by Joshua Wilson
I carved left and right hitting the wake with such force that I soared into the air. The soft cushion of water greeted the bottom of my ski with joy. As the boat made a long gradual turn I took the opportunity to cut hard and turn myself around 180 degrees. As I faced backwards, I leaned even harder on the edge of my ski. My face came inches from the smooth surface of the water. Time stood still as I stared at my reflection. Water skiing was my childhood, my playground, and most importantly, my teacher growing up. Most of what I learned skiing was in the form of formal education but much of what I learned was through the act of doing. It was no surprise that I took so quickly to downhill skiing. While attending Alaska Pacific University for my undergrad in Outdoor Studies, I discovered Dr. Mike Kaplan’s Ski Ride Class and signed up. The class was during our month-long January Block. The first half of the four week classes consisted of formal education led by a ski instructor. Each student was split up into small groups and for a few hours we essentially had one-on-one training. When lunch rolled around we were sweaty, tired, and hungry. I always ate quickly though so I could get more runs in on the mountain. The afternoon hours were my favorite; we were free to finish the day practicing our skills with each other.
One afternoon during Ski Ride, as I glanced at my watch, I had 15 minutes to make it down to the parking lot. Standing at the top of the mountain I closed my eyes to breathe in the cool crisp air. The moment my eyes opened, I was carving left and right with perfect control. Carving hard and fast to the right I aimed for the snowbank hitting it with such force I soared into the sky. Time stood still. I was flying. I was free.
By the end of the class, it was clear that I had learned a lot. I went from falling down a lot on easy routes to skillfully carving my way down a black diamond. Besides learning these hard skills, the other section of the class had us training with Challenge Alaska. Challenge Alaska is an adaptive ski school for people who are disabled. We learned different techniques to utilize when working with these clients. Having a desire at the time was to be a wilderness therapy guide and I was thrilled to have that experience. My experience in Ski Ride was a great example of an APU education – a directed education with free choice learning, self-motivated learning, as defined by Joe Heimlich and John Falk in Free Choice Learning and the Environment.