Teaching couch potatoes to schuss and slalom (or at least stand up) on skis has been Chris Ericson’s part-time occupation for the past 20 years. The director of training at
How did you get this job?
I’ve 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 I’ve been there ever since.
What professional qualifications do you have?
I’m certified through the Professional Ski Instructors of America. The PSIA has national standards that assess an instructor’s skiing and teaching abilities. I’m at level three, I’m a development team member, and I’m working to be an examiner. It’s 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.
I’ve never been on skis before. Walk me through my first lesson.
Once you’re set up with the proper equipment, you’d come up to the teaching circle area, where all beginners go. We have teaching stations there. We’d start by introducing you to your equipment. We’d do some foot drills or games, so you can get used to the clumsiness of ski boots. Then we’d work with one ski on, skating around to the right or left, then with both skis. Eventually, we’d 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 you’re really strong and you can kill the ball doesn’t mean you’ll be the best golfer. It’s about finesse, and hitting the ball just right. It’s 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 it’s a great moment for your student. It shows that everyone’s human, and the snow snakes come out and get you sometimes and pull you under.
What’s the thing you like best about your job?
It’s 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?
It’s the absolute freedom. You can go anywhere you want on that mountain, the wind blowing in your face, the cold — it’s wonderful. I love the continued challenges the sport provides. It’s 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 — that’s nice, too.
What do ski instructors do when there’s 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.
What’s 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 we’re 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 didn’t 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. I’m six!” [Editor’s note: Andrew is now a member of Belleayre’s ski patrol.]