Ski slopes: the best classroom I’ll ever teach in

This is the first season I’ve worked on the slopes. After spending a week post-Christmas guiding guests across varied green-to-blue-to-easy-black slopes, all I can think is, “Why didn’t I think of applying years ago?!” My dad likes to crack, “The worst day of skiing is still better than the best day at work,” a saying he probably lifted from a fellow snowchaser on the lift. I’m not entirely sure where I fit into that dynamic, since I’ve been in uniform or in training to wear that uniform for most of the days I’ve been on the hill this season, but I can say that my work involves skiing. Which is pretty awesome. Extreme to the max, even.

I’m now doubly kicking myself for not hopping on the free (imagine that word surrounded by roses and sparkles, if you will) train to SkiPassVille as soon as I moved back to Colorado. My first job after returning to the Centennial State was teaching remedial reading and writing to incoming community college students. And while I have nothing but admiration for the students who come back after years of being away from school and the instructors with stronger guts than I who come back year after year to teach them, I noticed a few differences in attitude toward teachers and students alike that make me more willing to be on my feet for up to six hours in an environment that can range from -10 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit on any given day than stand for two hours in a climate-controlled room.

For one thing, the students (or guests, as Vail Resorts prefers to call them) are given different approaches to reaching their goals. At Beaver Creek, it’s not so much that failure is not an option–the word doesn’t even exist. Even the guest who’s never been on skis and ultimately wants to beat his World Cup-racer father down Golden Eagle, the double-diamond race course, leaves at the end of the day feeling like that goal is within reach. Today the green run from the gondola, tomorrow the groomed intermediates, next year’s vacation the Super-G race course!

At the community college, I was warned that some, if not most, of my students would fail. Bachelor of Science in Nursing? Yeah, nice goal. Too bad you can’t pass this reading class. Granted, most of the students who failed deserved those Fs; no matter how many times they begged and pleaded, turning in zero of the homework assignments wasn’t going to result in a passing grade. But the students who convinced me I didn’t have the stomach for community college were the students who stayed after class, attended tutoring, tried their damnedest, and still couldn’t muster up an understanding of the material. As much as I wanted to give them credit for trying, the standards the state’s community colleges set were unwavering, and as much as it pained me to adhere to them, I knew deep down that I wouldn’t want to be admitted to an ER where my nurse hadn’t been able to puzzle through a basic biology textbook.

Of course, mastering Beaver Creek’s Talons Challenge runs and getting your first shift at a prestigious hospital aren’t on the same level in most people’s eyes. The former is only a worthy career goal for true obsessives like me. For most people, it’s a source of personal pride, an addition to an impressive list of accomplishments already attained in the work and family arenas.

But personal pride must have some meaning for people to keep coming back and aiming for figurative and literal new heights. Which is why happy instructors are essential to the operation.

I don’t mean just the base wages, the tips, the free ski pass, the discounts at ski shops, and the unlimited free classes and clinics that most people would have to pay the cost of a group lesson to receive. These are all great perks, to be sure. But Beaver Creek also cares about its instructor-guest relationships. On one of the last days I was scheduled to work over the holidays, I noticed I was scheduled for a 3-hour private lesson. The notes said I could expect a “4-years [sic] old boy, beginning alpine skier.”

I turned as green as the signs advertising those beginner runs. I work out of the Adult Ski School for a reason. As I’ve mentioned in my other blog, I’m not particularly fond of pre-elementary-school-aged children. With older children, I can ask about favorite sports (a really good conversation-starter, as I can frequently relate skiing concepts to other athletic activities), books, or singers. Once they’ve warmed up to me, I might murmur sympathetically at a story about a nasty teacher or, since my sense of humor hasn’t matured much past third grade, guffaw appreciatively at a fart joke. Young children don’t have the coordination for team sports, usually can’t read, have a limited understanding of music, and would make their parents livid when they chirp, “Mommy, I learned all about farts from Miss Bree today!”

The best-case scenario I could imagine from teaching a four-year-old was my back screaming in agony while I pulled the student down by his Edgie Wedgie while he stared stolidly ahead with a look of bovine complacency. Worst-case was me smiling moronically at parents and other instructors in the area while the kid had a fists-and-feet-flying, top-of-the-lungs-shrieking temper tantrum as I mouthed, “I was only trying to get him to put his skis on!” while the onlookers stared murderously and wondered what particular variety of hell-bound child abuser I must be.

Fortunately, I found out about this assignment two days before it was to take place. I walked into the Ski School desk, voiced my concerns to the indoor supervisor, and was reassured with a friendly, “Thanks for seeing that and letting us know. We’ll put you on something else!” And indeed, I was rewarded with an eager ten-year-old boy who appreciated my lowbrow humor and was game for every suggestion I made.

In a classroom setting, there is no screening. If you and your students clash, you’re stuck with them for fifteen weeks unless they decide the aggravation is mutual and switch out. And even if you and a student bond as people and seem like you’d be great beer buddies, that still won’t prevent you from noticing how few assignments and tests have been completed and doling out the dreaded F. Only this time, you feel like Lando Calrissian for having no choice but to turn your buddy over to the ravages of the Colorado Community Colleges system. In skiing, every day where your guest has fun and learns some new trick, no matter how small, is a successful day.

I’m not entirely sure what lessons ski instruction could give to the traditional classroom. The fact that ski instruction is purely for-profit naturally affects the balance of power–when I phrased my concerns about teaching a four-year-old in terms of the parents not wanting to pay for me to test my possibly non-existent nurturing skills on their child, I’m sure I saw better results than I would have if I’d come in with vague terms of uncertainty. But I can’t advocate for such a model in higher education, since it needs to be accessible to anyone with the determination and drive to attain it. As much as it pains me to say it, with so many other healthy activities out there, skiing is not, nor does it need to be, a universal right.

Still, one would think there has to be a way to make sure the needs of both students and teachers are better met in a traditional classroom. Until somebody figures it out, however, I’ll maintain my office hours on the sweet set of bumps located in Chair 9’s new run, Kestrel.

One thought on “Ski slopes: the best classroom I’ll ever teach in

  1. Pingback: The Break-Up Progression (with Helpful Music Videos) « Not Taken, Not Available

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s