A Ski Instructor on Why Body Language Is Now a Huge Part of Teaching

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Logan Lanier is a ski instructor at the Telluride Ski Resort in Colorado. He works primarily with children, leading group and private lessons, but also competes with the Telluride Ghostriders, a synchronized ski team. We caught up with Lanier to find out how the pandemic has changed his day-to-day job as an instructor—and how he sees COVID-19 impacting ski resorts in the future.

Our resort shut down in mid-March. I had a private lesson with a family scheduled for the following day, but we were unable to ski together. I packed up and left Telluride pretty quickly, returning to my parents’ home in Alabama. I was nervous we might not reopen this winter, but the ski school figured it out. Much of our industry is outdoors and half of us wear face coverings anyway—so there was a lot of hope.

I returned to Telluride on November 1 and we officially opened the season on Thanksgiving Day. We had a three-day training session where we were taught how to connect better with our students in nonverbal ways, like when our faces are masked.

There’s more emphasis now on body language and context clues than ever before, like knowing when a student has to go to the bathroom or is getting frustrated and needs to take a break. I’m also learning to improve my own nonverbal body language. I might be all smiles under my face covering, but if I’m wearing head-to-toe black, plus a mask and tinted goggles, my students won’t know how impressed I am with their skiing. 

The “never-summer” mindset is huge in the ski community. One of the greatest parts about working at Telluride is that a significant portion of our staff is international. They come from South America, New Zealand, Australia, and more. Some of our international instructors are still in the States, but they’re unable to work because of visa issues. It’s a weird limbo. We’ve had to adjust by hiring more staff that are U.S. citizens. Not just college-aged and mid-20s or early-30s either; we’re getting second-career folks and retirees. For some people, [the pandemic] opened new doors.

The resort is busy right now. We’re at 75 percent capacity with Airbnbs and VRBOs, in addition to our [50 percent] cap on hotel lodging. A lot of folks are close enough to drive—they come from Texas and L.A. One person flew in from Miami. But I haven’t had any international students yet.

Why are families still buying ski lessons? And why would they come all the way out here and risk catching something in transit, just to be outside with their family? People’s motivations have changed. Family time is sacred now. And this way, your family can be together and do something outdoors instead of just walking around the cul de sac.

My time is split between private lessons and public group classes, which have been limited to four students at a time. In that way, there’s more work to go around for the instructors. I find it rewarding having fewer students—and I think the students would agree because they’re getting more individualized attention on a skills-progression basis. It’s comfortable, it’s intimate, people are learning more; I hope a hybrid model exists in the future for smaller classes. 

One of the biggest challenges was just shortening our group lessons from a full day to a half day. How do I adapt a lesson plan from seven hours to three? That was a dramatic shift. Also figuring out how to interact with our private guests when lunch is in the mix. How do I diplomatically say no to eating indoors with someone I’ve known for years? “Hey, I’m going to have a turkey sandwich on my own… see you in 25 minutes?” You don’t want to hurt their feelings.

Our lift lines are operating with a reduced number of people and emphasis on separating households on chair lifts. Our lift managers are only allowing two singles to ride together on a four-person chair and they’re asked to sit on opposite sides. The way we’re doing our reservations and online inventories—like booking ski equipment—will probably be temporary. Shops and boutiques are totally capable of reverting back to last-minute requests for families who’ve never skied and forgotten something they need. But right now, if you’ve got a lesson tomorrow and you’re missing boots or other gear, you’re in trouble.

The housing shortage has been a tricky issue in Telluride. I don’t know if it’s just a ski town problem or an anywhere-that’s-not-a-big-city problem, but rentals are evaporating because so many people from New York and other [coronavirus] hot spots relocated here. Property sales are ballooning but that leaves nowhere for the instructors to live. Finding housing is more competitive than getting the job.

We found ours through Facebook, and though I didn’t get to choose three of my four roommates, we’ve had a lot of conversations about safety. One is a seasoned ski instructor; another is a first-year snowboard instructor. I feel safer knowing they work at ski resorts and that we’re all on the same page.

I’m pretty responsible, so it’s hard for me to comment on changes to the aprés-ski scene. What I hear from my guests is that a lot of people are skipping it. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, of course. There are still heated patio spaces in town and open-container ordinances that allow skiers to grab beers in red Solo cups and hang around outside, waiting for their pizzas. But I’m not doing that and most of my guests aren’t either.

The industry is facing so many unprecedented challenges right now. Seeing people persevere through this and seeing how I’m improving as an instructor, despite everything, gives me hope. I’m learning to observe my own body language and the body language of my students. I’m learning to do more in less. And by the end of this season, I know we’ll be stronger ski instructors because of it.

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