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What We Share - Experiences (3/3)

Sharing an experience is more like sharing food than sharing a toy. When the sharing is over, the toy still belongs to someone. After sharing a bite of food, however, you probably can’t (or don’t want to) take it back. Shared experiences allow all those who participate to establish common ground. Unlike relating an experience, speaking from experience, or even being experienced, sharing experiences puts participants in the same venue. The balance of a shared experience depends on the difference between what I experience and what they experience.




An emphasis on my experience can alienate the guest. An emphasis on their experience can accentuate mistakes or dilute the potential impact of the experience. In order to balance the experience, the following suggestions may be helpful:

1. Construct ways for guests to share past experiences.
2. Relate your past experiences to their past experiences.
3. Structure experiences where guests can access prior experiences as a basis for understanding new experiences.
4. Put yourself in the guests’ position; experience sensations, realizations, and applications with the guests.
5. Make honest and sincere discoveries with the guest (don’t just pretend to discover things in front of them).

It is difficult to remember that sharing experiences is different than experiencing things together. Consider the difference between an ex-college football player and a Chinese foreign exchange student watching the same football game. Both are experiencing something, they are even experiencing them simultaneously in the same proximity. For the football game to be a shared experience, both the player and the student would have to establish a common ground for the experience. For example, if the football player were to discover that the student played soccer and subsequently explained the similarities between soccer and American football, both the student and the player would change their view of the game.

For skiing guests, a field of moguls, steep terrain, new equipment, flexion/extension, and chairlifts categorically represent different experiences for each individual. An unbalanced approach would likely include explanations, demonstrations, and questions constructed from an instructors’ experience. Consider the following instructor centered experiences:

“When I start a parallel turn, I feel my inside leg muscles pulling me toward the center of the new turn.”

“Watch me make a set of turns down this next part and then try to make the same turns.”

“When I was learning to stop, I can remember how bad my legs hurt at the end of the day.”

Before you reject the idea that these statements are less than acceptable, consider each of the same concepts focused exclusively on the guests’ experiences.

“What muscles do you use to start a parallel turn?”

“Ski down to me and I’ll watch you try to make parallel turns.”

“If you ski that way, your legs are going to hurt by the end of the day”

Once again, there may be nothing wrong with these statements; some situations call for activities such as these. The one thing we can conclude, however, is that these are not shared experiences. Meaning, words, and applications of these experiences would be vastly different for the guest and the instructor. In fact, these experiences would exclude the instructor from sharing the guests’ experiences.

Shared experiences provide both the instructor and the guest with the opportunity to re-generalize past conclusions in light of new (shared) experiences. In order for the experience to truly be shared, both the instructor and the guest have to come to these new realizations. The three examples used could become shared experience if they were structured accordingly:

“Let’s both ski this next pitch making our best parallel turns. At the conclusion, we’ll try to describe which muscles we used to start those turns.”

“I’ll ski the first half of this pitch making the turns we’ve been practicing. After I stop, why don’t you ski past me making the same turns and we’ll talk about the turns?”

“Let’s try an experiment to conserve muscles. Which of these turns will save strength?”

After each of these experiences, both the instructor and the guest will have a common experience from which new realizations can be constructed.

Structuring Shared Experiences
A desire to share experiences with guests is only the first in a long series of innovations necessary to creating common ground. It must be noted that instructors will usually have to initiate the sharing process. This is always an awkward moment. Like sharing food, you may never know if you’ll get any sharing in return or if the guest even wants your food. Structured experiences can appear to be manipulative, illusive, and coercive. After all, we are trying to get guests to experience things we already know... supposedly.

Structuring experiences requires pure motives, skilled analysis, and a lot of bravery. Here are a few guidelines:
1. Determine guests’ preconceived notions about skiing in general or the specific skiing skills they are trying to acquire.
2. Search your past for experiences similar to theirs.
3. Address past notions by creating a new experience that will likely cause new conclusions.
4. Avoid treating guests’ individual generalizations as though they resemble other guests you have taught.
5. Allow guests the opportunity to verbalize changes in their generalizations.
6. Review the changes in generalizations frequently throughout the experience.

I remember the class of intermediate skiers who were convinced that they needed to twist their feet to change direction. One of the breakthrough moments in my own skiing came when I was told to stand on one ski while skiing a shallow pitch and simply roll the ski to the big toe side of the ski. I remember how surprised I was when the ski arced uphill. Subsequently, I was told to do the same thing on the little toe side of my foot. Miraculously, the same thing happened in the opposite direction.

I noticed that this class was struggling to keep their balance even on shallow green trails. Like most of you would conclude, I determined that the one-footed exercise was too challenging. Instead, I opted to try the exercise with both skis on the snow: one flat ski and one edged ski. Slowly, the class began to make turns by engaging their skis. What I didn’t bargain for, was the personal realization I made about having a flat ski. I discovered that it took the most incredible effort to have one edged, and one flat ski. There was something natural about edging both skis simultaneously. Subsequently, the class discovered a similar thing. All of them began to match the edge angles of both skis throughout their turns. This example is probably not surprising to any of you from a mechanical standpoint. From a shared perspective, I hope that it demonstrates the power of structuring shared experiences.