by Tracy Greenhalgh
Chris Gorga has been teaching kids to ski and ride at Copper for nearly a decade, and he still can’t hide his exuberance toward his job and his students.
“My goal is to give them the best mountain experience. For that beginning student, the first time they get to ride up Kokomo Lift makes their minds explode! I tell them we have 23 more lifts on the mountain, and they think, ‘There’s even more to conquer than this?’ It’s fun to see how excited they get when they start actually realizing how big the mountain is. Everywhere they go they say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know this was over here!’ That’s really fun,” says Chris.
I asked Chris what a typical day looks like for him and the kids, so here’s the scoop!
It’s all about finding a kid’s best fit
“We might start each group with two or three different levels of ability, then after we’ve taken a run, we rearrange and put like skiers and boarders together to find the best fit,” says Chris.
Instructors take the younger, less experienced kids to the Easy Rider magic carpet at Center Village for the first couple of hours. “Then we discover that one kid has it but rest of the class isn’t quite ready yet, so we try and get them up on the lift to maximize their ski day as soon as possible. As long as it’s safe to move them on, we do,” says Chris.
Kids naturally show their skill level to an instructor
There’s lots of nuance going in an instructor’s head and Chris says, “We ski down different runs to get a feel for a kid’s ability. If I have a blue level kid in a higher level class, I can ski them a way down that run that shows certain things and highlights their skill level. I’ll ski on a green run with kids and see the same things. When you move them a little bit higher you see that natural separation starting to happen.”
According to Chris there are very specific patterns kids (as well as adults) display, and a good instructor knows where they should be skiing and with what group. “We realize pretty quickly where a kid needs to be. A seasoned instructor can look at a line of kids skiing behind them and pinpoint their skill level.”
Many times instructors are only with a child once for a full- day lesson. But Copper also offers many programs that run for a few weeks, including Copper Choppers, Scooters and Trailblazers. “In this case, we want to try and have the same kid with the same group of kids progressing together with the same instructor. With these types of programs we spend even more time evaluating on the first day since it will set up the entire month’s lessons,” says Chris.
Make the day safe and fun to keep kids engaged
Chris says his goal is for every kid to make it to the end of the day. “If it’s 2:00 p.m. and they can’t even move, then they’ve pushed too hard or done too many laps in a row,” he says.
While instructors are excited to show their kids the entire mountain, safety and keeping the kids happy about their experience is always the number one priority. “It’s fun to move them across the mountain and they get a kick out of it, but you can’t sacrifice your student’s ability level to get there,” says Chris.
Chris says he can spot the signs when kids start to fade, then he knows to ease up. “If they’re tired, we might go back to something we started with at the beginning. Sometimes I’ll take them back over to the magic carpet and teach them how to ski backwards! Then I keep it in a more controlled environment so if a kid needs to sit down I can allow that while still moving the rest of the class,” he says.
“We don’t put kids in situations where they feel over their heads and not looked after. After that, if it’s not fun, what’s the point? We want them to come to lessons and feel like skiing and boarding is the best thing ever! I’ve been told so many times that ski and ride school is so much better than regular school. If they’re having a good time, they’re getting better at skiing and riding,” confirms Chris.
Varied ability levels and letting the mountain talk
“With kids I like to let the mountain do more of the talking. I can tell them how a ski works, how to bend it from center, and what happens when you tip it on its edge, but they don’t really want to hear any of that. If I can just put them in situations where the mountain promotes those movements, all they know is they want to keep doing this fun thing that we’re doing,” he says.
But even in a carefully crafted group there are varied levels of skiers and riders. “A good instructor is familiar with the mountain because they know they’ll have kids that aren’t as comfortable with certain things, and they also don’t want that to take away from the others that want to try new things,” says Chris.
A few trails on the mountain combine groomer runs with bump runs. “Here I’m just sort of working my way in between giving them different things to play with as they go. It’s something I do all the time,” assures Chris.
“I’ll ski trees with kids before I ski bumps because kids think trees are the most fun things in the world. As soon as they realize that the same movement patterns work on any terrain they’ll say, ‘Oh, that was a lot like that tree trail,” and I’ll say, ‘Exactly!’ I just let the mountain talk to them so that I’m not wasting time talking about muscle memory, they’re just building it,” says Chris.
“Kids will ski their best through the bumps and trees, and adults will ski their worst through that terrain because they’re so terrified of it! On the flip side the kids’ worst skiing is generally going to be on a big wide open groomed run,” says Chris. “Somehow when you put trees in front of them, kids ski really fast!”
What’s Chris’s favorite thing about being an instructor?
“I love seeing their excitement as the mountain expands for them. When a beginner learns for the first time they can control their speed and turn, or when you take them up the lift and they actually understand how much fun can actually be had up there, that experience is pretty fun. It can happen at any level, but the way it happens at the beginner level is a pretty massive, eye-opening experience for them,” says Chris.
Tracy Greenhalgh is a freelance writer and web content creator. She specializes in writing about all things outdoors, health, and wellness-related, but she loves to tell any stories that inspire and help make us all better humans. Find out more about Tracy and her projects at tracygreenhalgh.com.