Why I took the ski teaching road I did by Bob Trueman
How I became a Ski Coach out of the love of skiing and helping others. You can learn some of my secrets to great ski technique below and gain access to my free ski tutorials. You can also view them on Youtube.
Now for the story
I thought it may be of interest to you for me to explain why I have employed the approach to ski teaching that I have taken. What were the “drivers” that led me this way, and what are the benefits to you that I believe it offers.
As a skier yourself you will be well aware of how most ski teaching services are offered to you. By far the most common is the “resort ski school”. They used to be monopolies backed by the governments of the countries concerned. In the USA, where the resorts are privately owned, only the company's own ski school is permitted.
I'll use France as my exemplar but it was the same irrespective of the country you visited, be it Austria, Italy, Switzerland etc. If you holidayed in France your only option was the Ecole de Ski Francais (Austria – the Austrian Ski School and so on). No matter which resort you went to in France it was the ESF, and only the ESF that was available to offer you teaching. No other organisation could legally operate.
Most English folk think that Ecole de Ski Francais means “The French Ski School”; but it doesn't, it means “The School of French Skiing”, as if there is “French” skiing, distinct from Austrian, Swiss, or Italian skiing. Skiing is affected by dynamic physics, so for those national supposed differences (other than stylistic) to exist, physics would have to work differently in each country! Perhaps light travels faster in France?
These restrictions were vociferously imposed. Anyone who had not been trained and certificated by the ESF was completely excluded – even qualified instructors from other countries. The monopoly was total. Only French people knew French mountains well enough to keep you safe – that was the ultimate fall-back position.
In France this became so entrenched and parochial that when it got to a stage where there were instructor jobs for about 2,000 people, and 7,000 people wanted them, the local resorts even attempted to ban French instructors who were, say, from Paris on the basis that they didn't understand mountains well enough.
Of course, it wasn't about safety for recreational skiers, it was about money. For all of the “skiing nations” the skiing holiday business was so huge a contributor to their national economies that any and every excuse would be used to protect it.
As is the case with all monopolies and all organisations that get large enough what this led to was ossification of the worst kind. Stultifying bureaucracies grew up. The organisations slowly became filled with rent-seeking also-rans who, having managed to get themselves installed, then saw to it that the very last thing that would be tolerated would be change.
As Lord Salisbury is quoted as saying to Queen Victoria - “Change? Change? Who needs change, things are bad enough already!”
Don't misunderstand me, this did not only come to pass in France, it happened in all of the skiing countries. In other countries, such as Britain, originally excluded from these monopolies active, free-thinking skiers gradually created their own versions of the national monopolies.
They fought tooth and claw to break down the barriers, and were assisted slowly and painfully by the European Commission who banned monopolies. But it was a real “knock 'em down, slug it out” fight and isn't fully over even now.
But guess what happened? These agents for change in all of the countries gradually grew in size and complexity – like bureaucracies do. And they have become just like all the others. If you want to be a ski instructor you have to join their system, pay their “ever growing” fees, take their exams, be not only taught by them but 'qualified' by them as well. And to achieve all this you had better ensure you do not stand out, do not introduce any idea they haven't already thought of, and do not try anything new.
The way to succeed is always the same – take on board everything they tell you, don't question it, feed it straight back to them as it was delivered (this flatters them), and as a reward you will get your certification. How high up the ladder you climb then depends on all the kinds of processes you find in any other kind of organisation. There is little room for individuals. I've heard that in Japan there is an old saying that “The nail that sticks up, gets hammered down”. I don't know if that's true of Japan.
Now make no mistake you won't get your certificate if you can't ski to a sufficiently high standard. And you will be given teaching that purports to equip you to understand both the technical and teaching aspects of the sport. For some reason that I don't fully undertand these latter aspects are manifestly absent from most ski instructors and all ski schools, when pupils are taken onto the slopes.
I think that the primary underlying reason for this regrettable situation is that the ski school training programmes pander to their clientele. Remember, their clientele is not you as a skier wanting to improve; their clientele is those mostly young skiers who are paying them their fees. Those young folk by definition are keen to become good skiers, and they do, for the most part.
Therein I think lies a large part of the problem: part one is monopolies and bureaucracy, part two is the belief within the ski school system that the most important aspect of the qualifications for a ski instructor is that they should be exceptional skiers. Provided they are, they will earn the respect of their customers.
The evidence one can glean by standing near any skiing piste and watching recreational skiers descend is that this process has signally failed to convert any worthwhile number of recreational skiers into skilful ones. This despite the ski school/ski instructor business having been going for the best part of 100 years. If something has not begun to produce improved results after 100 years, perhaps it's time to do something about it.
What alternatives are there?
Frankly, not many. It was not the ski school industry which made advances in ski teaching through the analysis and understanding of how skis do what they do. These advances were made (not least by the English Ski Council – a sports based entity, not a commercial one) by serious academics in education, physiology, in physics, in psychology, in bio-mechanics and in other disciplines.
These people were mold breakers not mold makers.
They were not people who saw their own best interests being encapsulated in rigid safe protective structures. I had a very illuminating conversation years ago with a friend of mine, a French mountain guide who was in the top ten of French climbers, and who had gone through the ESF ski instructor system.
When the ESF monopoly was finally broken, he observed that only the bright, the adventurous, the best-thinking of the ESF instructors broke free and set up new teaching agencies. The ones who stayed behind were the dullards, the also-rans, the safety-seekers, the ones who's best interests were served by doing today what they did yesterday, and keeping their heads below the parapet. Safety-in-numbers people.
Not that long ago a ski school instructor of my acquaintance admitted that he knew that some of the things he was teaching recreational skiers were wrong, but that he dare not teach anything other than that because “they were on page 14 of the instructors' teaching manual, and if I teach anything else I'll get the sack”. I don't know if that was true, but it fits in with what I myself came across both as a ski school customer and as a trainee instructor before I broke free.
So, what's so different?
Well you can see for yourself, either in my books or my training videos, or especially on my skiing courses. The essence of what I've tried to do is to find ways to avoid having my pupils become passive recipients of “instructions”.
I don't use “demonstrations” of my own superb skiing skill so that you may observe and copy it. (This of course as any of my instructor critics, and there are many, will tell you is at least in part because my own skiing skill leaves much to be desired !) My pupils don't come to me to watch me ski, they come to get a better learning process.
Instead of telling you what to do, all my effort has been directed towards helping my pupils discover that they already have within them all the resources they need in order to become the skilful skiers they wish to be. It is not likely to be easy, but it can be inevitable.
This is not best achieved by being told what to do, or especially by being shown what to do. It is through a patient process of being helped to come to understand how and why skis work, and how to make psychologically supportive progress toward making them work.
I was recently talking with my wife (gracious, we're still talking after 56 years!) about a physicist friend of mine who was educated at Imperial College: “You have to have a good mind to do physics” I said. “No” she said, “You have to have a good teacher”.
Actually I think it's both?
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