Two years ago I was struggling to understand why anyone would ski. I had decided to try skiing after moving to Colorado and unlike snowboarding, it just wasn’t coming naturally to me. 

Near the end of my first season, I decided to break down and get a private lesson at [R77R, Breckenridge] Ski Resort in Colorado. 

“It's not as hard as you think," my instructor told me while drawing turns in the snow with her pole. “See the way it flows? That’s all you have to do.”

Shisler Aspen Story

This man, Eric Ward, along with my instructor Dean Hill turned me into a skier. Photo by Tim Shisler.

Six hours later I was still frustrated and wondering what the value of a private lesson really was. I decided to save my money and try to learn from friends. 

Over the next two years I found myself inventing ways to cheat my bad form, and all the while I kept wondering what was wrong. Something had to be wrong. I wasn’t that bad of an athlete… at least I thought.  

And then everything changed. 

Learning to Love Skiing

This past January on a press trip in [R25R, Aspen], Colorado, I met professional instructor Dean Hill. 

“What do you want to get out of today?” he asked when we met for the first time. 

“To like skiing,” I replied. 

He smiled and then tried to pry some more definable goals out of me as we rode the lift for the first time. 

“When you ski, where's your weight?" he asked me after our first run. 

"It's usually on the balls of my feet and on my toes," I said, trying hard to think about it.

He nodded his head and then asked me on our next run to stop mid-way down and slide parallel to the mountain.

I slid, or, rather tried. It was hard for me to roll my ankle enough to create a flat ski. He instantly caught the problem and ran me through a series of drills. 

Sliding, struggling and grimacing—I wondered why he was asking me to do this. 

Shisler Aspen Story

The Elk Camp Gondola on Snowmass. Photo by Hal Williams. Courtesy of Aspen/Snowmass.

We skied on cat tracks, down green and blue runs and on undulating terrain. The whole time he kept asking me to make slight tweaks. 

“You should go see my friend Eric Ward," he finally said after lunch. "I think you have a problem rotating your ankle and you can't ski flat.” 

He went on to explain how Eric had created a unique way of looking at a person’s natural pronation and supination. We spent the rest of the day working on drills, expanding my comfort zone and talking about life. 

By the end of the day it had become clear that having a private instructor meant having Dean at my disposal. In group lessons, it’s usually one or two people that set the pace. Instructors work hard to even out the group, but it is easy to get pushed back by a more persistent personality in the group. 

A private lesson however focuses only on you. For some skiers, upwards of $800 a day is too much to pay. However, with the right instructor, as I learned, it can be the difference between taking your skiing to the next level or falling in love with the sport entirely. 

Eight Degrees of Pronation 

The next day I walked into The Foot Foundation located in Snowmass Village. Eric Ward met me with a smile and soon we were talking about why I didn’t really like to ski.

"Stand up on this bench," Eric instructed me.

"Now put this under your foot,” he said as he placed a balance shim under my right foot. 

"Bend your knee and squat," he told me. 

"Does your knee stick out to the right or left or stay parallel with your foot?" 

It bent outward. He added more balance shims. We repeated the process. And then we repeated it again, and again and again. 

Shisler Aspen Story

Washington, DC resident Katharine Weymouth, has her boots fit at The Foot Foundation by Eric Ward. Photo by Tim Shisler.

"Man," Eric mumbled adding yet another shim to the growing stack. "You're way off the charts." 

After 15 minutes I learned that unlike most people, I have a severe pronation issue and was six to eight degrees off. I was outside the bell curve of normalcy. 

"No wonder you've never liked to ski," Eric said with a smile. "You've never been able to ski like a normal person. You've always been on one edge and unable to rotate to your other edge."

Shisler Aspen Story

Eric Ward uses a Sports Balance System, which helps measure pronation via balance shims with different amounts of degree. Photo by Tim Shisler.

He quickly traced my insole and tossed an insert in my boot. "Let's go out and take a few runs," he said. 

Twenty minutes later, my life as a skier had been transformed. For the first time I was able to effortlessly turn my skis and let gravity do the work. Skiing a flat ski, I was able to ski straight and maintain speed. 

The experience left me excited and ready to reevaluate my previous thoughts around private lessons.

If I hadn’t met Dean, who knows how long I would have gone before learning what the problem really was. I had gone for a private lesson to become a better skier and instead found myself falling in love with the sport. Simply put—without Dean and Eric, there’s a good chance I might have hung up my skis and just gone back to snowboarding and that would have meant missing out on a sport I now love.