• Dave Burrows

Where does the confidence to ski come from?

I recently started learning the electric guitar. Whilst I haven’t really got anywhere too far with it, I can play a few songs and a few riffs which I am fairly pleased about, but it has been a useful experience as a parallel to what it must be like to take up skiing.

From my initial steps of buying a guitar and playing around with it to see how it worked, I progressed to finding a reputable teacher, booking in time with him and doing my own research into playing the guitar as well as buying some online resources and further equipment. Eventually I got to the point where I could play a couple of songs but I couldn’t really ‘freestyle’ anything. The complexity of just what was possible with a guitar at some points just blew my mind.

Progress was slow but at the same time it was rewarding to make little jumps of achievement, there were periods of immense frustration where I wanted to throw the guitar across the room.

Why am I telling you this? Well, I have found the process to be very interesting from the point of view of being a learner and also a professional teacher/coach. There are so many things that I have learnt and many similarities I have found from what it must be like to take the plunge and learn how to ski.

Firstly, from a brand new learner’s perspective, it is already a huge step to decide that you want to learn that new thing. For me, it was seeing that beautiful red guitar for sale that mad me decide to take the plunge. It was an object that I wanted and I wanted to learn how to make it play. For a new skier, it might be taking an opportunity of living here for a period of time as an expat or pressure from the family to be on the mountain with them. Whatever the reason, you then are deep into the world of the unknown.

Where do you find information about how to learn to ski? Where do you find a decent instructor? What equipment do I need? Where do I go? Will it be scary? These are all valid questions.

Most of the time, I find that the first place people ask is their friends. We get so many recommendations through our network of happy clients. It’s where around 80% of our business comes from. It’s the same way I found my guitar teacher too.

Then, that teacher should be able to give you the answers to your questions in a thoughtful and considerate way. This is a really important point because as a new learner, you already feel out of your depth so you don’t want to feel like your questions are stupid. You have already made a huge step just by deciding you want to do it and contacting a professional, they have to meet you halfway.

From an Instructors perspective, I have learnt so much about myself and my own teaching just by going through this process of learning how to play guitar. Here are a few of the things I have learned;

1. Too much too soon is not helpful (for me). After a few lessons, my guitar teacher decided that we should spend 20 minutes of a 30 minute lesson going through the science behind pentatonic scales which from what I could see had their basis in maths. I’m no good at maths so this was a waste of both of our time and switched me completely off. If you were to draw a parallel in a skiing lesson it would be like talking about mogul theory to a 3 hour skier for 2/3rds of his lesson.

2. I really didn’t like the teacher showing off. We would be playing a piece and at the end of it, the teacher would go off on some sort of musical tangent, playing something complex and funky, way beyond what I could hope to achieve. Whilst some people may have found this inspirational, I found it annoying and it turned me off. Imagine your ski instructor teaching you snowplough but doing it all on one ski.

3. I’m 3 months into this learning journey and I’m still not sure if I like it or not. It doesn’t speak to me like my other passions of skiing and motorbikes do. I literally think about motorbikes and skiing daily. I don’t think about playing the guitar daily. Is it something that you learn to love? They say you have to try and play every day. Let’s say you have a skiing lesson once a week for an entire season, will 10 or so weeks of lessons make you love it? Do you have to feel the love in order to continue? Where does this passion come from, how much of it gets transmitted to you through the teacher?

So far, I haven’t talked much about confidence. From my own guitar perspective, I feel happy that I have made progress and I’m really pleased with my ability to take something that is brand new to me and run with it to the point that I can make the guitar play things that sound recognisable to other people.

At times in my lessons there were moments where being able to play something made me feel really really good, to the point where I walked away with a spring in my step. That doesn’t happen often in adult life. However, I’m a pretty confident person so the ability to play (or not) the guitar isn’t going to make much difference to my day to day life.

So how is it with skiing? We do have to acknowledge that with a lot of our clients, we do see big changes in their demeanor from the first moment that they arrive and we help them on with the weird boots and carry the unwieldy equipment to the flat beginner area (and get on that scary ski lift). We have to remember that it’s a massive step for the new skier to even be in front of us in the first place. It’s up to us to help carry that big step forward and pass on our love for the sport.

I often say to my clients that skiing is a collection of experience. If you know nothing then that is fine but the following day when you are 3 hours more experienced, you know so much more. The day after that even more so. This isn’t a linear line because as you do more and more the steep line of learning flattens off but the big leaps forward at the early stages are huge and the frequency of those ‘YES’ or high five moments are often. For many, this is confidence inspiring and they often go home and tell their family and friends how wonderful it is.

The other thing about confidence is that it can come and go. In that way it’s something intangible and difficult to find. A common lesson that I give is for our clients who have fallen or had an incident on the mountain that has evaporated this confidence.

In these sessions, we often have to go back to basics and build the confidence back again, explore the three ways of getting a ski to turn and the understanding of how you can use the turn to control your speed. In this way, we are building confidence by filling in that knowledge gap of the basic skiing skills that may have been forgotten. The clients may know all of this from previous sessions usually but having an instructor around to set the speed and build that confidence can work wonders.

I use those ‘YES’, high fives or even client hugs to measure if I am doing a decent job of bringing that confidence to the fore. The frequency that I receive these means that life as a ski instructor is extremely rewarding.

Dave Burrows


SnowPros Ski School


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