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Why I Ski

I have never had a ski lesson. I have learned my ski style from watching great skiers and being inspired. I do remember watching Steve Kaiser, a kid in my class who, at the earliest age, mastered the art of cool. Steve wore a long, camelhair jacket, granny glasses (before John Lennon did), and skied slow, clean and stylish—nothing fancy. Steve Kaiser is why I ski.

We all had piled in the school bus and gone up to Davos Ski Area in the New York Catskills. We lined up beside a Fiat automobile with a very thick hemp rope wrapped around an axle, and it was held taut by another axle at the top of the slope—you just grabbed on and were dragged up. I went around either side of a bunch of poles and won the slalom race on my very first day out there. It felt natural to me from the start. But I knew nothing of style.

Click on this image to watch a short video of Dr. Grauer skiing in the back country of the south central (Wasach) Rocky Mountains.

Style is not the whole deal, anyway. Much of what gets me onto to the slopes is not just the mechanics of skiing, but the contours of the mountain and the whole ecosystem, the sky, the land. Skiing all day, you are navigating not just the slope, but the weather conditions, the wind exposure, the slope aspect in relation to the sun which softens the snow enough, the steepness, and the gracefulness of the path as it is laid out. Being at the right aspect, altitude, slope, air temperature, and visibility are all things you constantly are computing in your mind, usually subconsciously and sometimes at 50 or 55 miles an hour, other times much more slowly, maybe through the gladed aspens, with their knotty eyes peeking at us passing through. Skiing, as John Denver, who was a good skier, might describe it—it “fills up my senses.” But that’s not exactly why I ski.

And I have learned a lot about carving from watching giant slalom skiers accelerate out of turns as though they are shot out of a cannon. And watching the wild Jean-Claude Killy and the smooth Austrian style of Stein Eriksen has had an undeniable impact on me. But that’s not why I ski.

And I have studied with the wilderness skiers in the high alps, climbing all day, peeling off the skins, and floating and picking our way down the alpine meadows, faces and cirques in snow up to the waist, sometimes like dropping down an elevator shaft, but that’s not why I ski—though that’s getting warm.

Grauer 7th grade students John John G. '26 and Jean-Felix G. '26 taking a close-up photo for their Multimedia class - April 13, 2021

I know there are a lot of strong skiers who muscle their way through the toughest conditions, so that skiing becomes an act of man over nature, and I’ve done this plenty, too. That’s all engaging and valuable, but that’s not why I ski, and did not teach me more than Steve Kaiser did as I was following him, at the youngest age.  

As I say, he was not even going fast, or using any particular muscles; he was completely unhurried and upright, and curved towards a mogul on the side of the hill. But he did not go around the mogul, as a million ski instructors will tell you to do. What he did was head straight into the mogul until it lifted him just from the momentum, and his skis and body caromed up into the air. It was just this perfect little lift, and it stunned me. And there, suspended like the arc of a diver, mid-air, as though it were all in slow motion, he easily swung his heels around to the right, so that the skis landed on the other side of the mogul and he curved right out below the mogul, going the other direction.

He wasn’t skiing the skis—he was skiing the mountain.

Grauer 8th Grade Visual Arts students collaborating on block prints in class - March 1, 2021

Eventually I became aware of what I sensed that day without any conscious processing: skiing is not beating or wrestling the mountain, it is synchrony with the mountain. Skiing is the free inquiry of the mountain, just as surfing is the study of the wave, and just as I would one day realize that teaching is the study of the student. These are the forces of nature we can channel.

We are all forces of nature, at least if this is not educated out of us. Steve Kaiser, probably an 8th grader at the time, did not appear to use a muscle in his body. He used only the momentum gravity gave him, the natural forces that give every one of us all the speed and lift and serotonin we need.

Patricia Young, Grauer 8th Grade Science teacher, demonstrating a scientific principle with the help of Milan B. '25 - March 25, 2021

And that is why I ski. I ski so that I might go into a little mogul, catch that little curvy lift, be suspended in space for a moment, and then, from the sheer curves of the mountain, carom out of that turn, again and again, the most natural thing in the world and a miracle.

(Enjoy Grauer School expeditions week, everyone. Who wants to help organize some ski trips next school year?)

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Photos for Dr. Grauer's Column

Dr. Grauer skiing down the slopes in the back country of the south central (Wasach) Rocky Mountains

8th Grade Visual Arts students collaborating on block prints in class - March 1, 2021

Patricia Young, 8th Grade Science teacher, demonstrating a scientific principle with the help of Milan B. '25 - March 25, 2021

7th grade students John John G. '26 and Jean-Felix G. '26 taking a close-up photo for their Multimedia class - April 13, 2021

Click on this image to watch a short video of Dr. Grauer skiing in the back country of the south central (Wasach) Rocky Mountains.

Fearless Teaching® Book
by Dr. Stuart Grauer


Fearless Teaching® is a stirring and audacious jaunt around the world that peeks—with the eyes of one of America’s most seasoned educators–into places you will surely never see on your own. Some are disappearing. It is a bit like playing hooky from school. You will travel to the Swiss Alps, Korea, Navajo, an abandoned factory in Missouri, the Holy Land, the Great Rift Valley, the schools of Cuba, the ocean waves, and the human subconscious—oh, and Disneyland.

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"Grauer’s writing reminds us that Great Teaching, singular, rare, unusual, is something that should be sought after and found. Thank you.”
Richard Dreyfuss, Actor, Oxford scholar, founder of The Dreyfuss Initiative

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Dr. Grauer's Column: Archive of Past Columns

Dr. Grauer's Column - Why I Ski

After a recent ski trip, Dr. Grauer reflects on his lifelong passion for skiing and the real reason that he enjoys it, which is much more complicated than just racing down a hill. 

Dr. Grauer's Column - If You’re Happy And You Know It…

This week's column features an update on student mental health and happiness after a year of pandemic. New findings from a national survey of student happiness and resilience are astonishing in what they reveal about teaching and learning at Grauer over this past very difficult year.

Dr. Grauer's Column - Teaching and Braiding Sweetgrass

Dr. Grauer recommends the book "Braiding Sweetgrass", which brilliantly braids together the science expertise of a seasoned botany professor, with the wisdom and spirituality of a Native American elder, and the skill of a master writer.

Dr. Grauer's Column - The Unwritten Core Value

Courage is the unwritten core value that Grauer students are using to get through this pandemic. Dr. Grauer reflects that he never realized how courageous it is just to live life in joy, in smiles, in song, and in play.

Dr. Grauer's Column - The Rosie Policy

“The Rosie Policy” was established years ago at The Grauer School, to allow any student to take Rosie, the campus dog, for a walk at any time of the day, no questions asked. Dogs give real love, the kind that makes for a great school, and students need a Rosie Policy now more than ever.

Dr. Grauer's Column - Everything Put Together Falls Apart

Dr. Grauer has provided leadership consulting for many organizations, not just schools. This column details how an organization like Grauer can continue to thrive even when stress-tested by major disruptions and events such as pandemics or crises. It will also make you laugh.