Even experts can improve their turns, in skiing, life
Whoever believes you can’t teach an old dog new tricks ought to see my husband ski.
Erik has been skiing practically as long as he’s been able to stand up. We have a picture taken about 40 years ago of Erik and his dad. There’s Erik, 2 years old, standing on a pair of baby skis and rubber boots, with his proud ski instructor dad looking on.
In other words, Erik has been skiing a long, long, long time.
As a kid, winters for Erik meant ripping around Buttermilk Ski Area with his buddies, tearing through the trees and flying off jumps. Erik ran some gates along the way, and liked to run downhill – the need for speed and all that.
Erik entered some freestyle skiing contests in the ’70s, when he got a little older. Those who didn’t yet know what a bad back was or what torn knee ligaments felt like would smash their way through tight, unforgiving bumps, tossing in tricks along the way like a helicopter (a 360-degree jump) or a backscratcher (jumping while bending both knees, thereby sending ski tails into the jumper’s back). It was the ’70s. There weren’t a lot of rules.
Through the years, Erik, like his dad Ken, taught skiing too – first at Snowmass, and for the past couple years, at Sunlight.
When you spend your whole life skiing, when skiing comes as natural as walking, it’s assumed you automatically know everything there is to know about the sport. But last month, Erik decided to try for his Level 1 certification with the Professional Ski Instructors of America.
In the U.S., it’s up to individual ski areas whether they require instructors to be certified by PSIA in order to teach skiing. Being certified means an instructor has met the current standards of skiing.
Level I involves passing a three-day, on-mountain instructor clinic and a written test. Beyond that, instructors can go for Level II certification and finally, Level III, which basically means you’re a ski god or goddess as the case may be. All certification levels require attending update ski clinics on an ongoing basis.
Erik was sure he knew how to ski before he showed up at Sunlight for his first day of his clinic. That wasn’t the case by the end of the day.
“I thought I knew how to ski,” he said after that first day, “but I don’t. I have no idea.”
This was earth-shattering news. Here was Mr. Straight-Down-the-Mountain, admitting he didn’t know how to ski. Could there be a turn in my husband’s future? Could there be two turns in a row?
For starters, Erik had to let go of some old skiing standards. Being one of the last holdouts for long, straight skis, he had grudgingly switched to a pair of slightly shaped Dynastars but they were still 203 centimeters, a huge step down from his previous 210-cm, straight Volkls.
By the second day, Erik knew even less. But now he was trying an even more radical shaped pair of 164-cm Volkl Carvers, and learning how to carve by taking a wide stance, tipping his ankles over and letting the ski do the work. He talked about upper body placement and proper pole planting that he had been doing wrong for probably 35 years. He couldn’t stop talking about this new sport he’d discovered.
“I thought I knew everything about skiing,” he said after Day 2. “I don’t know anything.”
On the last day, Erik passed his written and on-mountain demos. But more important than that, he was in essence an old dog who learned some new tricks. Hearing him talk about his renewed interest in skiing, it made me start to think about how easy it is for all of us to assume that just because we’ve been doing something a long time, there’s nothing left to learn. How untrue.
I always remember a story my parents loved to tell. My best friend in elementary school, Lisa, decided to try out for the school band. She decided she’d take up the clarinet. She had her clarinet and her case that she’d take everywhere. She’d practice. She’d go to band and practice. The band would give school concerts and she’d play.
One day, Lisa was over at our house without her clarinet. My dad asked her how the clarinet was going.
“Oh, it’s finished,” Lisa said. “I finished the clarinet.”
My parents always thought this was hilarious that Lisa had that kind of mentality about her clarinet. You play it, you learn about it, you’re done with it. But how many of us figure we know everything there is to know about our pastimes, our families and our work? It’s actually pretty invigorating to discover we’re never finished learning about anything – be it how to ski, how to play the clarinet, or even, just how to be a decent human being.
Erik and I went skiing the other day. And this time, instead of seeing a blur of a figure flying by at Mach 2, I saw a guy carving and arcing turns. And this time he was only going Mach 1.
Carrie Click is a Post Independent staff writer. Her column runs on Tuesdays.
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