A Family Adventure

Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

Winter School

January 31, 2015
Emilie Phillips

We haven’t taught at the AMC winter school since Isaac because it is a whole weekend commitment. This year, a few weeks out, the ski committee still needed another instructor. Tyson agreed to be single parent all weekend and I volunteered to teach. Then a week out, my co-instructor broke her ankle. So I taught introduction to backcountry skiing all by myself. It ended up going well, but I felt overwhelmed at times trying to give the full winter school experience with no one else to help out.

Conditions were great. We had lots of snow with plenty of fresh powder. It was cold all weekend, single digits F. This turned out to be a really good education tool for all the classes. People really pay attention to layering and winter survival skills when it is that cold. We skied 93Z the first day, which is excellent for an intro group, though they couldn’t spot trail intersections at all. The second day we skied out the woodland trail which is a bit harder and showed some holes in my technique lessons the first day. In the end, my students were really happy and felt they had learned a lot.

These are my notes on things to improve for teaching next time:

  • Valerio suggested using the pond instead of the little house hill. That was OK for flat technique, but the hills next to it were not suitable for teaching downhill technique — too short and steeper at the bottom.
  • I spent a bunch of time on flat technique trying to teach them one footed balance because that is necessary for effective downhill turns. But that ment I ran short on time to actually teach turns. At this level the students started with many severe misconceptions about wedging and turns. I would have been better off addressing those.
  • Teaching wedges in powder is really hard. I thought my students were wedging and controlling their speed, but as I found out the next day, they were just going straight and the snow was slowing them down. The powder also covers up the skis and boots so I couldn’t see what they were doing.
  • I should probably teach more map and trail finding skills earlier. That is as critical as skiing skills in the backcountry.
  • The intro snowshoeing group tried a new strategy. They took their students out first thing to give them a brief taste of the cold and then came back inside to discussed layering. They said it made the students much more engaged. I think I want to try something similar. Go out the nature trail, experience some terrain, some route finding, and then come back and work on skiing technique they might use to tackle that terrain, and map skills they would want to navigate.