A Good Lesson Is One Where The Student Comes Away With A Positive Feeling.

[Editor Note: Pat McCloskey is a Level III PSIA Instructor and a wicked, good skier and teacher, according to his friends.  This article is his response to last week’s Taking A Lesson At 72.” Fun Fact: A past subscriber survey revealed that almost 40% of seniors intended to take a lesson during the ski season.  What has your experience been?]

Have you ever taken a private or group ski lesson and come away disillusioned at best, or disappointed and dejected at worst?  Many people who do shell out their hard earned cash only to be the student of a ski teacher who is ill prepared to guide the client to success.  As I ride the chairlift at many ski areas during a season, I see students off to the side of the trail with the instructor pontificating and often I see the same group still standing there on the next chair ride.  The comments I hear are focusing on what the student or students are doing wrong in the eyes of the instructor instead of focusing in on an exercise that will allow the student or client to be successful.  An experienced teacher will see how a student skis, research by listening how they learn, and then create an environment for success by guiding them to a discovery that allows for improvement. Instead of intimidating feedback which puts the student on defense, a visual explanation of the benefits of a wider stance has more merit.

Frequent correspondent Pat McCloskey with Lake Tahoe this winter.
Credit: Pat McCloskey

A good lesson is one where the student/client comes away with a positive feeling that they have learned something, and the instructor was in tune with their particular needs by way of good feedback and encouragement.  A good instructor can immediately see opportunities for improvement that can be remedied via a bag of tricks in the repertoire of a seasoned instructor.  For instance, I had a friend recently who wanted to learn how to carve a turn.  He asked, “What am I doing wrong?”  Rather than telling him that he was rushing the turn by rotating,  and shoving his heels out in a skid to complete the turn, I focused on asking him to try to engage the new downhill edge early with ankle pressure.  I told him think about rolling onto  the new edge and gradually flex the associated ankle with the new edge.  Think of it as a fulcrum where complete flex is 10 and upright is 1.  Then gradually flex 1-10 and focus with your mind on that new edge.  Voila!!!  The lightbulb went off.  I said, don’t be in a hurry to complete the turn in the old skid defense manner, rather take your time, ride it out, and let the downhill edge engage early, pressure it, and finish the turn with the tips rolling uphill to control speed. A pressured ski in reverse camber will turn itself. The inside ski basically goes along for the ride with the center of mass following the turn shape. The radius of the turn controls the speed. I gently explain, I show them, then I ski behind them and coach them. They get it. They smile. The lesson is a success because of the focus on the positive instead of the negative.


  1. Where do you teach?

    • I am basically retired from teaching, Stewart. I spent some time at Sugarloaf in Maine teaching after college. I then spend 34 years teaching visually challenged folks at Seven Springs Resort here in Pa. until I suggested that they need new blood. I kept up with the PSIA Clinic requirements to maintain my certification until they granted me a lifetime status at 40 years. Any teaching I do now is kind of ad hoc when someone asks me. But other than that, I am retired.

  2. Kathy Graves says:

    Good article. The last 10 years of my 20+ years instructing was spent at Chestnut in Galena, Illinois. One of the major things stressed to us was exactly what you talked about — bring out the good things and build, build, build on that.

    It breaks my heart for the student if I happen to hear and instructor put down a movement. Too often it reflects on the whole ski school.

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