For Chris Ericson, director of ski instruction at Belleayre Mountain, life's heading downhill.
Teaching couch potatoes to schuss and slalom (or at least stand up) on skis has been Chris Ericsons part-time occupation for the past 20 years. The director of training at
How did you get this job?
Ive been skiing since I was about five or six. My father would take my sister and me on weekends. When I was a teenager, I saw an advertisement at Belleayre for a ski instructor. So at the age of 17 I tried out, they hired me, and Ive been there ever since.
What professional qualifications do you have?
Im certified through the Professional Ski Instructors of America. The PSIA has national standards that assess an instructors skiing and teaching abilities. Im at level three, Im a development team member, and Im working to be an examiner. Its an intense process, but it makes you a better instructor. It teaches you how people learn and how they think, and how you can get them skiing.
Ive never been on skis before. Walk me through my first lesson.
Once youre set up with the proper equipment, youd come up to the teaching circle area, where all beginners go. We have teaching stations there. Wed start by introducing you to your equipment. Wed do some foot drills or games, so you can get used to the clumsiness of ski boots. Then wed work with one ski on, skating around to the right or left, then with both skis. Eventually, wed introduce a gliding wedge (what they used to call the snow plow), feeling different sensations as we go downhill. At the last station, there is a handle tow, which takes you up the hill a little bit.
Can anyone learn to ski?
I think that everybody can learn to ski. We have a great adaptive skiing program, where we take people who have physical disabilities and get them on skis. I think that shows that anybody can ski.
Does being well-coordinated help?
Coordination is good, and flexibility is important. But skiing is like golf in a way. Just because youre really strong and you can kill the ball doesnt mean youll be the best golfer. Its about finesse, and hitting the ball just right. Its the same thing with skiing: knowing when to turn the skis and having that awareness of your body.
Have you ever fallen while giving a lesson?
How did that feel?
Your body, or your pride?
Both! But its a great moment for your student. It shows that everyones human, and the snow snakes come out and get you sometimes and pull you under.
Whats the thing you like best about your job?
Its great to take someone out into my playground. I love it even more than my other job [as a health inspector].
What is it about skiing that makes you so passionate about it?
Its the absolute freedom. You can go anywhere you want on that mountain, the wind blowing in your face, the cold its wonderful. I love the continued challenges the sport provides. Its beautiful to be out there all the time, especially in winter when most people are cooped up inside or going to the mall. And the camaraderie that you develop with your friends thats nice, too.
What do ski instructors do when theres no snow?
We think about snow. We talk about snow. We watch videos of skiing. And as the season gets closer, we get more and more anxious.
Whats the funniest thing that ever happened to you during a lesson?
I was 17, a new instructor, and working with the kids program. I was going up in the chairlift with Andrew. He was a pretty advanced skier, but he was only six years old. As were riding up the lift, he looks over at me and says, I have to make. And I said,
What do you mean, you have to make? He said it again, I have to make! Being only 17, I didnt know what he was talking about; I said, What do you have to make? He finally said, I have to go to the bathroom! I asked if he could wait until we reached the lodge at the top of the lift, and he said yes, he could wait.
When we got to the lodge, I said, Andrew, can you make by yourself? He turned to me and said, Chris, of course I can make by myself. Im six! [Editors note: Andrew is now a member of Belleayres ski patrol.]