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Skiing - A lifelong adventure

In 1983 my lifelong adventure with skiing began as I prepared for my first ski trip with my secondary school to Pamporovo in Bulgaria. I first put skis on at the artificial slope in Kilternan, Co. Dublin - the home of the Ski Club of Ireland. And now all these years later, in 2024 I am in my 39th year of teaching skiing. It has truly been a lifelong adventure (with many mini adventures along the way). But what exactly do I mean by adventure?


The Cambridge dictionary defines adventure as, "an unusual, exciting, and possibly dangerous activity such as a trip or experience, or the excitement produced by such an activity". While Belinda Kirk, in her 2021 book 'Adventure Revolution' says "adventure is a necessity for our wellbeing, physically and mentally". She talks about it in terms of the challenge it provides, our ability to appreciate where we are, the joy that it brings, how it is something to look forwards to and reflect on positively. And she compares it to many of the tenets of positive psychology (and those who regularly read my blogs will know this is an area I am very passionate about).


For me 'adventure' comprises of a number of components:

  • Challenge and engagement potentially leading to flow

  • Enjoyment during and after the adventure

  • An opportunity to use and develop one's strengths

  • Feeling energised

  • A range of emotions which teaches emotional intelligence

  • A mindful appreciation of one's environment

  • The opportunity to build resilience


Alpine skiing, moving through the training and certification ski instructor pathway, and teaching skiing to my guests has most definitely given me all of the above.


A recent view from my office! Ski instructors have the best office in the world.

So, adventure and going on adventures encompasses many of the subjects that fall under the umbrella of positive psychology (all of which have been rigorously researched) such as: Mindfulness, Flow, Strengths, Resilience, Emotions, Enjoyment, Purpose, and Meaning.


But as I reflect on my journey from the past 38 years of teaching skiing I would be lying if I said that it was all wonderful and only filled with these tenets of positive psychology. That just is not how life works. And positive psychology recognises that life is full of ups and downs but if we can fill our lives with enough adventures then as Belinda Kirk said adventures will boost our physical and mental wellbeing.


But why - you might ask - am I focusing on this word 'adventure'. I have previously written a lot about learning zones, skill acquisition, mindfulness, and flow which also contain all the components I listed above. So, is this just semantics or is there something more to this idea of adventure?


PSIC enters the market

In August last year the Professional Ski Instructors of Canada (PSIC) was launched and I was immediately intrigued about this new organisation. To begin with it is unusual for a brand new training and certification body to enter such an established market. As I learned more and got the chance to read their foundational documents I was captivated because here was an organisation that was underpinned by a set of values that had massive crossover with the 6-core virtues of character strengths which are the basis of positive psychology. I had never before come across a ski instructor training organisation that was so aligned to positive psychology and the physical and mental wellbeing of all involved.


So, emotionally, I moved from intrigued to captivated to sheer excitement. I wanted to know more and I wanted to join and get involved. And central to this new organisation's delivery was the vehicle of adventure and the idea that ski instructors and their learners should be enjoying adventures at every stage of the journey. For the PSIC the three components of adventure are FUN, SAFE, LEARNING. Of course, Safety, Enjoyment, Learning (SEL) has been around for a long time within ski instructor training so what was different about this seemingly unimportant reworking of essentially the same words? Well the answer is MASSIVE!! Let me explain...


From the perspective of the participant - be that a guest in a ski lesson or an instructor involved in a training session - fun is one of the most important aspects because if it isn't fun then it is unlikely that the participant will fall in love with the sport and want to return time and time again. So, FUN comes first, not because safety isn't extremely important, but because this is the learner's perspective not the perspective of the person delivering the lesson or training session. If it is from the deliverer's perspective then the old acronym of SEL should hold true. However, as learners we expect that the safety side is managed by the person delivering the session so that we can primarily focus on having fun (albeit while being educated about safe practices).


And for a skiing adventure to be fun it should include making progress, social connections, experiencing a range of positive emotions, appreciation of the wonderful environment etc.


And safety does not only mean adhering to the ski way code, but includes understanding the decision making process, knowing when and how much to challenge yourself and taking care of both physical and psychological safety. And this focus on psychological safety is not one that I have seen emphasised so much in ski instructor education over the years. Instructor's have a duty of care to look after their guests so that they feel secure physically, mentally, and emotionally (with mental and emotional both coming under the heading of psychological).


The third component of the skiing adventure is learning. But this does not just mean becoming technically better. Learning should be transformative. And the best way to ensure that learning is effective, efficient, and leading to expert performance and mastery is to ensure that the learning methods and techniques are evidence based. This means that instructor training includes delving into the learning sciences, physics of motion, biomechanics etc.


Each one of these three pillars has been carefully thought about to ensure that each skiing adventure is an amazing experience. So, the PSIC are at the heart of an adventure revolution in alpine skiing and I for one am super excited about how this will help to positively shape the future of all ski instructor training and certification so that we can create an amazing community of ski teaching professionals and build on all the great outcomes of Interski 2023 in Levi almost a year ago.



References

Kirk, Belinda A., 2021, Adventure Revolution: The Life-changing power of choosing challenge, Piaktus.

Professional Ski Instructors of Canada PSIC, https://www.psic.pro/



About the author

Derek Tate is an alpine skiing coach and director of British Alpine Ski School Chamonix. He is a mental skills coach, positive psychology practitioner, strengths practitioner, and author. His recent books include, "Six Steps for Training the Mind", "Learn, Enjoy, Flow & Grow" and "Transformational Flow Coaching". You can learn more from his author page. He is a member of PSIC, BASI, and IASI.







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