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.

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. ยป

How we conceived of MySnowPro?

AlexIzzy.JPGA few years back, in 1991 a great friend of mine, Matt Dukleth told me, “Jon, there’s this thing called the internet… If you get an idea of how to use it, give me a call…”

A few years back, in 1991 a great friend of mine, Matt Dukleth told me, “Jon, there’s this thing called the internet… If you get an idea of how to use it, give me a call…” I called him a few years later, April 10, 1995 to be specific. I was a fully certified instructor by that time. There was so much I loved about skiing, and in particular ski instruction. I love the feeling of minimal resistance, endorphins, wind, sun, and snow. The freedom of skiing from a mountain top, has only been equaled by surfing the north shore of Oahu. Exhilaration that cannot be found in most walks of life. Something everyone should realized when skiing is that the same rush can be experienced skiing or riding a green run, as others may feel from a mountain top. The SAME RUSH (with slightly different scenery).
Now what if I could share those feelings with people who meet me on a random winter Tuesday? What if over the course of a few days or years we become friends and get to share the passion of this sport and lifetime “moments” to remember each other. I have been blessed to do so with many individuals and families. Some of which I see every year, and some I have not seen or heard from in many years. It is a shame really. But I do remember nearly everyone who enjoyed a breakthrough in my company.
What if there was an easier way to keep in touch? Email certainly brought that to many. Now physical letters are a novelty. They are still fun to send, and highly recommended as well. However, with a quick calculation I figure I have skied with approximately 7000 students in the past 15 years. And as much as I would love to keep in contact with them, it would be an impossible task.
In 1995 I called my friend Matt, we created Skipros.com. The idea was unique. Indeed, the first of its kind. A way for a student to choose his/her instructor prior to taking a lesson. Don’t let the ski school randomly select an instructor for you, especially during a peak holiday period. Skipros.com allowed the lesson taking student make an educated decision. That was important. It also allowed top instructors to showcase their talent. The problem. The information was fixed. A few brief blurbs, some bio information,but static. Good, but not great. It wasn’t interactive. I would tell instructors and ski school directors, “There’s this thing called the internet…” They would say, “We are instructors” or “We teach skiing, we don’t program computers.” However, a few instructors understood the idea. More students understood the idea, as they tended to use the internet (at least at work).
Payment systems were cumbersome. I turned into a programmer, accountant, bill collector, etc. None of which are my strong suits. I loved skiing, teaching, and helping. I wanted to assist others improve: instructors and students. So after a few years, I let Skipros.com go. SP.com is on the Island of lost toys. Playing with the Jack in the Box. A good idea that never matured.
However, a few months back I was talking with a friend, Gregg Davis, a former AASI National Team Member (one of the elite 6 for snowboard instruction in the country). He told me he had been working with Moveable Type. A blogging software that could be managed as easily as using email. Add pictures, movies, articles, thoughts, etc in just a few minutes. The wheels started turning again. Several websites were using this type of technology in other fields. I enjoy using www.realmoney.com .
I started asking questions. Gregg mentioned, anything is possible with enough time and money. (He’s good like that). We started asking the questions from the perspective of: How would I like to communicate with ALL of my students? How can I keep a relationship with them throughout the year through newsletters and timely postings? And as importantly, How could my students easily and quickly see what is happening in the location of their next ski destination? What is the weather really like? Where are the best restaurants? Where is the best snow? What are some technical ideas for skiing? And what is going on with my pro?
Hmmm, the search may never fully end. But here is my current solution.
MySnowPro.com or MSP as I call it.
The instructor can add articles, individual pictures or entire galleries of a student/family’s stay, fully customizable blog categories, automatic archives of all posts, video, automatic monthly e-newsletters sent to all registered students (no charge to register). And the student can subscribe to the instructor’s RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed right from their browser, or receive emails alerting them to a new post. Whew, that’s alot..
We are packing as much in as we can. And we continually ask, what do we want as working professional instructors? How can we offer our students more?
And the cost to any instructor, less than a small gratuity. That is it. What is it worth? Use it for a year and find out.
This is my dream site for a working Ski and Ride professional and with those who they share the love of the sport.
Use it and enjoy it.
To your success,
Jon L.