EDMONTON, AB — Given that I'm a relatively new skier, I'm sure there are some on-hill moments where I look like a baby giraffe that’s escaped from the zoo and has somehow gotten a hold of a pair of skis.
Now that I'm a writer for SnowSeekers, I thought it would be a wise move to enroll in a lesson or two, in hopes that this giraffe could be honed into something a little more stable and majestic – like a Doberman, or a Griffin.
I headed to Snow Valley Ski Club for some one-on-one training. In only a matter of minutes I was signed up, geared up, and introduced to my instructor for the hour, A.J. We hopped on the chair lift and the first thing he did is turn and ask, "What is it that you want to accomplish today? What are your goals?"
At first, I didn't quite know what to say. I hadn't even thought about it, to be honest. I had assumed we'd hit the hill and run through a series of standard drills that every new skier endures; skiing by numbers, if you will. But by putting the question to me, A.J. allowed me to personalize my own lesson. I was able to identify an issue, and was told that by the end of the hour I would be given the tools and knowledge to correct the problem.
I informed A.J. that I seem to be weaker with my left side, that I always have difficulty when my left leg is my uphill leg. I constantly fight the urge to fall backwards when depending on that leg while turning. A.J. followed me down the hill, and stopped me after about 30 seconds.
"You're carrying all your weight on that left leg," he said. "When your weight is on that leg, it makes it very difficult to lift it and turn it. Not only that, but you're weight is back on your heel, as well, which is why you feel that pull backwards."
I met his observation with a laugh, wishing that I could pull out my sneakers and show him the heel of my left shoe. I've been ridiculed for years about how worn down the left heels are on all of my shoes, like they’ve been put through a belt sander. It's a bit surprising that I don't just tip over sometimes. I knew right then that this guy knew what he was talking about. I was in good hands.
"Concentrate on shifting that weight to your downhill leg during a turn, and try to keep yourself forward so that you can feel your boot pressing on your shin, not your calf."
With those two simple tips, my second trip down the hill was markedly better than my first. Each ride up the chair lift was another opportunity to define an issue and work out a solution. I worked on keeping my hands out in front of me, helping maintain balance. I physically used my hands to "roll" my knees during each turn (a term A.J. uses when describing the knee’s motion during a proper turn). By the end of the hour, A.J. had me skiing on one leg, to develop balance and to learn to keep my weight where it needs to be.
Snow Valley, with its relatively small size, was the perfect place for me to learn. Skiing in such short bursts really allowed me to work on a specific problem each time down the hill, and gave A.J. plenty of opportunities to offer instruction.
By the end of the lesson I was surprised at how small my issues were in proportion to how insurmountable they once seemed. Each solution was nothing more than a simple tweak, a slight movement here or there, easily accomplished when laid out in front of me.
A.J. said it best when he told me that, "Skiing is all about learning simple specific fundamentals. There's not a whole lot between being a bad skier and a good skier. To become a great skier, it's all about refining those fundamentals."
It's amazing what an hour can do. While that baby giraffe hasn't yet transformed into some glorious beast, it’s grown to the point where it now feels comfortable.
Just like having to walk before you run, you have to snow-plow before you shred. I now know that the difference between the two isn't as great as I once thought; I will be a griffin some day!
Whether you live in a city or town with a ski hill, or are just visiting, head to the local hill and take a few lessons or get in an afternoon (or evening) of turns. It's a great way to relieve stress and maybe improve your technique.
For more on lessons and programs at Edmonton's Snow Valley, visit www.snowvalley.ca.
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