Usually I excuse my poorly written blogs by blaming a hangover, but as it has been a fair while since I sat down to ramble on about my oddly conveyed experiences, I will put this disjointed concoction down to a lack of practice. Also, I have a hangover.
Anyway, apologies for the silence and my rusty writing complete, I can get into the main subject of this post- my journey into the world of ski instructing. Back at the end of November I left the comforts of the English countryside, packed up my bags and headed for the powder filled northern island of Japan- Hokkaido. In theory it seemed like a pretty sweet deal. I had signed up for a three-week crash course to pass my level 1 instructing exam with the New Zealand Ski Instructors association, after which I would take my job at Club Med Sahoro and spend the winter season skiing, teaching, and just having a blast. A fool proof plan, however I had not considered the exam part and gaining a qualification and, maybe due to naivety or the misleading advertisement of the course, I assumed it would be a breeze. Which, of course, it was not.
After a week of adjusting to life in Japan (and the time zone) it was time to get stuck into the training, and to start learning about all things ski related. The first few days were spent learning about the various criteria that we had to meet in our exams on the teaching side of things. Basically, following the NZSIA’s checkpoints for teaching, including the layout of a lesson, how to relay information and the progressions of skiing. Before leaving I imagined just being told to tell students that a snowplough (wedge) will slow you down and to not lean back, so when I found myself teaching the rest of my class how to take a pen lid off of a pen without using words or how to unscrew a bottle cap by expressing specific feelings I knew that the intensity and specificity of teaching would be in another league.
Armed with a basic understanding of instructing and a newfound kinaesthetic awareness of the way that a bottle cap separates from a bottle it was time to apply what we had learnt in the classroom/ seating area of the hotel bar to the slopes. Naturally, the first few attempts weren’t going to be successful as we learnt about group control by people just skiing off or tested our demonstrations by other members of the group pretending not to speak English. All the mock teaches were done in different scenarios, from ancient Japanese speaking pensioners with the physical attributes of a noodle to groups of kids with an attention deficit and no desire to ski, all to test teaching abilities and adaptability to various situations. Some of the acting was taken very seriously to prepare us for the real world, one guy called Finn had a particular passion for transforming character (I think he has multiple personality disorder) and obtained a certain affinity to converting himself into Borat. The group undoubtedly took their roles seriously, as ‘’teens’’ they just skied off or needed every detail explained to the core, such as the toes being the little things protruding from the end of the feet.
In addition to our teaching ability being worked on, our skiing was also rigorously tested. To be an instructor, obviously you have to be able to ski to a decent standard, and function technically to the ski associations requirements so our ski technique was ripped apart and rebuilt. Really, really ripped apart. I’ve been skiing since I was seven, but have barely done any lessons, so in over a decade of skiing and working in a French resort last year I had acquired a wealth of bad habits which had to be drilled out of me. Having skied and worked in France, I had tried to imitate skiers who I thought looked cool, and as a result ski with my legs too narrow and swing my hips too much, leaving the others to make my fun of my ‘alpinist’ style and call me Claude. So, the week of training was spent learning a new way to ski, battling my desire to revert back to my French ways and trying to ski the way I was meant to teach.
The exam itself was a five-day assessment of my skiing and teaching, which turned into a very long 5 days. My new technique which I had been trained to do to pass the exam was once again ripped apart and rebuilt to the examiners specific taste. So, having gone from a confident skier, to a terrible skier, up to a fairly average skier I was once again plummeted to new lows of believing I was the equivalent of the old unathletic noodles I had imitated in training. The first few days were simply just unenjoyable as my skiing was torn apart and it felt like the exam was going horrendously. The teaching side of things wasn’t quite so rough. There are only three short assessments of teaching ability in the level one exam, the only surprise being one that had nothing to with skiing. To test our use of the teaching model I somehow found myself teaching how to bowl a cricket ball. Now, I haven’t played cricket for over six years and when I did, I wasn’t allowed anywhere near the bowling order and would just be happy to get the ball in the vague direction during practice, so why I was teaching it in an exam about skiing still bemuses me. The other parts of the teaching also required demos and so my basic skiing received an additional level of ridicule on top of my ever-adapting technique. None of this was helped by the emotionless examiner whose poker face gave nothing away. Whilst other groups were getting regular feedback of their scores and skiing ability, I could’ve already failed or be doing well and not have the faintest idea. Some parts of the week were so brutal and demoralising that I was certain that id be heading home early. Skiing had become a task rather than a hobby and freezing on a mountain whilst being taught how to stop was mind numbingly boring at times, but at the end of the fifth day it all became worth it, and now I can look back on that week as a worthwhile challenge completed, and as a certified ski instructor.