Grasshopper soup: Chute 75 ski test humbles and#8216;hot shot’ student
May 17, 2011
The Professional Ski Instructor Association’s teaching model says a good learning partnership between instructor and student should provide a student with, among other things, a healthy and#8220;ownership of skills.and#8221; A veteran ski instructor knows that can also mean certain students need a humbling dose of ownership of lack of skill.
Sometimes a student (usually a man, but not always) acts insulted by the mere suggestion that they have things to learn. For a ski instructor, handling an inflated ego can be close to impossible. Deception and cunning are more effective than direct confrontation.
It is rare to have a class of students who are all close to becoming experts, but one day I did. I told them we should try something steeper because, on intermediate terrain, they had mastered the skill of crossing over their feet upon turn initiation as their skis go and#8220;the other way.and#8221; I made sure they knew it wasn’t going to be easy.
Things would be happening faster than ever before. They would have to rock forward on their toes and surrender completely to gravity, committing to a virtual free fall as their bodies crossed over their ankles to the downhill side so they were perpendicular to the steepest slope they’d ever skied. Would they be able to resist their natural impulse to avoid gravity? I knew they were in good enough shape physically, and besides, I was a little bored with the intermediate runs myself. I was glad when they all agreed to accept the challenge.
The entire group, including me, was on pins and needles. All but one guy. His constant complaining was ruining the entire group experience. I thought our decision to ski where none of them had ever skied before would finally shut him up because all he could talk about was skiing something more difficult and#8212; showing off. But not even KT-22 was going to make this dude happy. That’s when it hit me. I wasn’t sure if the idea came from the devil on my left shoulder or the angel on my right, but the more I thought about it, the sweeter it sounded. The battle of egos had been joined. I decided to take them all to Chute 75, which is for experts only.
The nice thing about Chute 75 is that you don’t have to commit. You can ski down an easier way if it scares you. I knew it would be narrow, steep and full of bumps the size of small cars. Some of my students might make it, but that was not what I had in mind.
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As we approached the top of the infamous chute, I was still not sure about this guy. I knew he wouldn’t be able to ski it. I just hoped he wasn’t dumb enough to try.
I led them carefully to the edge and stopped. The group looked down and saw steep, hairpin turns around giant moguls close to big, jagged rocks. I calmly spelled it out for them: and#8220;OK, here it is. To get through the first few turns you’ll need quick, hard edge pressure, a quick release and a quick edge change. It’s too steep to see from here, but it sort of opens up where you’ll have a little more room. If you’re going too fast, don’t panic. You can wash off speed just by skiing up the counter slope like we’ve been working on.and#8221;
Mr. Know-It-All broke the silence by all but scolding me for this insane idea. I told him I thought Chute 75 was just the kind of skiing he had been crying for all day.
He didn’t laugh with the group when I finally said I was just kidding. I confessed that I just wanted them to see what their next degree of difficulty would involve. Everyone, especially Mr. Hot Shot, was visibly relieved.
He didn’t admit to his new-found humility, but it was obvious he had owned up to his lack of skill, because he quit whining and the entire group, including him, had a lot more fun together. And that’s what skiing is all about.
and#8212; Bob Sweigert is a Sierra Sun columnist, published poet, former college instructor and ski instructor. He has a B.A. and an M.A.T. from Gonzaga University. He has lived at Lake Tahoe for 28 years.