Skilful skiing – why watching an expert doesn’t work


Took me years to realise that you will never develop skilful controlled skiing  – or anything else physical – by watching an expert do it, or looking at pictures.  In fact the very worst thing you can do is watch an expert. It’s depressing, because you can’t see what they are really doing.  That’s why on our skiing courses we spend a lot of time on the understandings.

BEX_dispenser pic

Skilful skiing – not learnt by watching others.

If you could learn by watching I could play concert piano like Ashkenazy, and golf like Tiger Woods.  Whereas in fact, I can play concert piano like Tiger Woods, and golf like Validimir Ashkenazy !

Anybody can become a skilful controlled skier. Anybody. It is nonsense to suppose that only “born athletes” (there is no such thing ) can do it. The potential to become a first rate skier does not suddenly atrophy when you get to forty. Neither is it closed off to you if you are born female.  Anybody can do it and it is never too late.  What you need is a better style of teaching and learning than most people get access to. Usually something with a bit less “gung-ho”.

“Controlled Skiing”™ (my book and our courses) synthesises decades of experience in helping capable enough but often secretly slightly disappointed skiers, to overcome previously insurmountable hurdles put in their way by their earlier instruction, (or lack of ) to their becoming the skilful controlled skiers they always wanted to be.  Not necessarily super fast and wild, but feeling happy to be skilful and precise. To always ski in control on ANY piste, anywhere.

When we first begin skiing our rate of learning and improvement is retarded by “The Three Horrible Hurdles”.
1. Bewilderment ( what’s happening? Why did it/didn’t it happen, and so on?);
2. Apprehension ( what will happen if I cannot control this? )
3. And self-denigrating internal dialogue like describing our experiences to ourselves as “hopeless”, “not good enough”, “I ought to be better than this by now”, and a whole lot more.

Recognizing correctly that people want to “get skiing”, the “instruction” method of teaching ski courses, in ski schools, jumps immediately to an exhortation to “follow me, and do what I do”. In my view that is jumping the gun. I understand why it happens, and I think it is inevitable. It will get you started but it is not a method which will in the end enable you to become a skilful all-terrain skier.

Having goals like “must ski a red run by Thursday, and a black run before I go home” is not conducive to skill development and tends to put a cap on long term performance, often referred to as “the plateau”.

This does not work well as a method of learning anything, never mind skiing. What is needed is a three-fold approach – and the first two folds are mental. Most of what of matters goes on in the bit between your ears.

1. Preparation – without proper preparation the mental strengths that will underpin your physical experiments and trials will be missing, and everything you physically do to change your skiing, will be on shaky ground.
2. Comprehension – because  that is what learning is, and without it fear can build up quite needlessly. It is impossible to learn something you do not understand.
3.  Execution – this is the phase in which you “do things” and go out and experiment.

Miss out the first two, and rely only on the last one alone, and your progress will be very quickly halted. You will end-up on “the plateau”. You may ask yourself, when was the last time you successfully brought about a desired change in something you did not understand?  I never did.

You do not have to be young, fit, and glamorous.  I am the proof!

Becoming skilful at skiing does not demand that you must be very young, very fit, or very  glamorous.  I am the proof !  Healthy and motivated will suffice.  Almost all of my pupils on our skiing courses have been middle aged or more.  Almost all of them (over 97%) have transformed their skiing far beyond their expectations.

The typical initial self view has been that “it’s too late to get any good“, or “if only I’d started younger“, or  “I’ll never be as good as that skier over there” and so on.  With only a tiny number of exceptions they have all with me achieved massive improvements in their skiing;  changes in their levels of self belief;  big improvements in their self confidence and tremendous satisfaction from their extra skiing skill.

My pupils have mostly been people who ski for recreation (plus instructors and aspirant coaches), and have been almost exactly evenly divided between men and women.  Folk who always wanted to get better but had not managed to find the best method.  And what is that?   It’s understanding.  It’s extremely unlikely an instructor will help you to understand skiing, because while most of them can do it very well, very few understand how it works.

What we forget is that they are the tip of a very large iceberg.  We only see the ones who succeeded.  There are tens of thousands of others who did not.  The ones we get as instructors are the ones who could do it without understanding it.  So, good skiers though they are,  the likelihood is that they won’t be very effective teachers.

The skiing course model we use at Bobski concentrates on the understandings.  Some of my pupils told me after their first week with me that they had been on the very verge of giving up skiing until giving these ideas a try.  Many of them now spend a lot of their skiing time in the off-piste.  No small number are now better skiers than me.

“Crumpled by the long-continued ill usage to which they have been subjected”.

Almost all my pupils have skied for a considerable number of years, most have attended numerous ski schools in various countries, and been somewhat disappointed that the teaching they received did not in the end help them develop their skiing as far as they had hoped.  It did a bit, but they never really got the feeling of control and mastery they  longed for.

Most of them ended up blaming themselves for their lack of skiing development, (Boy, have I been there!) when it would have been more appropriate to have blamed the system that was meant to help them improve, but failed.

You have every right to believe that you could do truly skilful skiing.  Competent and always controlled. You can do it.  If you have not already done it, then you have not learned in the best environment.  Never believe you are  “past it”.

I am reminded of the observation by the respected geologist, Henry M Cadell, who described certain rocks as .. “crumpled by the long-continued ill usage to which they have been subjected”.

To be a skilful skier, able to ski in control at all times, you just need to want to be.  The key requirements are desire, good guidance, and persistence.  To ski with more control and more enjoyment all you need is a better learning process, which is what my book and my courses are intended to show you. It isn’t easy.  It isn’t instantaneous, but it is simple, and eminently possible.  You could do it, and it is hugely satisfying.


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