Lost in ski instruction translation

When English isn’t English and left means right – oh, The joy of teaching humans how to slide on snow. Rhi Evans is back with more hilarious tales from ski school.

Instructing skiing and snowboarding can be a thankless task, made more so when teaching in a foreign country. I once spent an entire morning shouting “NE HOW” in the face of a timid Chinese lady on ski holiday in Japan, thinking it meant “well done”.

Turns out I was just shouting hello at her quite aggressively, over and over again.  She didn’t come back for more lessons.

The universal textbook of how to deal with a situation that involves two people trying to converse in different languages is as follows:

  1. Repeat yourself. At least seventeen times with no variation of what you’re trying to say.
  2. Speak louder. Maybe the person you’re trying to converse with isn’t foreign but is in fact just deaf.
  3. Act it out. Now is the time to put all those years worth of Charades at Christmas to the test.
  4. Repeat process until you are understood.
  5. If you have not made progress after twenty minutes, laugh and shrug shoulders awkwardly before slowly backing away and hope that the person doesn’t follow you.

Though awkward, foreign language issues are not nearly as infuriating as many lessons when you both speak the same language. Ninety percent of the snowboard lessons I have taught have been to fluent English speakers, 85% of said fluent English speakers, upon being told to move their right leg, will respond by waving their left arm.

An English lady nearly brought me to tears one lesson after I told her for the 223rd time to keep her hips still and she responded by displaying the action of one enthusiastically using a hoola hoop. She fell, asked me what went wrong and then informed me ten minutes later that she’d just realised this was a snowboard lesson and that she was, in fact, booked in to a ski lesson.

I had no choice but to smack her to the ground with my board and continue with the rest of the class (no, no, that’s what I wished I had done).

But she is not alone, we ski and snowboard instructors are a misunderstood lot and many skiers and boarders just simply do not understand us.

What the ski instructor say: “Point your skis across the hill before trying to stand up.”

What the student hears

Point your skis directly down the hill, try to stand up, allow all weight to fall backwards so you are now lying down on the slope with your knees in the air and remain patient as your skis drag you mercilessly down to the bottom at an alarming speed, taking out small children as you go.

What the ski instructor says: “Don’t use your poles to stand up.”

What the student hears

Try and use poles to stand up. In every possible way that you can: One either side until your weight is resting painfully upon each pole that has embedded itself into your armpit / Both poles downhill of you so that each time you push yourself up your skis slip away from you. Repeat process until you have worked your way to the edge of the slope and are clinging to the ropes to prevent falling to your death.

What the ski instructor says: “Don’t take your skis off.”

What the student hears

Take your skis off, pick them up and commence the walk of shame down the middle of the slope with skis awkwardly entangled in your arms.

What the ski instructor says: “Push the back of your binding down.”

What the student hears

Try and force your ski boot back into your ski with the binding still up. Use all the strength you have in your body to achieve this until you are sweating profusely. Never give up. Tell yourself that it WILL go in.

What the ski instructor says: “You’ve got snow under your boot, bash it off before you try to put your ski back on”

What the student hears

Stand on one leg to knock snow off boot, once achieved put that foot back down on the snow so you can lift up your other foot to knock snow off that boot. Try to put ski on, realise that you can’t because you somehow have snow under your boot again. Repeat process enough times to recreate a Charlie Chaplin sketch.

What the ski instructor says:  “Bend your knees”

What the student hears

Lock your knees and for the love of God don’t bend them.

What the ski instructor says: “Keep your weight forward”

What the student hears

Lean back dramatically, like one competing in an Olympic Limbo contest.

What the ski instructor says: “Keep your head up”

What the student hears

Burn a hole through the ground beneath your feet from the intensity of your stare.

What the ski instructor says:  “If you fall on the drag lift, let go and move to the side”

What the student hears

Fall and hold onto that lift like your life depends on it. Allow skis or snowboard to collect snow thus pulling your body down the slope as the lift pulls you up so you resemble a victim in a medieval torture chamber.

What the ski instructor says: “Only let go of the poma at the very top of the lift”

What the student hears

Let go of lift not at the top but near the top. Realise too late that you’re not quite at the top of the lift, begin sliding backwards taking out everyone else on the lift like domino’s. Become most hated person on slope.

What the ski instructor says: “Put your board upside down on the snow when you haven’t got it on”

What the student hears

Put snowboard flat on slope and watch as it races down the hill, into the road and gets run over by a passing car.

I know, I know, we’ve all been beginners at some stage of our ski and snowboard lives. Except for me, well, I was born with a snowboard attached to my feet. Which was rather awkward for my mother.

An edited version of this blog was originally published on Rhi’s website Its All Downhill From Here. 

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