Thursday, January 3, 2013

Calling in the Experts

What a relief to be getting in to the groove of winter!  After a month of relying on our trusted snowmakers for our white fix, we got the one thing we really wanted for Christmas: a big fat snowstorm, followed by several days of the beloved Bretton Woods flurries.  Now that more and more terrain was opening and the winter habits of gathering our gear and heading to the hill were becoming routine, we decided it was time to try to bust out of one habit: it was time to get Bridget into a lesson and work on getting her out of the wedge and into some parallel turns.

Getting out regularly on the slopes frequently has been great for our five-year-old's confidence and comfort on skis, and I've really enjoyed being able to share the joy of being outside in the winter.  Although I'm comfortable skiing most any terrain, having kids has made one important fact plain to me: I'm not a ski instructor.  I've picked up a lot of great tips in the few years we've started skiing with kids, but when I get to the point where I'm not sure how to help them get to the next level, I call in the experts.  

One of our favorite experts on teaching kids to ski at Bretton Woods is Jess Cyr.  Jess has been teaching lessons at Bretton Woods for six years, and her infectious love for working with kids shows in her warm smile and easy way with even the most reticent young skier.  She's a middle and high school special ed teacher during the week, and her creativity in working with kids is evident in her ski lessons.  I spoke with Jess after Bridget's lesson to find out how the it went: not only did I want to share their story here, but I was also curious to see how Jess thought Bridget was progressing, and I was hoping to again pick up some tips to reinforce what she's learned and keep challenging her.  Like every parent who has asked, "What did you do in school today?" I've learned that sometimes you've got to be proactive in finding out what happens with your kids while they are out of your sight.  Good ski instructors will be happy to debrief you.

After a run on the bunny hill, Jess saw that Bridget was ready to work on moving from the "power wedge" to some parallel turns, so they headed up to Range View to do some games and drills.  "The challenge with kids," Jess told me, "is to come up with fun ways to to say the same thing."  For their lesson on moving her skis from "pizza" to "french fries," Jess had Bridget make "smiles" in the snow with her skis until she was almost facing uphill again.  This forced her to really turn across the fall line, rather than just push the snow out below, heading straight downhill.  Keeping it fun, she told Bridget that you have to smile as well or the drill doesn't work, and sure enough, every time Jess looked back, Bridget had a big grin on her face.  

Next, Jess added more little girl fun: after each smile turn, Bridget had to bunny hop in the middle of the turn.  When she landed, she had to land with her skis parallel.  Then they put their hands together in front of them, holding a carrot.  Holding the carrot up front helped Bridget focus on keeping her weight forward and moving down the fall line.  The hopping with each turn takes a lot of energy, but she was making turns and keeping her skis together.  

"Learning the wedge or "pizza" is great for kids to learn how to stop, but it puts them in the back seat," Jess told me.  Being in the "back seat" means not keeping your weight forward, and with the incline of the hill, you've got to keep forward to maintain balance.  Learning to stop by putting your skis parallel to the fall line is the next step in getting away from just using a wedge all the way down the hill.  

Jess also tried not to overwhelm her with too much information all in one lesson.  "I try to focus on one or two things so they don't get bombarded," she said.  "It was fun to work with Bridget because she's so relaxed on the mountain and didn't get nervous on skis, but they get tired quickly."  Jess also reminded me that it's all about motivation: "find what works and build on that."  For Bridget, making smiles and doing bunny hops gave her a mental picture of what to do.  For her little brother Timmy, we might need to call in the polar bears and pirates.

The next day, Bridget showed me the smiles and hops that she had learned with Jess and I knew the money spent on a lesson was well worth it.  Her confidence and skills keep growing, and I know this is a sport she's going to love for a long time.

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