Women and children first.
No, this not the story of a sinking ship, it is the story of a ski school. In fact, one of the few that keeps itself financially afloat. It is also the story of the people who run it and their philosophy and sensitivity about teaching skiing. The school is at Camelback ski area in the Poconos. 'This week we'll look at the special attention this school gives to women's problems in skiing as well as the basic approach of the school. Next week we'll look at its creative four-step program for children.
"The main difference between men and women in skiing is not physical but psychological," says Marilyn Hertz, the school director. "Girls have the privilege of being frightened, men don't. Women express their fears, while men are more accustomed to situations where they might be afraid and are either relaxed about it or at least pretend to be. Women often lock up from fear, so I try to make my instructors aware of this."
Men also do a poor job of accompanying women on the slopes, says Hertz.
"Young guys come up here for a romantic weekend and end up pressuring girls to ski faster, be more aggressive or courageous." The battle of the sexes on the slopes.
According to Hertz, women are also proportionately heavier through the hips and thighs. The result is that they ski differently. The physical differences mean that women have to put their hips into the hills - a more curved, "comma" position on the turns - than men do.
Awareness of the psychological and physical differences, along with Hertz's background in teaching, have led her too create one of the most innovative ski schools in the country. The traditional style of instruction has been to scream, "bend forward," "set your edges," "don't be scared," "follow me and do as I do." These were the maxims and Hertz has thrown them out.
She has substituted "relax," "have a good time" and "ski safely." But the approach is not anything goes. Traditional skiing is still there. Hertz relies more on body awareness and positive reinforcement. She believes that your body will tell you a lot of what is right and wrong.
"The key is relaxing," she seems to emphasize, with special understanding. "You need to feel how your body works. When your shoulders are right they are relaxed and feel right. We try to look for what is right in a person's technique and build on it. You have to give a person some confidence at what he or she is doing or you will often destroy what confidence he has."
Sometimes she even uses sexist roles to help build a beginner's confidence - "tell a guy how athletic he looks or a women how pretty her outfit looks," she smiled. Hertz is in the business of teaching and doesn't mind manipulating a role or two.
Instead of commands, Camelback instructors use leading questions. "How far can you bend?" asks one. "At how much of an angle can you stand on the edges of your skis?" another asks. "That's good," "that's better," "you don't need me," are frequently heard.
Teaching skills, ability to communicate, intelligence, patience, understanding and compassion for the new skier precede the instructor's skiing ability at Camelback's school. "We can improve an instructor's skiing ability but we cannot change his personality," says Hertz. "We think of ourselves as a school." I was not surprised therefore to meet several school teachers on the staff.