by Helen Simpson, Sofa Ski Camps participant, Treble Cone NZ winter 2016
Day one. Video evidence. My illusions of skiing like a professional come crashing down.
The first day of ski school. I’m jittery and nervous. Why? Because I have three concerns: What can I expect? Will I keep up with the others? Will I see improvement?
Gathering at the TC cat club, Klaus the Sofa ski school director introduces us to the instructors and tells us how the week will run. The room is full of people and yet amazingly Klaus knows everyone’s name.
Today our focus is on getting to know the instructor and the group as well as getting feedback on our individual skiing styles as they are right now.
Quite a few people have signed up to ski school this week, all with their own varying skiing styles and abilities. We’ve been put into groups based on our self-assessment or any “demo skiing tapes” we sent through ahead of time: short video clips that have helped Klaus to group people with similar abilities together.
We all head up to the slope to ski with our separate groups, yet all the groups one after another. The instructors compare between the groups to decide if anyone has ended up in a group that doesn’t match their abilities. For me it felt hectic, but our instructor kept us calm and focused on skiing. In the end we had one person swapped in our group and we are now a group of three people with one instructor. We will have the same instructor all week.
We took a couple of easy runs and did some filming for our first analysis. What is it with cameras? As soon as the camera is on you do things you wouldn’t normally. For these first few runs, our instructor was fairly quiet. Most likely he was observing us, taking mental notes on what each of our individual focus should be for the week.
After the first few runs our instructor started taking us through some of the basics. It may seem like a simple concept but it’s easier said than done: a great skier masters the basics on a flat slope and then applies it to skiing the steeper slopes, off-piste and deep snow. We are going back to the very basics this week.
In the afternoon we meet with Klaus. We watch this morning’s videos and analyze our style and talk about our goals for the week. The three of us are a bit apprehensive about the analysis. It’s not a great feeling seeing yourself skiing on screen. There’s no hiding the faults, there’s no denying that you ski too far back, don’t bend the knees enough or whatever else you “do wrong”. There it is on screen for everyone in the group, the instructor and Klaus to see. It’s a bit of a confronting experience. It means you really have to trust what your instructor says. He’s had time to observe us, and he has the video evidence to prove it!
Day two. I know enough to know how much I don’t know about skiing
Frustration. Everything is all wrong. I know where my body is supposed to be at each moment of making the ski turn. So why can’t I get it together? The mind shouts out instructions and yet the body refuses to follow. Maybe it’s the moment of true awareness. I know what I need to be doing. I can feel when I’m not doing it. Yet I can’t seem to actually get to the point of doing what I am supposed to be doing. Confused? So am I.
My group colleagues are also a bit quiet this afternoon. I feel their frustration and perhaps it’s also fatigue. It’s intense skiing 5 hours a day and listening to instructions and advice when you’re not used to it. There’s a bit of information to take in and when you feel like you’re doing one element well some other thing goes wrong.
My colleague told me she dreamt about bananas, that is making a banana C-shape with your body as the basic alpine position. I dreamt about being responsible for sinking a ship. I think this is proof that there are some serious thoughts whirring around in our brains, in our subconscious.
Day three. I might not be ready to be a world class freeskier or a slalom racer but I am ready to grow with my own style
Today words of advice from the first two days really clicked. I started to get it. At times I might be closer to moving in a more “efficient” and “graceful” way. I obviously haven’t changed my ways overnight, but I have some of the tools and some of the tricks of the trade to work on. I am not going to give up on skiing after all. There is hope.
Our group is also getting closer. I think we have a good dynamic going on. We can support each other and talk about our own progress and the progress we see in each other. We are also having fun together! At one point in the day we skied backwards, just for fun, until our instructor whipped us back into line.
Yesterday’s downer is all but forgotten. From our instructor’s perspective we are making progress. He confesses that even he can’t work miracles. Ultimately it is up to each of us to improve our own skiing. The course can give you the right tools but you are responsible for using them well.
This evening we had a socializer dinner. There was a presentation with videos from each of the groups as well as some tips on skiing from the ski school director, Klaus. It was a great way to get some insight into what the other groups have been working on and how they have been going. All the groups are working to the same principle, no matter their level – getting back to the basics of good skiing to erase those bad skiing habits at their point of origin.
Day 4 Confidence is rising
Today passed by in a blur – like one of those small children that always ski past you heading straight-lining it down the slope. Each day seems to pass quicker than the next. How can there be only one day of Sofa camp left?
Our little group has learnt a lot about each other; what drives us in our skiing and what we each need to work on. We’re maybe even annoying our instructor a bit because we now give each other skiing advice amongst ourselves. He has created ski-obsessed monsters! I like that we are supporting each other in making progress with our skiing – it’s motivating and it’s feeding my ski addiction. It’s also about checking up on each other that we’re actually practicing and following our instructor’s advice.
We tried snow-skating today. I’ve never tried it before so it was a strange feeling getting used to extremely short skis. They react much quicker than longer skis and are less forgiving if you haven’t got your skiing body position right. We tried synchronized skiing with the short skis too, but I think we need a few more weeks practice for that to work.
Day 5 How can it be the last day already?
The last day crept up on us. Where did the time go? Today we had our final ski analysis video session and reviewed everything we’ve done this week. We’ve been given a never-ending gift to take with us on our next ski trip: copies of the analysis on video so we can remind ourselves of the lessons we’ve learnt.
The change between the first and the last video wasn’t as dramatic as I was hoping or perhaps even expecting. I think this is because the change in how I felt on the first day and on this last day is so dramatically different that I was expecting there to be some physical reflection of this. But how can you capture a change in confidence and inner strength? How can you really see that the fun grade has increased by a factor of a hundred?
What’s interesting and perhaps the most important lesson for me from this week is that there is no “secret” to skiing. If I was expecting to hear some surprising facts about skiing, the most surprising thing is that the basics are easy – position, position, position. The hard part is getting it right and that only comes from practice, practice, practice. And the week has been a constant reinforcement of what particular aspects of my skiing I need to practice on to improve as a skier for my own confidence and enjoyment of the sport.
On our final run there was nothing in my mind, no overthinking. I was relaxed but also sad. Sad because this is the last time our instructor will be there: looking after us, looking out for us, keeping us in line.
Our group talked about this feeling of sadness, the concern that we won’t have our instructor to help us along the way anymore. We decided to form a post-Sofa Ski School support group and whenever we are skiing again we can contact each other to check in and remind each other not to fall back into our old wayward skiing habits.
Second chances: There was one more chance at skiing together as a group though. The optional heliskiing day. All week I was adamantly against it and firmly told the others that I was not interested in going. When the interested heliskiiers got together at the end of the day, it turned out that if just one more person signed up, our instructor could join the group on the heliskiing day. The pressure! I asked my instructor quietly if he believed that I was ready for something that adventurous. Apparently I was… I have immense trust in my instructor. It’s a complicated trust because throughout the week he struck a fine balance between guiding us through runs we could “easily” do and pushing our limits. So, which one of these things was he thinking when he said “yes you can do this”?
Bonus Day 6. One word: Heliskiing!!!!
Unless you’ve been heliskiing I don’t think you can understand the overflow of happy emotions, the sheer joy, that revisit to your carefree childhood days. That is what heliskiing is about.
I didn’t sleep much the night before, my mind a-blaze, burning through the worst-case scenarios: loose helicopter rotor blades, cliff face falls, avalanches and lost skis.
When the phone call came through early the next morning, the woman on the end of the line said “Just letting you know, we are flying today.” I almost wished she had said “We are NOT flying today.”
Driving out to the helipad station and all through the safety briefing I was in a daze. I was chewing on ginger lollies to calm the stomach and maybe prevent travel sickness, but mostly to distract myself somehow. The others also seemed edgy. Only our instructor seemed cool and collected, but definitely excited. After five days you learn to read your instructor’s emotions too.
Then suddenly a shift. One of the Harris Mountain Heliskiing staff came over and took a photo of us doing our best karate kick and the helicopter flew in and we climbed in. As the helicopter took off all I could think was, “This is magic!” The view was spectacular and being dropped off at the most unlikely landing pad, right at the ridge edge of Mt Esther, and experiencing the mysterious silence at the top of the mountain was a mix of happiness, adventure and freedom I cannot even begin to describe.
The snow was knee deep. It was soft, powdery and there were no tracks in it. Skiing down the first few metres I had to learn to ski all over again. The feeling of the snow is so different to the groomed slopes of ski resorts. And the silence, the endless silence… interrupted only occasionally by a “whoooop!” or a “yoo-hoo-hooo!” from one of the others.
Having our Sofa Ski Camps coach there made all the difference. He was the voice of reason in this magical mountain world. He reminded us of all the things he’d taught us through the week and how we could adapt them to skiing in powdery, deep snow. It was a bonus Sofa day. Here we were in the mountains behind Treble Cone, skiing with a group synchronized by our skiing abilities. Not only did we have our highly experienced heliskiing guide (27 climbs of Mt Everest etc etc), but also our Sofa instructor who had built up our confidence and our skiing technique over the last five days.
Now sitting here a few days after the Sofa Ski Camp my mind is still buzzing from the experience. I went into the Sofa Ski Camp unsure if my skiing would improve. This is because I feel like I have skied and skied on my own and over time I have improved but not at the rate that I would wish. My technique and confidence don’t reflect the level of input.
This course is unique. Where else do you get personal coaching from top-level skiers? : Instructors that have done the world’s best available ski instructor training. They live for skiing, skiing is life itself. Most of them work as ski instructors, examiners of other ski instructors, heliski guides, off-piste-backcountry guides and race trainers. Some are even ski racers themselves.
It could be intimidating to ski with an instructor like this. Their level is so far beyond most people I know, and you might think: why are they back here on the easy slopes teaching me the basic skiing position? But the love of skiing is what shines through and binds us. All the instructors I spoke to are so in love with skiing, so passionate about being outdoors and in the mountains that you can’t help but catch their enthusiasm.
For me: the Sofa Ski Camp had three key ingredients discipline, friendship and common understanding.
Discipline: The coaching is intense. It’s a significant time investment. You are basically one-on-one in a small group setting for five full days straight. You have continuity. You can work on things over the five days, build on the basics and really learn to feel what works for you. You also learn that skiing well is about discipline, keeping your goal in mind. Every turn counts. And whether your slope is flat or steep, you owe it to yourself to ski your best at all times.
Friendship: I’ve made some really good friends. We’ve been through some tough moments, facing our physical limits, breaking through our own fear barriers and encouraging each other. It may sound dramatic – anyone already skiing well might find this hard to understand – but skiing I think has a lot to do with your emotional connection to skiing. If it comes from a place of fear or frustration vs. a place of triumphs shared among friends.
Common understanding: Skiing in a group at the Sofa Ski Camp I was skiing with two others who were my equals. By seeing each other’s struggles and successes we learn from each other. I don’t know how Klaus does it but he manages to group people not only based on their skiing ability but on their temperament and attitude to skiing. Our instructor too was well suited to guide us. He cleverly balanced between explaining skiing concepts and letting us try things out for ourselves. Knowing when to keep quiet and when to offer a word of encouragement or advice.
Combining these three key ingredients of discipline, friendship and a common understanding brought change to my skiing. My head is full of new ideas. The course is like a fresh new beginning and I can’t wait to go skiing again.
The Sofa Ski Camp just keeps on giving. It’s now a few weeks later and I am fortunate to have more time to ski here at Treble Cone. I’m skiing on my own and sometimes with another Sofa Ski School graduate. Whether on my own or with my buddy we mix between practicing the exercises from the Sofa Ski Camp and skiing freely with no thoughts of technique.
My buddy has a ski app which tracks the speed, altitude changes and distances covered on the slopes. My buddy used it throughout the course and now afterwards we are using it together. We’ve been racing down the runs we know well: trying to beat our top speed, seeing how many minutes we can shave off from last run’s time. Since the course and then every day on the slope afterwards we’ve both seen improvements. There was a dramatic leap in confidence just after the course for both of us and it’s now turned into a steady upward trend with each day spent skiing. Even the app with its statistics is telling our success story.
The skier I was before the course and the skier I am now are poles apart. The difference is in the unleashed potential. I’ve been set free and I can take on anything on the slope: be it steeper terrain or deep powdery conditions. I hear my instructor in my head guiding me. He warned me this might happen. I am at ease even when I don’t ski a “perfect” turn. The inner voice tells me how to correct it for the next one.
It’s taken me a few weeks to realize that the Sofa magic hasn’t “worn off”. The lessons haven’t faded. They’ve stayed with me and I’ve taken away a self-awareness that follows me everywhere I go on the ski slope.
To describe what’s happening: it’s like skiing was a foreign language. I already knew how to say hello and ask for a cup of coffee. I struggled through, waving my arms and making myself understood, picking up a new word here and there. The Sofa Ski Camp was like an intensive course in grammar and sentence structure. Now with every new word I learn, I know where it fits and how to build new sentences with new meanings. My skiing has a fluency that wasn’t there before.
What strikes me now, looking back at the course is not the material we covered but how this material has given me the power to improve my skiing on my own terms. I am now my own comfortable and confident ski guide. In these short weeks since the course, my skiing has improved to a degree that I wouldn’t have imagined possible. And I can feel that the gift of the Sofa course won’t be running out anytime soon. All I need now is more time on the slopes!