From an Instructor: Skiing in Australia is a Full Contact Sport


Teaching skiing in Australia is a full contact sport.  Many people aren't even aware that there is skiing in Australia, but it does exist and can be a fascinating experience.  Clearly a different aspect to the sport than I had seen before, the over the top, "can-do" attitude of the Aussies I met there was impressive.  For the most part, the perspective was that nothing was impossible, most of it quite a bit of fun (different definition of fun than I held, but the language barrier is another story) and instructor and student alike were up for pretty much any adventure.

Sometimes it is was hard for me to recognize that what I was doing at the resort I taught at in the Snowy Mountains about four hours outside of Melbourne was the same profession I enjoyed in Colorado, but it did involve sliding, laughing, sweating and occasionally swearing.  A surprising amount of my job also included a high degree of self-preservation on slippery, crowded surfaces, especially when teaching in the beginner area.

Notice that I have not yet used the word "snow" other than in the geographical name.  Later on in the season, most Australian resorts get at least as much snow if not more than most American resorts.  I give big points for the upbeat attitude of the resort I worked for when despite the lack of snow at the beginning of the season, the show still went on-with gusto!  During opening weekend, due to lack of snow, the lifts did not run, but the people still came and a large three day party rallied in the main lodge with the enthusiasm of New Year's Eve in South Lake Tahoe (I know, I've been to both now).  I didn't hear any complaints from the guests who were on their ski vacations without a chance to ski, or from the resort workers without a chance to work, just a lot of goodonyas and smiles.  Goodonya?  It took me awhile, but it is just as it sounds, a way of saying to someone that the are doing a good job.

A little further into the season saw us using carpet indoors to teach skiing basics and later, frozen bushes and mud to slide on while teaching.  The bushes were the best option; they gave a little cushioning during a fall and smelled good. 

It wasn't unusual for snowplows to clear the roads, saving the snow into dump trucks, then depositing that snow onto the beginner area.  True recycling!  A brilliant long time marketing guy at the resort gave a telephone interview with a radio station in Sydney, and when queried about the conditions didn't miss a beat when he said "I'm looking outside my window right now and its dumping truckloads".  He wasn't lying, just being literal.  You've got to appreciate the optimism!

 I referred to populations and conditions in the beginner area that most ski instructors experience fairly regularly, but like a lot of things on that continent, this was to an extreme degree.  Let me offer an example:  it was not uncommon to have hundreds of people teaching and learning within the space of a small Olympic sized pool (often just as wet as one, too).  Once the student learned how to side step with skis on, it frequently made sense to line up corridors one "snowplow" wide, and run loops of students sidestepping up and plowing down with some instructors at the top of the queue to encourage (shove) the next student in the right direction and other instructors at the bottom of the line up to congratulate (catch) the new skier.  It was physical.

The classes of new skiers changed more than once per day, especially with the arrival of the uni's (university student groups on holiday).  It was frequently hard to distinguish who was coming or going, and actually it didn't really matter.  During the busiest times, the best choice was an "each man or woman for themselves" attitude, and pile ups at the bottom of the run were frequently functional since the other option involved careening across the highway to the other side of the resort.  And traffic was typically very busy on that road.

Of course, as caring professionals, we did try to keep safety at the top of the list for our students....and ourselves.  I learned some neat tricks involving poles that give the illusion that you are bigger than actual size and can scare off unwanted predators-just like in the wild.  I also learned how to jump, twist, duck, lean to surprisingly extreme limits that helped keep my students and I alive.  There are ways of untangling bodies that are really something spectacular to see, especially with children, who seem to be made out of rubber sometimes.  I got used to scooping up small skiers, holding them up and "jiggling" them as their legs, arms and skis unwound to point back in the correct direction.  I understand that this image will not be popular with industry execs focused on litigation and fun stuff like that, but trust me, worse things have happened on the hill, and as of that date, the Aussie population was not as lawsuit crazy as Americans.  Again, an attitude we could learn from:  being responsible for oneself.

One of the most impressive images that remains, though, was with a fellow American instructor teaching there that season.  He was not a small man, and had played college football.  Don't ask me what position or for what team, I didn't know then, and my understanding of the game hasn't progressed since that time.  He had worked alongside the rest of us as a human sandbag for many days during a uni holiday and was doing his best to keep a goodonya attitude going to encourage each unguided missile as they came his way, trying to reassemble body parts countless times.  One time too many, apparently.  I looked over to see a very large student who had plowed into me, others, across the road and even into a parked car on previous attempts, as he lined up to "ski" to Matt.  I swear I saw steam come out of Matt's ears as he anticipated this student's arrival (we were all steaming actually, not from anger, though.  It was just that humid).  Matt dropped his right shoulder, twisted down and timed his lunge just right to block like a defensive line backer as the student made contact (I told you I really don't understand football-I probably don't have the player's title correct, but you have the idea).  The impact was beautiful!  The skier used Matt's shoulder to vault up and flip at least once in the air.  The movement was so clean that the rental equipment didn't even come off to hurt anyone around, and both student and instructor seemed to be pleased with the outcome.

I don't recommend trying to teach someone to ski that way, but in a country where they love their "footy" (our rugby), I believe it just added to the experience.  I'm always learning, and contact sports can now be added to my resume.

Operations Shots