So You Think You Can Ski

I can ski. I've been skiing since the age of eight. I can ski a European black run, a Canadian double-black, powder, groomers, moguls, you name it. Yet every now and again I catch myself looking over the edge of a chairlift, watching a ski instructor with envy as he effortlessly glides down the slope. Yes I can ski, but it's not necessarily all that pretty.

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I'm not embarrassed to admit that buying a ski lesson feels a bit like a waste of money. They are often expensive and specialized, and the idea of spending six hours fine-tuning my technique with a bunch of strangers isn't necessarily how I picture a ski holiday. However, when I signed up for the Canadian Ski Instructor Association Level One Course in Whistler, Canada it didn't feel like paying for a lesson.

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Becoming a ski instructor is one item on an endless list of things I've always wanted to achieve in life. I probably put it on the list because it sounded cool, but the more I thought about it, the more interesting the idea of becoming a qualified instructor became. It felt like a stamp of recognition--a bonafide qualification to show the world what a good skier I am.

The setting of my course couldn't have been a cooler one--the host village of the Winter Olympics. The conditions couldn't have been more gnarly--83 cm of snow over the first two days of the course. And the teaching couldn't have been better--apparently Whistler has a pass rate of about 80 percent compared to the national average of 50 percent.

As an advanced skier, it's hard to go back to the basics, which is one of the reasons advanced skiers don't often sign up for lessons. They've done the whole snow plow, stem turn progression, and would rather spend their time exploring the mountain than learning new techniques. But for those folks who thrive on learning, what better way to improve your own skiing than by learning how to teach others.

The main foci of ski instruction classes are a student's stance, balance, pivoting and edging. As an instructor, it's important to master these basic elements and set a good example for your students. This means striping participants' skiing of bad habits and reconstructing their technique. As a result, within the four-day course, every one of the eight skiers in my group had improved dramatically. Old habits finally died as people acknowledged they had to make changes, if not for their sake for the sake of their future students.

Throughout the course candidates are judged equally on skiing ability and teaching ability. In addition to modifying their own form, they spend the entire course scrutinizing the skiing of their classmates. Every time I skied a pitch, not one, but eight instructors were waiting at the bottom to critique my run. As a result, I watched my fellow classmates transform shaky intermediate skiing into text-book turns.

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Ski instruction courses aren't just a step onto a career ladder; they are a great way to polish personal skills and begin to understand the physics behind a sport that we all enjoy so much. I would recommend a Level One ski instructor course to any intermediate or advanced skier. Skiers as young as fifteen can attend the course, and the learning environment is really comfortable. The teaching aspect of the course can also help you develop confidence, and the very nature of the course encourages a social and fun atmosphere.

It's great to finally glance down from a chairlift and not just think, 'wow that skier looks good', but also be able to recognize the elements of his skiing that make him so good.

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