Breakthrough Lesson: Eastern Division’s Sherm White on Building Confidence

(Editor's note: So many PSIA-AASI members shared such great content describing how to achieve a breakthrough moment on the snow with a student, for the 2017 PSIA-AASI Accessories Catalog, thought it would be fun to create a regular feature about breakthrough lessons.)

Several years ago, I was assigned to work on our lower mountain, skiing mostly green with a little blue mixed in. I picked up a group of five adults, mixed ages and gender, who were there for the week.

They had all skied for several years, and the first thing I noticed was that, skill wise, they were okay skiers. But they lacked confidence when they were on unfamiliar terrain. They also were starting to get complacent and bored with skiing. As an instructor, my usual action was to do drills to make them ‘stronger skilled’ skiers, even though they usually only skied that one week a year. 

However, I decided to work on their confidence, and get them on our more advanced terrain by the end of the week. I didn't share that idea with them for a few days, because they would have freaked out and not come back.

The first two days we worked on what I now call "mountain survival skills", such as sideslips and pivot slips. As they got more comfortable with me, and what I was doing, I broached the idea of exploring the upper mountain, and to my relief, they were fine. In fact one person who hadn't bought lessons for the whole week, signed up for the rest of the week.

Long story short, we skied the upper mountain, they were stoked, and, most importantly, they were excited to explore, and still are.

My personal two “ah ha’s” from this lesson were:

1)     All the basic drills we always use can be used to build more than physical skills if they are used correctly.

2)     What we do is as much mental as it is physical. We create fun, exciting experiences that make our guests want to challenge themselves to ski more.

Sherm White, alpine Level III full-time instructor at Smugglers Notch, VT and PSIA-AASI Lifetime Member

(If you have a breakthrough lesson you would like to share, send an email to PSIA-AASI Lead Content Officer Peter Kray at

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  • Breakthrough Lesson: Eastern Division’s Sherm White on Building Confidence


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