Multiple Levels in One
Lesson? Oh My!
By MARK AIKEN; photos by SHERRI HARKIN
What two words inspire fear in new instructors, give experienced instr- uctors headaches, and
keep managers and supervisors awake
at night? Hint: The words represent
a situation that nobody wants; yet
all snowsports professionals have
Give up? The answer, of course, is
the dreaded “ability split.”
We’ve all been there. For example,
in a never-ever group some students
inevitably pick skills up faster than
others. Or in a class of parallel skiers
half the group will ski aggressively
and the other half as timidly as mice.
Splits even happen in private lessons; a
family of five will book one instructor
even though all five of them ski at
different levels. Whatever the situation,
all snowsports professionals run into
ability splits at one time or another—
and if you haven’t yet, you will.
Thinking back to my first season as
an instructor, I recall a trainer going
over a beginner progression. You
teach them this, then this, then this,
she said. They gave me my first lesson
and everything was just like training—
except that only half my students could
do what I taught. Already in my very
first lesson, I had a split. What was I
supposed to do now?
As my career has progressed I am
sad to report that I continue to see
ability splits in my lessons, and—woe
is us—in the lessons of colleagues. In
Some students learn faster than others.
fact, I have seen more lessons with splits
“Everyone is different. And you want
to allow people to progress at their own
rate,” says Alison Clayton-Cummings.
She’s the assistant director of the
snowsports school at Stratton, Vermont,
as well as an examiner and member
of the Eastern Division Advanced
Children’s Educator (ACE) team.
What is this? An examiner advocating
for ability splits? To some extent,
she is—at least in that she sees nothing
wrong with individuals progress-
ing at their own rates. “You’ll often
end up teaching mini-clinics within a
lesson,” she says. This way, students
are challenged but not held up.
Those that aren’t as skilled don’t get
pushed too much. Lessons that are
truly student-centered will require