateboarding and snowboarding surged in popularity, and the image of mountain culture changed once again. Since then skiing has come back to the forefront some, but more in the image of snowboarding only on two boards instead of one.

I pointed out to the young lady how Hollywood tends to poorly represent any concept it tries to show, using a couple of movies that covered the punk and skateboard scene as inspiration that she knew. She became a more animated when describing how these movies were so thoroughly wrong and no one acted like that in the scenes. At which point I asked if she thought the same might be true for skiing as well. Her instant response of "No" was followed by silence and me listing off some of the great 80's films that included ski scenes (Hot Dog, Better Off Dead, Aspen Extreme, etc).

She was shocked to realize her opinion on skiing had been so influenced by Hollywood films. I told her a bit about the mountain lifestyle, how many of the employees are from South America, how modern snowboarding and skiing has altered the landscape from Hollywood's perception, and how most of the classes I teach are for adults and kids of Indian, Middle Eastern, or Mexican descent. The rest of the ride she was silent. When I got up to leave she thanked me and said she'll be up on the mountain soon.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

New Sitings

I got a little yesterday and spent time searching the series of tubes on the Internet for ski blogs. Found an interesting one from Planet Jackson Hole. While it doesn't render properly in Firefox (stuff overlapping everywhere), it's at least a mildly entertaining read.

Another site that I haven't fully read through but am interested in is Become and Expert Skier. A handful of good tips in there I've found so far.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Tales from the Rope Tow #1

Not every resort believes in the use of a rope tow for teaching. Some resorts prefer to use the Magic Carpet (basically a conveyor belt put on the snow for easy step on and off access). Others prefer to create a real beginner lift that runs maybe two towers, really slowly, and helps get over the fears of the lift quickly.

At my resort, we're firm believers in the rope tow, having a total of three for pleasure of destroying instructor knees. Two of these are located near to the ski school. This simple little fact can sometimes lead to some of the most humorous moments ever.

A rather large young woman had decided to learn how to snowboard this season. From what I was told she wasn't really interested in learning from the instructor in the class, and pretty much was set on doing things herself. During the class, they never made it to the rope tow itself, instead hiking up the hill each time due to her constant heel side turn. Her instructor returned to the ski school and called all of us over to watch as she tried the rope tow a first time.

Her first attempt at grabbing the rope ended up with a face plant, not uncommon (close your hands slowly, honest!). On the second attempt she was successful at starting to move, although the rope was sliding through her grip still. As she moved forward, she dug her heel side edge in and began turning out of the rope path. She pulled on the rope hoping it would bring her back into the path, but it only caused her to lean harder on that edge pulling her even further from her goal.

It was at this point we knew what was about to happen; the rope would be pulled off the track, shut down, and hopefully fixed. But that's not what happened. Somehow she had now made it to almost half the width of the beginner run with the rope still moving. Suddenly she let go and the rope took off.

In the blink of an eye, the rope had snapped back to position like a rubber band. Only the momentum carried it well beyond to the other side of the beginner run, clipping two other beginners in the chest and head. The beginner who was hit in the chest was able to perform a complete One and Half flip before landing back on their face. The child hit in the head was picked off from her skis and laid on her side. A little dazed she continued on skiing as if nothing happened.

Point of the story, if you fall out of the rope tow track, let go of the rope. Or when near the rope tow, make sure to be aware of what's happening on the rope tow.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Riding the Closeout Wave

It's getting to the end of the season everywhere, which is sad news on some aspects. On the other hand it's also the only moment of the year when I get to really travel to any kind of non-local (meaning more than 4 hours drive) away. It also means I'm between seasonal positions right now, which allows me the chance to do foolish things like spend money. With that in mind, a group of five of us took off to enjoy foreign mountains. That's partially what caused the lack of posting. The other is I'm still not sure what to continue posting in the post-season.

I've had my first big mountain experience at Big Sky in Montana, all I can say is... wow. If you get a chance, certainly go check it out. Words really can't describe the different feel found here. We stayed in a camper out on a parking lot that belonged to a friend of a friend kind of deal. It wasn't the cleanest, it certainly was cozy, but it was also free. I'm told Jackson Hole is the next place for me to check out. Next season my friends, next season.

We were hoping to hit Silver Star or Big White but weren't sure of the travel time before it closed. Instead we hit Schweitzer for a two day run before driving back to Bozeman for our flight home.

In the upcoming week(end), if everything happens correctly, a long road trip to reaching Mammoth will occur. I haven't been there in a few years but remember having a blast. Even in low coverage, it's such a different mountain. The people are partially to blame for it, the ratio of A-list ski/snowboard stars is high.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Money Well Spent

Closing day was rather slow as far as instructing was concerned. The beginner rope tow area had melted off sometime during the week, despite the best efforts of the grooming team and the relocation of snow. The lower elevation runs had many large swaths of ground break running through them, making it feel almost like a run out of bounds. It's amazing how one solid week of warm weather and rain can completely destroy a several foot base.

Inside the school, I was helping field the many calls from customers regarding the state of affairs on the mountain. More specifically the purchasers of the 3-pack system we sell (3 days of instruction, lift, and rental for beginners). A lot of these calls were coming from people who had purchased the system but had not utilized all three sessions yet. Typically each phone call went through a three step process like so:

  • Refunds - As each sign around the school, on the agreement paper, and all over the ticket sales states, no refunds are given. The only case where a refund has been given as I know it involved a student who was inadvertently injured while waiting for their class to start.

  • More Time - When a refund isn't available, the demand for the resort to stay open longer is made. As with any seasonal sport, it's hard to determine how long a season will be exactly. All the resort has is past performance to predict with. There are no special deals with Mother Nature and no tricks that can keep snow from melting. Once the snow is gone, it's gone until next season. You've had all season ( on average 4 months ) to use those two other visits, don't blame the employees for your lack of ability. We even went out of the way to call you two weekends ago to warn you of the possible end of season.

  • Roll-over - Can't we roll over the unused sessions to next season? Unfortunately, no. Just as was described to you before the sale verbally and on the signed agreement, we can't offer this feature. They are use them or lose them days, and you've had 90+ days to use them. We just don't have the administrative capacity to keep records like this.

  • These were the calls I could understand. You missed out on the season and want to at least try to re-coup your loses. The group of people showing up on closing day looking to purchase first time lessons are the ones that confuse me even more. We made sure to explain that it was the last day the resort would be open that season and they still persisted to purchase a first time ski package. An even smaller sub-set of those customers insisted on purchasing a 3-pack ticket. Any and all ability to rationally describe the savings by purchasing just a single lesson that day was lost on the customers. The resort would gladly take their money, but as a front-office representative it's hard to watch such a purchase happen.

    Season: Closed

    This weekend marked the end of the 2006-2007 season for my resort. It's been a fantastic year. The season, while not as long as those in the past, was filled with plenty of light powder days, blue skies, and remarkable experiences as a whole. I've learned a lot over the year, especially regarding school operations.

    It's unlikely I'll able to continue on the Level II/III on snow exam expected next week. The exam hosting resort was forced to close it's doors this weekend too thanks to the weather.

    In the end, thanks to everyone who has helped make this year amazing. Now to figure out what to do with this blog until next season.