At the 28th second of this video you get to see the moment I learned that I had passed the Expert Teach portion of the CSIA Level 4 exam. This combined with passing the Expert Trainer Development exam earlier in the week was far beyond what I had dared to hope for after a season of setbacks, injury and illness.
There is nothing so motivating as feeling part of a tribe:
The 2016/17 season was a test of my metal the likes of which I have never before faced. With so many days hovering around the minus thirty celcius mark, and one of the busiest starts in our Snow School's history, it took a lot of will to giving up one of my days off to train. But I did train, as often as possible, because I knew as the season wore on and our school became more busy the opportunities to train would become scarce.
The CSIA Level 4 Exam for anyone who doesn't know is a five day exam that is held only once each season in the Coast Mountains, the Rockies and the Laurentians. There are three components to the exam. A trainer development exam, expert teaching exam and skiing exam. If you pass one of those three components individually you get to keep it however, you need to pass all three to become a certified Level 4 Ski Instructor.
The Skiing Exam is for most the hardest portion of the qualification. The exam comprises eight different ski runs, each one with a different goal and a GS Race for good measure. You are examined by a committee of Level 4 examiners with very serious expressions and clipboards. There is also often a small audience of fellow colleagues and friends huddled at the bottom of the run which is both encouraging and never racking. The full five day exam experience was without a doubt the most exhausting and stressful test I have ever taken.
There are a combination of factors that make this exam so difficult. By April most full time Ski Instructors have already put in over a hundred days on snow teaching and training. It can be difficult to manage fatigue while training to peak in April. The time of year can bring wild fluctuations in snow quality. You may have trained your entire season on soft fluffy snow only to find yourself on boilerplate the week of the exam or vice versa. All of this is trivial compared to the real challenge, the mental game.
The mystique of the Level 4 standard engineers a kind of madness in most of the candidate pursuing it. Candidates of very high calibre from all over the country put great effort and commitment into attempting the exam every year. Most of them do not pass. It's like any high level sporting goal really. It takes everything you have. All your attention, all your focus, all your will, all your courage not to mention all your time. And yet, training for, and finally taking, the level four exam was one of the most profound personal growth experiences I have had to date.
This journey, for me began in early 2015. I attended the Level 4 course out of curiosity and with apprehension. I remembered how difficult the Level 3 had been, how all encompassing and exhausting it was. I wasn't sure at that point if I had it in me to make the commitment over what would surely be several seasons of skiing to train instead of skiing just for pleasure. What changed my mind seamed rather innocuous at the time but it was the moment I decided to make a significant commitment to the Level 4 gauntlet.
This week of training took place at Silver Star mountain which has a crazy long traverse to go from the front side to the back side. One morning myself plus all the course attendees and all the trainers were making that segue like a school of fish in tight formation. It was a lovely crisp morning with the early sun breaking through the tree branches. The cat track was freshly groomed so it was easy to coast at a comfortable pace.
I noticed all the skiers around me were making very subtle adjustments with their balance and edge pressure to effortlessly glide in very close proximity to one another. I marvelled at how elegant it all was. The tiny adjustment of one person to speed up, slow down, or evade an obstacle had a near instantaneous effect on the whole group. Everyone, myself included, was linked into this really rich state of group flow. I remember thinking, wow, this is so cool! I am surrounded by some of the most talented Ski Instructors from all over the country and we are all here unite by a common goal. Holy smokes, I am one of them!
That last though of being a part of this prestigious and somewhat crazed group was the clincher. It was a total identification with the tribe sort of moment. This was further reinforced as the week wore on by really impassioned speeches by the trainers during the indoor session about what the Level 4 process had meant to them. How difficult it was, how much it meant to them to finally pass and the friendships that developed along the course of that beautiful journey.
A sense of deep belonging is known to be one of the most powerful catalyst for action. Having that feeling, on that quiet cat track laid a very clear path in front of me. Walking, or rather skiing, the path was a different struggle all together.
Staying the course became difficult. That first season I knew I was absolutely not ready to take the exams so I didn't. Once I made the decision not to attend the exams my discipline towards training fell off a cliff. The 2016 course I was a little more disciplined but this season I had major issues with fatigue. I was so damn tired from my full time gig ski instructing I just couldn't get the necessary time to train and when I did get the opportunity to attend a session I just didn't have the energy or drive to make the headway that was necessary to give me the confidence to pull the trigger on signing up for the exam.
With great challenge comes the opportunity for a great quest:
So that spring, as I was nursing my tired and slightly broken body back to health I knew I needed a training plan that would be effective in-spite the business of my winter seasons. I decided I was going to commit a sizeable portion of my savings to training in the southern hemisphere over my summer. Enter, Rookie Academy and the talented trio of Jonathan Ballou, JF Beaulieu and Reilly McGlashan. I have already written extensively in previous blog posts about my amazing experience in New Zealand. You can read those posts by clicking on the above trainers names.
What I didn't detail in those posts, however, was the tremendous boost to my confidence that came from the experience of navigating solo across the globe to find my best self in a camper van meandering for my own amusement across a completely intoxicatingly wild landscape. Maybe one day I will go into greater detail on that score. I think I can get to the juicy part of the story quickly and succinctly by merely recounting the big lesson I learned during that experiment. I learned that confidence is not something that is handed down by a set of circumstances nor is it a genetically inherited personality trait. Confidence is something you claim by deciding to trust yourself.
The entire time I was in New Zealand I was unable to use my bank or credit cards. Imagine this for moment. I was unable to book a hotel, rent a car, or even buy groceries at the market. This was a source of great panic initially. First I tried to fight the problem. I tried to demand of people a the TD Bank that they fix this problem for me during phone conversations with long hold periods and vague non satisfying answers and suggestions to call a different department of the bank which would start the entire nightmare conversation all over again. One support guy happily reported he had discovered the answer. All I would have to do is go back to Canada, walk into a TD branch and changing my pin. I was at the beginning of a five week stay in NZ so that was not a very comforting answer to say the least.
Eventually I accepted that the TD Bank could not help me and I was on my own to solve the problem for myself. I hunted around until I found one bank machine that would accept my five digit pin and dispense a maximum of $300NZ / day. I reached out to my new friends on the training camp for help and I learned all sorts of interesting things.
I learned how to use apple pay. I learned what a manual credit authorization is and how to convince hotels and car rental places to do it for security deposits. I booked a full day fishing excursion and paid the balance cash making strategic visits to the ATM and trying not to look like a lady walking around with large sums of cash. Not that I would even have reason to worry in Wanaka, one of the most kind and friendly communities I have ever had the pleasure to live in. I booked hotels using the expedia app that allows you to prepay with a credit card online. Every day and every new problem, I found a way.
The hardest moment of all this was when I left the comfortable little home I had in Wanaka where I was staying in the accommodation included in my package by Rookie Academy. I almost made the decision to change my flight and go home early. My housemate, who turned out to be one of those people who is really an angel walking the earth completely emboldened me. She asked, "why did you come here?" "Why did you commit to five weeks instead of just the three week duration of the course?" "What were you hoping to get out of this experience?" I didn't have to think about it for long, the answer was obvious. I wanted to see what I was made off.
As a fellow traveler on a bit of a soul search she identified with my quest. In an extreme gesture of generosity she offered to let me use one of her credit cards as an emergency back up if I got really stuck. She would trust me to pay her the balance if I did use it via e-transfer and or she would just cancel it when I flew out of NZ. I am today as I type these words getting emotional all over again. That meant so much to me.
It takes a small army of dedicated helpers to achieve a big goal:
I remember when I was ski racing there were these two kids, brother and sister, in a division above me that were killing it at every race. They were set to go onto the provincial team and possibly the national team after that. What I noticed was an uncommon level of dedication on the part of their parents, but not in that overbearing live vicariously through your kids way that so many sports parents seam to fall into.
Both mom and dad were at every race, camping out at resort parking lots, volunteering to gate keep, working night jobs to pay for all the ridiculously expensive gear and to keep days open to take these kids to training. It was obvious the family had together committed to the goal of winning races. I watched that family operate like a small super team and that was the edge that gave these kids a boost over the competition.
Once I decided to seriously pursue the level 4 I started to recruit a small army of helpers. In addition to availing of the excellent training opportunities at my ski school I started a facebook group amongst my training peers so we could organize self training days together. I hired a physiotherapist and a sports psychologist. I regularly visited a good massage therapist. Most importantly I relied on the generous support of my partner, friends, family, and trainers. It was because through the combine support of all of them that I was able to make such strides in my performance.
My family was at the business end of many desperate phone calls where I was freaking out about being crazy tired or wondering if I was making the wrong decision signing up for the exams. They dealt with each panic attack with great compassion and patience, as they always do. No matter what my decision of the moment to quit, to go for it, to remain in a state of perpetual limbo, they supported my decision. Sometimes, when you are struggling to trust yourself, hearing other people trust your decisions unequivocally, even through the many flip flops, is all you need to get back on track.
One of the best decision I made was to hire John Coleman, a well versed in the Ski World talented Sports Psychologist. The first thing he asked me was "why are you doing this?" As ridiculous as it sounds, I hadn't given that much thought. The ladders of the CSIA are something that you find yourself climbing because they are there, without giving much thought to where they are taking you. John introduced me to a completely different world of performance. The psychological component. The first step was to get clear on the why so that when the road got hard I would have a good reason to keep going.
There were many profound introspective tools John introduce me too but the most impactful was the core alignment exercises. The concept is simple. Imagine your life like a fruit bearing tree. The most transient aspects are the fruit. This is the contexts of life that will fall away one day. They may serve you in so far the experience they provide nourishes the tree as they decompose but they will cease to exist in your life one day. The branches are your most highly prized values in life. These things are marginally more permanent, and yet, like a strong wind, a life changing event could cause the branches to break. Never the less, the essence of what makes you - you would carry on. This essence or core of your being is the trunk of the tree. This is what stands the test of time. These are the self defining characteristics that motivate your behaviour.
I took some time to explore this exercise. Fascinating to me was how many things that seamed really important, when I attach myself, to them ultimately belong in the fruit category. The Level 4, remarkably, was a fruit. I know the struggle to achieve it will one day end either with me passing or deciding to no longer pursue it. When that happens who I am as a person will continue on pretty much un phased. Liberating yes? I thought so. In fact, that realization really emboldened me. No longer did it seam like an all or nothing venture.
Values can be constructive or destructive. My favourite discovered value was freedom. I need that in my life. The freedom to adventure and pursue my curiosities about all things from the most expansive to the most esoteric. However, I have been forced into moments of constraint where freedom was limited and I rebelled against that instead of learning from it. Another value was fairness. This one is interesting. I find myself getting really upset sometimes over unfairness. It makes me strive to be fair in my dealings with others but it can also make me slightly opinionated.
At the core of my motivations for everything was this characteristic of being a seeker. My entire life, from my earliest memories I have been pondering big questions and completely in-content with the mundane. I have been seeking always, self knowledge but not in the intellectual, contemplative sense but rather, through gritty get your hands dirty direct experience. It is an experiment I have invited into my life because I have long suspected there lies dormant within me, and all people, a capacity that transcends all limits. That place where one becomes, as Maslow coined it, self actualized or in a state of exquisite grace where impossible is just a word. This state has a name, flow state. I am a voracious seeker of flow. In the context of seeking flow state the Level 4 makes perfect sense. It is the next big challenge that I am using to test my assumptions and learn what is possible.
New mountains are calling and I must go:
So will I continue to chase this goal? You betcha! To further help in that quest I have made a decision to pursue employment at Lake Louise this season. The Lake Louise Ski & Snowboard School is really embracing the cutting edge of snow sport education and this really inspires me. I believe I will have a great opportunity to exercise my new gained skills as a partial cert Level 4 there.
The Lake has a beautiful terrain assisted development area for new skiers & snowboarders. When I first saw it I actually teared up a little visualizing how much that will set students up for success. They have actively recruited high level pros supported by amazing trainers because they believe that makes for a better product as well as a great career development culture to motivate the up and comers. Super cool, they reward great customer service with a straight up uncomplicated incentive program.
They also have a larger school so there is less strain on each pro during busy times. They spread the prestigious role of teaching students training for CSIA certification across a greater number of high level pros. Super exciting for me personally, they have invited me to help develop a yoga program to give their pros access to tools that enhance performance and prevent injury. And they give pros access to their booking schedule in advance so they can lesson plan and let clients know when they are available for future bookings via, wait for it, computer!
I now know what I am getting into taking the Level 4 exams. I know there will be really wonderful moments of connecting with my tribe of dedicated and slightly mad candidates. There will be awful moments of fear and self doubt. There will be glorious moments when it all comes together and terrifying moments when it all falls apart. I welcome every part of it because I know the pursuit of this goal resonates with my core reason for getting up in the morning and ultimately, it will help me get better at the thing I love more than anything... Sharing my love for skiing with cool clients from all over the world in a breath taking mountain setting. Please wish me luck!