The Story Of a Ski Coach
A bloggers guide to Success
By Jon Bowser
My story begins on a cold winter’s day. I have been a ski coach at Jay Peak for the last fourteen years and a skier at the mountain for the past twenty five. My first mountain was in the Laurentians of Quebec, Canada, at a mountain called Saint Marguerite. We skied at other hills in the area, but this was our first true ski home. Saint Marguerite, is where I learned to ski. Peter McBride was my first teacher, and he taught me to ski in a single day. It was from then, that I knew I was destined to ski the rest of my life. Sadly, this mountain would eventually close down for economic reasons. This led us to the discovery of Jay Peak. This is now where we have skied since the early 1990s. Throughout this adventure, we will talk about some of the ups and downs throughout my coaching career and how this fits into my current field of study.
To be a ski coach at Jay Peak, you have to have a lot of character inside you. We get more crazy weather than any other resort on the eastern seaboard. We get the most snow and I truly believe the most wind. The wind itself, is what sets Jay Peak apart from all the other mountains. This is because when you add the wind to the cold temps, it makes it even colder. However, what draws Jay Peak skiers back to the mountain each day, is the snow. In the early 2000’s at Jay Peak, we had some years with over 500 inches a snow. One year, we were close to 600. Jay Peak averages over 350 inches of snow a year. Two years ago, the mountain had the most snow in all of the United States.
How does a ski coach manage their time with athletes on snow? Depending on the group, the coach puts the appropriate plans in place. Each athlete and group size presents a different obstacle. It’s a coach’s job to set forth a plan for athletes to do well while still having fun. I believe that this is one of my biggest strength’s as a coach. I coach the youngest age program. This is the age of seven to ten year old’s. At this age, it is important to stress having fun while also adding some technical things. It is essential for a coach to be well prepared. This is because you never know what can happen on any given day on the mountain. When an athlete is excited about skiing, it makes teaching them new and challenging things easier than if they were not motivated.
When the weather is cold, athletes need to keep moving. One of the most important jobs as a coach is to make sure the athletes are always moving and spending less time standing still. When I am addressing a group of kids on snow, I do not talk more than thirty seconds. I firmly believe that after this time, a child’s brain loses interest. Athletes have a short attention span when they are on the mountain and can only focus for so long. They learn visually and games are a good way of presenting new ideas and skills to younger athletes. These games, as I call them, work on carving, body position and angulation. These games help a skier to grow into a more technical skier, which also helps their skiing become a better skier.
One of the hardest things a ski coach faces is becoming a good technical coach. On the technical side of things, it is a coach’s job to help analyze an athlete’s ability and get them to the next level. I truly believe that there is a game/drill out there for every athlete to master. One tool that coach’s use to help make athletes better is video. Video sessions are when coaches take video of an athlete skiing down the mountain, and then discuss the various aspects of their skiing. This allows for the coach and athlete to analyze their skiing and make changes to their skiing. Through video, you can access a whole new world of the athletes skiing ability. They can see first-hand what they need to do to get better.
I think that this relates well to my own field of study in a few ways. Firstly, I am studying to become a teacher and as a ski coach, you need to have a plan of action going into every ski day. Sometimes you have to have more than one plan. These plans come from various drills/ games we play with athletes to what type of terrain they should be learning them on. The mountain we ski on, is a big mountain and it is important to pick the right areas in which to teach drills to athletes. This allows coaches to get the most of each session. I think it is important that a well prepared coach be organized and able to handle all elements of a Jay Peak weather day. I also think that it is important for the teacher/coach to make sure that they relate well to their peers and those athletes that they work with day in and out.
I would say that there are many more positives than negatives throughout my fourteen year coaching career. I’ve witnessed many different coaching techniques and how coaches speak to athletes. I think that preparation, fun and analyzing when necessary are the keys to success. If a coach can get an athlete to have fun and feel good about themselves, then the rest of their abilities will fall into place. Not all athletes will end up like Michaela Shiffrin who is now the top Slalom skier in the world. Not all athletes are that good or skilled, but some work hard and enjoy the sport for what it is. I think it is important to realize it takes a lot of dedication in ski racing to become a good skier and racer. Athletes who join the ski racing industry early become good skiers not just for the time they are in ski clubs, but for the rest of their lives.