Renewed hobbies aligning with goals. Summer 2013

P1010219Summer started a bit late in Breckenridge, CO. The summers are relatively short at 9,600 ft, so we try to make the most of it. P1010622This is time to rest the body, or at least get the feet out of ski boots. But with my mind focused on skiing and teaching I look for activities which carry over passion and fitness into winter. I would like to credit a friend of mine, Lindsey A. for helping me remember how much I enjoy two activities, Mountain Biking and Photography.

I keep 10% of my income in a jar(literally) for education, and another 10% for “passions”. Well, let’s say those jars have been somewhat depleted this summer in exchange for tangible items. I am currently the proud owner of a new Panasonic G5 DSLM camera, and a used Santa Cruz Superlight mountain bike. The camera was just what I wanted, and much more than I even knew was possible. My previous bike was a Team Marin hardtail that I bought in 1996. Oh how much more fun Full-Suspension mountain biking is.

At the docks on the 4th of July.
At the docks on the 4th of July.

I have been reading many of my older photobooks, and focusing on the nuances of Aperture priority, and longer exposure shots. There was a time in the “old days” when my wife and I would shoot 40-50 rolls of film a month. That was one heck of a monthly budget item. The ongoing cost is so much lower now. I love the idea of digital for this reason alone. I find the learning curve much quicker in the realm of digital. I have an idea, take a shot, immediately evaluate the results, take a shot, evaluate results. Then go back to the books for more ideas and understanding. Great stuff.

I plan on taking and posting more photos of my students for the winter. I want to find the special and unexpected shots that make my student’s vacations and lesson experiences that much more special.

My passion with mountain biking goes back to when I was 4 and I started motorcycle riding. P1010300I then raced between the ages of 7-11. I rode mountain bikes in college, and then again when I moved to Colorado. However, when I had children cycling took a back seat. Work and helping with the kids consumed most of my time. I started road riding more around 2006. A good way to combat the drop in metabolism which accompanied my mid-30s. I also found that I came back to the ski season much stronger when I spent my summer cycling. Pedaling also complimented my desired skiing movements as well. Plunging a singletrack decent is pretty awesome as well.

As I prepare for the second half of summer 2013, I am grateful that I have found a few activities which keep my mind and body in focus. Keeping physically fit will prepare me for another 155+ days on snow. These new activities will keep my mind sharp for a better quality of teaching.
What are you doing new this summer to keep you growing? I look forward to reading your comments.

And if you have a digital camera, and don’t know how to do this (below), learn how. It’s not that hard, and it is fun.

Why I like dogs more than cats

I have always loved my animals. Dogs, cats, snakes, mice… I don’t know why, perhaps…

My last dog Ansel Adams was a great family companion until his last big hike at 14 1/2 yrs. After Ansel our family wanted to hold off on a canine replacement. We found a cornsnake, her name is Copper. Enjoyable animal, and I still love it when friends come over and my 10 yr old daughter brings out Copper around her arm or on her shoulder. It makes me think I am doing a good job as a parent to have a daughter who enjoys ballet equally as well as skiing, and enjoys her pet snake too. After the snake we found a beautiful kitten from a shelter. It is my son’s cat, and he loves her dearly. Although the cat some times runs the other way out of fear my son shall pick her up and hold and pet her all afternoon. The scratches on the kid’s arms support my claim.

Dog in Breckenridge
Pushing the boundaries of understanding. Lessons from my dog.

I have had dogs and cats since my birth. Terrific companionship. They seem to enjoy my company, even when I am doing something else… like going through mail. Oh wait, our snake doesn’t really seem to care. My cat is actually pissed that I am sitting in “her chair”. But my dog, Pepper sits there with her ball and tug rope about 3 feet from my feet, awaiting any sudden movement. Even if I forget feeding time, she still will jump up and down wanting to play. My cat doesn’t like to go on a run with me, sit when I ask, or pose for a picture. But Pepper is game for almost anything at any moment.

I don’t judge an animal by how well it will obey. My point my dog is completely in the moment, and willing to be in MY moment. As far as I can tell my dog doesn’t give consideration to the poor judgement I made when we ran last week and it poured rain.
We were soaked and cold, yet she is happy to do it all over again. I know that she remembers, because when we prepare for today’s run and it’s starting to drizzle she looks at me with those puppy dog eyes, as if to say. “Really? You remember last time, right?” She may even move back to the door as if to say, “I’m not really into this.” Yet when I take off running she is there by my side. People seem to be only animals on earth who punish themselves a hundred times or more for the same mistake, and who punish everybody else a hundred times or more for the same mistake.

I appreciate the understanding, forgiving, and playfulness in friends as well. And I choose to surround my friends who are aware of my flaws and past mistakes, yet they run with me anyway.

Learning is a partnership, but someone probably should go first
Learning is a partnership, but someone probably should go first

Once the lesson is learned from the mistake a friend may remain aware but doesn’t dwell and rehash the mistake over and over again. When I coach people in skiing, we find an issue, address it, and solve it. We then practice the new movements. I may remain aware of previous tendencies, but I don’t place too much weight on them. We go on to enjoy the skiing, and when a new issue presents itself we approach the learning as a partnership. We have fun with it, we may laugh about it, and we go about our business of solving it and moving on.

I do like the lessons that dogs give me. Even though I love my cat and snake, our dog acts like my best friend. When it comes down to it, Wag more.

What some instructors do on their day off. May 3, 2013 POWDER DAY

Colorado snow was sparse in the early season. It was important to keep the edges sharp and to go with momentum and gravity. March, April, and May provided outstanding snow conditions. I traveled with with my students to a number of destinations throughout Colorado and Utah. But come April and May there was no better place to be than Summit County, Colorado. Most areas closed in April and this was unfortunate. May 2nd was the biggest day of my season. I skied Loveland Ski area. During the course of the day (8am-4pm) Loveland received 22″ and due to the foul (incredibly awesome) weather there were very few people on the mountain. We took laps and laps in low visibility deep powder conditions.

Jon Lawson Light and Deep in Colorado
Light and Deep in Colorado

As often happens the masses missed the big powder day and get there for the day after. May 3rd snow report stated 15″ of new and it was a bluebird powder day. Most of the people headed up to the Ridge and Chair 8 in hope of deep snow. This left me and a good ski friend PSIA Level 2 PSIA instructor from Winter Park, Lindsey Antonio to explore the powder and bumps on Chair 1.

The following video is a compilation of 4 runs we took together. I suggest you bump up the resolution on the video to 1080p and expand it on your screen.

See you next season for lessons at Copper Mountain, or if you go to Winter Park look up Lindsey. Enjoy

Learning and sharing on the side of a Mountain

During my first year of teaching skiing (1988) I rode up the lift with a gentleman around the age of 60. I was skiing at Bear Mountain (formerly Goldmine) in Southern California. It was 7 minutes of my life that could have just as well been a dream. He said to me:
“Do you enjoy what your are doing?” Yes, I love it.
“Are you any good at skiing?” I’m ok, but getting better.
“Do you get paid well doing it?” $5.50/hr… so not really.

He then said, “The last question is the least important question at this time in your life. You will have plenty of time to earn money, if that is what you choose.” “I have spent my entire life earning money. And I have done well growing and selling a few businesses. But you know what I will never have back? The time to get ‘really good’ at some activities that I love doing. That window has closed for me. But it doesn’t stop me from trying :)” We laughed, and then shortly thereafter unloaded the chair. He left me with a hearty, “Enjoy yourself Jonathan.”

I taught and worked in guest services at Bear Mtn for a few more years during winter breaks and winter weekends. Graduated College and then sold a business I had grown during college. The sale of that business financed my move to Colorado, and helped subsidize a few years. I had a list of goals and Breckenridge met most of them. The top of my list: Excellent training staff, many students to teach, and property to buy.

The first year in Colorado I earned my PSIA Full Certification (Level 3). Within 4 years I had become a staff trainer, and by 1999 I earned my PSIA Accredited Trainer status (RMT). I did this for many reasons: Improve my teaching ability; teaching a greater variety lesson levels; and earning relatively high pay for a resort instructor.

I continue to do what I love, and I have taught nearly 20,000 hours of lessons and clinics. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I stayed in California, as I imagine my life would be radically different. But upon reflection I mostly appreciating the people I have met, and friends I have made. Primarily appreciating the things which I have learned and continue to share on the side of a mountain.

My December. Teaching Children with a higher level of understanding.

Colorado snow has been light this year, but the snow making crew has been providing. We have started receiving a few storm cycles in the Central Rockies, and that is helping quite a bit. I’ve been traveling a little for the powder days. Traveled to Monarch Ski Area last week for a day. They have received more snow this week as well. I am looking forward to planning a few trips this winter. Snowcat Trips to Monarch, Silverton, and Steamboat are in order. 

Continue reading “My December. Teaching Children with a higher level of understanding.”

Woodward at Copper – First time experience

I have enjoyed skiing Copper Mountain over the years, And this is the first year I have taught there. As part of my training we took the “Intro” course at the Woodward Barn. The staff of Woodward took us through the process of initiating us the freestyle life of Woodward.

I was looking forward to the experience, yet when I put on my workout clothes and stepped onto the gymnastics floor my anxiety level elevated. Fortunately the experience staff anticipated this as well. We started with a good warm up and stretching. As we stretched, the instructors offered a verbal preview of the session ahead. This lowered the anxiety slightly.

We went through a simple progression of somersault type activities (front and back) on the mat with wedges and multiple instructors to help us improve our technique. The foam pits just off the gym floor reminded us of what was to come. I had a few ideas of what I wanted to try. Front flip, and 360 with a grab were two moves I wanted to complete. I was assured that it was very doable. Before we were to use the trampolines we were coached on entering the pit. Two footed jump and landing in a tuck butt first was our first pitjump. The landing was simple, but I did feel slightly claustrophobic getting out of the 6″ blocks of foam. The next jump off the map into the pit was a either a front flip or a somersault roll. I delayed entry for a bit, unsure if I could do it. I thought, maybe just the somersault into the pit. Fortunately there were other 1st timers doing what I wanted to do… a front flip. I took a big gulp, stepped forward and made a front flip into the pit. When I sat on the foam, I did so with a feeling of accomplishment. My first front flip accomplished.

Copper Mountain here I come

I am looking forward to writing about skiing, ski teaching, and a day in the life of a ski instructor with my students. I was very actively writing a few years ago at Breckenridge while teach mostly upper level lessons and private lessons. 


However the past two years teaching and training staff at Loveland, and raising two pre-teens didn’t allow me the time to do daily ski and ride posts.

This year I moved to Copper Mountain. This was a ski area that I have considered working with over the past 19 years. However I waited until the era of “Interwest” had passed. A real estate development company usually does not provide the best ski experience. However, with new and experienced ownership, Copper (2433 acres) is a “Momma Bear” mountain for me. “Papa Bear” Breckenridge (2031 acres) and the Publicly Traded “MTN” aka Vail Resorts had become spirit sucking place to work. 


 Baby Bear” Loveland (1570 acres) had the small mountain charm with family ownership. Copper Mountain is a family owned by a medium size privately held ski company POWDR. 

Copper is a tremendous mountain with varied terrain (TRAIL MAP). Naturally divided starting from the base areas (Base Area MAP): West Villiage (easiest), Center Village (intermediate+), to East Village (Advanced+). And with the addition of the Union Creek express you can make it from one side to the other with one lift. My favorite terrain for “day off” and upper level skiing takes place in Copper Bowl, Union Bowl, Spaulding Bowl, and off the Resolution lift. I am looking forward to getting a snowcat ride up to the top of Tucker Mountain. Impressive acreage too!

At Breckenridge I specialized in advanced lessons (Private and Group), and Loveland I worked with advanced lessons and staff training. 


At Copper I will be working a variety of age groups, and Group & Private lesson at Copper. And my previous students @ Breck will take lessons for 25% less at Copper Mtn. A relatively large percentage of the students book their lessons in advance at Copper.

This season I will be busy with Certification Training. Specifically I will be pursuing my Freestyle Accreditation, Children’s Specialist Accreditation, and a PSIA-RM Examiner position. I will document those pursuits as well. I look forward to sharing the season with you, and answering any question that you post as comments.

The season has been low on snow, but Copper has an impressive amount of terrain open. Thank you for following the journey.

In Breckenridge before Dec 18th? Here’s the deal…

They say nothing is free, but this is pretty darn close.  If you are able to come to Breckenridge before December 18th.  This is the deal. You can stay in a studio unit at the Grand Timber Lodge for No Cost on WEEKDAYS, and No Cost @ Breck Inn on Weekends.


What’s the catch?  Breckenridge Grand Vacations is showing off their new lodge with a 2 hr tour walk-through Tour of the Grand Lodge on Peak 7 during the stay.  If it seems like a fair trade, just print out the certificates below.
And if you mention my name (Jonathan Lawson) as an owner you will also get a Friends of owners “2-Day Pass” for the Grand Lodge on Peak 7 pools and hottubs. 866.476.2315

Here are the certificates, just tell them you heard it here.
There are requirements: $70K gross household income, own real estate property, and married or have a significant other.
I’ve been an owner at the GL7 for more than 3 years now, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

Simplify your teaching – Improving your skiing by focusing on less

Rules, regulations, laws, and complexity. Since the birth of the constitution there has been no year with fewer laws than the previous year. Simply look at tax law, and realize that there is no one person who knows all the rules. These rules become so complex that it requires a professional to navigate the waters for us.

complex pool.jpg

Today my daughter made up a game around the pool table. There were so many rules to the game that we lost sight of the point of the game. And even though we wanted to play the game, we were lost in the minutiae. We played anyway, and half way through the game she stopped us. Then proceeded to add more rules to the game, as well as adding a new objective. My son lost interest, and I listened and followed along politely. 

“Make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler”    – Albert Einstein
This a wonderful goal for a teacher, or maker of rules.

Copy, Choose, Create
As a teacher of skiing develops they go through these phases of presenting information to their students.  PSIA-RM Document

Copy– New instructors are taught a progression of steps to bring a student from a to b to c. If the instructor runs into a stumbling block they either continue to try to tell the student to try the same thing until the student either succeeds or quits. Or they look around to see what somebody else is doing, then they interpret the movement and share it with the student. And often inefficient movement patterns are created.

Choose– The teacher has a few progressions and quick fixes in their bag of tricks. This level of instructor can teach to several types of learning styles. 
Often an instructor will move through one progression and find that the student will be performing well, yet still in need of practice and mileage. The experienced instructor realizes this is a natural part of learning and is willing to offer modest coaching of existing movements. The less experienced instructor desires to add new movements prematurely, or pile on another progression immediately. This is know as “puking on the student” or “downloading” on the student.  Everything the instructor knows is given to the student. It rarely is beneficial, yet the student rarely realizes that it is detrimental.

Create– This is a first level of mastery in an instructor. It is the ability to draw upon progressions, “tricks”, terrain, lesson timing, movement pools, psychological understandings, etc to customize the experience to the student or class. 
The lesson may or may not follow an order ever shared by the instructor, or it may be a plain “vanilla” progression. The Mastery of this Creation is in the simplicity it is delivered and understood. When a student says, “Wow, nobody has ever told me it that way before.” you can be quite certain you created a special lesson.

The expert instructor has a desire to create, and build simplicity into the lesson. The first few times you create may get messy, it may cause you to backtrack or restate things during your lesson, that is ok. This is part of the process. To accelerate the process, talk with an experienced pro about your ideas, this can help you through your learning process. Most pros are happy to talk shop. 

Simplify, simplify, simplify, but no simpler. There are only a few things worse than teaching “dead-end” simple moves to an eager student. Do the creations translate to movement patterns shared by an expert skier? They should. Even a wedge turn has movements an expert uses.

Jonathan Lawson is an instructor and staff trainer at Loveland Ski Area in Colorado. He has been teaching skiing since 1991, and teaching in Colorado since 1993, and a PSIA-Rocky Mountain Trainer since 1999. He continually works at making skiing easier to understand so that students can ski more.

Wikipedia: Rookie is a term for a person who is in his or her first year of play of their sport or has little or no professional experience. »

Images and elements of “Good” Skiing


When I was training for my PSIA Full Certification (Level 3) in 1993, and Trainer Accreditation (1999) I would watch good skiers for about 15 minutes every morning. Of course back then it was on VHS video tape.  Now you can just bookmark this post and watch away. Some of the videos resembled what I used to watch.

Medium Radius Carved Turns
Short Radius Performance Turns
Performance Mogul Skiing
Skiing Variable Terrain
Great job Jonathan Ballou (Aspen) and PSIA-RM for putting these images together.  To get this type of performance from your instructor, REQUEST a FULLY CERTIFIED PSIA/AASI professional for your next lesson.