The Art Is In The Learning

Phil Smith, Director of Snoworks Ski Courses discusses the art of learning.

Imagine suddenly being able to ski slopes you thought were impossible. To cope with ice, bad visibility, fresh snow, steeper terrain and bumps. The good news, it’s all possible, you just need to learn how to learn.

To become a good learner you firstly need to understand ‘how we learn?’. It may seem a pretty obvious question with a pretty obvious answer but it’s not. Many people think to learn something you go for a lesson and get some instruction. Instruction is not learning it’s verbal information given to you by an instructor, coach, teacher, trainer. Yes, it can aid and help learning but it’s not learning, it’s information, albeit it may be good information. You can spend thousands on instruction but not learn a thing. You can listen, enjoy and gain lots of information but may not actually change how you ski. The big step in learning is firstly to become a good learner.

There are many models of learning and we’ve taken one from David Kolb, called the ‘Experiential Learning Cycle’ and adapted it to how we help skiers to learn at Snoworks. I’ve changed some of the words to make it more appropriate to skiing.

The learning cycle goes something like this:

The first stage in becoming a good learner is to commit to doing something, to have a go. This single first step is massively important and in itself is a huge step. Many adults do not fully immerse themselves into ‘having a go’ preferring to know what the outcome will be before they do it. Playing safe, sticking with what they know. They buy into the idea of improving but are unable to commit fully to the process. This in itself is a major block in learning. Being afraid to have a go can be caused by many things. The fear of the unknown, the fear of not doing it correctly, the fear of feeling embarrassed, the fear of injury, the fear of not being good, the fear of failure.

To ‘have a go’ requires an acceptance of the result whatever it is, good or bad. It requires an acceptance of a huge variation in outcomes and the acceptance of making mistakes, doing it wrong or being embarrassed.

You may think this is passing all the responsibility over to the learner. This is true to a certain extent but the instructor/coach is massively involved. We can help set the tasks, match the task to your current ability, make sure you are not out of your depth but challenged enough whilst still feeling comfortable. We can help you maintain focus and make sure you are fully aware of what it is you are actually having a go at. We can keep you motivated and help you believe in yourself and guide you in both learning and skiing.

It’s an exciting time but can also feel slightly scary so you need an instructor/coach who you trust implicitly. At this stage the ‘task’ is everything. It has to be just right in order for you to have the confidence to ‘have a go’. It may be your first descent down a Red or a Black run, tackling some ice, a few bumps, a steeper slope, your first steps in off-piste, or your first attempt at tackling a couloir.

Selecting the right task is critical and you need to get good at it to become a good learner, which in itself is part of the learning process. As your ability to learn gets better and better you’ll begin to recognise your level very accurately and select appropriate tasks accordingly, pushing yourself just the right amount.

See ‘It’s All In The Goal’

The next stage in learning is to be able to accept the outcome of having a go. It’s unlikely that having a go will suddenly result in a light bulb moment but it may. You’ve had a go at something you’ve never done before. So the first thing to recognise is the difference. It’s new, maybe even scary, it may feel different. This in itself can be a bit unnerving and if not careful it’s easy to retreat back to the known, back into your comfort zone. At this stage you need to accept what happens when you give it a go. This stage is quite divergent in nature, meaning there may be many things that can happen as a result of having a go and if you block them all off and retreat to the known, no learning will take place. Your mindset is critical, you need to be open, free to new sensations, free to new experiences. Don’t label things as right or wrong, good or bad. They are all experiences and the wider the experiences the better.

At this stage so called mistakes are a vital part of the learning process. Everything you experience becomes part of your performance, part of you. The more varied the outcomes the more learning will take place. An all encompassing mindset must prevail.

See ‘Mistakes, What Mistakes?’
See ‘Going Divergent’

With time your learning can come more and more divergent in nature. You’ll accept more and more sensations and more and more ways of doing things. This is key in becoming a good skier where the environment is constantly changing.

See ‘Go Open’

The next stage is an important one. You need to invent your new self constantly. Have a new purpose. In skiing you will ski differently and feel different, you’ll ski with a different purpose. You need to take the stuff that resulted in having a go and begin to use it to develop the new you. This is where the actual learning takes place. Everything that you have done prior to today becomes part of the new you and what you do today becomes part of the new you tomorrow. Constantly moving forwards, DOING, ACCEPTING, CREATING. You become the inventor of yourself in a constant flow of change, nothing is ever the same.

You need to recognise that no two turns are ever the same. Each turn, each run is unique. Every experience is unique, every day is unique. You need to embrace this concept so your skiing becomes as diverse as the mountains themselves.

All that I am, all that life has made me, every past experience that I have had is woven into the tissue of my life. I must give this all to the new experience. I must put everything I can into each fresh experience, but I shall not get the same things out if it is to be part of my progressing life. I integrate each new experience into the next experience giving rise above my old self.
Mary Parker Follet

You must now begin to apply the new you. USING stuff that has resulted from DOING, ACCEPTING AND CREATING and applying it. It’s an exciting time putting to use the new skills and matching them to the terrain and snow conditions. Searching out new terrain that previously was beyond your ability. You can see just how far you’ve come and recognise the changes.

You’ll need to understand the difference between judged and measured performance. A key philosophy in Snoworks teaching. Judged performance is someones opinion. “I like the way you ski”, “I don’t like the way you ski”. Measured performance is objective. You’re skiing more in control, travelling faster or slower, tackling more difficult terrain, coping with ice, bad visibility or fresh snow.

Moving from judged to measured performance brings learning into your own hands. You know that you are improving, you can feel it and sense it yourself.  This doesn’t mean to say instructors become obsolete they can be even more involved in the learning process. Your aid, guide, library of knowledge, motivator.

You begin skiing places you never thought possible. Ice, bad visibility, bumps, steeper slopes, narrower pistes, fresh snow, crowded slopes all become part of the sport. You no longer search for terrain that works for your skills. You search out terrain where you can apply new skills and match them accordingly. Every run is a voyage of discovery, you’ve arrived at a very special place where nothing is ever the same.

The ‘Experiential Learning Cycle’ is random, chaotic and unpredictable. You do things you’ve never done before. You’re able to try things without worrying about the consequences. You no longer feel worried, concerned, self conscious. Learning becomes exciting and it becomes the main focus rather than the result. The result becomes the consequence of learning.

As you become a more accomplished learner you’ll begin to take more and more responsibility of the learning process yourself. The decision making will move from the instructor in the early stages of learning to yourself in the later stages of learning. But this doesn’t make your instructor redundant. The instructor is even more involved in learning. The difference is you are firmly in charge of the learning process. You’ll enjoy learning more than ever, openly accepting everything that comes with each new experience. The joy will come from each new experience rather than repeating the same old experience. The cycle ‘DOING, ACCEPTING, CREATING, USING’ will become the norm.

See ‘Expand Your Learning Capabilities 10 Fold’


A Testimonial
“The Snoworks All-Terrain Ski Course with Emma Carrick-Anderson transformed my skiing. 
I am 45 and have been skiing (badly) for around 10 years, firmly stuck on the blues and reds and rather grateful to get down them safely.  After undertaking the All-Terrain Ski Course with Emma, I am now truly an all-mountain skier.

I have just returned from a long weekend in Argentiere where I have tackled every marked run in the Chamonix area with ease and in complete control, popped through the trees and into the powder bowls and skied off-piste from the top of the Grand Montets looking for the best snow and the most fun.

With Emma’s instructions ringing in my ears I have had the tools to tackle hugely differing conditions from piste to powder. Skiing after a Snoworks Course is truly a different experience as you survey the mountain looking for fun and good snow, confident in your ability to rise to the challenges of the terrain.

I can’t recommend the Snoworks Ski Course highly enough, it totally transformed my skiing in 15 hours!  I am never balking at a piste marker again wondering what obstacles it will throw at me down the mountain, I am an all-terrain skier!

Thank you Emma.” Fabienne Durrant
Now an All-Mountain Skier

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