it is the most important moment in any lesson, and the tricky part is that after all you have said and done, every student still has to reach the breakthrough on his or her own. But you can certainly lead the way. “You have to be a psychologist, a mentor, a teacher,” J. T. Thompson, a master instructor at Colorado’s Winter Park Ski and Ride School, said of all the different skills an instructor must use to help a student achieve a breakthrough. A Level III alpine and Level II telemark instructor, Thompson said the biggest hing to remember when teaching for a breakthrough is not about conveying the mechanics of a certain skill, but focusing on coaching, and giving the student room to experience all of the incoming information and sensations as they occur. “It’s about empowerment,” Thompson said. But don’t worry if you lack a master’s degree in transpersonal counseling. There are specific strategies an instructor can use to bring students to their own personal breakthroughs. Of course it all begins with a strong foundation in the fundamentals of teaching skills and mechanics, but a class can take a much more esoteric turn from there. The key? Build up students’ trust in you and then start to lead them in a direction where you are confident they will succeed. “It should be more about the student’s experience than what the instructor is telling them,” said Earl Saline, the professional development manager for PSIA-AASI. “I call it ‘independent study.’” All of this seems to go against the grain of instruction. Teaching without teaching and students learning on their own? Yes, the breakthrough is like some type of Zen koan. Listen up, grasshopper: As much as it is about the student, bringing on a breakthrough starts with rethinking your role as an instructor as well. When the students begin laughing about
Holly Anderson has students take on
super-powerful alter egos
complete with silly superhero names.
their names and acting like their new alter
egos, they can sometimes fool themselves
into riding like superheroes.
Establishing The Mindset
It’s important to remember that many of us did not start skiing or snowboarding
with a lesson. We simply went to the hill with some friends in high school, rode the
lift to the top of the mountain and were told to “just try it.” Or there was a “breakup
moment” when your significant other took you up, told you a bunch of things that
didn’t make sense, and then left you to your own devices while he or she headed off
Level III snowboard instructor, examiner, and Big Sky (Montana) Public Relations
Manager Chad Jones started that way. The first time he went out with a friend, he
spent two hours suffering on the mountain and by the time he was done he hated
snowboarding. Of course, it is precisely at this most vulnerable phase that an instructor
can really make a difference, but only if he or she has some empathy for the student’s
state of mind.
“Especially when it comes to beginners, they are doing something very foreign to
them,” Jones said. “No matter how good of an athlete they are, you strap them to a
board and it’s going to feel foreign. But once they trust you, you can tell them, ‘I know
you can so this. We are going to step out of your comfort zone a little. But I know
you can do it.’ What you are really trying to do is help them remove their own doubt
And one of the best ways to do that is with visualization and humor. Holly Anderson,
a Level III snowboard instructor and examiner at Mount Snow, Vermont, has students
take on super-powerful alter egos, complete with silly superhero names. When the
students begin laughing about their names and acting like their new alter egos, they
can sometimes fool themselves into riding like superheroes or at least laughing enough
about themselves that they loosen up on the hill.
“Making it fun can boost the comfort level,” she said. “Sometimes they come to
those breakthroughs because they get out of their own heads. When they imagine
themselves as someone else, they don’t hold anything back.”