The following is an article that was originally written for Edge Magazine, a publication that goes out to every certified professional ski & snowboard instructor in the Western Division and was written from the standpoint of an instructor but if you have any interest in improving your technique or introducing a child or a significant other to snow-sports this article is for you, especially if you live in Southern California. For those of you who only know me as an entertainer, I am also a nationally certified alpine ski instructor and I teach every winter in South Lake Tahoe at Heavenly. If you live near San Diego, you may not know that one of the best tools for skiing and snowboarding is right here in Encinitas…
I only have one problem with the revolving carpet, alpine snow-sports simulator, carpet conveyor whatchamacallit…:
One of the largest carpet ski decks in the world
What DO I call it?
In fact, most of my internal debate while writing this article has been about just that: what is the official name of this thing? The rest is a no-brainer. If you have the opportunity, you should be using this unique instructional tool. If you would like to introduce your children or your significant other to this sport, and you live in Southern California, you’d be a fool not to use this before you go up to the mountain and if you want to refine your technique and condition specific muscle groups before the snow flies… keep reading.
The alpine snowsports-simulating, inclined, carpet conveyor belt is without a doubt the #1 training aid I have had access to in my skiing career. In my personal development as a skier and snowboarder and as a certified snowsports instructor, I can say unequivocally that having access to this machine has improved my technique and hones specific muscle groups more than any other single tool in this sport. For its ability to help me pinpoint errors in my skiing and enable learning in the best possible environment, there is nothing that can compare to it. For instructors, the value of this machine is unmatched on the mountain.
I’m not surprised when I hear resistance from some of my colleagues: that they either haven’t tried it or they can see no benefit from this strange contraption. I myself thought it nothing more than a novelty to enjoy on some sunny afternoon in Southern California when I first caught a glimpse of the mobile deck at a ski expo in Del Mar many years ago. Obviously I’ve changed my mind and all it took was about 5 minutes and a hell of an instructor by the name of Kent Bry.
A few years ago, after completing my PSIA L2 Alpine cert and Children L2 and Senior L2 certs I decided I would like to try out the simulator at Adventure Ski School in Encinitas (near San Diego) and asked the director, Kent Bry if he could use an extra instructor. I enrolled in his instructor training program and was blown away. I figured it couldn’t be very much like “real” skiing but it might be fun when I couldn’t get to the “actual” snow. I couldn’t have been more mistaken about the level of training I was about to get.
After a frustratingly slow introduction to the apparatus (Kent is nothing if not thorough and safe), I was immediately treated to the hideous sight of a hundred of my most hideous flaws, magnified in a huge mirror located conveniently in front of me. I was uncomfortable and clumsy on this moving surface and found that I had to focus intently on my edging, pressuring and steering if I was to remain upright. Conversely, children seem to pick it up right away on the carpet, newcomers to the sport do quite well on the ski deck. Lazy habits I’ve developed that snow forgives are highlighted by the feedback from the synthetic surface. I had to get my weight completely in the front of my boots if I wanted the skis to engage the carpet properly and to maintain proper stance. My legs were burning in minutes and they became chiseled rocks by the end of instructor training. The carpet allows you to ride continuously without stopping; without waiting in a lift line, riding a lift or running into traffic. I took me about 15 hours of training on this carpet to be able to accomplish a true parallel turn, something I’ve been doing for many years on snow. There is no momentum or centrifugal force to help me match my skis. I HAD to flex and extend, I HAD to keep my hands up, I had to pole plant and I had to rotate my legs independently in my hip sockets! If I rotated my hips or upper body, the carpet took me for a ride! This was sort of like learning to ride a bike on a treadmill. Balance was essential! In two weeks I was able to achieve an understanding of feeling of my skis, boots and the fundamentals of skiing like I had never felt before. I began to REALLY UNDERSTAND!
Besides the obvious benefits to my own skiing and personal development, the simulator opened up unique ideas for teaching. I taught children and adults in Big Bear for 8 years and this will be my 3rd year as an instructor at Heavenly in South Lake Tahoe. At a resort, there are many obstacles to teaching that I had simply taken for granted, things I hadn’t even noticed as impediments because they were completely unavoidable, especially for beginners. For instance:
Students often come unprepared for the mountain environment (Clothing, altitude issues, cold, sun, etc)
It is very difficult to communicate to a student while they are focused on a new movement. (edge noise, wind, distance, ear coverings and freak out factor (FOF))
Ski Lifts are hard to use for a beginner (Beginning students must exert themselves ambulating up the mountain until they are proficient enough to take the lifts)
Bulky, cumbersome clothing (hard for them to move and hard for me to see their bio-mechanics)
Difficulty providing useful demonstrations due to distance, noise, distractions, small ski area, chaotic environment, other beginners’ unpredictable movements etc.
Inability of the student to see their own body movements or the instructor for any useful comparison.
Poorly fitted, improper or outdated equipment.
Safety issues on crowded slopes or the environment in general.
Interruptions and constant monitoring for class management make service to the individual difficult.
Some of my PSIA colleagues would say, “That’s what it takes to be a good instructor, you have to be able to surmount those obstacles! You have to have a progression for each situation! You have to be adept at dealing with all of those factors!” and I wholeheartedly agree; however, what if we didn’t have to deal with those issues? Would that allow me to help the student learn more quickly and efficiently? Of course it would! As an instructor I’m not just trying to be efficient and effective in my teaching technique, I’m trying to help the student have fun! A great coach can do this in any environment. I’m not trying to supplant the resort instructor. Imagine being able to prep a private lesson months before the snow flies. Imagine being able to condition your students’ legs so that they are not sore on Day 2 or 3 of their expensive vacation (and don’t miss their second, full-day private lesson). Imagine establishing report with your clients (especially children) in a comfortable, non-threatening environment so that when you get to the slopes, you can move quickly into detailed, personalized instruction. Imagine taking video from a fixed position and providing a crisp picture of movement analysis with cogent audio that they can watch (and share with friends) from their computer or phone. For the price of one lift ticket your student gets to a competent ability level without driving hours to the resort in inclement weather, paying for gas, lodging, installing chains or dealing with frustrated kids (or adults) AND you get to create a continuing relationship for future lessons. You are able to completely prepare your students to be very successful when they get in the mountains and to love this sport like you do. I can’t think of any better way to do this!
I got back on the carpet again this year and worked out all the kinks in my skiing and boarding long before the snow fell. At Adventure Ski the guys are already giving lessons for a month before the resorts are scheduled to open. The students often come back from their vacation and say that they completely skipped the beginner lessons and were put in intermediate classes. These are adults and children who had never been on snow when they came to the carpet! Advanced skiers are coming back and reporting that they can feel what they’ve been missing all these years! Some of us instruct on the simulator AND at the resorts so we’re able to offer students many levels of service that other instructors simply can’t match!
I’m sort of embarrassed to tell this story but it really demonstrates another point. In my own skiing I saw phenomenal improvement, not only in my technique but in my understanding and feeling of how the skis are supposed to work. A couple of years ago I bought a really nice pair of used skis that were in great condition from an amazing instructor and racer in Big Bear. I skied them every day of that season. The next year, after training on the alpine simulator with their fully-adjustable skis, I knew the moment I got on my skis on real snow that there was something wrong! I took a look and it turns out that the bindings were installed almost four centimeters behind the center point! I’d been skiing them for two years and I never noticed because I never knew what it was supposed to FEEL like! Suddenly my skiing was coming together like it never had before and I am so grateful I’ve found such an amazing tool and machine that I can use year-round to refine my technique and keep up my fitness levels for specific muscle groups to skiing and snowboarding.
One last thing: The efficiency of training is unmatched due to the nature of the conveyor. 30 minutes on the conveyor is equivalent to 20 1.5 minute runs on a regular mountain minus lift lines, chair rides or human obstacles! Turn after turn is analyzed by your instructor and yourself in the mirror without ever having to stop. You can hear the instructions and they can demonstrate meaningful demos in a controlled environment. You never have to stop for a lift line so you ski or ride until your legs are burning and quivering!
In short, you’re missing out on your best year ever if you don’t try this machine out! If you want more information, call Kent Bry at Adventure Ski in Encinitas and schedule a training session at 760.942.2188 or check out http://www.adventureski.com and get the jump on everyone else!
Oh and one more thing, if you’re in Tahoe during the week, give me a call or email and I’d be jazzed to take some turns with you and show you around the mountain if I’m not coaching; or, I am available for private lessons through Heavenly Ski School’s website or call 1-800-HEAVENLY or (530) 542-5131 and tell them you want David Patrone to be your coach. Like my ski instruction facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/Learn2Ski
Your Personal Mountain Consultant,