“Don't lower your expectations to meet your performance. Raise your level of performance to meet your expectations. Expect the best of yourself, and then do what is necessary to make it a reality.” ~ Ralph Marston
Prior to traveling to New Zealand to train with him, in the Rookie Academy Advanced Ski Improvement course, I only knew of Reilly McGlashan from the Project Kitz instructional ski video he had produced through a company he co-founded called Projected Productions. So when I met him in person I was a little bit star struck, I'm not going to lie. As if that wasn't already impressive enough I learned that he had also recently founded a new ski school in Hokkaido Japan called Hokkaido Collective Snowsports.
One of the most impressive aspects of really good technical skiing is balancing on a high edge angle. When done really well, the skier appears to lay his entire body over in the turn to the point where the inside hip looks like it is going to hit the ground. Reilly McGlashan is easily one of the best in the world at laying it over so I knew, if I got a chance, I was going to ask him to show me how he does it.
Over the course of the week I learned so much more from Reilly thank just how he lays it over. However, the full significance of what Reilly taught me did not sink in until I had spent nearly the entire season training, experimenting, playing, falling, getting up, putting myself out there and reflecting on the entire experience. I learned to get over the idea that there is a specific recipe of movements that when combined in a certain way will create awesome skiing.
Looking back it makes me think of the first time I heard Barber's Adagio for Strings, Op. 11. The first 26 seconds of the piece as that phrase hits you there is an immediate sense of something impressive happening that really captures your attention. That sound bite alone is quite intriguing but if you stopped at the 26th second deciding you wanted to understand just that one part you would miss being mesmerized by how elegantly that phrase is woven into the larger composition and how it is the cumulative effect of the piece in it's entirety that changes your life.
Like the Adagio Reilly's skiing has a central theme that he encapsulates in Project Kitz with the phrase Hip Discipline. In my mind it was such an elegant mechanical principle that was consistent with everything I had learned from Jonathan and JF, but most importantly it seamed achievable. I was really eager to try it out. I made the mistake, however, of overly fixating on this one aspect which not only proved frustrating but also served to temporarily blind me from the larger more profound lesson.
Day one training with Reilly started with a stretch session at the top of the first chair lift. As a yoga teacher no doubt you have surmised correctly that I was super excited about that. The stretches all centred around range of motion in the hip joint. Reilly explained that he is experimenting with achieving the lateral splits. I was really curious about why. I am paraphrasing but basically he said, by increasing how far you can abduct your femur while keeping the pelvis level you increase how far you can move inside the turn while staying in balance over the outside ski.
In an interview with Tom Gellie on the podcast Global Skiing, Reilly describes how he is constantly inventing exercises and drills to create movement patterns that will help him emulate skiers he really admires. This has been a large part of his training process. Conducting experiments with sample size me approach to ski training interestingly is something I found Jonathan, JF & Reilly all shared in common. For each of them it started as a curiosity about ski technique that became a burning passion and then a life practice involving mindful self inquiry and creative experimentation. It is why, I believe, they are such great innovators in the Ski Teaching world.
As fate would have it one of Reilly's former bosses from a prominent American Ski Resort happened to be joining us for this week of training. I had been fixating on the nuances of a particular movement and frustrating myself. I can't remember exactly what I was talking about but she broke through my rumination by sharing a story about how Reilly trained when he was starting out. She recounted how Reilly was the type of Ski Instructor that was always working on things. When everyone else was interested in the best laps of the day and then having coffee he was working on his skiing. In every available moment he was conducting skiing experiments, trying out new drills and confirming his experience with video analysis.
Something about that story struck a chord with me. At the same time I had the opportunity to follow Reilly down a pitch. The objective was simple, just match his speed and turn shape, later I would try adding the performance. I sort of let go of trying to move a specific way in favour of just moving. I had to have all attention squarely in the moment in order to just keep up. This turned into one of the most profound learning opportunities of the season.
For the rest of that week I was literally chasing Reilly all over Treblcone Mountain. As I was doing so I was also embodying one of the most important tenants of yoga. I was performing action without attachment to the fruits of actions. I was not getting overly hung up on success or failure but just performing each new experiment with attention and curiosity. I could ask strategic questions every now and then to help me slightly change the variables of the experiment. It was really fun and gratifying just to be able to follow in the tracks of a skier who is so inspiring to me.
Finally the moment presented itself, when I could ask Reilly how he manages to achieve such incredible edge angles. "What's the secret Reilly?" I asked a little timidly but I really wanted to know. I suggested it would be awesome to follow him doing it so that I could try to copy his movements which had been such a successful strategy for me to that point. He said, to be able to do that you need really firm snow to hold the edge so that there is something you can balance against. Unfortunately the snow at Treble Cone that day was pretty soft, but there was one really steep pitch that had been skied off and there was some chance to get grip. He turned back to me and said, "OK lets try it. here."
I remember the first turn was to the right going around a snow fence and then cutting hard left just uphill of another ski session. After that it's all a total blur. I know he was far more in balance on that left ski than I because he shot across the pitch and I sort of meandered before making a quick adjustment to reorganize myself to get the turn back to the left happening. And yet that run was sort of life changing for me because what I saw happen in front of me was pure art. There was a theme that adapted seamlessly with the changes in the snow condition and the contour of the slope weaving in and out of the larger composition. It looked powerful, effortless and really darn inspiring.
Several months later when I was at the top of the Gold Scapegoat at Sunshine Village during the Level 4 exams nervously waiting for the wave from the examiners I allowed myself a second to think about the journey I had been on up to that point and how much it had transformed me. The injuries and setback. All the advice of my trainers and all the video I had watched. All the yoga, gym and sports psychology sessions. All the generous support from colleagues, clients, friend and family. I also thought about a section of the Bhagavad Gita:
"Your right is to work only and never to the fruits thereof. Be not instrumental in making your actions bear fruit, nor let your attachment be to inaction. Arjuna, perform your duties established in Yoga, renouncing attachment, and be even-minded in success and failure; evenness of mind is called 'Yoga'. Action (with a selfish motive) is far inferior to this Yoga in the form of equanimity. Do seek refuge in this equipoise."
~ Srimad Bhagavadgita (Ch. 2, 47-49)
At the top of that ski off run, slightly downhill from my fellow candidates I silently committed to just keep moving like I was following Reilly. Finally, the wave came and I went for it. While I didn't pass the full skiing portion of the Level 4, I did manage to pass that particular ski off run. I also passed the Trainer Development and Expert Teaching making it a successful season far beyond my wildest hopes. It all started in a small but stunning part of the world, Wanaka New Zealand where I had the opportunity to meet cool people from all over the world and train with some of the absolute best. I really hope I have the opportunity to get back there again sometime in the near future.