Mar 1, 2023 - News

Professional help to fix a frightened skier

Two frames of a woman skiing. In the first her skis are turned in. In the second she's leaning forward down a hill.

Erin skiing on week one (left) and week six (right) of lessons. Photos: Courtesy of Vicki Gwin

I'm a "skier" — that is, I go skiing, but I have the clunky technique of someone who learned as an adult and never got good.

  • Basically, I look like a starfish in goggles.

Yes, but: After 15 years of trying — including a 14-year plateau — I'm finally getting noticeably better this winter!

  • That's because I bit the bullet and took lessons.

Reality check: Ski lessons are a big commitment of money and time, which is why I put them off.

  • Even discounted programs for locals cost hundreds of dollars for enough hours of instruction to chip away at the bad habits and fears that adult learners tend to have.
  • My ski friends always had free advice, and surely with enough attempts I could figure it out myself, right?

How it doesn't work: I keep thinking it’ll be like riding a bike, where success arrives in one dramatic moment.

  • That's because when you suck, it looks like there are only two types of skiers: my fellow starfish and the good people — the ones who apparently have discovered the magical feeling of doing it right.

How it works: Instead it's more like learning an instrument, where you gradually improve, and a teacher assigns rising challenges to match your skills.

  • Enter Vicki Gwin, the teacher/accidental therapist/diagnostic engineer who led my group with the local women's program at Park City Mountain Resort.

Zoom in: It took about 15 minutes with Vicki for me to realize I never could have fixed my own skiing.

  • Vicki's troubleshooting was granular for each student as she identified the exact moments in our turns where we reflexively resisted leaning forward and pointing downhill — the two big edicts of competent skiing.
  • She found steep but short pitches where we could try techniques that scared us and discover, "Oh! It worked! And I didn't die!" — a major step for someone who once Wile E. Coyote'd the Olympic women's downhill run.

The big picture: It would be so easy for a ski teacher to preach about "conquering your fear" and chalk it up to cowardice if students don't get better.

  • But getting a skier to recognize their own fear in the fleeting moments of a turn — and creating controlled risks so they can practice managing it — takes trust-building and precise mechanical understanding.
  • Those skills take "years of experience," Vicki told me. She's spent hours in clinics, analyzing movement and learning to tell which corrections make the biggest overall difference.

The bottom line: That expertise is what you're paying for — and what your friends might not be able to provide.

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