- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 16, 2006

“Welcome to Liberty,” shouts Brian McVicker as he skis backward down Dipsy Doodle, one of the easier runs at Liberty Mountain Resort in Carroll Valley, Pa.

It is a greeting and a promise. Mr. McVicker, a ski instructor at Liberty, is telling his novices that if they pay attention and apply themselves, they can find freedom on the slopes.

“That’s one of the reasons I think I became addicted [to skiing and to teaching] so quickly,” Mr. McVicker, 35, says. “There’s a certain amount of freedom that you don’t get from anything else.”

Earlier, Mr. McVicker, who is certified to teach skiers of all abilities, took a group of five youths down the beginner’s slope.

“How do we stop?” Mr. McVicker asks the class as they huddle around him in a semicircle on a flat area of the hill.

“We turn,” a girl replies.

“That’s right,” says Mr. McVicker, who uses one of his ski poles to draw the path of a “C” — shaped turn in the snow. After demonstrating the turn himself, he watches from below and offers commentary as each student makes a turn.

“We like to keep the student/instructor ratio smaller so that everybody gets some individual attention,” he says, noting that six students is an average class size.

Mr. McVicker starts his mornings by teaching at least one 90-minute beginner’s class and normally teaches advanced students in the afternoon. On the weekends, he gives private lessons. On this morning, in just one hour, he has been able to teach an inexperienced skier to overcome her timidity and glide down the mountain, making parallel turns and at times, even skiing backward.

“I like teaching the full range,” he says. “I think when you first start teaching lessons, that’s your goal: You want to teach the next lesson up. But when you’ve been teaching as long as I have, you find joy in teaching all the lessons. It’s just as fun to me to take somebody out who’s never done it and introduce them to the passion that I love so much and get them understanding why that’s so fun.”

In beginner lessons, Mr. McVicker explains the parts of a ski and how to put on the equipment. He walks the class out to a flat area and has them follow him, wearing only one ski. They repeat the exercise with the other foot.

“This cuts the difficulty in half. They have one booted foot that will give them the traction they want in the snow, and they have one slippery surface,” he explains.

He then has students — still on one ski — walk up a small hill and ski down.

“Nine times out of ten, unless they’re Rollerbladers or ice skaters, they’re going to turn,” he says. “From that, I’m going to show them, ‘Look, you just turned.’ ”

Mr. McVicker then demonstrates how to turn and introduces stance and lateral balance by having students lean forward and jump up and down in their skis. With both skis on they follow him again and when the class is ready, he takes them up the beginner’s slope.

“My goal in that beginner lesson is to get them to turn both ways to a complete stop — comfortably,” he says.

A native of Washington state, Mr. McVicker was a beginner himself 18 years ago and became an instructor the next season. After working in the retail and mortgage banking industries, he shrugged off the world of indoor offices and started a landscaping business to keep busy during the skiing offseason.

“I was looking out the window one day, and that’s when it dawned on me that I needed to be on the other side of the glass,” he remembers.

Mr. McVicker relocated to New Jersey in 2001 and took up the trapeze after trying it on a vacation. He joined the staff of a trapeze school in New York before moving in 2004 to Baltimore, where he now owns and operates the Trapeze School New York in the Inner Harbor from April to November.

From mid-December through March, Mr. McVicker joins some 300 full- and part-time ski instructors at Liberty, where he also teaches instructor clinics.

Pointing to a small child on skis at the bottom of the beginner’s area, Mr. McVicker says he taught a 31/2-year-old the previous day.

“Kids learn differently than adults do,” he says. “With kids, you play games; you get them focused on other things than what they’re doing. Adults need to know why. Why am I doing this? Am I going to hurt myself? Why is the ski doing this when you tip it on edge?”

As a ski instructor, Mr. McVicker must help people through their fears.

“We all have rational fear; that’s what keeps us safe,” he says. “Those things you can deal with by getting them comfortable, even in the beginner area. For instance, if they’re afraid of speed, then you can control their speed as a ski instructor. I can ski in front of you and give you my hand and I can control the speed and the turn shapes so that you can understand that we don’t have to go fast. When it’s height, I have to get you to control your breathing.”

Mr. McVicker, who is on track to become a licensed examiner for Professional Ski Instructors of America — the group that certifies ski instructors, doesn’t plan on returning to an indoor job if he can help it.

“In short, I have a really good life,” he says with a smile. “It might not pay as well as some of the other careers out there, but quality of life is tremendous.”

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