Becoming a skier. Perfect Turn at Sunday River.

It has been my privilege to walk amongst giants.  People who changed their part of the world.

Legend has it that once upon a time Ed Joyce took a ski lesson with Rik Dow.  At the end of the session Ed asked, ‘Why is it that you can take six or eight people skiing, teach them all the same thing, and, maybe, four or five of them will be able to do what you taught?’

Perfect Turn was born as the two men and, later, Lenny Hurrell and Bob Harkins dwelled on the question.  Why do some learn and others not?

Basically, the answer that evolved was that people taught others the same things they had learned in the way that they had learned them.  ‘Follow me!’  ‘Do what (more likely an Austrian ‘vat’) I do!’  ‘No!  No!  Not that; this!’  The flaw, as highly trained educator Ed supplied, is that people learn in different ways.

Perfect Turn began as an investigation of how people learn plus the almost-inherent skills they have and the relationship of each of these to the physics and mechanics of bodies sliding across snow on narrow strips of wood, metal, and plastic.  Les Otten, owner of Sunday River in Newry, Maine, provided the space and finances for it to flourish.

I was lucky to be hired in its infancy.  In its second year of use many of the kinks were out, part of the staff and all of the training staff had begun to embrace the new methods.  I have never known or taught any other way.

As an education graduate I was already familiar and accepting of most of the teaching concepts.  Techniques, materials and goals may change, but the human mind works much as it always has, and the only variations are the understanding we have of the process.

Because the most fundamental of the education principles was that we start with what the learner knows and move forward, on an individual basis rather than teach everyone the same thing in a pre-packaged lesson, we changed the language.  We ‘coached’ rather than ‘taught.’  We were ‘ski-pros,’ just as there are golf-pros and tennis-pros to be hired for help in those sports.  Our department was named Skier Development rather than Ski School.

We were radical in the industry, and met with a lot of opposition from those who taught traditionally.  There were special preparations when one of our pros was attempting Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) certification.  One speaks the language of one’s examiner. One looks for flaws to fix, not skills to encourage.

At my first regional meeting of PSIA I listened politely for quite some time as others disparaged the ‘big resort that tries to impose.’  Eventually, I had to defend.  I stood up and explained that I was a member of that ‘big resort’ (not a fraction as big as it became), and our goal was to teach in the most effective manner possible, not impose anything on anyone else.

We prevailed for two reasons.  First, because the education principles of Perfect Turn were superior.  Second, because there were so many Perfect Turn people who joined the ranks of Examiner and official of PSIA, that their influence was overwhelming.  Reading the Children’s manual, I could hear the voice of my first Training Coordinator, Maggie Loring.  She wrote the book, and it was what she had taught me in my first years.  Perfect Turn was not imposed.  It simply was a method that worked.

There have been major changes in technology.  When I started, skis were long and straight.  We altered what we taught when very short skis became available for teaching beginners, and when Elan changed the entire shape of the ski in the early ’90’s.  How we teach has not altered.  We teach the next step to each skier depending upon their current abilities and their goals.

Some things are gone.  Sunday River stopped using ‘Skier Development’ several years ago.  It was too confusing to guests who were looking for a Ski School.  Perfect Turn is no longer a separate method from PSIA’s.  Much of the substantive individual skier-oriented concepts are ingrained after over 20 years, and younger instructors, those in their mere 40’s and 50’s, are doubtless unaware of the struggles of long ago.

I have been privileged to walk amongst giants.  Because of choices made at various junctures, I am not a giant, myself.  But, I am content with my role of Old Female Elephant.  The one who remembers.


Genie Jennings

About Genie Jennings

My blog, as my life, is composed of many interests. Because you are reading this, we must share at least one. They are divided into categories, so you can easily find others on our mutual topic. Also, you can avoid things on which we might diverge. Things labeled 'genie' are general life musings. When I took up fly fishing in earnest, I was struck by how much it was like skiing to me. It is an intricate activity that is easy to enter, and the more one knows, the more one realizes how little one knows. My comment was, "I would love to have something I love that does not require so much effort." I immediately knew that was not true. It is the striving that makes things valuable, and it is the striving that is life. I am evolving; I am becoming many things, a skier, a fly fisherman, an irrationally self-reliant human. I am becoming 'genie' whoever that might be.