On-the-Job: A Ski Coach

John Hausdoersser is an assistant ski coach at Monarch Ski Area in Gunnison, Colorado.

This is a junior racing program mostly geared toward kids racing with the USSA. I coach all ages and all abilities, from advanced kids competing in downhill racing all over the state to kids just learning to race. My youngest racer is eight, the oldest is twenty-four. We race in the Rocky Mountain Division, so we travel all over Colorado.

Related: USSA Video

What’s my typical day like? Well, when we’re not traveling I’ll get to Monarch right before the lifts open at eight or nine o’clock and go set up the race course, usually a slalom or giant slalom setup. I’ll go meet the kids and before we go to the course, we’ll work on specific fundamentals; things like balance, edging, pressure, keeping your hands out in front, and so on. Then I’ll have them inspect the course so they know what to expect. The rest of the morning I’ll have them run the course while I stay near the bottom of the hill and give them tips and pointers. After lunch, we usually set another slalom and run it two more hours, then around two I’ll have them do dryland training to get them in better physical condition, things like running and sit-ups. If we don’t do that we go out and ski bumps or just have fun for a couple hours.

Coaching entails a lot more than just showing people how to ski fast. I also have to schedule races and decide who’s ready to race, not just by gauging their ability but by also judging their attitude and preparedness to compete. Then I have to check in with the parents and decide which ones are going with us because a lot of the kids are really young. I also serve as the resident ski tuner. I teach everyone about proper ski tuning since it’s so important to racing, but with the younger kids I actually do most of the ski tuning. I make sure their bases are flat, their edges are sharp, and their skis are waxed. I also do a lot of babysitting on away trips; I make sure they get to bed on time and they eat right, stuff like that. It goes beyond just skiing. All this administrative stuff can be a real pain sometimes, but luckily the head coach handles most of it, which leaves me free to coach most of the time.

Like me, most race coaches start out in ski instruction. Being a ski instructor is a great way to break into coaching, but ski coaching differs a lot from instruction, mostly for the better. Coaching is a lot more personal than ski instruction. The ski instructor-pupil relationship is very superficial; you only get the student for an hour or at most half a day, and you’re usually just hoping for a little bit of improvement and a big tip at the end of the lesson. With ski coaching I’ll have the same kids every weekend for three years. I’ll see someone go through a big part of their childhood and get to see their progress. This makes coaching a lot more satisfying to me.

I have been coaching now for about five years at various resorts. I moved out here from Pennsylvania to go to school at Western State College in Gunnison. Before my first job I was a racer for a team, found out they needed a coach and talked my way into the job. For my current job, I was living in Gunnison and saw an advertisement for a coaching job at Monarch and got the job because of my experience. If I hadn’t had a racing background and some coaching experience, I probably would have had to be in the ski school at Monarch to have a chance.

Generally, if you like kids and like teaching and skiing, you’ll probably be a good coach. A lot of beginning coaches make the mistake of trying to impress the kids too much by beating the kids’ times in racing or doing helicopters and stuff. It’s good if a coach is a strong skier, but it ends up hurting the relationship if the coach just shows off instead of trying to help the kids become better skiers. Just be yourself and don’t try to impress the kids too much. If you’re a good skier and a good person, the kids will respect you plenty. The main focus should be to make sure the kids have fun, that way they stay interested and keep coming back for more.

We get a few little league-type parents. Most are really supportive of me, but some of my fellow instructors tell me that they get parents who are former racers or know-it-alls and call the instructors at home or try to interfere with the coaching process by attending practices.

The biggest drawback of this job is the pay. I don’t make much money, since it’s a small mountain, and I usually only work part-time, so I have to work another job or go to school. I would do it for free or volunteer, but since it is my job I wouldn’t mind seeing more money. Also, just like with teachers in any school you get a few kids with bad attitudes. Even with these kids, though, you can learn to deal with them, teach them to deal with other people better, and see the results of your work.

There are some great benefits to coaching, other than the obvious – that I get paid to work outdoors in some of the most beautiful places in the country. I’m able to influence these kids’ lives. I usually get them when they’re entering seventh, eighth, or ninth grade, which are really turbulent and formative years. I get to see them improve as skiers because I see them year after year and get to watch them mature as people. Seeing them improve over time is great because I know a lot of it comes through my effort, which is really gratifying. It’s just a great, great, feeling. You get to see them grow up and see how their lives revolve around skiing. I guess I like it because you can really see the results of all your work when you watch them ski.

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