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We All Have A Limit

Posted on
November 11, 2023

Hi everybody and welcome to another post. Right then, time to talk about skiing. The clocks have turned back, the days are getting shorter and chillier; Christmas adverts have appeared, the first skiing World Cup race has taken place on a glacier in Austria: there's no denying the fact that winter is on the way. Brilliant. In fact, snow has been falling across the Alps recently, check out the webcams on the official Méribel website, doesn't it look great? As ever, all photos featured on these blog posts have been taken by me over the last few years.

Pre season piste preparation, several winters ago.

I've recently been in contact with a few of my ski instructor colleagues and I'm also receiving more enquiries for ski lessons. With these occasional reminders of the sport and career, it's nice to get excited about teaching again - and of course, doing it on snow! If truth be known, I've been reminiscing recently about previous lessons and reminders of clients. There are many many happy memories. But I've also been doing that self-analysing thing where I'm wanting to make sure that I'm doing my best to deliver sessions which are the best they can be.

With my regular clients, it's always great to catch up with them every year. It's wonderful to see them continue their development from previous sessions. The focus includes helping skiers build their confidence and improve their technique, along with guiding to new pistes in the vast area of the 3 Valleys.

If I am with new clients, the sessions start differently. After an introduction at the meeting point I try to gather enough information on their standard and confidence level. This will enable me to select a piste where we can start, along with which ski lift to take. The information-gathering on my part continues on this first ski lift ride. it's really interesting to hear what people have to say about their skiing, and their holiday. At this point, do I start planning the lesson?

Skiing underneath the Cascade chairlift above Val Thorens.

Not necessarily, but it gives me a good starting point. At the top of the ski lift, it will be time to ski off and do that 'ski instructor thing' of looking over the shoulder to observe how they ski. Sometimes it only takes a couple of turns to see what's going on; sometimes more turns are needed just to double check that there's consistency in their movements. It's not only 'areas of improvements' I'm looking out for, but also what is going very well (because this is important to recognise). Quite often there will be a list of improvement areas that I've identified, and my job is to prioritise which topic to start with.

The process then evolves with education, practising, reappraising, and so on. It will include using different terrain, and skiing at different speeds. What I find fascinating is that as soon as one 'area of improvement' has been mastered, the list which I had originally spotted at the start of the session will shrink significantly, how cool is that? Let me give you an example. When a skier can do with calming their steering, any niggles with balance often automatically disappear. Their balance could've been all over the place due to rushed and ineffective steering. Or, if I prioritise fine-tuning someone's balance - which then improves - this will benefit their steering and they will feel more relaxed. A double whammy. Love it.

But let's go back to that very first phase of the lesson. When a skier first gives me feedback about their skiing, one common thing I hear many times over a winter is this - "When I'm skiing on a nicely groomed piste, and the sun is shining, it goes really well. But in bad visibility or on steeper, or icy pistes it all goes horribly wrong." Does that sound familiar? I reckon it does. What's being described here is where people find their ultimate limit with their current skillset. Going over this limit is where their performance breaks down. They are now well out of their comfort level. We all have a limit. Whether you are a green piste skier gaining confidence, an intermediate cruiser, a black piste junky, an aspiring off-piste powder bunny, or even an experienced ski instructor, we all have a limit.

What happens when we reach this limit, or tipping point as I sometimes call it? Our skiing quickly gets panicky, very defensive, and possibly even aggressive. Defensive skiing can result in doing a series of rushed skidded turns. I compare this to when driving a car, and having to making harsh braking actions before a corner. It's not a relaxing way of travelling, whether controlling a car or skis! Having rushed, skidded turns makes controlling your line down the mountain more challenging. Skiing defensively might mean leaning back, this is a topic that most people are familiar with and will be aware that's sub-optimal. But once we've tipped over and beyond our limit, leaning back can be an unpleasant consequence. There are other defensive reactions, but I won't go into them now. So how can we try and avoid reaching this limit?

The legendary 'Grand Couloir' black piste towering above Courchevel 1850.

One of the best ways is to keep tweaking and fine-tuning the basic skills, the nuts and bolts if you like. The good news is that these skills don't have to be complicated. The sooner we can get these skills more automatic, the more chance we have of staying the correct side of our limits. I'm not trying to be negative and say we can't get rid of our breaking point (I'm not convinced this is possible - due to the nature of the sport - unless we become a World Cup athlete!) What I can encourage you to do though, is to nudge that tipping point further away from your daily skiing. The further we push it away, the more enjoyable our skiing becomes; the more relaxed we will feel, and the mountain will open up to us. That's a great thought isn't it? So how can we do this?

With education from a trained professional (ie not from a mate who has watched Youtube skiing videos), focused practice on appropriate terrain, further observation and reappraisal. And then repeat. Remember, 'We All Have A Limit', but we can nudge it further away.

My mate Slippers J nudging his limit further away.

I have to say it's been lovely writing about skiing again. I hope you've enjoyed it too, especially seeing some of these tasty photos of skiers with whom I've skied over the years. I personally can't wait to get skiing again, with recent webcam images getting me more excited. I return back to Méribel in just over two weeks time, and the ski lifts are scheduled to open on December 2nd in just over three weeks. I'll try and post before driving down, so do keep an eye open. In the meantime, and as ever, don't forget to Live With Passion. Martin.

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