Local writer Nicole Lindstrom recently discovered the spirit of "never stop learning" on a private lesson at Aspen Highlands. Here, she recounts her experience.

It is my belief, and many will agree I'm sure, that we should never stop learning. As human beings, we are meant to grow, to evolve, to ever-expand.

This concept can be spread across all areas of life, even the places you think you already know and don't feel you need to improve upon. Think about it: There are things we do, that we do so often, we stop thinking about them. It is in that disconnection with conscious thought, that we lose sight of habitual tendencies or places for refinement.

Like for some — skiing.

Growing up in Colorado, I’ve always felt pretty comfortable on skis and confident that with practice, my skill level would continue to improve. What I never even considered though, was how seeking knowledge from a well-versed professional could completely change my approach and skyrocket my growth.

Growing up in Colorado, I’ve always felt pretty comfortable on skis ... What I never even considered though, was how seeking knowledge from a well-versed professional could completely change my approach and skyrocket my growth.

Recently, I was linked with Aspen Highlands Ski & Snowboard School Manager, Ryan Watts, for a day lesson at Aspen Highlands. Originally from Australia, Ryan is an Examiner and Trainer with the APSI (Australian Professional Ski Instructors), and a current RMT (Rocky Mountain Trainer) with PSIA-RM. He has taught guests and trained instructors at Steamboat Springs for the past five North American winters and joined Aspen Snowmass this past October.

Ryan and I were paired together for the lesson after I provided detailed information to the school about my skiing background, desired areas of improvement and motivations. Before our day on the mountain, Ryan contacted me to discuss directly, so that we would be fully ready to go at 9am the morning of.

When I met Ryan, I realized just how skilled Aspen Snowmass is at pairing their Ski Pros with students. Ryan was immediately able to recognize my habitual tendencies given my background in snowboarding and his own experience with the sport. We had even spent the same years romping around Keystone Mountain and indulging in happy hour at Dos Locos.

Of course, I thought, out of 1,500 Ski Pros at Aspen Snowmass, I get paired with one that I recognize from when I was 16 years old.

Due to our shared experience, I immediately felt comfortable with and connected to Ryan. Given my personality and strengths and weaknesses as a skier, the school was able to match me with someone who would not only understand what I was looking for in a lesson, but who I would also get along well with.

There is no wonder why so many individuals and families return year after year to ski with their favorite Ski Pro.

Never Stop Learning - Ski & Snowboard Schools, Aspen Snowmass
Never Stop Learning - Ski & Snowboard Schools, Aspen Snowmass

The day started in the rental shop where a technician hooked me up with gear; a learning experience in itself. The technician not only matched me with equipment to fit my height and weight, but was also able to provide me with boots perfect for my foot width and skis that would be the best performing in the snow and weather conditions for that particular day.

Within our first few runs, Ryan was able to highlight a few of my weaknesses and direct my focus to areas for improvement, giving me very specific drills and tactics to start applying immediately.

Later, Ryan expanded upon his method of teaching, and its derivation from the Fitts and Posner Model. According to this model, the three stages of learning are:

COGNITIVE – “What to do”

ASSOCIATIVE – “How to do it”

AUTONOMOUS – “Do it”

Jumping into the cognitive stage — applying his guided techniques — felt strange and awkward at first ... like I had never skied before and was learning something entirely different. It took a few runs to ski into something more fluid and associative. Once Ryan felt I had grasped the concepts and was able to apply to my skiing, we moved to terrain that was slightly more difficult. I found that I immediately lost the ability to execute the techniques and reverted directly back into my old tendencies.

Still, the snow was so good and the day so fun, that we linked up with Ski Patrol and headed back into the woods for some steep and deep, discovering newly cleared trails such as Willy Nelson and the scattered pods of Temerity.

Previous to our lesson, I told Ryan that I was a decent skier but had developed an almost paralyzing fear of steep terrain and trees. With a savvy and well-skilled crew, I knew I was in good hands and was hardly scared at all (I only felt my heart skip a beat or two). It was just the boost I needed to face my fears and, with Ryan’s encouragement and confidence, I was able to ski the terrain just fine and experience the contagious joy and freedom found in snow and trees.

Never Stop Learning - Ski & Snowboard Schools, Aspen Snowmass
Never Stop Learning - Ski & Snowboard Schools, Aspen Snowmass

After exploring both the mountain and my response to more-difficult skiing, we jumped back into where we started. Again, working on consciously applying techniques and tactics that would be of use no matter where I was on the mountain. Confidence and ability regained, we faced the difficult runs a second time.

This time, my movements were fluid and easeful. What at first felt impossible, now felt comfortable. I was in awe of the transition, especially within the span of only a day. The improvement was tangible.

What Ryan taught me that day is helpful for any skier, at any level, who wishes to improve.

Top Three Learning Techniques to Apply at Any Level of Skiing

Never Stop Learning - SSS - Aspen Snowmass
Never Stop Learning - SSS - Aspen Snowmass

1. TURN SHAPE

As a skier, it is important to be tactful with your turns. Focus on creating turns that are smooth, round, and constant in shape. Take as much time during the first half of your turn as you do during the second half. Allow your turn to happen, without rushing from one end to the other.

"Imagine that you are standing in the middle of a clock," Ryan said. "When you point your skis directly downhill, you are facing 12 o'clock. As you make your turn, point your skis towards 9 and slowly hit all numbers, 10, 11, 12, 1, 2, 3, before starting your second turn in reverse order, 3, 2, 1, 12, 11, 10, 9. Allow the same amount of time pointing at each number. This makes for smooth, round, consistent turns."

Never Stop Learning - SSS - Aspen Snowmass
Never Stop Learning - SSS - Aspen Snowmass

2. DIRECT YOUR FOCUS

There are three main areas of focus:


• Pressure management – Shifting your weight forward or backward.
• Rotary – The twist of your body, rotating from your spine.
• Tipping – On or off the edge of your skis.

Choose one of these areas to explore and illuminate. By directing your focus, you will become aware of you're habitual tendencies and be able to consciously shift your habits into better alignment and consistency. Once you feel solid in one, move to the next. Keep shifting through the areas of focus and repeating the work.

Never Stop Learning - SSS - Aspen Snowmass
Never Stop Learning - SSS - Aspen Snowmass

3. CONSTANT MOVEMENT

Notice where you hesitate in your turns and see if you can replace the pause with fluid movement. Try to stay limber and keep moving, constantly flexing and extending as you float down the mountain.


If you are a regular, rigid stopper, like me, this will feel very odd at first. However, once you get it down, skiing becomes much more meditative and soon you find you aren't thinking much about it at all, you are doing.

I learned that becoming truly good at something requires continual development. There is no “end” point. There is always room for improvement, for refinement. The person that understands this, eventually becomes the best in their field. To be the best, one must fall in love with the process and continue to show up again and again.

Aspen Snowmass understands this internally as much as outwardly. Their trained Ski Pros are continuously learning and improving through their work at the Aspen Academy, and are required to prove their continued engagement year after year.

I asked Ryan why he chooses to do what he does.

“I love what I do. I enjoy sharing what I do with my clients and watching them learn. When I teach, I help people have a better time and enjoy their skiing more. Happy people. It goes beyond just their time on the hill. Finding time in their life for an adventurous, infectious outdoor activity leaves them with a more balanced perspective on life beyond their life at work.”