From an Instructor: On the Edge, Global Language and First Day Adventures

  After weeks of new instructor training the inevitable first lesson was scheduled.  It wasn't a particularly busy week, and as a new instructor I would be the last to receive an assignment.  I also knew that it would probably be a lower level group lesson if I was lucky enough to get work at all.  Nervous and excited, I took my place at the morning meeting line up.  I thought I must have been early because only a handful out of the dozens of instructors scheduled were at the meeting spot.  I guess I hadn't accounted for two factors:  the ski school holiday party the night before and the two feet of fresh light snow that appeared over night.  Because of these two events, it looked likely that I would get a group!

And I did.  The supervisor on duty led me over to a meeting place I hadn't learned about during training....because it was for a younger age group than I had been hired for.  But I do like kids, and the 6-12 age group of Level 1s seemed like an ideal way to start the adventure of teaching skiing.  I looked at the large group of 21 adults and children and imagined how they would be divided into the groups of no more than six that we advertised to prospective clients.  I also looked for the other instructors that would be splitting the group with me.  After a while, my supervisor let me know that there were no other instructors available to divide the group, they were all mine.

I tried to strike up a conversation.  Unfortunately for the group, my Spanish skills were limited to a poor imitation of an accent while saying "Taco Bell".  And the entire group was from the South America.  None had ever seen snow, and apparently the English speaking members of their group had gone off to ski at other levels.  Also unfortunately for the group, I was to be the only instructor for the whole family (brothers, sisters, cousins ranging in age from 3 to 18....definitely not in my training guide!) and it had begun to snow again in huge, wet flakes.  I'll let the reader fill in the obvious equipment issues (boots on wrong feet, broken bindings), clothing issues (basically not enough for the conditions) and language barrier issues, and I'll skip forward to mid-day. 

The whole group was soaking wet, cold, tired and ready for a break.  Thinking that I could give some comfort to the group, I brought them inside the cafeteria for hot chocolate not imagining the scene inside.  A sea of blue instructor uniforms staked claims with their wet, cold and tired groups who were already settled in with warm drinks provided by their individual instructors (whose groups numbered no more than 6 as advertised).  Somehow, my group had grown to 26 throughout the morning.  Seemed that some of the other members of the family had overstated their abilities and had been demoted to my group.  Heads looked over at my herd, then went back to their conversations.  There was simply no way that my group would have anywhere to sit, so I corralled them along one side of a wall.  One very, very nice instructor took pity on me and abandoned his group momentarily to help me fetch and deliver the hot chocolates.

After the break, I re-evaluated my strategy.  Most of the group could ride the rope pull on their own now, and even though few could stop, they seemed to have a good time crashing into each other at the bottom of the mild slope.  I would stand mid-way to avoid the pile up, and give each one tips as they flew past.  The language barrier?  No longer would it be a problem-the nice instructor during the break gave me a small laminated card with English/Spanish ski word translations. 

I took my place mid-way, and seemed to be making some progress, except for three brothers whose goal seemed to be to get as much speed as possible at the top of the hill and, screaming at the top of their lungs, launch themselves into anything and anyone on the way down.  I looked at my English/Spanish card and yelled out the command to "Stop!!" since I knew they were capable of stopping from the morning portion of the lesson.  Run after run, they continued to crash hell-bent into everything in their path, but at least we weren't getting quite as many stares from the other groups.  I assumed it was because the other groups could see I was taking control by yelling "Stop" each time. 

Eventually, another instructor skied up to me and asked me what I was trying to do.  I explained my tactic, and he said that it was a good idea, but I had been mis-pronouncing "Stop".  In spanish I had been yelling at them to "Shut Up!".  In retrospect, it did work on some level.  The students had fun (quietly), and I learned that sometimes what you say doesn't matter as much as how you say it.

Operations Shots