What I learned about learning – by learning to snowboard

My wonderful girlfriend and I are back from a great week of skiing and snowboarding in Alpe d’Huez (she skis, I board) and I picked up a new little trick on the trip. Here I am just starting to learn it:

I’ve been snowboarding for a few years now, and I’ve always wanted to learn to jump! This year I finally got around to it, and it is loads of fun!

Now, I’m not just showing of my rad new snowboard skills – there are some points here about learning in the workplace. Here’s how corporate learning could improve by being more like learning to snowboard.

1: Learn by doing

I learned to snowboard by snowboarding. I didn’t attend a snowboard conference, seminar or training session. I have no manual, training video or snowboard simulator. Nothing beats learning by doing.

2: Learn as you need it

I haven’t attended a three-day snowboard training session that taught me everything a snowboarder needs to know, including fakies, 360s and ollies. I learned one thing and applied it – and only then moved on to the next thing.

3: Learn when you want to learn

Nobody tells me “Alex, today you will learn to ride moguls.” I learn what I want to when I want to.

4: Focus on where you are, not where you ought to be

When I keep my mind mostly on how good a snowboarder I want to be, I’m paralyzed by the gap I perceive, and I don’t get there. If I keep my mind on how good (or bad) I really am right now, I constantly improve.

5: Make it fun

If I’m not having fun, I’m not learning. It’s that simple.

6: Learn all the time – not just in the classroom

Last year I was on a really steep, uneven, icy slope. I was standing at the top of it thinking “Man, I really want my first couple of turns to work. If I fall up here, I’ll probably slide on my butt all the way down into the valley.”

So when I did my first turn, I did something new without deciding to do it: I pulled up the tail of my board halfway through the turn. It worked and I did a completely precise, perfect turn. I have no idea where that came from, but I clearly remember thinking “Whoa – that’s a neat trick.” I pull that one out of the bag whenever I really, really want a turn to work.

7: One little thing can make a huge difference

This year, I sprang for 2 hours with an instructor. It’s pretty pricey but definitely worth it. He looked at my style, and told me that it looked great but that if I moved my body up and down during turns it would work much better.

It took me about 15 minutes to grasp that, and it was a breakthrough. Suddenly my boarding was much more fluid and effortless. I did everything that I normally did, and that one little addition just made it work much better than before.

8: Learn from people who like what they do

The instructor who taught me obviously enjoyed both snowboard and teaching. You learn much faster when things are taught with passion.

9: Enjoy your mistakes

I looooove falling on my board. The more spectacular the fall the better. You can’t really learn if you fear failure. Very little learning happens without mistakes – or when you fear making them. Here’s Patricia enjoying one of her mistakes:

Patricia wipes out

Following this advice, I’ve made enormous progress on my board. You’ve seen one of my first jumps in the video above. Here I am, later that same day:

Wheeeee! Next year I’m getting a helmet and a back shield so I can go for some serious airtime :o)

11 thoughts on “What I learned about learning – by learning to snowboard”

  1. Yes I agree – I am a lucky bastard :o)

    And I didn’t even mention the times I almost:
    a) Fell into a stream
    b) Fell down a a 5m drop

  2. I like the analogy between learning in the workplace and learning to ski/snowboard. Considering the latter, it is evident that we are always learning: There are always more difficult jumps to master, more speed to be enjoyed. Learning never stops, and if it is fun to learn you learn more.
    One of the best pieces of advice a colleague has given me was to not be afraid to fail. It has always been my approach to skiing that if you don’t have a major wipe-out on the first day, you didn’t push yourself to the limit. Unless you are a professional Formula 1 race driver, you only know where your limit is once you exceed it.

  3. Alex,

    You are one rad dude now. You’ll be in that half pipe in no time. Hey, I didn’t see you or wonderful girlfriend wearing what only the coolest of skiers/skiettes (boarders/boardettes) wear…..a HappyUP!!! button. C’mon

    Congrats on the air time.


  4. Couldn’t agree more re learning by doing. I’ve only had one day’s snowboarding and it was fantastic even though I was rubbish. I realised fairly early on that all I had to do was keep getting up – my body seemed to get a tiny bit better at snowboarding each time I set off, even if that only meant travelling an extra yard before I fell off the next time. The most useful thing ‘I’ could do was relax and enjoy the ride while my body got on with learning how to do it…

    Oh, and a high tolerance for public embarrassment helps – like when the 4 year olds zip by and laugh at the English bloke who’s fallen on his face again. :-)

  5. That’s struck a chord with me – because I’m planning to make a career in training.

    Alexander, you’re absolutely right about a trainer being much more effective if he/she is passionate about the subject he’s/she’s teaching.

    OK I know it sounds sad being passionate about accounting software. But I find it really gives me a zing to train people to use a nice simple package that will take away no end of headaches for them.

    And conversely, it dumps a huge black cloud on me if I’m wrestling with a client who just can’t be bothered to provide decent information.


  6. Lars: It’s one of those annoying facts, that the more you fear falling the more you’ll fall. Btw, Patricia’s ski instructor told her something great: “Speed is your friend!” Because if you’re afraid to fall and go really slow – you’re MORE likely to fall.

    Nutster: Darn, we forgot to wear our buttons. And those days were all about the happyup!

    Roger: Thank you :o) I felt like a pro.

    Mark: “keep getting up” – I like that. And yes, little kids doing much better than you are a serious nuisance :o)

    Ask M: There’s nothing sad about being passionate about accounting software. Or butterflies, Delft porcelain, dolphins or whatever.

    Convey enough passion, and you can infect other people with it and make them like it too. Keep that passion and move it to the forefront.

  7. I am curious on where I would find that Stokke Garden chair. It looks fun but you provided no link and searching for it only gives me baby cribs which I wouldn’t fit in any more :P

  8. Great post, and great points. I know it’s a good sign that I am learning something well when the time flies and I’m more energized at the end about the endeavor than I was at the beginning!

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