Suggested lesson plans
These plans relate specifically to the sort of terrain that you should use for the various skills and techniques that you wish your class to develop. Blow-by-blow lesson plans, describing progressions to work through and points to focus on come later in the chapter on techniques. Use the information following in setting up your skiing area. Note that it helps to prepare your terrain well in advance, and to avoid using the area until the snow consolidates (this usually occurs after half an hour or more, unless the snow is very wet and the air temperature above freezing).
Flat skills lesson plans
Of prime importance for all flat skills teaching is a well-prepared area, free from distractions and protected from the elements. With the advent of grooming machines, classical techniques can be taught most successfully in the prepared tracks left behind by the grooming machine. If you are able to direct the driver of the groomer to make enough parallel sets of tracks 2 metres apart and 100 metres long (1 set of tracks per student), with one single set of tracks crossing the main set either at an angle or perpendicular (at both ends), you have the perfect teaching environment (see the diagram following).
With the configuration described, it is possible to teach virtually all track-based techniques, especially if the terrain is close to flat. If it is not possible to reproduce this configuration on the flat, then it is important that techniques such as diagonal stride are practised on the uphill, and that techniques such as double pole are initially practised on the downhill. Of course, particularly in Victoria, it is not always possible to 'claim' such a large area to teach such skills, and variations have to be made. Ultimately, the instructor should be in a good position to demonstrate skills mostly side-on to the group, for an extended period of time (enough time to see the technique in a number of cycles), with the occasional possibility of seeing the technique head-on.
A common difficulty is to move far enough away from the group when demonstrating, but the trick is to move the group well back, sometimes well away from the skiing area, and then bringing them back onto the tracks to practise. Another difficulty is in being able to describe the key points immediately prior to the students trying it out themselves. This can be worked around by demonstrating your normal demonstration away from the group, and then completing the demonstration by skiing back towards them, whilst explaining the salient points.
Avoid the overuse of such well-prepared areas, though. By the first couple of lessons the group will be itching to get moving, and in any case they need practical application of their newly-developed skills. Take the group away for a practical tour, possibly returning for further lessons a little later on. Whilst on tour, the perfect opportunity arises for skill development and reinforcement of ideas previously learnt.
Freestyle (skating) techniques require much the same area and terrain, but in this instance your friendly groomer should avoid cutting tracks, and just press the snow. Leave the cut tracks to classical-style skiers where possible - one skating lesson will destroy cut tracks in no time. A distinct advantage can be gained by teaching on a slight slope. Beginner skaters prefer to have the benefit of slippery skis, and a downhill slope will help! As they improve, a skate UP the slope will develop their skills further.
Slope skills lesson plans
Well-defined and bounded slopes work best. In other words, if you stumble across a small clearing that has a higher end (with a small level platform to take off from) an extended slope that gradually levels out with a long, flat run-out at the level end, with well-packed snow all around, you have found an ideal site! Variations on the theme can help: if the slope is flatter at the top, this is an advantage to slower starters, whilst if it gets steep early and flattens out over many metres, then the more timid skiers will stay closer to the bottom of the run.
No matter what you end up with, safety is paramount. A long, adequate run-out area is vital for all but the most advanced skills. Whilst in Australia we do not have the worry of choosing avalanche-safe slopes, it is in your interests to ensure that all 'what-if' scenarios were considered, particularly the question, 'What if my student fell and slipped to the bottom of the slope here?'
Also important is the issue of intimidation and challenge. It is important to find a slope that challenges, but not intimidates (and I mean the students - not you!...). As the students learn and their skill level increases, it is better to move onto a more challenging slope, rather than trying to push their speed or bravado. This is often difficult to arrange in many Nordic ski areas, but obviously less of a problem in lift-served resort areas. Once again, it is important to put it all into context and tour to terrain where it becomes relevant. Likewise, the learning curve is greatly steepened with greater opportunity of repetition over a given run. Find the longest slope that you can and use all of it, from top to bottom! The period spent climbing back uphill (if not using lifts) shouldn't be wasted either. Look to using the terrain and making the upward journey interesting and useful, either by way of a varied path, or with the reinforcement of an uphill technique previously learnt.
The importance of the on-going lesson
For many students, their first exposure to Nordic ski instruction is not their last, and not just because they want further lessons and technique improvements. Many wish to return to enjoy the camaraderie and ambience that the instructor created - providing a sense of fun on the snow that they had not imagined possible, especially through lessons. However, there is a fine, but noticeable distinction between those instructors who see lesson-giving as a way of earning the satisfaction of improving students skills to a basic level, and those who go one step further and encourage students to develop their potential beyond the initial lesson. The former kind are invariably involved to make money whilst having fun skiing, whilst the latter are more serious in their commitment to skiing by wanting to make money for some years to come, and their fun/pleasure comes from the satisfaction of teaching well, not from the (personal) skiing.
Studies have been carried out overseas of the rate of instruction and the rate of skiing ability, in both Nordic and Alpine skiing. These studies have been commissioned particularly by worried resort-based ski schools (mostly Alpine) who have begun to notice a fall-off in patronage. Some interesting findings were discovered, but not all that surprising for Nordic ski instructors. What the diagram (below) fails to point out is the ratio of Nordic to Alpine skiers generally - most industry experts agree that there will be more people Nordic skiing, in all of its various forms, than Alpine skiing by the year 2000. Already, in some larger, traditionally Alpine resorts in Europe, more Nordic skis are hired, sold, and used than ever before. The poor northern winters of the late 1980s (and 1990) have encouraged more people to take up Nordic skiing, since the pistes have invariably been too thinly covered with snow for good Alpine skiing. However, there are many Nordic resorts the world over, especially here in Australia, that will suffer greatly if the predictions of poor snowfalls are realised.
It can be seen by studying the learning curve of most Nordic skiers (see diagram below) that there is great potential for improvement through further instruction. Whilst Alpine skiers learn a good deal very quickly, but then hit the 'intermediate plateau' and stay there forever (hence the reason for many skiers to grow bored with skiing, or bored with the resort that they ski at), Nordic skiers continually learn new skills throughout. One would expect from this fact that Nordic ski instructors would be in demand for all levels of instruction (beginner to advanced). Yet the truth is that nearly 90% of Nordic lessons given in Australia are to beginners, with little demand for intermediate instruction, and virtually no demand for advanced instruction. This begs the question 'Why?'
There is no simple answer, of course, but it is in our interests to find out the reasons and act upon it if possible. Alpine skiers provide a good comparison, although their circumstances are somewhat different.
Alpine skiers experience a very steep learning curve, initially, which is in part due to the limited skill they require to perform at a reasonable standard, and in part due to the sophisticated equipment they use. Another important factor is that they are likely to take more than one lesson to learn those few skills they require to enjoy themselves. However, it is well known that Alpine skiers soon hit a plateau of learning, and make little progression in learning for a long time thereafter. Also, many Alpine first-timers experience a dissatisfaction from their first lesson and never try skiing again. Whilst these issues should be of as much concern to Nordic instructors as it is to Alpine instructors, perhaps we should focus on our own predicament.
Nordic skiers have more of a hurdle to overcome than Alpine skiers, in so much that there is a whole array of skills that they must learn to get about on skis, even at very early stages, and using equipment that is at best a compromise for the task at hand. Nordic instructors are in the unenviable position of having to guide these beginners through a difficult and imposing minefield of skills. There are so many skills to learn to become a highly proficient skier that it is not surprising that many beginners become confused about Nordic skiing and what it can do for them.
Instructors, too, often become confused about what it is that the students want and need to enjoy and learn more about Nordic skiing. Consequently, and with the risk of losing students to some other pastime, there are those instructors who give lessons (crash courses?) comprising every skill known to the world of skiing. To cap it off, these instructors will proudly boast of having taught their beginner students how to telemark (for example) in the first hour, and progressed onto parallels before lunch, leaving the afternoon to have a fun time thrashing up and down the practice slope with everyone. Whilst this may be the idea of a successful lesson to some, it is more likely to be the instructor's idea of having a good time at the expense of those who paid for the privilege of being there.
That is not to deny that there are (gifted) beginners that will learn advanced techniques in a very short period of time. However, to suggest that a lesson such as the one quoted above was of real benefit to all concerned is undoubtedly false.
It is important to ensure that all students have an equal share of success and enjoyment in any given lesson, but it is equally important that they are given the skills to develop their skiing after any lesson. By emphasising to students that Nordic skiing is a continual process of learning new skills through your teaching of the basic building blocks of skills and then reinforcing them, they will benefit for a long time to come. For many students, and some instructors (regrettably), the notion of learning and reinforcing of basic skills to develop more-advanced techniques such as skating or telemarking/paralleling is considered a retrograde step. Yet it happens time and time again that students wanting advanced lessons have to be re-programmed to learn basic building blocks that were either ignored, or worse, badly learned, through being taught advanced skills prematurely, or through so-called 'accelerated' learning methods.
Naturally, because skiing is fun, instructors want to share the fun that students experience in learning a new skill. However, some instructors equate sharing the fun with pushing their own skiing ability to the limits in front of the group, using the pretence that it is good for students to see what they can learn if they stick with it. In this way the basic building blocks are often ignored or skimmed over lightly.
A demonstration of skills that can be attained through further lessons is a great way of finishing off a lesson and stimulating students to come back for more - but only if they have been able to attain the goal of the lesson in question. The skills demonstrated by the instructor should be achievable during the next lesson, and not by the end of two seasons of lessons down the track. This is what the 'on-going lesson' is all about. Learning should be promoted as a constant activity in all things, both sporting and otherwise.
Cynics might say that instructors would be out of a job if they said anything else, but until it can be shown that it is possible to learn all that there is to Nordic skiing in a one hour lesson, it is in everyone's interest to promote the continuation of lessons and skill learning.
©2013 Ivan Trundle
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