Our resident street-ski ex-pro and instructor, Jedd McAstralcabe, took 10 minutes out of teaching, the other day, to talk to us about his very first skiing lesson.
The other day I took my kids skiing for the very first time. Its a weird thing to do, introduce your children to a concept and activity that is so central to your existence. A part of me wanted to see them rocket off the slopes at break neck speeds, pulling off flawless Iron Crosses and Backflips – then another part of me wanted to smother them in bubble wrap and gently roll them down the hill. I’ve been a ski instructor for the best part of 6 years now, and I’ve only seen two serious injuries during beginners classes. The speeds that they travel are usually at a snail’s pace, and the slopes tend to be far away from the main action – so there’s little chance of a collision. Although I knew this was true, it didn’t stop my heart from leaping into my mouth, when I watched Liza and Jacob wobble down the beginner’s slope for the first time.
They were fine. They were always going to be fine. As they clambered back up the hill, racing to get to the top, I allowed myself to laugh and breathe a sigh of relief. Watching them learn from Zara, I could see the little cogs whirring in their brains, as they processed the theoretical knowledge and slowly translated it into physical behaviour. Their eyes shone in admiration and wonder as she calmly explained to them the dynamics of gravity and momentum. Seeing this focus and attention reminded me of my very first skiing lesson.
My family were not awfully well off. We didn’t have the kind of money that could take us all on a big holiday. No, there was just enough for one of us to go on a school residential a year. We all took it in turns. In the year 2000, it was my turn and my school was going on a skiing trip. The slopes of the Alps were the destination and my first skiing lesson was to be taken by a dashing Italian instructor named Sergio. Living in a rather secluded part of England, the opportunity of learning from and talking to a person from another country was a big deal. As our small group stepped out on to the snow for the first time, I remember him laughing softly as we all slipped over one by one, struggling to even walk in the snow. The laughter didn’t come from a place of cruelty. He was simply enjoying the spectacle of a six or eight kids stumbling around and pulling each other back up again.
When it came to the lesson itself, he had a stern seriousness when it came to ski safety and he made sure to enunciate every vowel meticulously, so there was nothing lost in translation. Still, as I’ve come to learn in my years of instructing, no amount of theoretical training can fully prepare you for your first ride down a slope. I remember wobbling considerable, just like my children. For half an hour, after racing up the slope, I could not keep upright. The other kids took their failures in their stride and just enjoyed the experience of being there, but I could not. Noticing this, Sergio pulled me aside and told me to relax. He said that to learn to ski, is like learning to read. First you learn the shape and names of the letters, then you can tackle the words and the books. He told me that in skiing I would need to learn how to keep my legs straight, and position my body, before I could stay upright.
His pep talk worked, and soon I was flying down the slope with ease. The rest of the residential trip was an ecstatic blur. I found as much time to get on to the slopes as possible, even forgoing other outings so I could spend more time revelling in my newfound skills. When the time came to leave France, I couldn’t bear the thought of being without the slopes. I bumped into Sergio just before we were about to leave, he knelt down and told me that I had a great future ahead of me, if I chose to follow it. I believed him implicitly.
When I arrived home, all I could about was skiing again. My parents, so short on money most of the time, were thrilled. They always believed money should be spent on funding experiences rather than things, so they were more than happy to find a new skiing coach for me back in England. They were even happier when that training led to me winning Gold in the Extreme Street-Ski 2014 Championships. Watching my kids wobbling their way down the slopes I thought back to that time and smiled wistfully, if only Sergio could see me now.
Jedd McAstralcabe is a fully qualified ski coach with experience in extreme street-ski at an international level. Having spent the last six years teaching at Kidsetc, he’s now retired from international competition to focus on coaching and raising his young family.