Monday, August 20, 2007

Snowboard Instructors at Wachusett Mountain

The Coolest Kids on the Mountain

By Lisa Perosi

Skiing down the mountain at Wachusett Ski Resort, I hear loud voices and laughter. I look up to see a girl, about 15 years old, flying over my head on her snowboard. She lands a perfect nose grab and rides past me with her friends. Who is she? She is Missy Wiitala, snowboard instructor.

Most of the snowboard instructors at Wachusett are under age 21. They report to Matt Leland, their manager and mentor. Leland, a father of four children, has been snowboarding for 27 years. He larned Princeton, Mass. “Snowboarding is part of who you are, once the snow is on the mountain I need to ride, its infectious, and the other instructors share my passion for riding,” he said.

I shared that passion when I went into the terrain park with some instructors. I shadowed Wiitala for a beginner’s lesson by the bunny hill and got some pointers from instructor Nicky Fitzgerald.

“I know this park like I know my own bedroom!” Fitzgerald said to me while we shared a ride up the lift. At 16 years old, she showed incredible confidence and skill and was a great teacher in the park. With her guidance, I learned to go off several low jumps and ride in the half pipe.

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Leland describes snowboard lessons as “ed-u-tainment” because the student will be educated but also entertained by the lesson. Also according to Leland, “…it’s best to learn from a snowboard instructor and not from a friend or family member”

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The instructors’ snowboarding skills range from intermediate to expert, but they all must attend the Wachusett Instructor Training Course (ITC) prior to teaching.

Wiitala started snow boarding when she was 11, and has been an instructor at Wachusett for about one year. She and remains close friends with the people who attended ITC with her and enjoys spending time on the mountain with them.

“When I don’t have school I will arrive at Wachusett Mountain at around 8 a.m. and I will stay there until 10 or 11. When we have school I arrive at 3 p.m. and leave at around 10 or 11pm.”

Lesson times are 10:30 am; 1:00pm; 5:30pm; and first time lessons only at 7:30pm. Weekend and holiday lessons begin at 9:00am, conditions permitting. Group lessons cost $30 and a one-hour private lesson costs $65. The instructors often receive monetary tips from their students, but they agree that the best tip they can receive is a successful lesson.

Teaching someone to snow board is “…the coolest thing to teach, because you can give this sport to someone in one hour,” Leland said. “You can teach them to stop and how to ride heal and toe side in the first lesson.”

Snow boarding has been passed down from generations since the 1940’s, “when snow boarding began in the 1940’s it was called ‘Snurfing’ and the sport progressed from there.”

Leland finds riding the mountain to be peaceful and therapeutic. “It’s like my therapy, and it’s a great escape from stress.”

I expected snowboarders to be very Zen-like and hip, so I was not surprised that the kids that gave the lessons were as cool as can be. While leaving the cool snowboard instructors I reflected on what I had learned from them: I must keep my knees bent while landing a jump and try not to be afraid of catching air or of “clearing the landing” (over shooting the jump). Wilson was good enough to give my novice skier friend some tips for his first time out as well. I was impressed with how much these kids knew not only about snowboarding but about other snow sports, too.

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Lisa Perosi is a student at Wagner College in Staten Island. She wrote this article as an assignment for an internship with the Eastern Ski Writers Association, under the guidance of Janet Franz.

1 comment:

Mathew said...

Sounds cool. Snowboarding is really a very big fun.