Clinic: Child's Play

There's a lot to be learned from the way kids learn. Most important: Embrace your mistakes, and don't forget to have fun.
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There's a lot to be learned from the way kids learn. Most important: Embrace your mistakes, and don't forget to have fun.
Stian Davenport | Photo: Jonathan Selkowitz

Youth is wasted on the young. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still play the part—in a way.

Watch kids ski, for a start. They are extremely instinctive and perceptive. They learn by doing, failing, trying something different, and eventually succeeding. That’s the way they like it. Give a kid the opportunity, tools, and basic instruction to succeed, and they usually do. The struggle of learning isn’t a big deal, because they’re playing in the process.

As adults we overthink stuff. Or never think about anything. Both have drawbacks. Kids, for the most part, are experiential learners. They tune in
to what works, then instinctively adjust their technique accordingly. If they have success, they remember. If not, they learn from the setbacks and move on. Good technique is born from experimentation and polished through experience.

Meet Stian Davenport, who certainly has the genes to be somebody. His dad 
is adventure skier Chris Davenport, and his family is full of great natural skiers. We had a chance to talk to Stian, and we asked him what the difference is between kids and adults and the ways they approach skiing. He said it’s simple. “Kids look at a run and think, ‘How can I make this more awesome?’ We like to play with terrain more and find things that make us laugh.”

Stian is already an accomplished skier, and in this photo there are fundamental technique lessons to be learned by skiers of all ages. But there’s more to it than that. Knowing Stian, I can tell by the look on his face that he’s concentrating on what he’s doing—and on what’s working. But not far away from that look of focused concentration is a big smile—because he’s having a blast.

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So stay focused on the positive, and smile like a kid. Stian does, and life is clearly working for him. 

TIPS

>> ENGAGE FACIAL MUSCLES
: In other words: Smile. Keep a positive attitude, and when mistakes happen, you’ll be ready to learn from them.

>> FEEL WITH THE POLE: Stian’s pole tip is in the snow, giving him a sense of where he is in relation to the ground. And it’s always nice to know where you are in relation to the ground.

>> KEEP THE INSIDE ARM OUT FRONT: The inside arm is in front of the body, not low or lagging behind. This keeps Stian’s shoulders square to the fall line.

>> LOOK AHEAD: Stian’s vision is focused toward the middle of his next turn. Seasoned racer that he is, he’s always looking “two gates ahead.”

>> PLANT WITH AUTHORITY: The pole plant is already happening very early in the turn. Because a solid platform is not available in powder, Stian uses the swing of his arm to get things going.

>> WEIGHT THE OUTSIDE SKI: The outside ski is a bit deeper in the snow than the inside one. Stian commits to a dominant outside ski, but he doesn’t lose control of his inside ski.

>> MAKE EDGE ANGLES THAT MATCH: Notice how Stian’s skis have very similar edge angles. When your skis are tipped at the same angle, you’re balanced laterally. 

Stian Davenport, now age 13, is an Aspenite who, like his dad, honed his technique racing and uses it to crush all terrain and conditions. His dad promises to get him some powder baskets.

SKI’s director of instruction, Michael Rogan, is a PSIA Alpine Team captain, USSA Team Academy coach, and Heavenly, California, instructor. He spends his summers enjoying more winter at Portillo, Chile, where he’s resident manager.