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Reducing the Leap of Faith in Ski Instruction

How many of you have seen the movie, "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade"? If you have, think back to the scene where Indy is approaching the secluded and well guarded cave housing the holy grail. After defying death in several traps, he finds himself at a seeming impasse: a bottomless chasm separates him from the grail. The instructions from Indy’s father were to take a "leap of faith". Indy hesitates for a moment, and then, trusting his faith, he steps out into the chasm. Miraculously, a camouflaged pathway is revealed, leading Indy to the cave with the grail.

In the context of the movie and its message, the requirement of absolute faith to reach the holy grail is an uplifting idea. However, as ski instructors, we should not require our students to have such faith in us in order to reach their goals.

An important factor in your success as an instructor is your ability to determine what the students desire from their ski lesson, and how to get them to their goals. However, equally important in your success as an instructor is your ability to reduce the "leap of faith" that your students must take.

Even if you are teaching the most effective technique you know, and you’re breaking it into small and easily assimilated steps, your students don’t necessarily understand how your lesson activities will meet their needs, especially if different skiers in a group have expressed different motivations. If you don’t expressly link your lesson activities to your students’ motivations, then you are asking your students to take a "leap of faith" and trust that at some point in your lesson they will reach their own grail, on the other side of the chasm.

Rather than hoping your students will step into the chasm, it’s beneficial to reveal the camouflaged pathway at each step as you proceed through the lesson. Students are more likely to participate enthusiastically in your lesson if they know how the activities relate to their wishes for the lesson. The following workshop should help you learn to relate your lesson activities to student desires in a concise and informative manner.

First, write at least three activities that you often perform during a lesson. Second, write three diverse student motivations that you may encounter in a lesson. Then, you are going to write a brief sentence or two, explaining to each student how the task meets their motivation. Here’s an example to get started.


In beginner lesson, step skis from fall line to a complete stop in both directions.

1. I want to ski on the mountain with my friends.(M1)
2. I’d like to learn better technique. (M2)
3. I need better control when I ski - I go too fast and crash. (M3)

Relating the activity to the motivations…
M1. "To ski with your friends on the mountain, you need to be able to change direction, control your speed, and stop. Stepping your skis to a stop in each direction combines all of those in one task."
M2. "Good ski technique requires that we are able to transfer balance from one foot to the other to make turns. That’s exactly what we’re practicing here."
M3. "If you want better control when you ski, then you need to know what to do to slow down and stop. That’s what we’re learning in this exercise. When you practice this, see how far you have to step your skis until you actually stop sliding."

Now, it’s your turn!