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Senior Skiing

Elsa Bailey is legally blind. She uses an oxygen tank, in order to breathe in Colorado’s thin air environment. But on May 11, 2013, she decided to celebrate her birthday by skiing at Arapahoe Basin. Elsa started skiing when she was 25. While she was not one of those people who popped out of the womb on two planks, her age did nothing to curb her snow sliding passion. If you are currently teaching the over-50 crowd, can you say this about your students? What can you do to keep them involved in the sport? This article will explore your options.

Steadily Downhill and Loving It

J.R. Gurney’s play, titled Love Letters, follows the 50-year correspondence between Melissa Gardner and Andrew Makepeace Ladd III. In one scene, Melissa tells Andy that she is in Aspen. “What are you doing in Aspen?” asks Andy. “Going steadily downhill,” she replies.
Such is the state of the international senior skiing scene. Like Elsa Bailey, an increasing population of baby boomers are refusing to trade in their skis checker boards. And rather than switch to cross-country and snowshoeing, many are sticking with downhill skiing. As such, they’re going steadily downhill.

This makes sense. After all, it was the baby boomers who popularized the fitness movement, and they are taking advantage of their maintained fitness by staying on the slopes. Case in point:
Over the Hill Gang

According to their website:

Over the Hill Gang members receive discounts for lift tickets, lodging, food, rentals and much more. Over 300 discounts are available at ski resorts throughout the US and Canada.
Over The Hill Gang, International® …unsurpassed camaraderie, outstanding discounts and great trips for people 50 and over! We’re enthusiastic, fun-loving people who enjoy sharing the experience of skiing and other outdoor activities with other physically active seniors.
Membership is available to individuals and to couples as long as one spouse is at least 50.
Three thousand people (and counting!) can’t be wrong! More than 3,000 people in the U.S. and around the world enjoy OTHGI membership. >

Many people join local OHG chapters, and ski with the same group on a regular basis. For example, the Copper Mountain OHG meets on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. The ski groups include:

Club Incline:
Club Incline is only for the serious skier/rider. If there is anything you don’t want to ski, this group is not for you.
Club Decline:
Club Decline skis moderate bumps and powder, but usually stays on marked trails.
Groomed Zoomers:
his group skis mostly groomed black and blue terrain.
True Blue:
True blue skis all blue terrain, but with some stopping along the trail for stories and tales.
No Worries Mate:
The terrain skied is green and blue at a pace that fits individual needs.

Each group has its own designated guide. In some cases, the guide is actually one of Copper’s ski school instructors. Many of these instructors have discovered that this is one of the best ways to gain new clients. Additionally, the club often hires instructors for special ski clinics.

The Over the Hill Gang also conducts workshops on Balance and Injury Prevention. These are essential topics for senior skiers.

Boomeritis: The Down Side of Going Downhill

“Boomers are the first generation that grew up exercising, and the first that expects, indeed demands, that they be able to exercise into their 70’s,” said Dr. Nicholas A. DiNubile, a Philadelphia-area orthopedic surgeon, told the New York Times.

“But evolution doesn’t work that quick,” he continued. “Physically, you can’t necessarily do at 50 what you did at 25. We’ve worn out the warranty on some body parts. That’s why so many boomers are breaking down. It ought to be called Generation Ouch.”
This is a serious concern for senior skiers, and it can especially apply to the Club Incline crowd. It’s the proverbial spirit willing vs, weak flesh conundrum.
Other issues include:
Reduced Proprioception and Spatial Awareness
Aging Eyes in Flat Light
Mike Stebbins of Senior Skiing — a superb website — wrote an informative article on [training the fine muscles used in skiing.](http://www.seniorsskiing.com/fine-tuning-fitness-means-playing-around
These are ideas you can share with your senior skiers.

The Bottom Line

The most important thing about successfully teaching senior skiers is a sincere desire to do so. This should be a no-brainer, but, unfortunately, the group lesson system is often set up by who’s available, instead of who’s a good fit. Consequently, people who have no tolerance for children end up teaching kids, and young player dudes find themselves teaching people their pàrent’s or grandparent’s age.
One 50-something woman, an adult learner, complained about what happens when she takes a lesson from a 20-something female instructor:

“These young women benefited from Title IX, which gave them the opportunity to engage in sports in elementary school. Meanwhile, when we were children, the girls were in home economics classes, learning to make tuna-noodle casseroles. We were not athletic as children. Some of the younger instructors do not understand this, and openly show their frustration. They seem to forget that without the political pressures that came from the baby boomers, they would never had the opportunity to develop their athletic prowess.”>

If you do specialize in senior skiers, build it into your brand, and let your ski school director know your preferences.

Staying in Touch in the Off Season

As the ski season comes to an end, many instructors will lose touch with their students. “Instructors” will lose touch. True coaches understand that coaching is a year-round obligation. During the summer, your ongoing communications with your students will solidify your relationships with them. strong relationships = return clients.

You Can Learn to Ski In the Summer

Who here remembers Horst Abraham, a former VP of Education and Training of the Professional Ski Instructors of America? Apparently, he distributed a newsletter to his certification candidates. It was called “The Abe Letter.” One of these letters featured the following sentence: “You learn to swim in winter and you learn to ski in summer.” Joan Rostad of Epicski posted this on the forum. An interesting discourse ensued.

Although the statement has many potential interpretations, an encompassing philosophy prevails: Learning is an ongoing process, and it doesn’t stop when the season ends. In other words, when the lifts stop turning, the mind must continue to turn its own wheels, and come up with new ideas. If you’ve taught your students well, they will make connections between their winter and summer activities.

Here’s an example. A friend of mine was walking along the beach of Cabo San Lucas. The tide was high, and swimming was prohibited. The giant waves, however, had other plans for her. When one of them swept her off her feet and pulled her into the water, she panicked. Then, she remembered her ski instructor had told her about avalanche survival. “Ski sideways.” So she swam sideways, and lived to tell the tale. So even though skiing and swimming bare almost no resemblance, my friend was able to apply an extreme skiing skill to an extreme swimming skill.

Here’s another example. Your student hikes to the top of the mountain. On the way down, she discovers a steep, rocky pitch. She stares down like a deer in the highlights. She’s stuck in the moment, and she can’t get out of it. Then, she has a EUREKA moment. She realizes that she does not have to straight-line it down the path. She can break the speed with small, zigzag movements. Sort of like a ski turn.

Where You Come In

Some of your students might intuitively find a link between skiing and their summer activities. Others need a little help from their instructor. BY staying in touch – either through your Facebook page, weekly email newsletter or blog, you can continue to offer hints about summer activities. Here are some ideas:
1. Ski specific fitness tips, such as balance training, stability ball, BOSU, etc.
2. Activities similar to skiing, such as inline skating, skate to ski, water skiing, etc.
3. Outrageous activities such as sand skiing and grass skiing
4. Places where you can literally ski in the summer, such as South America, Australia and New Zealand.

Tip: Always ask for that next lesson

There is this sales technique with the acronym, ABC, Always Be Closing. It is good advice for ski instructors as well. I’m not advocating any sleazy salesman speak, or to barrage your client with a constant stream of requests. What I am suggesting is to simply at some point in the lesson tell your client that you would like to ski with them again and ask for that next lesson. Once you get a signal of interest, make a plan with the client to “close” the deal by booking that next lesson. Make it clear, pick a date, and with the clients permission pick up the phone and book it.

Getting That Next Lesson is Like Hooking A Fish

Selling can be a lot like fly fishing. If you tug hard on the line, it will snap, and the fish will get away. The best method is a gentle coaxing that gradually brings the fish in to shore – although sometimes when they are spooked you have to let them out again and calm them down further away.

From an article on Sales at changingminds.org


Like a fisherman, have a plan on how you are going to reel in your client for another lesson.

Create Raving Fans

I took the opportunity to attend Michael Hyatt’s Platform 2014 Conference at the Broadmoor Hotel in November. This was a great couple of days for me, where I learned more about building a platform of followers and customers from which to deliver your message in a busy world. There are several lessons from the conference I hope to share with you that I believe can help us improve our business as ski and snowboard instructors. My trip report provides a quick survey of the event and further references.

For today’s posts, I’m going to explore on Pat Flynn of SmartPassiveIncome.com talk on “1000 Raving Fans”

Create Raving Fans

At first this seems like an audacious goal. Creating not only fans, but raving fans from your ski school clients. We are not talking about the scale of Justin Beaver crazed fans. But people that are genuinely excited and enthusiastic. Clients that love to ski with you and can’t wait to ski and ride with you on their next visit. That is “Niche Famous”. To be raving, they are even willing to share with anyone that listens how great an experience they had with you.

Raving fans aren’t created the moment people discover you, they are created by moments you create for them overtime. — Pat Flynn

Moving Up the Affinity Pyramid

Moving a person from just met you to active client, to returning client to raving fan takes time. We can use Pat’s affinity pyramid to visualize the progression. The first thing to note is that the bottom of the pyramid is wider from this base of people you encounter every day, only a portion will become regular clients and then potentially move up to fan status.

Casual Audience

Your student’s first impression of you will most likely be even before they are assigned to your class. It may be a chance encounter approaching the ski school, observing you teach others, from your Facebook page, or a comment from others in the resort.

The key take away from Pat’s talk was to make sure your first impression has the effect you want. These first interactions should attract your ideal guests. Be consistent in delivering that impression, you never know when you will hit the mark.

Active Audience

If you can define the problem better than your target customer, they will automatically assume that you have the solution — Jay Abraham

The Guest Centered Teaching Model (GCT) naturally fits at this level. It gives you the best opportunity to move a student from a casual observer to actively joining you in a learning partnership invested in their own success. It is important to listen to and observer your clients so you can clearly understand their needs from the three areas in the GCT model: Cognitively, Affectively, Physically. Delivering a good goal statement for your lesson, will have the effect as the above quote.

Putting some of “you” in your brand will make it easier for the clients to actively engage with you. Once the goal is set, make sure deliver quick wins, then celebrate your student’s accomplishments.

Connected Community

To bring your clients to the next step with you will need to build a relationship beyond the first lesson. It is important to get them comfortable enough with you to share their contact information. You must make sure not to abuse this confidence, but deliver content to your clients that they find valuable, always with the option to opt out of future messages.

The first interaction should be an email or another message that summarizes your experience together. Particularly if you can make it personal, celebrating some of their accomplishments and clearly articulate a larger goal. As with most of your interactions a simple invitation back letting, the client knows you enjoyed skiing with them is so effective but often neglected.

After the lesson, use phone calls, Facebook, email and/or other social media to build a connected community with your clients. Use this community to deliver additional value, photos, videos and links to other resources. Many clients enjoy “factory tours”, let them in on the insiders view of a mountain life style, how you prepare for the lesson, what you do when your not skiing.

Magical Moments

If Pat offered any “secrets”, it was to provide your guests with memorable moments. You do this by delivering a bit more then what is expected. It can be actual magic, humor, music … just about anything that personalizes the experience for your guest. Something that works for me is to share a favorite powder stash with my guests. Something that they wouldn’t necessarily find on their own. I give it a bit of a build up, and create a bit of mystery. I have source great spots for various ability levels, and it is always the hightlight of the day. No powder that day, I have a collection of other trails, that with the right buildup can be a bit magical as well.

Another example: capture on video, key moments of the day and present an edited video of the experience enhanced with a music track. Or if your brand is more of a technical coach, deliver an analysis video with recorded tips. The key is to find ways to add a bit of magic, that little bit extra that will move people from a satisfied customer to raving fan.


  • Work to create a consistent first impression
  • Articulate an insightful goal statement
  • Deliver quick wins and celebrate your client’s success
  • Together with your client build a plan for a larger goal
  • Create connected community and deliver value after the lesson
  • Deliver magical moments

Online Communication Styles for Ski Instructors

Your students choose your classes for two types of reasons: tangible and intangible. The tangible reasons pertain to your level of expertise, the location of your resort, the lift ticket prices and the annual snowfall. The intangible reasons have to do with your style of communication. Doctor’s have a bedside manner. Ski instructors have a slopeside manner. To be successful, ski instructors must sense their student’s preferred style, and adapt their own accordingly.

This is relatively easy in a face to face setting. Online is a different story. Without the ability to see your facial expressions, potential new students can misinterpret your communication style. Conversations between direct and indirect communicators can cause major “disconnects” in online communication

Direct Communicators

Direct communicators shoot from the hip, and say exactly what they mean. For example, if a student asks “Should I go to Snowbird on my ski vacation”, they might say, “You’re skills are not strong enough for Snowbird You have to master mogul skiing. Direct communicators make their points with conviction. The words “should” and “have to” flourish within their sentences. They respect their clients enough to tell it like it is, without adding a sugar-coated topping. Although the direct communicator is usually not trying to be rude, an indirect communicator might view it as such.

Indirect Communicators

Indirect communicators often try to soften the blow. When asked about Snowbird, they might say “Wouldn’t Parkcity or Solitude be a better choice?” Words like “maybe” and “possibly” are common in the indirect communicator’s sentence structure. Direct communicators often don’t get it. They believe the indirect communicator is being wishy-washy, or worse, passive aggressive.

Direct and indirect communication issues are only two problems associated with online communication. Add things like Internet slang (believe it or not, some people don’t know the meaning of ROFLMAO) and other language barriers, and you have a regular Tower of Babel. Here are three hypothetical case studies about communication in a ski forum. This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real life ski instructors is purely coincidental. However, if participate online, the conversations will sound familiar.

Three Ski Instructors on an Internet Forum

Three instructors log in to a ski forum. A novice skier has posted a question. She writes:
Hi! My name is Susan. I’m brand new to skiing, and I was wondering if I need to learn the snowplow before I can ski parallel.
Here are the responses:
Student and Coach
Instructor 1: Self-Proclaimed Ski Guru: That’s a bunch of BS!!! Any instructor who still teaches the wedge is a LAZY LUDDITE!!!!! The only way to learn is to come to one of our special, wedge-free ski weeks. Give me your email and I will send you information about signing up.

Instructor 2: Old School European Ski Instructor: Everyone needs to learn the snowplow before they try parallel. Das is how we taught it in Austria.

Instructor 3: Modern, Progressive Ski Instructor:
Welcome to the forum, Susan. The answer to your question depends on a number of factors. Do you practice any other type of sport? Roller-blading? Ice skating? Are you athletic? Do you have any fear of heights? Your answers to these questions will help your instructor decide whether you should start with the wedge, or go directly to parallel. If they decide you need to start with the wedge, you will probably learn a gliding wedge, as opposed to the old-fashioned breaking wedge. But the breaking wedge can be good to know. At some ski resorts, the lift line is on a slight downhill. You might need a wedge to keep you from ramming into the skier or rider in front of you. Feel free to ask more questions, Susan. We’re here to help!

Logic would dictate that Susan would choose instructor number three for a lesson, but logic does not always dictate human behavior. Intrigued? Read on for more about online communication styles for ski instructors.

The Courtesy Rules of Internet Speak

As the above conversation continues, Instructor 1 responds to Instructor 2. “EVERYONE needs to learn the wedge? What are you, some kind of SKI NAZI?”

Instructor 3 interjects: Since you mentioned Nazi’s, I’m invoking Godwin’s Law. Dating back to the days of Usenet groups, Godwin’s Law states that “There is a tradition in many groups that, once this occurs, that thread is over, and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever argument was in progress.

Nazi comparisons are just one of the the things you should not do on social media.

The Seven Deadly Sins of Social Media Marketing

  1. Make glib comparisons to Nazis: Tacky
  2. Post in all upper case: All-caps posts indicate shouting
  3. Ending sentences with multiple exclamation points: Overkill and juvenile
  4. Shamelessly promote yourself in a thread designed to garner information: This type of activity can get you banned in some groups
  5. Insulting others to make yourself look good
  6. Info-dump long posts without dividing them into paragraphs
  7. Post short, terse comments implying that people should trust you based on years of experience
    All three instructors are guilty of these “sins,” but they still might have a significantly-sized following. However the size of your following is less important thanattracting your ideal client.

Analyzing the Three Examples

Each of these instructor communication styles attracts a different type of student.


Instructor 1 is guilty of the first five offenses, but he still manages to survive — and in some cases, thrive — within the ski industry. A certain type of student responds to this approach.

They like to feel like they are part of an elite group , who is somehow superior to the other “Luddites” in the industry. The all-caps “yelling” posts do not affect them. Some might be used to this communication style in their homes, or in their work environment. Even the hard-sell method doesn’t offend them. This type of online communication style works if you want to create a cult. If you want a following of interested learners, you’ll need a different approach.

Instructor 2

Instructor 2 relies on his age, accumulated wisdom and the status and authenticity that some people associate with European ski instructors. Although he might occasionally argue with other instructors about the merits of different teaching styles, he does not understand the value of communicating this information to students.

In some cases. he might be new to social media. In other’s he’s more confident of his ski instruction skills than he is of his written command of the English language. The older, European ski instructor has a certain mystique, which might attract a certain type of client.

Instructor 3

Instructor 3 is almost perfect. She addresses Susan by name — twice, in fact. Her questions indicate that she is more interested in what Susan has to say about herself, than she is about selling Susan a lesson. Her only offense: A bit too much of an info dump. Paragraph, along with the Cliff Notes version of her post, will help.

Call to Action: Visualize the preferred communication style of your ideal student, and adjust your own style accordingly.

Niche Knowledge in Action

In most cases, ski instructors are employees of the resort. This factor makes it difficult to find examples of instructors who have carved their niche. Those who succeed, treat their ski teaching as a business, despite their employee status. Bob Barnes is a perfect example.


The physics and biomechanics of skiing fascinates a certain type of student. PSIA Examiner Bob Barnes, author of the Complete Encyclopedia of Skiing, fills this niche. A techno-geek from way back, Barnes loves to create charts that demonstrate the mechanics of different ski skills. Check out theskiing glossary he posted on Epicski. A teacher of teachers, Barnes lead weekly movement analysis sessions in Summit County. Many recreational skiers who take his class end up becoming instructors.

Barnes is a perfect example of the distinction between a niche and a demographic. Both genders, along with a wide range of age groups, comprise his following. They have one thing in common: a deep interest in the science of skiing.

Although some students enjoy the scientific approach, others seek a mind-body connection. Kristen Ulmer satisfies their needs.
As the first woman to descend the Grand Tetons, , and as a former US Ski Team mogul specialist, Kristen Ulmer knows a lot about mental perseverance. She combined her athletic history with her background in Zen and movement based psychological work and created Ski To Live.
The program, which she describes as Mindset Sports Coaching, blends ski training with mental and spiritual methodology. Ulmer is an example of an instructor who has created a niche, and turned it into a business. She works for herself, not the resorts.

Examples From Outside the Field

What if you’re a Level 2 instructor, who lacks the credentials of Bob Barnes of Kristen Ulmer. Can you still create a profitable niche. Of course you can. Let’s look outside the ski industry for an example.
Wendy Wolf teaches a special type of yoga class in Westchester, New York. although she has not spent money on the expensive, advanced level certifications, her expertise lies is a different area. Movement Analysis. As a Certified Movement Analyst, Wendy had gallons of credibility juice. Unfortunately, she was serving it to the wrong tables. She worked at a local health club, whose members did not quite understand what her class was about. Although she notified her Facebook friends about her class schedule, many of them lived nowhere near Westchester!

Everything changed when she created a separateFacebook Page for her Yoga Practice.
The title of her page: Wendy Wolf, Gentle Yoga & Movement, Northern Westchester & Putnam County, helped people find her by name and location. She also linked to articles that described her specialized type of training.

Within a few days of putting up her new Facebook Page, she received a request for a private lesson.

The Takeaway: Even if you have not yet obtained full certification, you probably have other credentials to bring to the table. These credentials are the base ingredients of your niche. Let these examples inspire you to create your own niche market.

Niche Down and Be Known for What You Do Best

Bigger isn’t always better. In this article we continue the conversation about market niche, by making the case to be even more focused. Do a great job with your clearly defined niche and you will be as busy as you want.

A potential private client calls the ski school office. “I am a 45 year old woman who has never skied. I have some fear issues, but I am eager to learn the sport. I’d rather learn with a private instructor. Who do you suggest?”

This is just one of the many ski instructor niche markets. Quite often, your niche has nothing to do with whether you are a Level 1, 2, or 3. It pertains to your teaching skills with either:

  1. A specific type of client; never-evers with fear issues, perpetual intermediates who want to get to the next level, racer wannabes
  2. Mastering a specific type of terrain: moguls, powder ice
  3. A specific age or gender who wants to work with other people of the same age group or gender

Note the specificity. It’s not just never-evers, or even older Women. It’s older Women, never-evers with fear issues. Not every novice has fear. The same applies to perpetual intermediates. Many are more than satisfied with their current skills. Chances are, they take lessons simply to cut the lift lines.

The person who answers the phone at the ski school desk has two choices:
1. Assign whoever is available at the time
2. Assign an instructor known for his or her expertise with the client’s needs
3. Assign a Level 3 instructor, because they are always better, right?

In the case of this particular client, not really. Many Level 3 instructors are natural athletes. Despite their advanced teaching skills, they may lack the empathy needed to support a not-so-natural athlete. Any Level 2 instructor who repeatedly fails the Level 3 exam because of their skiing skills has definite empathy with less athletic students. But new students don’t know that. You have to make your niche known before they reach the ski school window.

If you are not known for you niche, you might be missing out on private lesson assignments with your favorite type of client. Although versatility is a valuable asset for group lesson instructors, to attract private clients — where the_real_money is — you need to niche down.
Read the rest of the article and learn how to do it.

The Art of Profitable Specialization

Webster’s Dictionary defines the word niche as “a specialized but profitable corner of the market.” “Specialized” and “profitable” are the operative words. You might decide upon a niche, only to discover that it can not possibly make a real profit. Here’s an example.

Let’s say your niche is teenagers wanting to improve their terrain park skills. If you teach at an upscale resort, you might find parents willing to shell out the big bucks for junior’s private lessons. That probably won’t happen at resorts where parents are already strapped for cash. On the other hand, they might be willing to pay for a small group series of semi-private lessons, especially if it meant constant supervision on the slopes. In the long run, you might come out ahead, financially.

Takeaway: The niche down process involves identifying your niche, and identifying the most likely way that clients would pay for it.

Niche Down Step-By-Step


The “this is what I really do” meme often goes viral on Facebook. Despite its humor, it represents a sobering fact: People’s perceptions about what you do is often way off base in terms of what you really do, and what you really want to do. The real key to discovering your ski teaching niche is by listening to the perceptions of your peers. Follow this step-by step process.

Step One:

Ask your fellow instructors and your ski school director to describe your teaching style in as few words as possible.

Step Two:

Ask your returning students about the most valuable skills they learned in your class. Don’t be surprised if you find a common theme.

Step Three:

Define your ideal student and determine the most valuable things you can teach them.

Step Four:

Test your niche. Talk to fellow instructors, and say “I’m the mogul meister,” or “I conquer fear,” or whatever your niche. If they get it, and if they did not laugh in your face, you nailed it!

Step Five:

Deliver your message. Use social media, and communicate with other staff members. Let everyone know that you are the “go to” person for your chosen niche.