Never too old to relearn / improve your practice.


Last week I spent a fabulous week in Park City, Utah with friends, well sort of. They are all  very much advanced skiers and snowboarders and I, well I guess I was the nervous novice. About 5 years ago I had a fairly unpleasant and rather painful skiing accident on day 4 resulting in some drama à la Greys Anatomy, a first class flight back to the UK (thank you insurance company and Air Canada) and an op on my right knee and lots and of physio. Thankfully after 18 months I gained the full range of ability and flexibility back to the offending knee (by being able to kneel on it without pain, I was walking tall & proudly on it after a matter of days) thanks to the truly fantastic work of knee surgeon and specialist John Hardy @orthoandtrauma  and his physio team at The Spire Hospital in Bristol for which I am eternally grateful.

I’d decided before I even stepped away from the laptop, after booking the holiday in January, that I’d need to have tuition to help me gain my confidence on skis back. I was an ‘alright skier’ liking the challenge of some fun and hairy blues yet still managed to avoid the madness of black diamond runs and off-piste challenges as I quite like life and a fully functioning pain-free body. 

Whilst friends and their children were excitedly snapping on skis and tightening bindings and dashing off to the ski lifts I spent my time with a fabulous instructor who showed incredible, patience, tolerance and never once lost his temper, belittled or made a sarcastic comment about my fears or bad skiing habits. 

Putting myself back firmly in to the learner spot wasn’t an issue as I’m proud to be a lifelong learner however I teach a classroom based subject not an outdoor recreational one. Reading a book or watching an inspiring video and trialling new strategies is great but the practical and physical aspect of being on the slopes learning seemed well actually terrifying. Thoughts of ‘what if I panicked at the top of the mountain’ or  ‘what if I just couldn’t do it’ were circling around my head but I like to consider myself a ‘can-do’ person so as I trudged elegantly across the snow toward my instructor (feeling and sounding like Robocop in my ski boots) I gritted my teeth swatting the negativity away. All I had to do was my best or at the very least to try, as I often say to my students.

My instructor, Wayne, was a delight, his purposeful and carefully planned questions coupled with excellent listening skills would start straight after our morning greeting which would provide the route the lessons and learning activities would take. Wayne has the most lovely manner, always questioning, watching, coaching and mentoring, explaining carefully, demonstrating constantly and encouraging me to go beyond what I thought was my current range. I didn’t even realise how hard I was being pushed as it was done in such a caring, considerate and compassionate way. Wayne has been teaching for over 40 years, skiing for over 47 and it was a privilege to have been his student. His approach of ‘I present, I model, we do, you do, we refine, we extend’ I really liked and is not dissimilar to my classroom approach when teaching Languages. 

As a teacher I talk about smashing through glass ceilings with students so they don’t self impose limits to stay within their comfort zone. I want them to explore new territory and develop their skill set along the way. My teacher, was the absolutely same. 

Wayne allowed and encouraged me to start where I was comfortable (I was slightly perturbed so it was über-newbie, the never-ever start for me on day 1) before pushing me to explore differences between old and new habits, techniques and relearn easier, safer strategies to help me become a more confident, happier and more secure skier. 

Three hour lessons whizzed by and I had a fantastic time learning, improving, developing, re-learning, changing and enhancing my rusty and very nervous skiing style (if it could be called that!) I was utterly exhausted after it but went out to practice with determination and excitement that which I had learned each morning breaking down to fine stages then rebuilding and refining each technique so by the end of the week I could be proud of my achievements and skiing technique. 

I’m far from naturally talented on skis but with careful directed focus and repeated practice, focussing on breaking down movements, bending the boot, angulation, balance, considering posture, correcting Zorro like turns to long, smooth curves slicing carefully through the sherbet like freshly fallen snow. I’ve made progress which I’m delighted about. 

I took a lot of time to practice and hone in on areas which caused me consternation which in turn thankfully made a significant difference the next day. Turning from a gorilla like stance (translation: terrified with ski poles) to confidently (but with a degree of caution) parallel turning and some decent edging.

By the end of the week I’d racked up over 26,400ft which is 5 vertical miles, improved my skills and confidence but more importantly had been able to dissect my performance to see where the smallest change can make the biggest difference, which when I did correctly, absolutely did! To an expert skier it probably doesn’t sound like much but to me it has had a profound effect.

It has been a great week of re-learning. Re-learning the correct and safe way to ski down the beautiful Rockies in Utah rather than ripping up the slopes Zorro style. The experience of this week will stay with me as I venture back in to my classroom and it has been invaluable to relearn from a students perspective. Now once I’m over this jetlag I’d best get saving to get out on the slopes again. 

Image credits: Crista Hazell &