Featured Fear: A Different Approach

Discussion in 'Ski School' started by Pete in Idaho, Mar 20, 2018.

  1. Pete in Idaho

    Pete in Idaho Out on the slopes Skier

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    Here is a somewhat different approach on how to deal with a student/new skier that is fearful. First and foremost, the reader should know that these insights into fear and skiing are not from the perspective of an adventure skier, psychologist, LIII PSIA instructor, or longtime ski guru of any type. This is not "The Yikes Zone" type of writing or thinking. The author has skied for 45 years, is not an expert skier, and taught skiing for only 5 years. The opinions, recommendations, and thoughts regarding fear come from a different source, namely, dealing with fear repeatedly for 20 years as a hostage/crisis negotiator and negotiation supervisor for a major California police department. Ninety-nine percent of critical incidents contain the element of fear. After literally hundreds of hours talking and negotiating with people at crisis situations, the one constant human element portrayed by hostages and bad guys was differing elements and degrees of fear.

    In this example, you have a fearful beginner skier. Can you teach them to ski while they are exposed to terrain, ice, speed, steeps maybe close by? Well, obviously the answer is "Yes," because it is done all the time. What I am saying here is that if you build trust first and follow the suggestions below, your success in teaching fearful students will go up and more first-time skiers will continue to ski and love our sport.

    As a ski instructor, are you doing some psychological profiling? Sure you are, for the good of the new skier. While teaching at Homewood Ski Resort at Lake Tahoe, I recognized that a certain amount of people were paralyzed on the ski hill. First I noticed that men almost never exhibited any obvious fear. They wouldn't admit they were scared if it was the last thing they did. On the other hand, when asking female students what they wanted to learn, I received many and varied answers. "Get over my fear of speed/steeps/ice/falling/getting hurt/not keeping up with significant other" and so forth. It was at this time that I laid out a plan to combat fear for these students based mainly on what I learned in negotiating approximately 250 hostage/crisis incidents.

    Trust

    As a crisis negotiator, persuading someone to give up to the police can seem almost impossible. When a criminal, emotionally disturbed person, drunk, drug addict, or suicidal person is in a crisis, they are often surrounded and contained by uniforms, even ninja warrior SWAT guys. It is a formidable curtain that scares the heck out of people who are acting out, committing crimes, or barricading themselves. Obviously, those who are scared they are going to die do not trust the police -- or anyone else. For a negotiator to talk this person into giving up peacefully, he must first gain a person's trust. Talking and listening to this person, moving the SWAT guys out of sight, and removing the red lights, sirens, police cars, and any other police use-of-force instruments all go a long way in calming, controlling, and containing the incident. Most crisis situations that end peacefully do so with a bond of trust brought to the incident usually by the designated negotiator.

    Although it may be a stark comparison, it's the same with skiing. An instructor can overcome a person's real fear only by beginning the process with trust. Obviously some of these recommendations are hard or maybe even impossible in larger group lessons; they work best in a private lesson or a very small group of, say, no more than three students. It is also preferred that the initial trust development be done in the lodge, preferably sitting face to face. Eye contact during dialogue is the best way to develop a connection between two people.

    The instructor might say, "Yes, I understand your reluctance today, but I want to ensure you that I have your interests in mind and will not take you anywhere that is steep or dangerous. We will do this together, and I need to have your constant feedback on how you feel. It is my intention for us to work together so you learn to ski and we have some fun. Once again, I will not take you anywhere that is steep, icy, or unusually hard. Tell me about the fears you have today, and then we can work together to overcome them." Get the person to talk openly about their fears, and be specific as possible: remember, you are there not for sympathy but for empathy.

    homewood.jpg
    Homewood; photo by Jim Kenney
    Start the lesson slowly, preferably on a flat hill. Have your students move around on one and two skis so they can find their balance and accustom themselves to having boards on their feet. Some ski school hills are great, and your students can't go very far and pick up too much speed; other beginner areas are not so blessed, so be careful and don't place your students anywhere they can get going too fast. It is absolutely imperative that you don't break the trust; if you do, there goes the lesson. Drills, games, technique, and even personality are great but if your students don't trust what you told them, you are going to fail -- and they will, too.

    Trust is something that usually takes time and action to reinforce. Lessons don't always give you a lot of time to establish real trust. It is recommended that you start with the face-to-face meeting and spend at least 10 minutes in it. If you are too anxious to get out on the snow and ski, then control yourself and try to recognize what you are dealing with in teaching this individual. Believe me, if you have a fearful student, the time will be well spent in first gaining their trust.

    On the Snow

    Be observant and watch for fear. A person's body language even on skis will tell you a lot. Leaning back into the hill, stiff legs (bracing against hill), complaining, and verbal reluctance all should tell you something.

    Even explaining the fall line and the perpendicular 90 percent rule to remain motionless on a hill may be the most important thing for a fearful person to learn as they feel stable and safe if they aren't sliding. It may be better to learn sideslipping earlier than normal for the same reason. I once taught a woman to hockey stop in her first lesson, and she really liked the control this gave her.

    Above all, do not violate the trust you gave your student at first; don't take him or her to a steeper or faster area until it is proper to do so.

    Summary

    Recognize and talk to your student if fear is a problem. Your student can tell if you are sincere and convey that you care. Once you make the promise to protect and help your student, don't break it. Word travels fast in ski circles, and if you use this method and are successful, your requested privates may increase. Add trust to your approach to helping fearful students and watch how it works in the student/instructor relationship. It is very soul-satisfying to have a student give you a big hug and thank you for helping them become a skier.
     
  2. AmyPJ

    AmyPJ Let's go! Pugski Ski Tester

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    So, nothing is showing in your post. I really want to make a smart ass comment about taking them to the top of a big white hill and telling them to "just tip 'em and rip 'em!" LOL (referencing the big white screen under your post.)
    Anyway, hope you can insert the link/attachment you meant to :D
     
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  3. Fuller

    Fuller T shirts & flip flops... Skier

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  4. slowrider

    slowrider Out on the slopes Skier

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    Breathe through it.
     
  5. James

    James Making fresh tracks Instructor

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    We have seen the enemy and it's ...
     
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  6. razie

    razie Sir Shiftsalot Skier

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    Time for the Bene Gesserit - Lithany Against Fear?
     
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  7. mdf

    mdf back to being an ordinary Gatheree Skier

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    Fear is the turn killer...
     
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  8. Kiki

    Kiki Dreams are the touchstones of our characters Skier

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    Good post @Pete in Idaho !
    I have taken a bunch of classes this year and have been conquering fear and would agree that trust is at the very top of the list. I've found some instructors seem to want to trick you in to more challenging territory and it is exhausting wondering all day, "after we finish this run what terror will we face next?" It is so much better when the instructor builds and holds that trust, talking things out in advance of harder territory and getting buy in, so I can just relax in to the moment without stressing about the rest of the day.
     
  9. Pete in Idaho

    Pete in Idaho Out on the slopes Skier

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    Exactly
     
  10. Mendieta

    Mendieta Master of Snowplow Moderator

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    Lovely perspective, really, Pete. It also applies to the learner. Build trust in your own skiing. How? Stay away from scary terrain. Ski in places where you are comfortable making a patient turn, in an aggressive stance (centered -- which looks like a forward -- stance). I am working on that, btw. I believe this is the one single biggest impediment for most skiers to get to a good place in our own skiing. Defensive patterns, ultimately based on fear.

    And this brings me to @Kiki 's point:

    Sorry you had that experience! I have worked with a few instructors, and in all cases it was pretty much the opposite. They have always taken me to terrain where I am plenty comfortable. Actually, one of them, at the end of my second season, asked me to promise him to stay away from steep terrain until I get my act together :D Because even in flatter terrain I was leaning heavily against the hill, a habit that came from over-terraining.

    Anyways, back to Pete, nice angle on this topic!
     
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  11. Bolder

    Bolder Putting on skis Skier

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    I think my wife sometimes believes that she is being held hostage by her skis...

    Good article. My wife is making the (agonizingly slow, to me) transition from XC to alpine. She took 6 private lessons this year with a total of 15 days on the snow, and overcoming fear is the hurdle. Next year, I hope, she'll make a breakthrough on that end. Her private lessons went really well; I met her instructor who was a wife and mother about her age (42) and she was really sympathetic and encouraging. So she is making technical progress, but I don't think I'll see any dynamic movements like separation and extension until the fear factor is overcome.

    One problem is that she is, to be honest, pretty clumsy on land. In the past year she's broken her wrist and got a concussion (low-speed bike crash) and ripped a tendon in her finger (Mallet finger; low-speed ski fall). So in her mind, crashing on skis == certain injury. Part of the issue is that she was execeptionally nonathletic as a girl, being raised by a very traditional single mother, she never played sports, team or otherwise. So she didn't learn how to protect her body in a fall or get used to falling in general, identifying temporary pain vs. serious injury, like I did playing football, soccer, bike racing, skiing, general silly kid games etc.
     
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  12. fatbob

    fatbob Out on the slopes Skier

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    /\

    Trust is one thing but the above really resonates with me. The only on snow teaching I've really done is a limited bit of snowboard but the one thing that seemed to free up most students was getting over the fear of falling by learning how to fall safely.

    No matter how great the trust an instructor can't indemnify a student against falls but they can help them embrace the fall.
     
  13. Bolder

    Bolder Putting on skis Skier

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    "embrace the fall" is actually a cool formulation. I can imagine the feeling a bit as the first time I snowboarded, I was thinking, Hey, this isn't so hard (as a surfer/skier). Next thing I knew, I was over the handlebars right on my tailbone! Not even a second to protect myself.
     
  14. AmyPJ

    AmyPJ Let's go! Pugski Ski Tester

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    This kind of goes right along with my fear thread that I started in the fall. It describes me pretty precisely. @Bolder, are you sure your wife and I aren't related? ogwink

    I guess it's as good a time as any to give kind of an update on my fear issues. I've skied a lot of terrain that I panicked on last season, without an issue this season. I've taken baby steps to get there (except at Targhee, where you either ski it or you hike down.) I still do NOT like hardpack steep groomers, or really lumpy bumpy dense cut up snow and moguls for long stretches. My coordination just does NOT do well--as soon as I feel myself off balance, I stop to rebalance myself. I do NOT like the chaos that comes with that type of snow. I'm slowly learning to do better in it, but like Bolder's wife, all I can envision is getting hurt, particularly since I DID suffer a serious injury on skis 3 years ago. Not sure how to get rid of that mental image.

    I was that person who was pushed to be overterrained early on by others. I never took lessons. I was encouraged to GO FAST! GO FASTER! Why are you so slow?! So yes, I developed a LOT of defensive maneuvers.

    I wish I had met and skied with a @Pete in Idaho early on! I think it would have made my ski experience a lot more pleasant and a lot less frustrating.
     
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  15. Nancy Hummel

    Nancy Hummel Ski more, talk less. Instructor

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    Great information, Pete.

    I started skiing when I was 35. I tell this to people that I teach. I also tell them that I was nervous and scared at the beginning. Many people assume all ski instructors have been skiing since birth.

    I usually see instant changes in people’s facial expressions whenI tell them this. I think they realize that it is possible to learn to ski as an adult.

    I think the other part is tha many people must know how to stop or slow down before they are willing to go. If you show them where the emergency brake is, they are much more willing to hit the gas pedal.
     
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2018
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  16. Sibhusky

    Sibhusky Out on the slopes Skier

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    Talking about teaching slide slipping early, there was a woman on a run here that was reclassified from blue to black this season. It's truly a blue run until the last section and then, whoa! From the year it was built I've always said they should just have a helicopter landing pad right there. The reason really isn't the pitch per se, it's that the hill gets scraped and dished out, has a tendency early season to have rocks and roots sticking out, and is a funnel for those coming out of the trees and those that picked this lovely blue cruiser to come together for the last pitch before the lift.

    Anyway, there was a terrified woman standing at the top last week, along with a man who should be drawn and quartered slowly. Why he took this person on this now black labeled run is beyond me. She was at that wide stance, white knuckle stage where they just motor slowly, using the full width of the hill to traverse, bent over. Frankly I don't know how she got down the Ant Hill. The guy just proceeds down the hill halfway, yelling back some useless thing like You Can Do It. I tell her, don't worry, take your time, I won't start until you have plenty of space, this part makes me nervous too. She starts across, naturally runs out of room until she falls on the far, now curling up, side of the run. I ski over, tell her she doesn't really need to SKI the run, just side slip it. (It's eminently side slippable that day, a bit slick, but not rock hard.). She tells me she doesn't know how to side slip!! I ask you, why did this asshole take a person who can't side slip even on a blue run??? At this point, there was starting to be some build up at the top with myself, Slow Obstacle (of Epic fame), the woman, the asshole, all blocking the slope, so I told her to go down it on her butt, and skied to the next section. Yes, I guess I abandoned her.

    But the point is, side slipping is an essential skill that needs to be learned early on. Because, it convinces you that you can still Move. And lots of times that move suddenly becomes the opening to getting a turn going, getting you unstuck.

    PS. In the ultimate irony, as I go down the rest of the pitch, a sudden move from brilliant sun to dark shade coincides with an increase in the lip at the side of the trail, and an edge badly in need of sharpening and aided by my weight being slightly back means my ski loses grip and shoots right out, doing a lovely graceful hip dump onto the snow. The surface is hard and slick, but my head has now rotated to below my butt, skis are uphill. I'm still sliding slowly, with no immediate obstacles in my path. So, I'm hoping to slide to the slough below. I get to it, remove one ski so I can stand up. It takes off for fifty feet, coming to rest on the far side of the trail in more slough. I don't dare take off the other ski in this stuff, and there's not enough slough to stand up. So I slide down the hill on my butt (unexpectedly demoing the technique for the woman I left uphill) until I reach the ski and the loose pile. At which point I remove the other ski to stand, get them both back on and ski the rest of the hill just fine. Slow Obstacle is still caught up with the woman he's trying to help and misses the entire, and I mean the entire, thing. He catches up with me at the lift, thinking I've been waiting FOREVER and it's been 90 seconds. The woman is still on the hill, her "friend" had taken off, hopefully to get ski patrol, and last seen was off to the side with her equipment in a pile. I'm thinking she'll never ski again. And I took home the skis that night to get a file on them.
     
  17. surfsnowgirl

    surfsnowgirl Instructor, Jeep Wrangler driver and winter lover Skier

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    This past season I started focusing on teaching teens/adults and one thing that really resonates with them is when I tell them I only started skiing a few years ago. They realize that not everyone has been skiing since they were 3 so they realize I understand them. Also, as someone who suffers from fear myself I really feel like I can relate to them. We try to do some discussion about fear and confidence in my lessons. One example of fear and the role it plays is my my SO is a good skier but he can make up for lack of technique because he has no fear and a lot of confidence so this gets him down any terrain. I've been told I have better technique than he does but I have fear/confidence issues that can creep up. Fear is a big deal and learning how to cope with it is key.

    I teach side slipping as early as I can as I just think this can be a very necessary skill to have in ones arsenal. .I had a woman who was on skis for the third time when I taught her last weekend and we spent a few minutes learning how to side slip. If you know how to side slip, this can help with fear because you know you can do this if you ever get in a pickle. This is one thing to help with fear.
     
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  18. James

    James Making fresh tracks Instructor

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    Do some backwards skiing too. Helps with fear, plus at some point one is likely to end up in that situation. So at least if you've done some you're less likely to flip out.
     
  19. surfsnowgirl

    surfsnowgirl Instructor, Jeep Wrangler driver and winter lover Skier

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    I love skiing backwards. One of my drills is doing an on ground 360. Falling leaf is fun too. I often start out my never ever lessons skiing backwards and having them ski to me. It makes them feel a little less fearful if they've someone to ski to that will "catch" them.
     
  20. Bolder

    Bolder Putting on skis Skier

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    The first sentence describes my skiing perfectly. I just do jump turns or sideslip or traverse, but I just don't feel fear. However, I do know what fear feels like -- as a lifelong surfer, I've been in really sketchy situations, usually due to a quickly rising swell or dropping tide. It's a horrible feeling, fear.

    I try to imagine how that would feel on blue ski run so I am extremely empathetic to my wife's situation, and if I see someone stuck, I'll help them get down as much as I can.

    Sideslipping is a great skill, for sure, and as you say, the earlier learned the better. Same with hockey stops.
     
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