I had no idea if this ploy was going to work, but I figured it was worth a try. Two of the girls skied with me the previous week, as they participated in one of the weekly community lesson programs for the children in the towns near the resort. They knew each other from school and rode together on the first chair ride. However, I also knew both were willing to ride with other kids as they had the previous week. The other two girls who rode together first run, met for the first time as we waited in line to ride the lift and each of them realized neither had a partner yet.
When our class started, N, the fifth member of the group, was the only student I knew was going to be with me. Her mom had pulled me aside to make sure I would be her instructor.
“N has Asperger’s and can be challenging. She will only take lessons from a female instructor,” she said, as N stood apart from the rest of the group.
When the supervisor and I assured mom N could come with me, N joined the group of ten students that the other male instructor and I would be splitting into two classes. N quickly found an eight-year-old as a lift partner for the first lift ride. At the beginning of the first run, I watched the group ski to determine how to split them into two classes. Five girls, all eleven- and twelve-years-old including N, had equal skills. I had my group.
We took our first run down to the Highlands and the other four girls paired up. I asked N if she would ride with me. She agreed. After that first run, I hoped I could integrate the five individuals into a group. Thus my tactic of asking who was stuck riding with me as we headed up for our next run.
O, one of the girls staying at the resort, seemed to catch on quickly and said, “Oh, I guess I could ride with you.”
We had a nice ride up the lift. I learned about her family. Her brother was two years younger and her sister was nine years younger than her. I told O my family had been just the same when I was growing up.
“Our family is always trying to find a family that has the same age differences and we never do,” she said excitedly.
It seemed to make her feel better that I had once been a twelve-year-old with a three-year-old sister.
At the top of the run, I turned my attention to the girls’ skiing. My morning had been pretty hectic with another instructor and me splitting a group of nineteen kids. My class of nine kids, aged six to nine, primarily wanted to play in the terrain park. The park became the reward for practicing whatever balance exercise I wanted them to try. Now I had to switch gears.
These five were on the cusp between girls and women. We took a run in the park and I gave them some skills to work on. We reached the bottom.
“I’m riding with N this run,” said O.
“I GUESS I can ride with Deb,” laughed M, one of the local girls.
On this lift ride I learned all about M’s parents divorcing when she was three, she and her mom living in two states and five towns, her step-brother, step-sister and her brother, who lived with their dad.
“That’s life,” she said very matter-of-factly, with wisdom far beyond her years, as she shared the stories of her somewhat chaotic life living with relatives before her mother re-married. She also shared that she had been in Level Three and Four for three years and she really wanted to make it to Level Five and ski the upper mountain the next year. When M shared this with me, it woke me up. I had been trying to switch gears from little kids to almost adolescents on the last run. M’s request for help accomplishing a goal hit home.
“M needs the skills to move up a level,” I thought. “And I think N will rise to the level I teach.”
Next run, I really worked the girls. And they all rose to the occasion. They worked just as hard as I was willing to make them work. A couple of them, including N, took some pretty good falls as they pushed beyond their comfort zone learning new skills. They all helped each other up and put each other back together again and encouraged each other as they started to figure it out.
And then CLICK! Each of them started making better turns then they were at the beginning of the class. And they could tell.
Yes, I had the knowledge, skiing and teaching skills developed over decades to help them get there. However, I learned as much if not more than they did, about both life and skiing, in those two hours. After years of ski teaching, I was once again reminded that the teacher often learns as much, if not more, than the students. I headed into the “shop” to put away my gear and wait for a friend who was teaching on the upper mountain.
While I waited, I picked up the October 2012 issue of Freeskier. (www.freeskier.com) This issue was dedicated to Sarah Burke, Canadian, freeskiing pioneer, six-time Winter X Games gold medalist, who successfully lobbied the International Olympic Committee to include women’s halfpipe in the 2014 Olympics. Sarah passed away January 19, 2012 from injuries suffered during a training accident.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I picked up that magazine after my great day of teaching five young women to take their skiing to another level. Sarah lives on in every young girl and young woman, working to take their sports skills to another level.
And I think Sarah probably whispered in my ear, “Come on, Deb, give them your very best lesson you know how to give. They deserve nothing less.”
Thanks, Sarah. You’re right.
Learn more about Sarah, and donate to the Sarah Burke Foundation here: www.sarahburkefoundation.com