Leadership on the Ski Hill – Swoosh!

Stacey B. at Nakiska

Stacey B. photo by W.Blackstaffe

The other day I took my first formal downhill ski lesson. YAHOO!

I guess I should clarify that statement, because my better half is a Level IV International Ski instructor. Every time I have skied in the past has been with him, and so every ski trip has been a lesson – most of which I took for granted.

This time was different, I had to behave, my instructor was someone with whom I couldn’t ‘whine’ or complain as I am comfortable doing with my husband (call me human, I too rattle in my shoes when asked to leave my comfort zone and try something that scares me – but I was willing to try) .

I have never really been much of a ski enthusiast, I have always felt the day was a struggle for me, mostly because I was very much a beginner when I met my husband, and because I am a big chicken, so challenging myself to take what felt like great risk to my life never felt like fun for me.

On this day – I had fun.

Here are some of the leadership lessons I learned while watching both my husband and his talented associate, Stacey, accomplish great things while they were helping us newbie’s:

  • Follow What I Do

One of the folks I was with managed to find herself in an odd position, doing the splits, legs splayed with skis crossed in the back and facing UPHILL – and stuck. Stacey understood her predicament, and promptly put herself in the exact same position as my friend and Stacey slowly guided my friend back onto her skis all the while making her feel comfortable and secure without ever making her feel ridiculous or embarrassed.

Great leaders guide the way by example, over and over again always respecting the people they lead.

  • There are Many Ways to Learn

I had a breakthrough with my turns and learned how to lean into the ski I was edging with to make that turn. I know my hubby had told me (a million times) to align myself with the hill not the trees, but I just didn’t get what he meant – did he want me to fall downhill? Stacey told me the SAME thing in a different way. “Make the letter ‘C’ with your body so that it is over top of your outside leg during the turn. Suddenly I had a different visual than trees and slope. Breakthrough.

Great Leaders understand they need to share the same story in different ways in order to make it relevant to everyone.

  • Follow What’s Right.

For a few years my hubby has asked me to follow him and do what he was doing. I kept refusing, I wanted him to follow me, and then tell me what I was doing wrong. This time I did not argue with Stacey and followed her – this time I paid attention to exactly what her body was DOING rather than ask for criticism and it helped me ‘get’ where my hips, legs and body needed to be. At the same time, my husband was teaching another one of my friends (a much better student than I) and she was grateful for his lead, as it guided her to really improve her skills.

Great Leaders show the way.

  • Picking Oneself Up Means Not Quitting

A few weeks ago I had fallen skiing. I was so frustrated for falling down when I thought I had control and darn-it, the fall hurt. My right shoulder has since lost a bit of its movement as a result. At this point in my ski-learning I wasn’t getting it, was still afraid of the speed and now I hurt. What I did not know is that I was on the verge of getting it. The other day I watched my friend get up, try again, get up, try again and really WANT to learn. She is tenacious and strong, and she is definitely not a quitter. I watched throughout the day how she improved because of her tenacity and how no matter what new thing was thrown at her she was going to keep on trying.

Great Leaders know learning from the fall is how they improve for next time.

  • Some folks learn better in a group

As absolutely giving and understanding as my ski-hill friends are, most of them are expert skiers and have been doing it all of their lives. Skiing with people who are excellent is great, especially when they are all instructors who delight in seeing others improve. But there is always something in the back of one’s mind that thinks, “I hate to always hold these experts back.” and it’s hard to shake. The other day my little group included two expert skiers and three of us who really wanted to improve but are new to the sport. Learning with other learners created different conversations, laughter, camaraderie, and a sense of self that felt like I belonged in a community. This is why at a ski hill beginners learn with beginners and experts learn with experts.

Great Leaders provide learning opportunities that are geared to the level of the learner and they do so in groups.

This week I loved skiing, too bad it is at the end of the season. Next year brings with it new opportunities to enjoy it again and I pray these lessons stay with me.


My ski adventures take place at Nakiska Ski Resort near Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The Nakiska team are a joy to be around, from snow hosts to lifties, from ski school to lodge and everywhere in between – it is clear that the on-site Nakiska management team is out to rock-it for an experience the guests can truly celebrate.

Thank you to the Ski Cellar in Calgary, Alberta and Nakiska for arranging a delightful Ladies Day.


Patti BlackstaffePatti is a strategic advisor in Leadership, Customer Service and Cultural integration through Mergers and Acquisition. You can book her to speak at her personal page. Need Strategic Sense for your business? – hire us for Leadership Development of individuals, teams, group training and company strategy. Happy Workplaces Succeed, take the path to get there. (403) 201-8512




    • Thank you Bill.

      One of the truths about all of us is that we are all students at something, no matter how old, educated, successful, or talented, there are going to be things we want to learn to do. Being able to laugh at one’s self or know where we put up barriers helps us to get past those road-blocks and find a breakthrough or two.

      Thanks for commenting!

  1. While I am not a skier, and the thought of hurdling myself down a mountain with no control on a pair of sticks is quite frightening, I love how you painted the picture and pulled out the juicy bites of brilliance from your experience.

    Loved reading this, Patti!



  2. Thank you Velma, We can find ways to lead and be led through our everyday experiences, it is only a matter of being open to seeing it. It was a fun day, indeed.

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