Alpine Mastery Methods
The Alpine Mastery Methods, our comprehensive teaching methodologies, provide the educational structure and organization for all of our instructional programs. Each of the Alpine Mastery Methods addresses one specific activity: Rock Climbing, Ice Climbing, Mountaineering, or Backcountry Skiing. Each is comprised of several parts:
For each of our activities, these determine how we actually go about doing that activity most of the time. There is no one “right” way to solve most of the technical challenges in alpinism and, because of this it is common to see many different solutions to a single problem. On the most basic level, a solution that works is adequate but one that works efficiently under a diversity of situations and fits logically together with other practices is clearly preferable.
Determining an appropriate set of standard practices requires a broad knowledge of the possible options and considerable experience sorting out their pros and cons in real-world situations. This type of knowledge is accumulated over a long time period from a variety of sources, the most valuable of which is experience.
To set standard practices we first determine priorities, and this is predicated upon knowing where and how standard practices will most-often be employed for each of our activities. Practices that make sense in one setting might well be unwieldy elsewhere. For the most part, we optimize our standard practices for traditional climbing and skiing environments rather than the manipulated environments found in controlled or artificial settings.
We generally place simplicity near the top of the list, followed by versatility and consistency with our other practices. In the mountains, a seemingly near-ideal solution to a technical problem that involves complex rigging or specialized equipment is almost always less desirable than simpler solutions with broader applicability. Practices that can be applied in a wide variety of situations reduce complexity and with it, the likelihood of making mistakes. On the other end of the spectrum, oversimplification can be just as problematic as excessively complex solutions. An in-depth understanding of the physical principles and psychological factors governing a particular situation is required to determine the best approach.
Often the specialized practices that might be ideal for a professionally guided situation will differ significantly from the more broadly applicable ones best suited to recreational alpinism. In these instances we first teach, and use, practices suitable for the recreational alpinist. These are the practices we emphasize in our instructional programs. Once a student has mastered these core practices we may introduce specialized practices or, we may continue to employ core practices in the interest of consistency.
In addition to carefully defining which practices we will use, we also codify methods for teaching these practices to others. In many cases we have several different teaching approaches, each suitable for a different learning style or situation. Beyond these, an instructor is always free to find new ways to better communicate practices.
Climbing and skiing are quite different in nature and our practices reflect this. Whereas specific safety techniques are often central to teaching climbing, the kinesthetics and mechanics of movement tend to provide more of the central framework for our skiing practices.
These “standard practices” are the building blocks we glue together to form the Alpine Mastery Methods.
Skill Sets, Lessons & Courses
For each activity, we gather together our standard practices into logical groups of essential skills, and these form the basis for our lessons. Lessons are then grouped together, in a series, to form courses. These allow students to acquire all of the skills required to reach a milestone for the activity. Often, we incorporate parallel skill sets so we can address multiple learning objectives simultaneously.
Our skill sets, lessons and courses are precisely defined and their relationship to one another has been carefully constructed to provide a continuous flow of relevant information. For example, our Rock Mastery Method includes more than 240 individual skill sets grouped into 15 lessons, ranging in length from 90 minutes to 6-1/2 hours each and that is just to complete our Level II milestone! Depending upon your experience and schedule, this milestone can be reached by any of three different course sequences.
These are key points within the Alpine Mastery Methods where acquisition of a particular set of skills will yield tangible results. Upon reaching a milestone, a student should be able to independently undertake a particular aspect of an activity efficiently and safely. Our system of ability levels is based, for the most part, upon our achievement milestones.
Our Skills Evaluations are designed with two goals in mind. First, they provide students with tangible evidence of achievement, and second, they assure we stay carefully on track with our teaching. Skills Evaluations are conducted formally at key points within our curriculum and informally after each course.