Monday, February 27, 2012

Students Have Bad Days Too

Had a first for me in my several years of teaching skiing recently. In my multi-week kids program class, one of my students was having a bad day. All morning he wasn't interested in skiing. By afternoon, he was just not having it. His parents, unable to resolve the issue before the end of lunch, left it to me (and the rest of the class) to work with the student who was now just having a complete fit. At this time it was his goggles which wouldn't stay connected to his helmet (because he hadn't closed the back latch). After a little peer pressure from the other students, he came out to ski, while continuing to complain the entire way to the chairlift. Complaints ranged from his gloves being too hot, his goggles were off center, to his helmet was choking him. Each of these complaints included a complete melt down with tears and lots wailing sobs. At some point the rest of the class got tired of it and started telling him to be quiet, although in less nice terms. After finally reaching the top of the mountain, we had a new problem. Having spent so much time making our way to the chair lift, a storm had rolled in with the wind picking up, lots of snow dropping, and now a cloud arrived to further reduce visibility.

Knowing these students weren't ready for skiing without their primary sense (sight), I made a decision to take a little more advanced trail. The theory was this trail would be wind protected by the trees surrounding it, and usually has some good snow pack on it. In general it's a favorite run of mine most days.

Skiing down to the start, everyone was doing okay a mixture of snow and flat light. Just as we entered the run, one of the other students fell and required some help getting up. After hiking up to help, I return to find my problem student out of his skis, now with his jacket and gloves off, complaining that he was cold. Helping him get his jacket back on, then gloves, he couldn't get his feet in the bindings. This brought on the worst tantrum I've seen to date. Helping him again with the bindings, I started to see the snow changing color to yellow. When I asked the student about this he proudly told me he just peed his pants.

This just set the tone for the rest of the class for me.

Now, complaining about being cold again and wet, he stepped into his bindings in one quick movement, taking off down the hill. Collecting my skis and the rest of the class (who had moved on to sitting on the ground and building snowmen), we tried to follow the tracks to where he had gone, but the wind and snow quickly filled in his tracks. None of us could see where he had gone. Being upset that this kid had already given me a first, I was determined to not let him give me my first lost student. Especially with the conditions steadily getting worse.

The rest of the class and I slowly worked our way down the trail. Turns out my choice was both good and bad. Good because the trees added visibility. Bad because the one technical section had become wind blown ice causing all my other students to be frightened. Keeping an eye out for my now missing student, none of us could see him, and we were quickly losing his tracks due to the refill happening.

At the halfway point one of the stronger skiing students caught sight of the runaway student, and rushed ahead to catch him. When the rest of the class arrived, the now found student was still upset and crying. He was now upset that he had gotten lost.

Lesson learned: if your child really is just having a bad day, don't force them into a group class. They will just make the class miserable for everyone. All my students had the same comments to their parents and me afterwards: they didn't want to ski with the difficult student anymore.

[EDIT: fixed the formatting]


Kristen said...

What a nightmare. Honestly, I applaud ski instructors, it's hard enough to work with kids and keep them safe in predictable and controlled environments, I can't imagine having to do so when there are so many dangerous elements added in the mix. Excellent advice to parents and a nice lesson in courtesy. Thanks.

Off-piste said...


I agree on the difficulty in teaching kids in such an uncontrolled environment and I instructors work hard at making it seem easy. There are a couple tricks that often work to help make that easier too.