PSIA Nordic Fall College Experience

22 01 2015

PSIA Nordic Fall College Experience
Dec. 13th and 14, 2014
Anne Borland

Winthrop photo

Nine hours of dry roads and 50 mph tail winds flung me up I-5, then northeastward deep into Washington’s Methow Valley, an unusual drive for December. After a nights camp in an apple orchard above Lake Chelan I approached hwy 20 in northern Washington. Summer fire burns could still be detected for miles through the
meager light dusting of snow. At a remarkable bakery in the small town of Twisp, I stopped for a caffeine fix and admired the locals in their stylish winter garb. Eleven more miles up the road I arrived at my destination, Winthrop, famous for its 100 plus kilometers of world-class nordic ski trails.

These amazingly groomed trails travel endlessly along gentle creek sides, steep rolling hills and intimate scenic viewpoints. From the commonly seen bald eagle’s perspective, the winter valley is quiet and speckled with stark silver barked aspen and cottonwood trees. With an extra day before the event, I headed to a trail to warm up and test out my rusty ski legs. I needed refinement but was grateful for my running workouts. The snow was thin and the locals looked concerned about the winter economy. I spied a well-orchestrated clan of ski instructors practicing their trade outside the Nordic lodge as I skied past.

The PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America) ski clinic lasted two days and each day offered 2 clinics with a lunch break between. Saturday morning I participated in a skate clinic with the focus on movement analysis with Brett Alumbaugh, a level 3 PSIA instructor in anything and everything nordic or alpine. Although I’ve taught nordic classic and downhill skiing for many years, skate skiing is fairly new to me professionally so I choose to improve my skating fundamentals for most of the weekend.
Bret was excellent at sharing the concepts of movement analysis by modeling the do’s and don’ts along the ski track, initiating peer discussions and creative presentations to teach effective movement patterns. I skated away from his clinic having learned proper body alignment as the terrain changes, powerful poling propulsion through proper hand positioning, the benefit of a full leg extension after the push off and the relaxing of that leg to bring it back under the body. There was much discussion on what was new in theory and practice with skating and classic techniques. For instance, fully extending the arm behind your hip and waving as you release the pole from your grip is no longer encouraged as it seems to have no actual benefit. I also enjoyed new
creative approaches to helping students stay in solid dynamic athletic stances while moving along varied terrain, such as skiing like you are four inches shorter without leaning forward or breaking at the hip. A game usually played with kids, but also a hoot with most adults, is ‘try skiing like an animal’ – penquin, monkey, eagle or
gorilla to discover which animal is more likely to be successful on skis and why. Using movements that arealready universally understood are always the easiest ways to teach skiing.

Saturday afternoon I studied ‘the Art of Teaching’ on classic skis with friendly and highly energetic Phil Armiger. I enjoyed his warm up game “follow the leader”, even if the leader skis in crazy circles. His drill teaching effective poling was nice to discover with a partner- you position your arm in various bent positions and push down against their resistance until you find the power you desire.

AspensSunday morning I skated with Steve Hindman, a phenomenal skier, author and PSIA Nordic Demo Team member. Our topic was ‘games for teaching skate skiing’. Of course we had a swell time playing with the toys dumped from his bucket. We pulled each other along with ropes to teach edging concepts for propulsion or breaking. We skated pushing balls with hockey sticks to flex into low powerful athletic stances and threw balls around to work on just about everything else.

On a flat wide surface we had a friendly competition through an obstacle course where we slalomed around cones, made quick step turns around even tighter cones and then tried our best to ski backwards through the finish line. We had fun and we were finally warmed up. Steve also presented a new drill about skating laterally with a wide and aggressive leap skate movement where the tips of your skis should contact the lines you draw down the outside of your corridor. I had trouble understanding the drill’s purpose and other clinicians seemed to waver when explaining the value of it. I have more to learn.

My last clinic topic was about mastering skating downhill and through corners, facilitated by Bret Alumbaugh. From this session I skied away primarily with large bruises on my butt, but I did learn a few other things. One, that I need to work on this with more forgiving snow. Prior to the crashes, Bret did a fine job watching us ski
uphill and making suggestions for improvement. Some common problems were the over twisting of the upper body while poling uphill. Correction would be to not plant the pole too far across the front of your body and think about using the poles for timing not propulsion. Another problem was to break forward at the waste when
skating up a hill, ideally we should keep the shoulders hips and feet stacked and leaning at the same angle, and appropriate for the angle of the hill. Practicing skiing uphill without poles can help remedy this.

I wish I had one other day to ski with other ski professionals such as Don Portman, the Owner/Director of the Sun Lodge ski shop and the trail developer responsible for the amazing local nordic trails. Also Kevin Van Bueren, the patient and graceful professional skier who helped me tremendously in the ski shop. Kevin went to great lengths to properly fit me with classic skis that worked well, and in the end I failed him by unintentionally driving home with their rental boots. Of course I mailed them back.

PSIA is introducing a new teaching model for Nordic skiing. Its purpose is to develop and strengthen the core fundamentals foremost in students prior to focusing on perfecting timing or power. Even so, the physical act of skiing is very fluid, people learn in many different ways and as instructors we must be flexible with our approaches. This was the most important lesson. The learning never stops for anyone, including the best professionals. Enjoying and employing new ways to be an instructor and share your knowledge is the key to keeping you fresh and effective. And of course, most of us have learned that the most powerful learning comes directly from our students, so let’s embrace it and enjoy the process!

This opportunity was made possible through an instructor development fund and scholarship offered through the city of Eugene’s River House Outdoor Program. Thank you for investing in your instructors and our future.

Anne Borland
PSIA Ski Instructor
Recreation Specialist, River House Outdoor Program, City of Eugene
Instructor, Outdoor Pursuits Program, University of Oregon

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