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by Nils Riise, photos by Chip Kamin
When I got the call to confirm my two day member school clinic at Schweitzer, I had no idea what I was in for. I was totally stoked to be leading a Telemark clinic and an Alpine clinic all in the same weekend, let alone what I actually experienced. The call came just two days before I was supposed to leave for Idaho, so I wondered if the clinics had been cancelled. But, come to find out, at the end of that phone call I had entered into a whole new level of stoke.
I had been informed by the Schweitzer Snowsports School clinic organizer, that they had received a substantial amount of snow over the last week, and with clear weather in the forecast, we’re changing plans. He asked me if it was o.k. with me if one of the clinic days took place in the backcountry. I then proceeded to tell him that I was ready to work with his folks needs anywhere they saw fit and that I would bring my skins and backcountry ski gear. He said, “That won’t be necessary, ‘cause we have arranged a snow cat for you and your group.” I thought, “Really, snow cat skiing for a member ski school clinic? No Way!”
“Are you serious?” I said. “Yup, just arrive at the ski school at 8:00 am Saturday morning ready to ski powder. See you then!” Chip hung up. I had just walked into a dream clinic. Cat skiing all day – on the house, coaching folks on powder skiing and getting paid? Wow, pinch me, I’m dreaming! Here’s how it all went down:
During my drive out there, in the back of my mind I kept on doubting that the snow cat trip was actually going to happen. So, I arrived early to make sure this all just wasn’t a hoax. “Maybe someone was just playing a big joke on me,” I thought. Was I actually about to embark on a snow cat trip for a member school clinic? I had no idea what to expect. How and where were we going to access this Schweitzer backcountry? From my previous experience with cat trips I was ready for a 30-60 minute van ride to our pick up point. I was just told to show up and follow along with the rest of the group.
After our avalanche safety briefing, we were all gathered at the clock tower in the base area for our van ride or whatever the next phase in the trip was and along comes our lead guide, Chip Kamin. “O.K. you guys, are your transceivers on? Are you all ready to go?” he says all nonchalant. At this point, I am still looking around for our ride. Then, Chip proceeds to announce to the group, “Let’s head over to the Great Escape Quad and get up to our starting point, we’ve got to meet up with our other guide, Ken.” At this point I ask the clinic participants, “Where are we going, how are we getting to the snow cat?” They all just looked at me kind of funny and said, “We’re starting up on top.” For some reason, I just didn’t pick up on the fact the cat skiing operation actually operated from the top of the ski area. Go figure – duh, Nils. I guess it had been a while since I had skied Schweitzer. Big changes – what a cool concept, sure why wouldn’t it be based on top, right?
As we crested the top of the Great Escape Quad, there it was, all gleaming in the morning sunlight, sitting proud and awaiting our arrival, Selkirk Powder Company’s snow cat. Again I’m thinking, “O.k. now, pinch me again – really? This is so rad, I can’t believe it.” All you do is ski off the quad and slide straight ahead to the Selkirk Powder Lodge and “boom” you’re ready to go.
After meeting Ken and a short meeting about the day’s logistics we were traversing out to our first pitch. The experience to this point had been so low key and enjoyable. Chip and Ken had done such a great job prepping and briefing the group that we all just flowed right into the forested backcountry like a pack of hobbits. I got so wrapped up in the experience of ripping pow in the sunshine with these great people that I almost forgot that I was supposed to be giving a clinic. I realized I had to quickly figure out how to set the stage for learning without constraining the excitement everyone had for skiing untracked powder in the sunshine all day. It worked out great.
We had a total of eight people and would be making at least eight or nine runs, so at the very least I figured I could coach each person one on one, one run at a time. How it worked out was actually a combination of that idea and intermittently working in two to three person pods. I grouped the pods according to ability for some runs and also gender. I wanted to make sure that the women in the group felt supported to move down the hill and learn at their own pace without the testosterone driven vibe of the guys. But then, I also had to keep the dudes in the group happy too. So, my approach with them was around giving them focused and concise coaching, so as not to affect their unbridled energy and flow. This was also the first time I had worked with people skiing on rockered skis too. What those skis can do for flotation is amazing. A couple of the women in the group were skiing on the rockered skis without much experience or confidence in powder. The results they achieved after just a couple runs of coaching were quite remarkable.
I found that regardless of what kind of skis my people were on that day, how I coached them didn’t really change. The basic concept of keeping the feet working together under the body in the powder still holds true, as well as using simultaneous feet and leg movements for steering, pressuring or edging – this was paramount for their success. That said, what I noticed the most, when working with the women who had minimal experience in the powder was that the rockered skis allowed them to experiment more freely with changing their technique without the fear of falling or losing control. Also, the feedback they experienced from the ski/snow interaction was positive and immediate. Meaning, they improved quickly and went from being unbalanced and inconsistent with their turns, to putting together full length rhythmical series of turns together without falling.
Another simple element that I worked on with everyone in the group was focusing on complementary hand and arm movements. One of the most important elements of powder skiing technique is a strong and rhythmical pole plant. So, what I introduced to them was what I call the ready pole concept. We began with making shallow turns in the falline on low angle terrain. Then, we focused on swinging the inside hand, arm and pole directly down the fall line ahead of the current turn shape in preparation for the next pole plant. As the skiers gained confidence with this concept we experimented with steeper longer pitches and added a little more shape to the turns to control speed. The result of this little drill promoted continual directional movements of the center of mass toward the new turn and kept the skiers balanced over their feet. And of course, a strong inside half resulted, which positively affected their balance over their line of action and hand and arm movements that compliment body movements.
Progressively throughout the day the smiles got bigger and bigger by focusing on these two concepts – Continuous and simultaneous movements of the feet and legs timed with a strong rhythmical pole swing and pole plant.
At the end of the day, we all had bonded well together and had a fabulous day. The powder mystery had been solved for some and the hunger for powder in a low snow year had been satisfied for all. For me, I had one of the best days of my coaching career as well as a powder day that easily rated in my top ten days of all time.
I am so thankful to the staff at Schweitzer Ski and Snowboard School for including me on their cat trip and to Chip and Ken of Selkirk Powder Company for making the whole day cool, groovy and safe. I look forward to working with all of them again. Cheers.
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by Tara Seymour photos by Jeff Seymour
The trip began like any other trip to Europe, with a lot of jet lag and anticipation for the up coming adventure. We were anxious to get on our skis and out of the crowded town of Zermatt, Switzerland. The Matterhorn looming in the view of every street reminded us we were definitely in the Swiss Alps. The weather was nice and we were staying two days in town to acclimatize to the mile-high elevation. We spent the first day getting to know our touring group consisting of three mountaineering guides and four clients: two friends, my husband and me. We were all very excited and determined to make this trip amazing and safe!
The Haute Route a.k.a. the “high route” has been a huge part of the history of skiing and mountaineering in the Alps. This was something that I had personally wanted to ski for over ten years and now I was standing in the shadows of the Matterhorn with excitement that caused my stomach to swirl. After much cheese fondue and poor Swiss wine we made our way to bed.
The first day of acclimation included skiing the huge and endless terrain of Zermatt with its many ski areas. With my PSIA Level III Certification and ISSA international membership, I was compensated at nearly all resorts. The day was not spent free skiing, but rather assessing each other’s skiing skills in a variety of diverse conditions, steeps, etc. Time was spent starting and stopping in certain places and very specific distances apart in preparation for the high country. All of this was conducted while wearing our outfitted 25+ pound backpacks. Part of the day was also spent reviewing usage of our avalanche beckons and transceivers. Knowing the abilities of your peers can be a life or death situation in climbing and backcountry skiing. Our three American guides were very helpful, qualified and knowledgeable in all the safety precautions necessary when navigating these mountains. I felt very safe in their hands.
Typically this route can be completed in 8-10 days. Our first day on route was not perfect; it was very windy and sub-zero all day but was both challenging and rewarding. It was necessary to use crampons to make the ascent to the first hut, and with day one finally over, I had already been pushed out of my comfort zone on more than one instance.
Those not familiar with the Haute Route, this ski-touring trip consisted of skiing up and down mountains for long portions of the day, in various conditions from wind pack and breakable crust to the “light and fluffy” we were hoping for. Some days high winds would attack in gusts while other times would remain at a steady speed of 20 m.p.h. or more suited to windsurfing than ski touring. Regardless of the snow conditions all the days were very cold and long with the huts as a physical and mental end goal. The final approach to the Bertol hut was “totally insane” one of which we had to climb a near-vertical craggy face to get to the hut that was perched on the edge of a precipice. The final relief was closing the hut door as if being inside would somehow render our precarious locale harmless. The huts were usually warmer inside than outside and typically had some sort of edible food and wine as dinner for the weary. The dinner conversation always revolved around the incredible mountain landscape and the phenomenal skiing.
Just as we knew that the sun would rise, snow fell frequently accumulating overnight. On the morning of the fifth day of our adventure across the Alps, we awoke to more than 16 inches of snow that had fallen during the night. The wind was gusting up to 60 m.p.h. Typically we would start our day out around 7 am, but on this day we waited and debated. The guides poured over maps and conversed among themselves. Finally at 10 am the weather cleared a bit, the sun peeked out, and although it was still very windy, at least we were off to the next hut.
The wind was truly an issue. We were cold and the snow was being blown all around, creating poor visibility. We considered turning back, but we all decided to keep moving forward. The thought of turning around felt like failure to us. The guides led us up the first col between two peaks then across a large glacier. As we approached the next col, the winds increased as they funneled through the gap. The guides requested we remove our skis from our boots and carry them part way over the col. At this point we could see nothing due to snow being blown up the slope. Pitch, length and terrain were all a mystery to us.
The guides dug a quick pit to check the snow conditions. In an effort to get some relief from the wind, the guides built a snow anchor from skis and rope. We were then lowered down about 100 feet to a rock outcropping. We were hoping to lower out of the wind a bit more and get down far enough to see what the slope was going to be like for our descent. The four clients went first with one guide at the bottom, helping us off the anchor, and the other two at the top getting us hooked in.
With all four of us standing on a rock island in the middle of the huge valley, we heard the most horrifying sound you would ever want to hear. So loud it silenced the wind, “CRACK!” The sound of an avalanche!
The sound was terrifying for only a moment. Then blown off the rock island by hurricane force wind, flying through the air, hitting the ground hard, I was really scared. Flying again in the air with snow engulfing me, the first thought any parent would have, was of my kids. How could I possibly leave them orphans? I did not know if my husband was caught in this nightmare as well, or maybe he was fine. Finally the turbulence was slowing after what seemed like an eternity that inevitably lasted less than a minute all together. I felt the power of the snow settle around me and I could move nothing. Panic now overcame fear.
Getting my wits together I could see light about two feet up, or so it seemed. I tried to move, but could not. I tried to conserve breath, slow down, not panic. Could I move something? Yes, my left wrist! It was partially free. I started using my fingers to dig towards my face. I had about three inches of air around my face and knew that was not going to last long. I kept digging quickly making progress slowly. I was under about 4 minutes when I heard muffled noises. I tried to scream, but snow fell in my mouth choking me. Relax. I knew that they had found me. My beacon had worked.
An airway was dug out of the snow and I knew that I was alive, and my children would still have a mother. I did not feel any major pain, but knew that the adrenaline had kicked in. It took ten minutes to carefully dig me out. My rescuer and good friend told me that my husband was okay and was being dug out, but that the other two were still not found.
Freed from my would be tomb, the ordeal had really just begun. There were two more people buried somewhere. I joined the search. We found the next person 200 feet below me with severe injuries and needing real help. The last person was found another 200 feet down slope and had been buried for six minutes or more. Again we had a major injury and needed help. With all accounted for the lead guide, whose skis wear lost somewhere in the avalanche debris, was able to piece together enough ski equipment from the scattered and lost gear. He took off immediately for the next hut on our destination about 10 km away on his make shift touring setup. Our lost gear was the least of our concerns as we prepared temporary shelter for the injured.
Then we waited. It was three hours before we heard the Air Zermatt choppers. When they arrived it was far too windy for them to land near us, so the Swiss guides aboard the helicopters skied up to us and extracted the injured to the landing zone where the choppers could lift them out safely. The Swiss Mountain Guides were truly amazing to see at work.
The weather had lifted enough to visually approximate the ordeal. We slid down more than 1,000 vertical feet, over two rocky cliffs and lived to tell about it, due to the swift actions of our team in locating the buried using transceivers, and successfully digging them out in time to avoid suffocation. Not everyone is as lucky.
If caught and buried in an avalanche you are more likely to be found if you wear a beacon. A beacon is only useful if the members in your party know how to locate it using a transceiver. You should also always carry a shovel, probes and in most cases be wearing a harness. When traveling in the backcountry, the side-country (special areas that are part of a resort’s permit area but may or may not be well avalanche controlled), or even in-bounds at your resort, any open slope between 30° and 45° may be at risk of sliding. More Difficult (Blue Square) terrain has a slope of typically 20° to 30° while Most Difficult (black diamond) terrain has a slope of typically 30° to 40° and Expert Only (Double Black diamond) terrain is typically 40° or more.
Even small avalanches are a serious danger to life, even with properly trained and equipped companions who avoid the avalanche. Between 55 and 65 percent of victims buried in the open are killed, and only 80 percent of the victims remaining on the surface survive.
Research carried out in Italy based on 422 buried skiers indicates how the chances of survival drops very rapidly from 92% within 15 minutes to only 30% after 35 minutes where victims die of suffocation to near zero after two hours where victims die of injuries or Hypothermia.
Historically, the chances of survival were estimated at 85% within 15 minutes, 50% within 30 minutes, 20% within one hour.
Avalanche starting zones generally occur on slopes between 30 and 60 degrees. They can run, and even accelerate, at pitches between 15 and 30 degrees especially when confined, such as the terrain in a narrow canyon. When the slopes hit 15 degrees or less the avalanche will generally decelerate to a stop, leaving huge amounts of debris in the deposition zone.
In terms of size, avalanches are measured on “R = Relative size to path” and “D = Destructive Force” scales from 1 to 5, 5 being the largest and most destructive. The avalanche we were caught in was classified as R4/D5. In the United States and Canada and the following avalanche danger scale is used. Descriptors vary depending on country.
I am sharing this story to inspire my fellow members of PSIA to inspire you to get backcountry and avalanche education, both for you and your students. It is important that our members become more aware of the dangers of avalanches in the backcountry, side-country and even within our own ski area boundaries, as many snowsports enthusiasts are seeking out the backcountry experience. I love to ski the backcountry still, and take all the precaution when doing so.
Most of us ski and ride at resorts that control the dangers of the avalanches; however avalanche control does not completely remove the danger of avalanche, it just reduces it. It is my belief that if you work in the snowsports industry you should attain your Level 1 Avalanche training. Some ski areas in the Northwest and beyond require instructors to wear beacons, while most general public don’t even know what they are.
As members of the snowsports education profession, I contend, it is our responsibility to know as much about basic avalanche safety as it is to teaching a basic parallel turn. •
Avalanche Related Info & Links:
Idaho (northern) : www.thesnowschool.com
Montana (western): www.missoulaavalanche.org
Northwest Weather & Avalanche Center: www.nwac.us
Oregon (central): www.coavalanche.org
Washington (western): www.mountainsavvy.com
Editor’s Note: There is a well photographed and documented naturally occurring avalanche that happened during the Winter 2009/2010 Season at Mt. Hood Meadows. It was a very large avalanche (R4, D4) that started outside the permit area, however traveled more than 2.5 miles and nearly 6,000’ vertical feet well into the resort area stopping 200 yards from the bottom terminal of the Heather Canyon chairlift. Go to this link for more information: www.skihood.com/Community-and-News/Meadows-Blog/Posts/2010/01/Anatomy-of-an-Avalanche[connections_list id=39 template_name=”div_staff_bio”]
By Kim Petram
If you search the Core Concepts Manual, 2001 you will find a brief discussion regarding the levels of understanding of how a student remembers information, broken down into the language of Benjamin Bloom. Ring a bell? Likely, like me, you have skipped over this topic in the past thinking that it’s good information but not applicable or readily usable to real skiing and riding or teaching situations.
I’ve recently been exposed to a deeper level exploration of the theories of Benjamin Bloom with my work on a team developing a national children’s education standard. I’m intrigued and feel that his model can be more widely used to assist in developing a matrix to determine how and when an instructor has attained learning. This is useful in many applications from training the new instructor to certification training: a format to help determine how you know when the student has mastered new information. This can be viewed as a tool to check for understanding.
Benjamin Bloom (1913-1999) was a researcher in the field of education, professor in the Department of Education at the University of Chicago. His research helped, among many things, to lead to the establishment of the Head Start Program as well as the most commonly used concepts of determining learning in the educational system. Bloom, along with his partners, worked towards a development of specifications through which educational objectives could be organized according to their cognitive complexity.
What resulted from his work is Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: Handbook 1, the Cognitive Domain (Bloom et al., 1956, Eisner, 2000). At the University of Chicago, Bloom led his team of researchers in developing criteria to use in understanding learning domains in educational activities: cognitive (knowledge) affective (attitudes) and psychomotor (physical skills) identifications were the resultant work. This taxonomy, or classification, can be used together to understand and measure how critical thinking skills develop in a student. Hopefully, this noted CAP acronym is recognizable to the membership already, however the cognitive portion of the taxonomy can be more fully exposed to show how learning takes place by levels of achievement. The cognitive, or mental skills, classification regards levels of intellectual behaviors in learning and is the focus for this article.
This hierarchical model, or taxonomy, is a tiered system of classifying thinking skills according to six cognitive levels of complexity: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis and Evaluation
(Clark, 2009/Tormod, 2009)
What is taxonomic about the taxonomy is that each subsequent level depends upon the student’s ability to perform at the level or levels that precede it. For example, the ability to evaluate—the highest level in the cognitive taxonomy—is predicated on the assumption that for the student to be able to evaluate, he or she would need to have the necessary information, understand the information he or she had, be able to apply it, be able to analyze it, synthesize it and then eventually evaluate it. The taxonomy is no mere classification scheme. It is an effort to hierarchically order cognitive processes.
Bloom recognized that what was important in education was not that students should be compared, but that they should be helped to achieve the goals of the curriculum they were studying. Goal attainment rather than student comparison was important. The process of teaching needed to be geared towards the design of tasks that would progressively and ineluctably lead to the realization of the objectives that defined the goals of the curriculum. The variable that needed to be addressed, as Bloom saw it, was time. It made no pedagogical sense to expect all students to take the same amount of time to achieve the same objectives. (Eisner, 2000)
Using this concept as a curriculum tool for snowsports trainers is meaningful in creating individual learning plans for staff as well as in guiding participants through the certification processes and member offerings. Meeting the set standards of any snowsport educational goal can be accomplished individually based on each student’s movement through the taxonomy.
Below is a graphic showing the taxonomy with corresponding descriptors that more succinctly explains the level of function at each cognitive process. This is another way to describe examples of how a student would show comprehension and learning within each level.
As you can see, the levels build upon themselves. Again, a student cannot successfully master the next level until the previous level is fully comprehended. Used as a tool, higher level thinking skills will be allowed to develop in a systematic process. A snowsport evaluator or trainer will be able to judge or determine levels of skill by assessing at what level a student is currently functioning at, and, hopefully, will remain at the student’s current level until mastery is obtained before introducing or expecting higher functioning processes.
As it often seems, nothing stays the same and an updated version of the taxonomy was introduced to add relevancy to current educational practices (see Figure 2). Noted below is a different compilation identifying the six levels of the cognitive domain. These levels are based on the same levels of cognition from Bloom’s Taxonomy, but reflect the revised version completed in 2001. The original language is noted in parenthesis. A former student of Bloom’s, Lorin Anderson, along with her cohorts, revisited the cognitive domain of the taxonomy and made revisions that reflected an updated and more current language: nouns instead of verbs for labeling and a rearrangement, renaming and restructuring of the higher levels. (Forehand, 2005) Key verbs have been added to assist in developing an understanding of how the student could indicate their successful mastery of knowledge at each level. Utilization of either taxonomy for current applications is fine. The literature search demonstrates that often a blending of the original and new models exist and are incorporated into training programs.
Remember (Knowledge Level)
Recall or recognize terms, definitions, facts, ideas, materials, patterns, sequences, methods, principles. Key Verbs: name, list, state, describe, recall, label, retrieve, recognize.
Understand (Comprehension Level)
Read and understand descriptions, communications, reports, tables, diagrams, directions, regulations. Key Verbs: paraphrase, identify, explain, translate, interpret, interpretation, classify.
Apply (Application Level)
Know when and how to use ideas, procedures, methods, formulas, principles, theories.
Key Verbs: execute, compute, demonstrate, modify, discover, predict, show, solve, implement.
Analyze (Analysis Level)
Break down information into its constituent parts and recognize their relationship to one another and how they are organized; identify sublevel factors or salient data from a complex scenario.
Key Verbs: diagram, , illustrate, outline, infer, conclude, differentiate, attribute, compares, contrasts.
Create (Synthesis Level)
Put parts or elements together in such a way as to reveal a pattern or structure not clearly there before; identify which data or information from a complex set is appropriate to examine further or from which supported conclusions can be drawn. Key Verbs: create, compose, design, reorganize, formulate, write a new ending, tell.
Evaluate (Evaluation Level)
Make judgments about the value of proposed ideas, solutions, etc., by comparing the proposal to specific criteria or standards. Key Verbs: judge, appraise, compare, contrast, criticize, justify, critique. (Schultz, 2005, Clark, 2009)
This taxonomy could be applied to a snowsport instructor (see Figure 3). Included are various educational endeavors an instructor may pursue in the PSIA-NW Division and the likely corresponding category the instructor would be placed given the standard of each program.
So let’s take the information described thus far and apply it to snowsport scenarios. I’ve listed three different scenarios but a coach or TD or anyone imparting knowledge to another should be able to incorporate their own matrix to evaluate the acquisition and use of knowledge.
Instructor John is working towards Level II certification. He has three years of ski instruction under his belt. John is a part-time instructor, working on weekends for his snowsports school. John is asked to explore his knowledge of the skiing skills concept.
You have received your PSIA/AASI-NW Snowsports Instructor magazine, Spring 2010. You have read the article, First the Proof, Then the Pudding by Dave Lucas. You are explaining this article to your fellow instructor friend.
Exploration of the transition from certification level I to certification level II utilizing the fundamental skill concept of rotary. (See Figure 4).
In researching this article it became very clear that there are hundreds of applications in various forms utilizing Bloom’s Taxonomy. There is supportive data indicating how the implementation of the taxonomy can insure the alignment of objectives with standards and assessments. Bloom’s Taxonomy has been closely linked with the study of multiple intelligences. (Forehand, 2005) These potential applications alone are linked directly with the standards and core concepts of the snowsports instructor
Bloom’s Taxonomy can be used to facilitate an awareness of how to measure higher level thinking skills. As instructors, we are having to constantly evaluate how well our student is progressing to determine when it is time to move on or when reinforcement is required. Whether it is a fellow instructor preparing for an exam, a student wanting to explore more of the mountain environment, a participant in a specialist program trying to master the theory content or yourself determining if you are ready for your next level of adventure, utilizing the taxonomy is an efficient and proven method to determine proficiencies.
Applied to snowsports instructors, whether one is evaluating skiing or riding skills, technical information or teaching competencies Benjamin Bloom has created a classification system to help anyone move beyond the basic ability to recall information and know that they have successfully moved to complex cognitive functioning by utilizing real and consistent measurements. Applied to our industry, the classification system can create a pathway for consistent standardization of programs and goals. Establishing standards of knowledge for yourself and your snowsports school is the path towards meeting the mission of PSIA/AASI: to help teachers of all snowsports to effectively share their passion for the sport they love.
Bloom, Benjamin S., e. (1956) Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals. By a committee of college and university examiners. Handbook 1: Cognitive Domain, New York, David McKay Co Inc.
Bloom, Benjamin: All Our Children Learning. McGraw-Hill. New York, 1981
Eisner, Elliot W. Lee Jacks Professor of Education and Professor of Art, Stanford University.
Tormod Kinnes, 2002–2009.
Schultz, Lynn 2005.
Forehand, M. 2005. Bloom’s Taxonomy: Original and revised.
Geib, Richard. www.geibtechforlearning.org/apu/edu-522/
Clark, Don. Big Dog and Little Dog’s Performance Juxtaposition. Updated May, 26, 2009.[connections_list id=37 template_name=”div_staff”]