A proposed tactical approach for free-ski examination runs

A special post for all Australian Snowsports instructors.

It’s that time of the season again; instructors all around Australia are heading off to different resorts to take their examinations. Unless the premise of the examination is your home resort, you will likely be on unfamiliar terrain. Australian ski instructor exams follow the format of one terrain familiarisation run followed by two examined runs. The mental approach one has for the each of those runs can have a determining factor on how well you do in the free-ski component of the exams.

The following percentages are based on the assumption that a candidate needs to perform at 80% of their personal performance level to meet the examination standard. If you’re that gun of a skier that your 50% performance level will give you a passing grade, then please don’t even bother reading the rest of this post. Go study your manual, work on your movement analysis and practice your teaches instead. Those are the areas where gun skiers usually fail in the exams. It is an instructor qualification after all. 

Skiing in one colour can have certain… benefits in ski examinations.
Nah, not really. Examiners have a much better eye than you think.

Photo by Charlie Brown.


The most common mental approach amongst candidates is to usually aim for an 80% performance level on their first examined run with the intention to go a full 100% on their second examined run. In a perfect world, that would indeed be the optimum approach. By the second examined run, you’re thinking that you should be more familiar with the terrain and therefore should be able to perform even better. Yet, that only works if you actually pull off a guaranteed 80% performance on that first examined run. If we take into account the human factor and you’re like me, you’ll probably be nervous and mess up that first examined run. An aimed level of 80% performance then drops to an actual 50-60% performance. Bummer. Now in an effort to secure a passing grade, you won’t dare to go more than 80% again for your second examined run. The end result, a 60% first run and at best an 80% second run. 

I propose a different approach. Go 100% on that first examined run. Give it your all. I’m not saying to be technically deficient in your skiing. Just mentally, you’re committing your very best that you can draw on at the given time. If you pull it off, great. You have at the very least displayed an offensive style of skiing that many examiners look for. And even better, you can go, dare I say it, 110% on your next run. However, if you don’t manage to pull it off and screw it up, it’ll probably end up being at about the 80% level anyway. Either way, now you can go back to trying for 80% performance on your second examined run. You now know the terrain better so the chances of pulling of a safe 80% run is even higher. So at best you end up with 100% on your first run and 110% on your second run or at worst, 80% on your first and 80% on your second run.

Another important dimension to consider is the importance of that first familiarisation run.  One tactic is to use it as a mock exam run. Framed that way, you almost have three runs really. You could then apply the initial model and aim for an 80% performance level on the familiarisation run, go 100% on your second run and the third run is really a bonus. 

You can also use the very first familiarisation run of the free-ski component to get rid of nerves. Ski it like you’re being tenaciously judged. That your every physical movement is being scrutinised by the ever watchful eyes of ski gods. Feel every muscle in your body suddenly tense up and lose all form of coherent co-ordination. Go ahead and screw that run up royally. And at the bottom, get it all of out of your system. 

If your skiing level isn’t up to scratch by the exam, there really isn’t much you can do that is going to make you pass. But if you’ve trained hard and you are at that level of skiing, the only thing stopping you from performing the best of your ability is your mental state. Like any other exam, it is your chance to show the extent of your abilities at that given time. Have the right mental state so you can show your optimum skiing. And if your best isn’t enough yet, it really isn’t the end of the world. No one died and we’re not curing cancer here or the such. Just keep training and try again next year. Lest we forget, it is just skiing and we started all this because it was so much damn fun.

Failing is a part of learning as much as falling is a part of skiing. 
Photo by Philip Crumpler.

To all those taking exams in the coming week, I do wish you the very best of luck. If you do pass, awesome. There are very few other occasions that can match the sense of achievement and personal triumph you will undoubtedly experience. And if you don’t make it this time round, well…you were going to the pub anyway. It’ll just be for a different reason. 

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4 thoughts on “A proposed tactical approach for free-ski examination runs

  1. What if you learn by thinking? Can the result be determined by the focus you have in your mind when you're in the exam eg. “I want the feeling I had doing drunken sailors” or “I need to bend at the hip more”. Can't something like that change your skiing at that moment or is it just dependence on muscle memory?

  2. This post was describing the mental commitment or mental aggressiveness one adopts for an examination run. Your question refers to the mental focus on technique during a run.

    A mental focus on technique is one way to learn and change skiing. Repetition of that mental focus then creates muscle memory. Until you reach an autonomous stage of performance, mental concentration will be required to perform the movements. This is useful in exams if you haven't reached an autonomous level by then.

    With regards to your learning style, perhaps have a read of http://www.turnshape.com/2011/11/to-ski-well-you-have-to-become-feeler.html

  3. I like the idea of having 100% on the first examined run and 110% on the second examined run.I hope you'll post the winners on your next post.I'm excited to know.

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