Why you should never stop learning to ski
Over the last few winters I have been trying to learn how to cross country ski. After teaching alpine skiing for very nearly 20 years it is rather humbling to go back to being comparable to Bambi on ice. The fact is that when we put on our alpine ski boots, and we clip into our bindings, we are held very securely and we can then throw our weight around with almost absolute abandon. This is not the case with cross country skiing, where leaning back slightly can very quickly result in an attempted recovery that involves peddling backwards on the spot in a scene rather reminiscent of something out of a Road Runner cartoon.
Despite the whole experience being very humbling (and this is before we discuss walking past people in their baggy ski clothes while you are dressed in lycra), I have found it to be great fun, and as an aside I honestly believe that it has made me a better instructor. I think that as an instructor it is very useful to go back to being a beginner as it really helps to remind you what your students are feeling, which in turn can only help you to become more patient and empathetic in the way that you teach.
However, the main focus of this blog is to discuss the value of continuing to learn new skills. It was Henry Ford who said “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young”, and there is quite a wealth of research that supports this idea. There are many benefits to keeping learning, including improving memory and keeping mental sharpness, as well as the knock on benefit to things like our confidence.
In fact I would go further still. If I think about the things that give me most satisfaction generally involve some level of challenge, they are not routine or easy. This also applies to my best memories, or the experiences that I value most, like trying to be the best parent I can be, or running 170km, both very different experiences but each involves some level of challenge, and a huge amount of reward and growth.
The fact is that getting out of our comfort zone is important so that we can grow and develop. Yes there is the fear that we will look silly if we try something and fail, but surely that is a risk that is worth accepting given the rewards.
Now consider this in relation to your skiing. When you are out on the mountain are you concentrating on developing and progressing, or are you cruising around thinking about where you are going to eat lunch? When was the last time that you did something while skiing that really challenged you, or when was the last time you developed a new skill on your skis? Just think how much you could be exercising your brain, and keeping your mind young, while you ski.
The fact is though that working to progress our skiing, even when we are very accomplished skiers is not really about keeping our minds active (though that is a bonus). Firstly when we do anything in a routine manner it will start to loose some of its joy. If you eat the same meal every evening you will probably start to look forward to it less and less as the days go by (even if that meal is your absolute favourite), and it will be the same if you end up skiing the same pistes, with the same type of turns, every time you go skiing. It can still be enjoyable, but it will not be as memorable as skiing something that challenges you for the first time. Though it is not as simple as the better skier has more fun, it is true to say that the better you get on your skis the more you can play and explore and ultimately that does make it more fun.
The great thing is that this applies to us all as skiers. For some it may be progressing from the nursery slope to La Chaux for the first time, for some it may be taking their first tentative steps into the off-piste, and for some it may involve standing at the top of Bec des Rosses, but the fact is that those experiences and overcoming those challenges can be great fun and very memorable at each stage of the journey.
Wherever you are in your skiing journey if you develop a more diverse range of skills it will help you get more out of your skiing, as well as giving you mental stimulation, and the satisfaction of facing a challenge, while exploring new places. This in turn will be more memorable, and give you more amazing experiences during your time in the mountains. When you consider all of those benefits the price of ski lessons suddenly seems very reasonable.
Having said all of this, I recognise that for some people the aim with their ski holiday is to cruise around and relax, and that is a completely valid way to enjoy your skiing, but if you do want to explore new places, and forge amazing memories, and you crave the chance to overcome challenges, you need to keep developing and progressing your skiing, and taking high quality ski lessons will help you to achieve that, just do not ask me to deliver those high quality ski lessons on cross country skis, not yet anyway.