AASI Level One Event at Whitetail
Certification means different things to different people.
To some, the Level One exam is primarily a “join the club” event. As the
level one skiing and snowboarding exams evolve into more difficult events, they
still have over a 98% pass rate. The stated purpose of a level one event is to
certify the ability to teach beginners and a basic knowledge of snowboarding
technology and the teaching methodology espoused by the organization. But the
main benefits of a level one exam are:
1) that it motivates instructors to learn more about their sport prior to the exam,
2) the exam improves their teaching and riding skills at an intensity that has not likely been experienced before, and
3) the pros are introduced to resources that will allow them to continue their skill improvement in the future.
This article presents the observations of a “shadow” so that you can taste a sample of the Level One experience. Whether you are certified or not, if you teach snowboarding this article will at least provide you things you can use for your own teaching.
As a newly minted Level 2 AASI and a staff trainer at Whitetail, it was my privilege to be allowed to shadow the Level 1 exam held at Whitetail, Pennsylvania on March 10 and 11, 2001. Despite being a weekend event and incredible weather, the group had soft snow and no lift lines throughout the weekend. Ted Fleischer (Stowe / Jay Peak) was the examiner for 11 soon to be successful candidates. The “in house” format for the exam meant that most of (and in this case all of) the candidates were from Whitetail and saving money on travel and lodging expenses. As expected, some of the candidates were confused about where and when to meet in the morning. The laid back format of the event allowed them to gain experience that will be valuable at future events.
Ted started the group out with a warm up run on Snow Park (Whitetail’s advanced beginner run). Ted’s idea of a warm up was to head down at Mach 6 and then watch everyone else from the bottom.
On the next run from the top of the mountain, Ted disappointed everyone when he asked for a group consensus on whether or not the written exam could be skipped. Well, maybe they weren’t terribly disappointed when the group unanimously voted to skip it. Ted tempered the renewed enthusiasm with a review on group safety. As the largest group on the mountain that day, we did present an obstacle to the few guests that we shared the slopes with. Also as a mixed group of normal and “goofies”, the potential for opposing heel side turn collisions was significantly higher than normal riding.
Our first task was to pair up and observe our partners. The first run was dedicated to observing board performances. Ted prefers the terms “Pivot, Twist, Tilt and Flex”. He talked about the analogy of the 3 primary colors to the 4 board performances. You get all colors possible by blending the primary colors and you get all riding styles possible by blending the 4 board performances. The second run was for observing the two primary types of body movements: rotation and flexion/extension. Ted talked about the evolution of teaching rotation from the upper body (point/look where you want to go) to teaching lower body movements (turn with the feet and knees) because the lower body movements initiate turns much more effectively. He also talked about closing and opening joints and did a wonderful exercise where we either froze the knee joint and opened and closed our ankle joints and vice versa.
Next we focused on where we felt pressure on the sole of our foot. To what extremes did we feel the pressure move from our heels to our toes? And how far to the toes or just to the balls of our feet? And how did the pressure move? Was it smooth or did it abruptly change from heel to toe? Did it travel through the center of the foot or more towards the front or back? The next exercise was to imagine our knee tracing a path over the edge of the board from the little toe of the front foot around the nose of the board to where the heel met the edge on the other side. This caused the pressure to “roll” around the front edge of the foot. For extra credit we tried this move with our eyes closed. Whoa! The next step was to add the same kind of movement with the back foot, but delayed slightly.
Then we started a series of exercises to help improve our switch riding. We started with flat spin 360s in both directions. Then we imagined a clock on the snow with 12:00 directly in the fall line. The first objective was to change the direction of the spin after the tail of the board passed 6:00. The next step was to change the direction when the tail exactly hit 12:00 (i.e. not going past the fall line and changing edges). These exercises are Ted’s favorite. He calls them “shifties”. Ted emphasized the need for independent leg action and how much the back leg needed to bend and the front leg to extend to perform this maneuver effectively. Shifting back and forth effectively requires continuous flexion and extension. We topped this series off with riding switch down our flattest run, Northern Lights. Ted discussed watching out for weight distribution when riding switch on boards that are mounted directionally (i.e. with the bindings set back from center – for free riding). When riding a board set up this way and riding forward, we typically put 55% of our weight on the front foot in order to stay centered over the board. When riding switch our new front foot is already ahead of the center of the board. Riding 55% on the front causes big trouble, so keep more weight on your back foot to stay centered. The lesson: examine your students’ stance location when working on switch riding!
Before we broke for lunch, we worked on beginner J turns. One of Ted’s analogies was to imagine putting headlights on the knees and moving the headlights to initiate turns.
After lunch, we made a “bold” move to Whitetail’s freshly groomed double diamond run. The bumps were not big, but they were big enough to make a certain someone’s first trip down that run most memorable. The big point was that snowboarders can do bumps as well as skiers; it’s just that the legs have to work independently to absorb the bumps instead of together. This was reinforced with a “board off” drill where we went hiking along the edge of the trail, moving “slip step” (always moving forward with only our front foot, then stepping even with our back foot) over very uneven terrain.
Next we played follow the leader. The leader rides switch and tries to lose the follower riding normal (hint: for strong following riders, try the reverse).
Next was a couple of runs down the half pipe. The big emphasis was to do 180s before stalling on the wall and land on the opposite (i.e. new uphill) edge.
As Ted gave out the format for the teaching segments to be performed on Sunday (split the 11 into 3 teams where members will team teach something), he gave on tip on giving feedback. Instead of saying your students are doing good or bad, talk in terms of the board performance (e.g. “The board will work better if …”).
After the warm up run, Sunday started out with heel side shifties with “Fellini frames”. The objective was to hold your hands together in front of you with your arms extended, thumbs touching and index fingers raised to make a picture frame. Then, while keeping a downhill object in the frame, to switch which heel was further downhill (somewhat like a falling leaf, but more like a shiftie because of no traverse). We progressed to doing turns instead of shifties (while keeping the Fellini frames), then dropping the hands and just making the turns.
Next we explored the relationship between stance angles and carving ability. At high stance angles when one flexes, your weight is still over the board. At low stance angles, your weight moves away from the board as you flex and when you do heel side turns you must compensate by bringing the shoulders back over the board. But at high stance angles, one uses the small muscle groups in the leg (i.e. the adductors and the abductors) to pivot the board slowly over long periods as opposed to low stance angle riders being able to use the quads and the hamstrings for pivoting quickly over short periods. So after convincing everyone that high stance angles made it easier to carve at high edge angles, we then proceeded to try for high edge angles. First we tried fixing our ankle and just dropping our knees to the snow. Then we tried fixing the knees and stretching our calf muscles (while moving our hips and arching our backs). Finally we tried to put both together and actually touch our knees to the snow. (Editors note: Rusty booted out, left a huge toe divot in the snow and bought it big time.) Ted did caution not to shift your weight to your back foot when doing this maneuver. On high angle heel side turns, Ted’s tip was to use your front knee to “cover” the nose of the board, use your shin to push against the highback and lift the big toe up. We talked about adjusting the highbacks to prevent chatter on heel side turns. If they are not forward enough, there will be board chatter. If they are too far forward, the quads will burn. Another tip was to think about grabbing the edge of the board that is not in the snow.
After a few of the candidates took a break for the pond skimming contest, we started a nose roll progression. We started by leaning over the front of the board and making a tripod with our hands on the snow in front of the board. The key safety point here was to push down on the front foot and PULL UP with the back foot (lest ye have thy leg come out of thy hip!). The next step was to lift both hands off the snow and keep both feet in the air (i.e. just balancing on the nose). Then we tried to roll forward into this position versus coming back to it from the tripod. The next to last step was to con a spotter into helping out. The spotter starts out by holding one foot on the nose of the board and then holding hands while the nose rollee rolls forward and then finally adds the 180 rotation. The spotter safety note is to watch out for the rollee over pivoting into your free leg. Next the rollee tries without holding hands with the spotter. Finally, the spotter stops holding the nose with their foot and just watches to prevent a major oops.
The last section was a set of tips to help the most common
beginner problem: tail spin out. There are 4 possible causes of tail spin:
1) Too much weight on the back foot
2) Too much weight on the front foot
3) Over rotation of the upper body
4) Board too flat
To fix too much weight on the back or front foot, try the old bump dance (i.e. swiveling the hips forward and backward) or practicing tapping the back foot (which requires picking it up and putting it back down). To encourage higher edge angle, try having your students cover their feet with their knees. To fix over rotation, try having the students cover the nose and tail of the boards with their hands. And finally, make sure to teach beginners that a flat board is easy to pivot, but an edged board is not. Thus, if one edges the board after beginning to pivot, one won’t over pivot.
Ted added a note about “unteachable” students: there aren’t any. As you teaching skills grow, you will find that your students’ success rate improves. When you have a lesson where someone just is not getting it, that is your clue to mentally go back and search for ways you could have taught differently.
The teaching segments went so well that he almost let a “buddy” skip his piece. Ted scared one of the candidates when he asked, “Are you done?”. The candidate almost proceeded to put his foot in his mouth (by starting to talk some more) until he saw the smile on Ted’s face. At this level of certification, everyone feels a little awkward doing “mock” teaching, but the examiner gives lots of leeway and reads a lot between the lines in order to verify teaching skill.
Wow! That was a lot of info for a two-day exam. Other than the teaching segments, the candidates were never asked to perform anything in order to be evaluated. In this sense, the exam was much more like a clinic. The candidates witnessed some awesome riding by the examiner that set some standards for where their own riding could go. They also picked up a ton of tips that they added to their bag of teaching tricks. As Ted handed out pins and “welcome to AASI” literature, he emphasized the benefits of AASI membership (the opportunity to attend the various kinds of clinics and purchase manuals and videos) and the process of certification as path of growth versus the attainment of bragging rights or ego points. All the candidates walked away pumped and ready to ride hard.