On July 10, 2014

Three-generations instruct and inspire with “You can do it” approach

By Karen D. Lorentz posted Dec 27, 2012

Photo courtesy of Okemo Mountain Resort
Rob Bevier was one of the earliest instructors to embrace the new wave of snowboarding in the 1980s and 1990s.

“My father wanted a boy.”

That’s how this three-generation story started. And how Gwen Allard came to love the outdoors and snow some 50 years before her son and granddaughters became instructors at Okemo.

Gwen Allard was born the second girl to a dad who loved the outdoors and skiing. Growing up in the Schenectady, NY, area, she became “the son” he taught to ski at an early age and long before it was fashionable for girls to take to the slopes.

Her older sister skied little and her mother not at all so it was Gwen who packed the sandwiches and the car for their ski trips, chores she willingly undertook because she shared her father’s passion for the outdoors and snow.

She relishes the memory of the winter trips in twenty-below-zero weather to an Adirondack cabin where “dad chopped wood and fed the fire at 2 in the morning.” They got water from the lake and cross-country skied out the door. For lunch, “we ate peanut butter and fluff-a-nutter sandwiches followed by brownies for dessert,” Gwen recalled.

Another early influence was Frederica Anderson, ski school director at Maple Ridge (NY) and “a brilliant sports lady who taught skiing for 55 years,” Gwen said. In 1964 Anderson invited Gwen to teach skiing at a municipal golf course. That experience with “an early female champion of skiing and the adventurous group of people who said ‘try it’ in a positive, open, encouraging and inclusive way made all the difference,” Gwen noted.

So Gwen’s own ‘you-can-do-it’ attitude took root, calling her to a profession that spans 49 years of teaching skiing, and stints as executive director of Professional Ski Instructors of America Eastern Division (PSIA-E) and director of the PSIA-E Education Foundation. She also founded the Adaptive Sports Foundation at Ski Windham (NY) and in 2001 was inducted into the National Disabled Ski Hall of Fame in recognition of her work with physically and mentally challenged learners among many other honors.
She never missed a season teaching – not even the two winters when she was pregnant with sons John and Rob (nor after double-knee replacements or a broken hip).

Rob is Rob Bevier, Assistant Director of Okemo’s Ski and Ride School. Until this season, Gwen worked for him at Okemo but now teaches at the Double Hole in the Woods Ranch (NY) winter adaptive program for kids with chronic and/or life-threatening illnesses.

Purple Pox Rules
Rob grew up in the Schenectady area and as a toddler learned to ski on a local golf course. Since Gwen was always teaching, he soon was skiing with other kids whose parents were instructors. He, too, took to the sport and more than fondly recalls the early ski trips. And, the Purple Pox years.

It seems that on particularly good powder days, Rob would wake up with purple blotches, and Gwen would have to call in to the school to report he was sick. Then he would mysteriously be better, and they would hit the slopes.

That’s a memory Rob’s girls, Samantha (15) and Ellen (17) can relate to, admitting to a few of those tell-tail tanned faces with raccoon eyes (from goggles) giving away some memorable “sick” ski days.

As they shared memories of the “playing hooky” years, Gwen admitted to one more “bad’ mom story.

Rob was attending Carrabassett Valley Ski Academy in Maine and returning from a vacation when the call of the snow meant Gwen called the headmaster to report Rob’s return to school would be delayed by his not feeling well. Much to her chagrin, who should they meet as her ski-topped car pulled in to the school but the headmaster, who inquired as to how their day had gone. Caught, they replied, “Best day ever.”

So it is little wonder that Rob, who not only shared his mother’s passion for skiing but also enjoyed racing, chose to attend the University of Maine at Farmington where he was on the ski team.

“I was a single mother then, working hard to get him through college, and I really wanted to know what his major was going to be and that he was going to have a paying job,” she ruefully admitted, adding, “No, I didn’t think being a ski instructor would work.”
In the next breath, she acknowledged how wrong she had been to worry, saying, “I couldn’t be prouder.” Then she not only rattled off her son’s many accomplishments but also proudly noted how he took a love and combined it with a professional approach to his livelihood and rolled that into a career where he is making a difference.

Passion and Profession
Rob earned an interdisciplinary degree that combined economics and ski industry studies, which allowed him to teach at Sugarloaf and do an internship in South America, working as an instructor in Chile. There he met the director of Bromley’s Ski School, which led to his first job and then a second position at Magic Mountain, which Bromley had purchased (1987), as a supervisor in its ski school. He also began to snowboard.

When Rob joined Okemo as Alpine technical director charged with training staff for the 1991-92 season, snowboarding was in its infancy. But with Okemo’s willingness to embrace the sport, Rob soon found himself training staff in riding as well as skiing. He achieved PSIA Level Three certification in both skiing and riding and became a PSIA snowboard examiner.

Active in the American Association of Snowboard Instructors (AASI) – an offshoot of PSIA – Rob helped to develop snowboard instructor certification exams and administered them in the East. He also served for four years as the AASI Advisor to the Eastern Division’s Board of Directors. Most recently, he helped to develop the national standards for snowboard instructor certification.

In the meantime, he had become snowboard school manager at Okemo and took great pride in helping the area hire the most professional instructors available. His PSIA/AASI role as an examiner “came in handy,” as he “cherry picked top teachers.”
This emphasis on professionalism in teaching contributed to Okemo having a highly skilled team of snowboard instructors and earned the area a reputation not only as a great place to learn to ride but also for being a desirable place to teach snowboarding.
Citing Okemo’s “high standards of teaching with an emphasis on safety, fun, and learning,” Rob said that the focus on how to teach people in a professional manner is a huge part of the attraction of Okemo for him as a trainer of instructors (as well as of guests) and a major source of satisfaction.

You Can-Do-It
As Rob and his family shared snow tales, daughter Ellen, who is now at Middlebury College and teaches at the Snow Bowl as well as at Okemo, piped up with a story that gives more insight as to how people become genuinely good instructors.

Ellen became a Junior Instructor at age 14 and, being fluent in French, was chosen to assist an instructor with teaching a 14-year-old French hemiplegic to snowboard. The girl had a right arm that was paralyzed below the elbow and a right leg similarly affected below the knee.

With that ankle not bending, her instructors had to figure out a way for her to initiate a heel turn. Part of the solution was to have her lean back, which is a no-no balance wise but worked for her. After three days, she was linking turns and enjoying riding.
This accomplishment for someone who had “never participated in a sport before” was extraordinary for her, her parents, and her instructors, Ellen related.

Asked if she was more affected by what the girl had accomplished or that they had figured out how to teach her, Ellen replied, “Both.”

Hearing this, Grandma Gwen commented, “What is so exciting is to hear her describe that experience and the very precious gift given to that girl. Ellen allowed her to experience the ‘I can do it’ attitude.”

“Empathy is more important than anything. I can relate to a little four-year old being afraid or the girl needing to make a simple heel turn,” Ellen responded.

“When you’ve been there before, you understand,” Samantha added, referencing having been scared to ride a chairlift when she was little.

Ellen observed that it can also be “scary to be a teacher” who has to worry “about little kids on the lift or even a nosebleed.”

“What if I lose a kid or one gets lost,” Samantha, a Junior Instructor, worried.

“Being a little nervous comes from knowing what could go wrong,” Rob observed, adding one of his own experiences. “An adult who had been in a car accident came to us to learn to snowboard so he could be with his family on the slopes. But he had two metal rods in his back, and his doctor told him if he fell and shattered them, he could be paralyzed and therefore he couldn’t ski.
“But the doctor didn’t say he couldn’t snowboard,” Rob recalls him pleading.

“Knowing full well the dangers and getting him to sign every waiver we could think of,” Rob taught him to ride. “In February, he came up to me on the hill and hugged me. He was so happy just to be able to take a few runs with his family,” Rob said.
At this point, all chime in about how anyone can learn to ski or snowboard if they will try, and it becomes clear that conveying you can do it is what makes this family tick and enjoy the challenge of teaching.

Mastering the sport at any level leads to the discovery that “they really can do it and that builds their sense of confidence,” Ellen said summing up the family sentiments.

“It doesn’t matter if someone is able bodied, has special needs, or is scared stiff, they can still be taught the skills needed to enjoy the snow,” Gwen emphasized, telling about the time she was assigned to teach “a major Hollywood actress to ski… The woman was so scared that we had to start with her walking in her ski boots on the snow, then progress to one foot on a ski and sliding it a little before we could even put two skis on her.”

Accomplishing a run of linked turns was a happy occasion for both the actress and Gwen, who adds, “It’s ok to accept ‘I won’t but not ‘I can’t.’”

“Teaching skiing or snowboarding is like cracking a safe. You just have to figure out the combination,” Rob concluded.

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