Unschooling on the Slopes
By Mark Galbraith
(Submitted to Skiboards.com)I've never skied. In fact, I've never had the desire. I grew up in Southern California and never really got to know snow, or what a fun combination snow and gravity can be. Furthermore, money has always been tight - I thought the stereotypical Southern California skier runs off in his BMW to his Mammoth condo - and I always thought I couldn't afford the equipment, the lift tickets, not to mention the condo or the BMW! Besides, learning to ski seemed hard- not something where one can have fun the first weekend. In the last couple of years I begin to think about alternatives. Maybe I could learn to snowboard? I grew up skateboarding back in the 60's when clay wheels caused broken arms and intense focus. If I could do that, surely I could learn to snowboard, right? Still, everyone told me that most of the first day on a snowboard was spent face first in the snow, so I procrastinated.
This last winter several things happened: Our friend told us about all the fun they have skiing in the mountains above their house, how cheap it can be, and how much easier the new parabolic 'shape' skis are. My daughter caught ski fever from talking to her friends. It sounded like just another form of unschooling. Also, I ran into an article on Skiboards, new short skis that are not only great fun but easy to learn. That's the right combination for me! I looked up the things on several sites on the Web and started getting excited.
My daughter and I arranged for a long weekend, I called and found a pair of the skiboards to rent, we borrowed some pants and stuff, and off we went. My wife made us both promise that we would take ski lessons so we wouldn't do anything stupid like meet our death skiing out of control into a tree while playing football.
We met our friends and went up to Sierra Summit. Once we were dressed and strapped into our skis our friends took off up the mountain with their skis and boards and my daughter and I went to the bunny hill. We had two hours to kill before ski school so we just went up and down the bunny hill, trying this, trying that, talking about what worked, watching others and trying what they did, falling down, getting up, trying again - basically playing. By the time ski school started, we looked at each other, shrugged, and got on the main lift. We had taught ourselves to ski, and didn't want to sit through the basics again. We didn't need ski school - we had unschooled ourselves!
The rest of our two days on the slopes we continued our self-education process, trying one thing and another, talking about it on the lift back up, and trying again. We were both awed by the beauty of new snow in the forest. We watched our friend's five year-old on his tiny skis on intermediate slopes with his snowboarding big brothers, never losing his smile, a little boy carving his way down the mountain. Slowly, we got better - we were able to take runs a little faster, try harder runs, gracefully carving instead of shuddering our way down just barely in control. And we stopped falling (well, pretty much.)
Skiboards allowed me to learn fast and fall less. And that's the secret to having fun, right? This is an intense be-here-now experience that you can learn to do in a day. They let me learn to turn fast, control my slide, and carve slopes that I would never have been able to try in the first weekend on skis or a board. Am I an expert? Hell no. But I can handle blue runs, and I expect that a few more days of skiboarding will let me take on black runs, all while having fun and being safe. (The Salomons seemed too narrow, I will be trying fatter skiboards this next winter.)
The weekend was one of the best examples of home schooling I've experienced: A combination of challenge, desire to learn, experts to watch and learn from, time to experiment, a supportive environment, and best of all, FUN! At 46 and nine, we unschooled ourselves into skiers. Next winter you will find us in the snow, wearing big grins while experiencing the reality of Newtonian physics!