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Feature - Heroes, role models and twinkies

They draw on their experiences in long, productive lives to teach people the skills to slide down a mountain, and in this they find meaning


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"But with new ski technology – shorter skis with lots of shape – it was possible to get them to shift their weight and steer a bit through edging. When you’re not on a big hill, beginners can pick this up quickly and begin making rhythmic turns down the hill. This is the thrill of skiing!"

Unquestioned Sensei in Japan, Don-san put his technique to work with the school children he journeys to teach every year. Pitted against other instructors utilizing the standard snowplow, Don found his kids learning more quickly, progressing further, and most importantly to him, having way more fun in the short time he has with them. He’s convinced even if the Alliance remains skeptical.

"When I get to Japan, I have eight hours with people who don’t speak my language. What do I want them to do? I want them to get up on the hill and carve turns, which is what kids want to do. And get them there as fast as possible.

"It’s just a great experience when you’re the old bugger. Most people in Ski School don’t expect very much of you. It’s not necessarily overt but it just shows through. In Japan, all the liftees know me. They’re local farmers, not skiers. They’re probably younger than me but they’re hard working farmers. They’re wrinkled up, shrivelled up bastards and they look at me and they know I’m a lot older than they are and I can ski and they can’t. To them, this isn’t a matter of envy, it’s a matter of respect."

"Why teach?" he repeats the question when asked. "Passion. No other reason. Being a ski instructor is transporting other people to the most wonderful, thrilling experience they can have. I teach because I love it."

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It’s a rare occupation that embraces workers ranging in age from 18 to over 80, workers doing essentially the same physical tasks. Rarer still when that job engages them in helping a cross-section of the public pursue a passion to more exquisite heights.

"With guys like Doug and Don," says Rob McSkimming, Whistler-Blackcomb’s Ski School director, "the life skills they have and bring to a lesson are hugely important. They’re also role models for some of the other people in the school. They see these guys and they figure teaching’s something they can be doing for as long as they want or something they can get back to later in life. It opens up possibilities as far as their long term thinking goes."