Dec 1, 2011 | Marmot, Winter 2011

Podium of Life… A Way of Life

How many skiers have said they would have loved to spend their school days skiing on the slopes instead of being stuck in the classroom in town all winter?

Shane and Corey Harle and their sons Teal, 15, and Kole, 14, are living that dream at Mount Washington Alpine Resort. And they would like to share the experience with other school-aged kids.

The Harles operate Podium of Life Ski Academy, which is preparing for its second year of operation at Mount Washington.

Last year they started with five full-time students and over the season welcomed a total of 23 for various periods of time. Close to a dozen had already committed for the upcoming season as the Marmot went to press.

No one should have any illusions that these kids are spending all their time free skiing and not learning. Students are up the mountain from Monday through Thursday, going to school in the mornings and taking ski instruction in the afternoons.

The academy runs from Dec. 5 to April 5, when students return to their respective public or private schools in their own communities.

Students each have their own laptop computer and they use a distance education program through School District No. 72 in Campbell River. They work at their own pace, with one-on-one instruction in the Marmot’s Den at the Mount Washington Alpine Lodge, and guest speakers are also part of the program.

Shane Harle works as a teacher in the Campbell River School District, and both he and Corey have a lot of racing and coaching experience from local to international levels.

The Harles run a structured ski program that is accomplished as a group. “We ride the lifts together, we stay together as a group for the most part,” says Corey. “We’re not up there to babysit kids to go free skiing. We’re up there to pass on as much knowledge to make them as best (skiers) as possible.”

The Harles subscribe to author Malcolm Gladwell’s insistence that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert in any field. They concentrate on the basics, believing that they are the building blocks to fine-tuning bigger freestyle moves. The way the school days are structured also gives students an extra three hours of ski instruction per week that they would not get if they were only skiing on the weekends.

Successes were measured in a variety of ways. Some students were ahead of their classes when they returned to their respective schools after the end of the academy in April. Others saw improvement on the slopes, in the form of placements to Provincial or National racing teams, medals at competitions, or in the case of one student, going from only skiing on manmade snow as a beginner to conquering double black diamond runs and completing a 360 over a jump.

“It was more fun because the school went way faster at your own pace,” said Kole Harle. “It wasn’t the whole class learning with you, it was you by yourself learning. Then you got to ski.”

Teal Harle liked the smaller class sizes, and said the personal on-snow instruction helped his skiing. “I improved so much even though I had an injury for pretty much all year,” he said. “At the end of the year I went in the Rail Jam (at Mount Washington) and won.”

The Harles live an adventurous life as a family, so the ski academy was not too far a stretch for them. They have done two different teacher exchanges in Australia, they are passionate snow sports enthusiasts and they have also learned to surf.

“Corey said she would love to live on the mountain. We have two extremely talented ski boys that are passionate with skiing,” Shane said. “It’s giving back. It’s providing this wonderful opportunity for kids,” he added.

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