Clinic Review: Okemo’s Women’s Alpine Adventures

Women love Okemo’s Women’s Alpine Adventures.

okemo-logo-e1363449581241How do I know? For two of the past four years, it’s been voted Favorite Women’s Ski Clinic by members of TheSkiDiva.com. But there’s more, too. I personally know women who’ve attended the clinic year after year. They bring their girlfriends, their neighbors, their sisters and daughters-in-law. My neighbor down the road attends with a group of four or five friends every year, and she’s done the clinic eighteen times. You read that right. Eighteen times. And she’s not alone. This happens time after time after time.

Okemo’s women’s program has been around for what seems like forever — which means they recognized the value of women’s-only clinics long before a lot of other mountains put them in place. (I couldn’t get a definite number, but it’s been at least twenty years.) First known as Women’s Ski Spree, the clinic now meets several times a season for varying lengths of time. There’s a five-day at the end of January, a two-day and a three-day in February, and new this year (because of popular demand), a two-day in March. When something inspires this sort of loyalty, you just have to find out why. And that’s how I ended up participating in the WAA (or WAA WAA, as they call it. I guess anything good bears repeating) a couple weeks ago. And here’s what I learned:

It’s fun. Sure, this is ski instruction. That’s why we’re all here. But let me get this up front: This is not training for the US Ski Team. There’s a different kind of vibe here. Playful. Relaxed. As Barb Newton, program coordinator, told me, “You’re here to get some ski tips. But you’re also here to have a great time.” And they do whatever they can to make sure you do.

They understand how women learn. Again from Barb Newton: ”There’s a different dynamic with a women’s group — it’s much more supportive. Not that women aren’t competitive; I think we’re more competitive with ourselves, with our own desire to improve. Women want to elevate not just themselves, but everyone in their group. If someone’s struggling, they’re going to offer encouragement. This isn’t necessarily the case with guys. It’s not that that’s a bad thing, it’s just different. I think we create a place where  we embrace that philosophy.  We provide the support that encourages women to do better. Most of our women want to come and get some key tips that are specific to them that are going to make them feel confident going into the rest of the season. I think we really excel at figuring out what people are thinking  and how that thinking is keeping them from trying new things. We’re going to take you to the place where we’re going to invite you to try something new. But we’re not going to push you. We’re going to make you believe you can do a lot more.”

My group gets pointers at  the WAA.

My group gets pointers at the WAA.

It’s not all about the skiing. Okemo does more than get you on the slopes. They provide a killer breakfast and lunch. There’s a welcome party with a lot of dancing. Awards and recognitions (especially for returning alum). During the five day, there are extra activities like a ski fashion show, a banquet, parties, and sometimes even seminars on things like boot fitting.

There’s a great sense of community. Barb Newton, clinic coordinator, stresses this as one of the things that makes the WAA unique. “With so many women coming back, there’s a strong sense of friendship and community that stands out. These women really bond. There’s a Facebook page that was started by clinic alum. It’s just for them — we stay off. And some of them even get together off the slopes.” Case in point: the neighbor I mentioned earlier? The one who’s done the clinic 18 times? She met with members of her clinic group for lunch in New York City this past summer.

A testimonial
I wasn’t the only member of TheSkiDiva.com community who showed up for the clinic. Another member who was  there posted her own review on the forum:

I just got back from the Okemo Women’s Alpine Adventure program, and I wanted to put down my thoughts while they were still fresh. I highly recommend this program to anyone interested in taking their skiing to the next level, whether you are at the beginner or advanced level. My teacher and fellow group members taught me more in two days than I could have learned on my own in a year. I’m in the advanced intermediate range, but I was put in a group of skiers with much more experience than me. I went down trails I never would have had the confidence to try on my own. I’m a confident blue/black skier on groomed runs but was able to conquer bumps on black runs, ungroomed glades, and even the half-pipe in the terrain park! The best part was being surrounded by supportive women who all had the same goals: to improve their skiing. Also invaluable was the video analysis, which gave me a great visual of my strengths and weaknesses. I highly recommend this program. I had a great time, learned a ton, and even got to meet the SkiDiva herself! I’ll definitely be going back next year. They have a March session, if you’re interested in signing up.

So what’d you think, Ski Diva?
The WAA is a clinic that will inspire you to improve your skiing and make you a more confident skier. If you’re a Mikaela Shiffrin, or aspire to be, this probably isn’t for you. But if you’re looking to gain confidence, have a terrific time, make new friends, and pick up some pointers, you’re definitely in the right place.

Ski Diva Rating: Two ski poles up!

 

 



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Oui, Ski Quebec!

Bonjour, mes amis.

Pardonnez-moi if I practice my French, but I can tell that it’s something I’m going to need in the years to come. You see, I just came back from Quebec, and I am positively smitten.

What was I doing there? Oh, just attending Winter Carnaval, staying in the gorgeous Chateau Frontenac, eating great food, and skiing at both Le Massif and Mont Sainte-Anne. I was in Quebec as part of the annual meeting of the North American Snowsports Journalists Association, and Quebec City Tourism rolled out the red carpet for us lowly ski writers. The result was a trip I’ll never forget, and a destination I’ll be sure to visit again.

Why stay in Quebec City if you want to go skiing? 
Sure, it’s not a ski-in-ski-out location. But if you only rely on that, you miss a lot. I can’t recommend staying in Quebec City highly enough. My husband came up with what I think is the perfect tag line for the city — Closer than the rest of Europe — because more than any other city I’ve visited in North America, Quebec has a distinctly European flavor. And it’s not just because the people speak French (though yes, that’s part of it). The architecture, the winding streets, the culture is loaded with Old World charm. It’s a totally different vibe than you get anywhere else in North America. What’s more, Quebec is beautiful. Perched high on a bluff above the St. Lawrence, you get sweeping views of the river, made even more dramatic in the winter thanks to piles of heaved-up ice. The restaurants are great, the accommodations lovely (like the iconic Chateau Frontenac), and really, hearing French spoken everywhere is just oh-so-much-more romantic. Trust me — it adds a completely new layer to the ski trip experience. Besides, the drive from the city to the ski areas isn’t really that bad.

Chateau Frontenac

Chateau Frontenac

Old City, Quebec

Old City, Quebec

Les femmes sont belle en Quebec.

Les femmes sont belle en Quebec.

Winter Carnaval
Another great benefit from staying in Quebec: you get to experience cultural events that you won’t find anywhere else. Winter Carnaval is a great example. The city turns itself into a celebration of the Quebec winter. There are a pair of night parades with amazing floats, incredible snow sculptures, tobogganing, ice bumper cars (yes, really. I definitely have to try this next time), and a canoe race on the ice-laden St. Lawrence that you’ve got to see to believe. People line the shore to watch competing teams push canoes across ice that’s been heaved up in great huge piles to (more or less) open water, then leap aboard and paddle like mad down the river, dodging ice floes and chunks along the way. It’s an incredible spectacle, and you can only see it in Quebec.

Canoe racing on the Saint Lawrence.

Canoe racing on the Saint Lawrence.

wolfhead

At the Carnaval night parade.

One of the many snow sculptures.

One of the many snow sculptures.

Le Massif de Charlevoix
And of course, we went skiing. We spent one day at Le Massif, about an hour northeast of the city. Le Massif is located on a mountain overlooking the St. Lawrence, and the slopes run right down to the river’s banks. Look at the views you get when you ski down the trails. It feels like you’re skiing directly into the water. It’s almost a safety hazard because it’s so hard to keep your eyes on where you’re going. Absolutely breathtaking!

Le Massif

Le Massif

In addition to astounding views, Le Massif has a terrific trail system. There’s something for everyone: long bump runs, fun glades, nice long groomers, and on the west side of the resort, more challenging terrain. Le Massif has the highest vertical in eastern Canada, and you can ski….and ski….and ski. Fun fact: Le Massif was developed in part by one of the co-founders of Cirque du Soliel.

Here are some stats for the mountain:

Trails: 52 trails and glades, on 307.6 acres
Ability levels: 15% easy, 30% intermediate, 20% difficult, 35% very difficult
Longest trail: 5.1 km / 3.17 milles
Vertical: 770 m / 2,526 feet
Base Elevation: 36 m / 118 feet
Top Elevation: 806 m / 2,645 feet
Skiable Terrain: 164.5 hectares / 406.3 acres

One cool thing that we did not get the chance to do: Le Massif has a 7.5 km sled run that looks absolutely fantastic. Unfortunately, it wasn’t operating when we were there. Next time, for sure.

From Le Massif, we took a 12 mile journey on the lightrail train along the St. Lawrence to the tres chic and very contemporary Hotel La Ferme. Although we didn’t spend the night, this is a great option for someone who for some reason doesn’t want to stay in Quebec. It’s fun and easy to take the train to the mountain and back, and the scenery along the river is stupendous. There are lots of great restaurants in the lovely town of  Baie-Saint-Paul, too.

Train

Mont Sainte-Anne
Another day, another fabulous  mountain. We spent our second ski day at Mont Sainte-Anne. Sainte-Anne is closer to the city and larger than Le Massif. And like Le Massif, it has spectacular views:

Mont Sainte-Anne

Mont Sainte-Anne

I absolutely adored it. There’s a terrific variety of runs, and the mountain is laid out for very easy access; you can get to just about everything from the top of the gondola. Mont Sainte-Anne features both north and south facing trails, so if you’re not loving the conditions on the south side, the runs on the north side can be completely different. A tip for families skiing with little kids — or just people who love all things maple — be sure not to miss the Sugar Shack off La Pichard, one of the green trails. On weekends and holiday periods, you can stop at the shack for some traditional hot maple taffy, served on a bed of fresh snow and scooped up with wooden sticks.

Here’s some stats on Mont Sainte-Anne:

Altitude at the summit: 800 meters [2625 feet]
Vertical drop: 625 meters [2050 feet]
Skiable terrain: 222 ha [547 acres]
Gross acreage: 868 ha [2145 acres]
Natural snowfall: 480 cm [190 po]
Number of trails: 71 trails covering 73 km [45 miles] on 3 different sides
Night skiing: 20 trails, covering 15.5 Km [9 miles]
Trail breakdown: easy: 23%, more difficult: 18%, difficult: 45%, extreme: 14%
Longest trail: Le Chemin du Roy – 5.7 Km [3.6 miles]
Average length of season: 148 days

Hotel de Glace (The Ice Hotel)
Located about five miles north of Quebec, this is something you really shouldn’t miss if you’re in the area. The first and only ice hotel in North America, Hotel de Glace is re-built each year and is open the first week of January until the last week of March. The hotel boasts 44 rooms and suites, a bar, an indoor ice slide, and a chapel, all made entirely out of snow and ice. Yes, you can stay here if you wish, but be prepared: The ambient temperature varies only by a few degrees between 23°F and 26°F, no matter what the outside temperature.

Ice Hotel Entrance

Ice Hotel Entrance

A Hallway Entrance

A hallway entrance

A room in the Ice Hotel

A room in the Ice Hotel

I think it’s pretty clear that I loved the entire Quebec experience; honestly, it’s hard not to be swept up in its Old World charm. For a ski vacation with a European flavor, there’s no place like it in North America. Go see for yourself.



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The State of the Winter.

Here we are. It’s the beginning of February, and winter’s in full swing. So how’s it shaping up so far?

As skiers, we eat, sleep, and dream weather. We worry about it. Anticipate it. Think and talk about it. No surprise there. If you’re involved in a sport that’s dependent on a certain type of temperature, a certain type of precipitation, it’s only natural to be concerned about what Mother Nature’s dishing out.

Before we go any farther, step into my WayBack Machine and transport yourself into the not-s0-distant past, all the way back to September/October 2014, when we pored over winter forecasts like Talmudic scholars, parsing every phrase to determine what was coming in the ski season ahead. What’d the Farmer’s Almanac say? How thick was the Wooly Bear Caterpillars’ brown stripe (if it’s thick, it’s the sign that the winter will be mild)? Was there going to be an El Nino? If so, how strong or weak would it be? It was easy to drive ourselves nuts. There were dozens of prediction maps, including this one from WeatherAdvance.com:

2014-2015-winter-4

Now slowly, slowly, bring yourself back. Let your molecules settle into the present day. I’m not a meteorologist (nor do I play one on TV), but here are a few interesting things that have occurred this winter:

• The Pineapple Express notwithstanding, the West is still extremely dry. Virtually all of California remains in drought. Utah, Arizona and New Mexico are also abnormally dry. Colorado fares slightly better, but its snowpack still far lags where it usually sits this time of year. And the snowpack in the northwest is below normal, too. Not good.

To illustrate: Here are a couple pics from Cliff Mass’s weather blog. The first is from the Mt. Shasta web cam on December 26, the second from Monday, February 2. See the difference?

CliffMasspic1

CliffMass2

Also disturbing, the NOAA snow depth analyses for the Cascades from December 29, 2014 and January 29, 2015:

Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 7.00.07 AM

• As part of this, we’ve seen a number of ski area closures due to lack of snow. In California,  Mt. Shasta, Dodge Ridge, and Badger Pass. In Oregon, Willamette Pass, Hoodoo Ski Area, and Mt. Ashland. And in Alaska, Eaglecrest. It’s all too sad. Let’s hope things turn around.

• After a less-than-impressive start, the East Coast has finally cranked it up. A train of snow storms, one after another, has blanketed the northeast with record-setting snowfalls. Right now things are looking great in New England. According to Tim Kelley, meteorologist with Ski the East and NECN (New England Cable News), the east has the best snow in the lower 48 right now. As a Vermonter, I’d have to say it’s pretty damned good.

• Remember the Polar Vortex? Well, lucky us — it’s back! Arctic air from Canada has brought temps into the single digits and below from the Midwest to the East, with bone chilling wind chills. I don’t mind temperatures in the teens, and if it’s not windy, I can deal with the single digits on a limited basis. But enough is enough. Give me a balmy 25° any day.

• Conversely, women from the west who post on TheSkiDiva.com have been complaining about the warm temperatures. In our Where is Winter thread, there’ve been reports of temps in the 50′s and 60′s in Oregon and Washington. Check out the temperatures in Denver from this past weekend (from the Denver CBS- affiliate):

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 8.41.47 PM

While I certainly believe global warming is real, I have no idea if these are weather glitches or related to a broader weather scenario. All evidence supports that our climate is changing, which means we can expect all sorts of crazy weather ahead. I encourage all of you to support causes like Protect Our Winters and do whatever you can to minimize your carbon footprint on this fragile planet.

What does the rest of the winter have in store? I’ll give it a scientific who knows. Wish I could go into the WayFuture Machine to find out. But one thing I know for sure: spring will come, then summer, and then we’ll start the speculation all over again.

Such is the circle of (a skier’s) life.

 



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Age is just a number. Right?

Think about women’s skiing, and a lot of young faces come to mind: Mikaela Shiffrin (19), Lindsey Vonn (30), Lynsey Dyer (31), Julia Mancuso (30). Let’s give them their due. These are amazing female athletes who have made some remarkable achievements.

But to be honest, Mikaela, Lindsey, Lynsey, and Julia might as well live in a different planet than the rest of us. Because not only can’t we ski like them (no surprise there), but they’re also considerably younger than many of us who’re out there on the mountain.

Me, included. I just passed a fairly significant birthday, so getting older has been on my mind a lot lately. On the upside, I’m healthy, I have the physical ability to continue skiing, and to be honest, I’ve reached the point where I don’t feel like I have to ski to impress anymore. If I don’t want to ski something, I just don’t do it (hey, I could break a hip). On the downside, however, I do notice that my stamina isn’t what it used to be. Even though I ski a lot, I don’t ski first chair to last. I’ll ski maybe from 9 to 1/1:30/2 and then go home. (Then again, that might  be because I ski nearly every day.) I also have osteopenia, which is a bit troubling. And I have a little arthritis creeping in. If I ski too hard, too long, or too many bumps, I feel it in my hips. Ugh.

As a weekday skier, I see a lot of older people on the mountain every day, and while they may not be hucking cliffs or setting any speed records, they do manage to have a heck of a lot of fun. One of these is my good friend, Lil Georg.  At nearly 72, Lil skis at least every other day at Okemo here in Vermont, and she does just fine, thank you.

Lil Georg

Lil Georg

Recently I spoke to Lil about the challenges and rewards of being a senior skier:

Q. So Lil, how and when did you start skiing?
A. I started in 1986, when I was 43. My daughter married a skier, and the whole family started skiing together. He wanted his wife to ski, and the only way he could get her to do that was if all of us would go along.

Q. How has skiing changed for you as you’ve gotten older?
A. It’s an interesting thing, because I’ve gotten better as I’ve gotten older. So things that were harder for me in the beginning are easier for me now. Even five years ago, I would’ve been exhausted from skiing hard 3 or 4 days in a row. But it doesn’t take so much energy now because I ski better. I go home tired, but not exhausted-have-to-go-to-bed-at-seven-o’clock tired, which I did when I first started. So in that respect it’s easier. In another respect, I get colder more easily. I have to wear more layers. Where you wear three, I have to wear six. So I just pile the layers on.

Q. Do you face any other particular challenges, now that you’re older?
A. Not really. It’s been good. Before I started skiing every other day, I was diagnosed with osteoporosis and I was taking Fosamax. After I started skiing every other day, in two years’ time I was diagnosed as no longer having osteoporosis/osteopenia, and I went off the medication. It’s about the weight bearing exercise. I think skiing has made me healthier.

Q. What are people’s reactions when you tell them you ski?
A. They say, Really? You’re still skiing? And then, if they ski with me, they say, My God, I can’t keep up!

Q. Why do you think your peers don’t ski?
A. I think they stop because they get cold and because it’s no longer fun. And why is it no longer fun? People are pushing them to do things they don’t want to do, they’re afraid of getting hurt, and frankly, some of them have trouble getting up if they fall.

Q. So what keeps you going?
A. I think it’s partly social. You know, they say as you get older, what keeps you healthy is social interaction, and skiing is a great means for that. Plus if you look at any of the lists for things you should do to live a long life, skiing fills the bill on most of them. They nearly always include exercise, staying active, doing something you’re passionate about, being social – for me, the answer to all those is skiing.

Q. Any advice for senior women who ski?
A. Yeah. Ski what you want to ski and don’t ski what you don’t want to ski and don’t let anyone force you to ski what you don’t want to ski.

Lil’s not the only senior woman skiing out there. According to data from the National Ski Areas Association, even though seniors  make up a smaller portion of the skier total, they spend 25 percent more time on the mountain each season than any other group.

SkierVisitsByAge

Mike Maginn, co-founder of  SeniorsSkiing.com, a recently launched online ski magazine and resource for the fifty-plus crowd, agrees. “This is an age group that’s seen a lot of growth,” he said.  “All the other age groups are flat. It’s one of the reasons we started our site. Sure, we thought it’d be fun. But we wanted it to be a place where seniors could learn about deals just for them and read about things they’d find of interest. Beyond that, we wanted to be an advocate for senior skiers. We want resorts to do things that are helpful to us, as well as influence manufacturers to think about things that are appropriate for seniors: lightweight equipment and warmer clothes, for instance. I think we have a point of view that since we’re here, why not pay attention to us?”

According to Mike, many in this age group have come back to skiing after being away for a period of time. “They have time on their hands that they didn’t have before,” he said. “And lighter weight gear and more technical, warmer clothing, have certainly helped. Modern technology makes it easier to ski now than ever before. I think a lot of seniors are realizing that. Still, there are those who may be apprehensive. Fear of injury is a big deterrent, and some aren’t familiar with the new gear or the new skiing technique that goes along with it. They need positive reinforcement, a hand holding experience. Some resorts are offering programs that provide that. I think it’s great that they’re seeing that skiing isn’t just for young people, and are taking steps to keep them involved.”

So what does this mean for senior women who ski? Maybe more of them on the hill. As for me, I definitely plan to ski as long as I am physically able, no matter what my age. So all this is very encouraging.

After all, you’re as young as you feel, right?

 



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Gear Review: Columbia’s Lay-D Down & Diamond TurboDown Jackets

One of the perks that come with being a member of Columbia Sportswear’s Omniten team is that they sometimes send me cool gear to try out. In the past year or so, I’ve received base layers, gloves, boots, hats, fleeces, and more — all the stuff you need to have fun in the snow.

Trust me, this is a nice team to belong to.

Two of the things I’ve liked best have been a couple of the jackets I’ve received: the Columbia Lay-D Down and the Diamond TurboDown. I wear these a lot, so I thought it was about time I gave them a review:

The Columbia Lay-D Down

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 6.17.47 AM

Winter can be tough here in Vermont. We’ve had some extremely cold temperatures this year — well below zero with wind chills as low as -30°F.  Clearly, if you want to ski, you have to be prepared for the worst. Which means wearing a really, really warm jacket.

I don't want to  look like this.

I don’t want to
look like this.

That doesn’t mean I want one that makes me look like the Michelin man. I mean, who would? Which is why I love the Lay-D Down. Wind proof and down filled, the Lay-D Down is toasty warm but stylish, too. See the picture above? Looks nice. That’s the actual color of my jacket, too.

So here are some of the features I really like:

• It’s very, very warm. The Lay-D Down has 550 g of down insulation (80% duck down, 20% feathers), plus the Omni-Heat™ lining. This is a layer of silver dots on the lining that Columbia says reflects your body heat. I can’t say if this is true or not, but the jacket is plenty warm. So that could be part of it.

There are five pockets — two slash pockets on the outside, and three on the inside. This gives me a lot of room to stash stuff, which trust me, I need.

Pit zips. Too crass? Okay, underarm venting. Whatever you want to call them, they’re great. If I get too warm, I can open up to cool off. A real plus, in my book.

A nice, high fleece-lined collar. I usually ski with a neck warmer, except when I don’t. And when I don’t, I can zip this up   for some extra warmth around my chinny-chin-chin.

Powder skirt. Snapping this closed helps keep the warmth in —  another good thing on a cold day.

Cuffs with thumb holes. Same as above. Keeps the cold air from traveling up your sleeves, for extra warmth.

Removable hood. When I get a jacket, this is the first thing to go. I don’t like hoods for skiing, but I like having the option to use it when I wear the jacket off the hill.

Any downsides? Yes. I wish it had a chest pocket on the outside. But really, that’s about it. I have four ski jackets, and this one is  the one I reach for on colder days.

 

Columbia Diamond TurboDown

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 6.33.02 AM

Columbia introduced its line of TurboDown jackets last fall, and they’ve been getting a lot of buzz ever since. The name refers to the insulating layer, which is sort of like down on steroids. It’s a combination of goose feathers and Columbia’s synthetic Omni-Heat insulation fill.  According to Columbia, the polyester-based insulation wicks sweat better than down, moving moisture away from the body when you’re involved in aerobic activity. And the layer of down on top of this traps body heat for extra warmth.

There are a few different TurboDowns available, depending on the amount of insulation involved. Columbia sent me the Diamond TurboDown shown above. Here’s what I like about it:

It’s extremely lightweight. Seriously, it’s hard to believe that something this light would be in any way warm. When you pick it up, you hardly even feel like you’re holding anything. You find yourself thinking how can this thing possibly work.

• It’s very warm.  Here’s why it does work. The jacket has a combination of 40 g Omni-Heat synthetic insulation and 850-fill goose down, plus the same Omni-Heat silver lining as the Lay-D Down. So even though it’s very light, you’re not sacrificing any warmth. It’s kind of hard to reconcile the two thoughts in your mind, but trust me, it’s warm.

Love the color combo. The pink zipper really pops against a beautiful blue. I get a lot of compliments when I wear it.

You can scrunch it up and fit it into its own pocket, so it doesn’t take up much room in your backpack or duffle or whatever, if you’re traveling. I love this.

The Turbodown can be packed in its own pocket! Cool!

The Diamond TurboDown can be packed in its own pocket! Cool!

• The down is treated to stay puffier even if gets wet, so you stay warmer in a wide range of conditions. Nice!

Any downsides? Just one: The hood isn’t removable and the jacket doesn’t come without one. As I said in my Lay-D down review, I’m not a hood person. But this is pretty small potatoes.

And that’s pretty much it. No, I haven’t worn it skiing. I use my Lay-D Down for that. But for being outside in the cold, this is a good option. You might want to check it out.

So what’d you think, Ski Diva?

Bottom line: I’d recommend either one. Both are high quality, very warm jackets, and they look great, too. Two ski poles up!

 



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Learning to board: Yes, really, I gave it a try.

BoardingHow is it possible — the Ski Diva, standing on the lip of a half-pipe (albeit an extremely mini one), strapped into a snowboard and getting ready to ride?

Has the world gone crazy? Has she lost her mind? Is she going over to the Dark Side? And what’s next — baggy pants pulled down to her knees?

No, no, no, and not a chance. I was simply doing research for my blog.

You may remember that in my last blog post, I talked about Killington’s Terrain Based Learning center. After all, January is Learn to Ski & Snowboard Month, and Terrain Based Learning is being adopted as a teaching method for first-timers at a number of ski areas throughout the US.

And while it was great to get an idea of what TBL is about, we all know that nothing beats first-hand experience. So when Killington invited me to try out TBL as a boarder, I figured why not. My daughter has wanted to get me on a board for years, and here was a chance to have the never-ever experience up close and personal. And that, in short, is how I ended up in a lesson in Killington’s TBL park.

To be honest, I was a bit nervous. When I posted on Facebook that I was going to take a snowboard lesson, the response kind of  freaked me out. “Watch your wrists!” “My friend tried it and left her first lesson with a concussion and no interest in going back!”  You get the idea.

Frankly, at my age, the prospect of falling had me a little worried. From what I heard, everyone fell at first. I didn’t relish the idea of coming home covered in bruises or even worse, with a broken wrist. But Dave Beckwith, Director of Killington’s Ski School, assured me this wouldn’t happen. In fact, he even promised to buy me dinner if I fell. (Hmmmm, almost an incentive for a crash landing, wouldn’t you say?)

And you know what? He was right. I didn’t fall. Not even once. And while I may have missed out on a nice dinner, I actually had a very good time.

Am I a snowboarding savant? Someone with an inbred, undiscovered talent for boarding? No. I completely attribute it to TBL.

As I said in my last post, TBL uses snow features to help beginning students control their speed naturally. This is key. By controlling the speed, the first timer can focus on the movements, sensations, and body positions that form the basis of good skiing or riding. You spend less time learning how to stop, and more time learning how to go.

Berms guide you through the turns.

Banks and berms guide you through the turns.

My lesson started on completely flat terrain, where my instructor, Tony Coccia, who heads up Killington’s snowboard instruction, showed me a few of the basics: how to strap on the binding, fore and aft balance, flexing and extending, rotation, how to push yourself along with your free foot, things like that. Then came time to move onto the mini pipe. The term mini-pipe is actually pretty generous: the contour is so slight it’s barely discernable. And while a normal halfpipe is built with its length stretching down the fall line, the mini-pipe is built with its length across the hill, so you’re actually always facing up the slope. With Tony literally providing hands-on support, I slid down one side of the pipe and up the other, and then back down. This keeps you from going very fast, and yes, it actually works. At first, I admit, I was a little tense. But as we did the same actions over and over again, I became more relaxed and actually began to enjoy myself. We also worked on side slipping, stopping, and finally, the big guns: toe- and heel-side turns. After this, Tony took me into a series of very mild rollers to practice knee flex and extension. And then we went into  a short trail with banks and berms that helped guide me through a few turns. The lesson ended with a couple runs down what they call the “perfect slope,” an empty, groomed area with a very slight pitch. Here, Tony had me actually linking a series of “S” turns. Yes, he provided me with a small amount of  support, though he assured me I was practically doing it myself.  ”Another lesson, and you’d be completely independent,” he said. Wahoo!

So what’s my takeaway from all this?

• Many of us forget how hard it is to learn from scratch. This was a good reminder. Major props to my instructor, Tony, for being so patient and for dragging me up to the lip of the halfpipe (even though it wasn’t steep), time and time again.

• Don’t bet that you’ll fall. You’ll lose. TBL takes it out of the learning equation, so you don’t have to worry about it. You can just concentrate on having fun.

• Terrain Based Learning is a great way to get a feel for the sport. You really do focus on the movements you need to ride or ski, so you learn a lot right away.

• I would definitely recommend this to a first-timer. It’s easy, painless, and fun.

• And yes, I actually enjoyed boarding! And while I’m not ready to turn in my skis to become the Snowboard Diva, I can see it’d be a great way to have fun on the slopes.

Remember, during Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month, first-timers can get a lot of great deals. Go here to find out more.

 



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Learning to ski, new style.

In case you didn’t know, January is Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month. There are great deals all over the place for anyone who wants to learn, and prizes for those who help someone sign up for beginner lessons. You can learn more about all this here.

Me, I first learned to ski a long, long time ago, and to be honest, I can’t remember much about it. Mostly I recall being dragged up the mountain by the rope tow and falling a lot, both on the way up and on the way down. Truly, it’s amazing I stuck it out at all, because not too many people do. Consider this: According to the NSAA Journal, 85% of first-time skiers and boarders never come back. When asked why, they say because it’s “cold, painful, and frustrating.”

In short, no fun.

So when Killington invited me to learn more about Terrain Based Learning, I was intrigued. I’d heard a little about it, but really didn’t know all that much. And I’d never seen it put to use.

For those who don’t know, TBL uses snow features to help beginning students control their speed naturally. This lets them focus on the movements, sensations, and body positions that form the basis of good skiing. Basically, Terrain Based Learning eliminates the traditional anxieties so students can spend less time learning how to stop, and more time learning how to go.

The use of terrain-based features isn’t entirely new. Instructors here and there have been informally using this type of instruction for a number of years. What’s new, though, is the integration of these features into a complete instruction package, as marketed by Killington’s partner, Snow Operating. Snow Operating has 22 resort partners using its TBL method, though Killington’s TBL center is the largest in the United States. Opened in December, it features mini-halfpipes, banked turns, and rollers in a unique, completely enclosed learning environment.

Here’s a little bit of a video overview of the Killington TBL area. As you can see, it’s pretty extensive:

YouTube Preview Image

 

I spent a little bit of time scooting around the center with Killington’s Ski School Director Dave Beckwith and was pretty impressed by what I saw. Students start out on flat snow, getting a feel for their skis. Next up is a mini-pipe, where you slide down one side of a gentle, U-shaped slope and part way up the other. It’s pretty hands-on for the instructor, who literally supports you as you slide until you get the feel for the motion and feel comfortable enough to do it yourself. This is followed by a roller zone that’s a little bit steeper, and then a short trail with banks and berms that guide you through a few turns. “It’s a great way to build solid skills, right from the beginning,” said Dave. “Plus it’s a completely enclosed environment that makes it less intimidating for the new skier.”

Snow banks help a skier learn to turn in Killington's TBL area.

Snow banks help a skier learn to turn
in Killington’s TBL area.

Dave emphasizes that the most important thing about TBL is that it be fun. “I’ve always felt that snowsports instruction is an art,” he said. “There are no hard and fast rules associated with this. We focus more on the outcome of the learning process than on what should and shouldn’t be done. Our goal is to keep people engaged, so the things we’re doing are geared toward that. It makes for a more enjoyable experience.”

According to Dave, Killington’s Learn to Ski program starts before you put your feet on the snow. The resort has a special program to guide never-evers through every part of the process, beginning with equipment rental. “The people who come here are in the car for 4-5 hours running on coffee and a donut,” he said. “We want to make it as enjoyable and easy for them as possible. For example, you don’t typically think of the rental process as fun, but we pay attention to the details to make it that way. We make sure their boots fit properly, because that can make a big difference in how much they enjoy their day. And we help them celebrate the little moments, like the first time they put their boots on. Maybe it doesn’t speed up the process, but it adds value for the guest.”

Dave showed me the special rooms in the Learn to Ski rental area where first-time skiers get fitted with the gear they need for the day. Each room is named after a trail on the mountain and features comfortable, padded benches to make the process as painless as possible.

Rooms

Ski School Director Dave Beckwith in the corridor of Killington’s
special Learn To Ski rental area.

Here’s a fun fact: take four lessons at Killington in their Learn to Ski program and get a pair of Elan skis/binding FREE. If that doesn’t keep you coming back, I don’t know what will.

There’s no question that things have changed a lot since I learned to ski. Killington is doing what it can to keep first-timers on the slopes. I think they’ll succeed.



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A Chat with the CEO of Coalition Snow: Skis Made By Women, For Women.

How many of you ski on women’s gear?

[Looking at you through your screen]

I see. A good number.

If I’d asked this question not more than a decade ago, I think very few of you would’ve raised your hands (or nodded. Or at least said to yourself, ‘me.’) But today, many ski gear manufacturers offer dedicated lines of skis just for women.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

But perhaps not long enough. Because even though the Snowsports Industries of America reported that women were responsible for nearly a third of the $3.4 billion spent in retail in 2011-12, some companies still consider women a secondary market.

Not so at Coalition Snow, a new ski and snowboard company that’s not just run by women; it makes skis and snowboards exclusively for women.

Get a load of their tag line:

“We’re the ones we’ve been waiting for,” a Hopi Indian quote that exudes confidence, moxie, and a determination to take charge of one’s own destiny.

Kind of says it all, don’t you think?

Recently I spoke to Jen Gureki, Coalition Snow’s founder and CEO.

Jen Gureki CEO, Coalition Snow

Jen Gureki
CEO, Coalition Snow

Q. So tell, me Jen, what gave you the idea for Coalition Snow? How’d you get started?
A. I was on a backcountry ski trip in 2013 and talking with friends about women’s skiing. This was about the time that Pretty Faces [the Lynsey Dyer all-female ski movie] was getting started and there were a lot of conversations about how women’s gear doesn’t meet the needs of more advanced women skiers and riders and how that can hold women back. We were saying, oh, wouldn’t it be great if someone would make gear that women like us would want to use, because so many of us use men’s gear. As with many things in life, you can’t wait for someone else to come along and do it for you if it’s something  you want; you have to create it yourself. When we got home I started emailing friends and talking to them about what they thought about this idea: a company of women making skis and snowboards for women. We had a terrific response, so we decided to go forward.

Q. So your decision was based on a general dissatisfaction with the women’s gear that was already on the market?
A. Yeah. Most women’s-specific gear is kind of shoddy and soft and built around this idea that women don’t have enough strength to turn skis or boards. That might be the case for some women, but basing equipment on the idea that women aren’t powerful doesn’t do women any favors. I’ve been living in Tahoe for about 12 years, and most of the women I know are on men’s skis because they have the right stiffness and flex and you can find a more aggressive ski. The problem is often it’s not the right length. So we set out to design skis and snowboards that are a more appropriate length for women, though I do think our stuff is a little bit longer than some women might’ve been told they should be skiing on. The flex pattern is also much stiffer than most women’s skis.

Q. What goes into the design of your skis?
A. There’s no peer review study or literature that talks about how women skis are designed differently. It mostly comes down to where the bindings are placed, so we came at our design from what makes a women’s ski so that women would want to ski on it. We did a ton of market research, both formally and informally, to find out what women want and based our design on that. Last year was our year for testing, prototyping, and research and we went into production this summer so we have a limited edition line: a powder ski, an all mountain ski, and all mountain snowboard. All that info is on our website.

Q. Can you tell me about your skis?  What makes them different from other women’s skis out there?
A. One of the things is length. Both our skis are 173. We really believe that 173 is a good length for many female skiers, unless you’re a real expert or really petite. We also designed the ski to have a rockered tip and tail, so the amount of edge that comes in contact with the snow is a lot less than 173. We figured if we make really short skis, we’re perpetuating the idea that that’s what women need. But what we found in our testing was that even women who were used to shorter skis became better skiers once they got on ours. Yeah, there was a short learning curve. But it actually helps them progress.

So both our skis are 173 with a rockered tip and tail, multiple radius side cut, camber underfoot. They’re really good in transitioning from the pow to the crud to the groomers. We went with a full birch core, because that provides a good amount of stiffness, and one of the things we learned last year was that women’s skis were flimsy and that the tips would go down. We went with a stiffer ski because it would hold up better at high speeds and initiate turns better.

C:UsersUserDesktopNew folder (4)skis Model (1)

C:UsersUserDesktopNew folder (4)skis Model (1)

Q. I have to say I love the graphics. One thing that drives me nuts about women’s skis is when they have all the pretty little flowers and butterflies.
A. Our artists are women, too, and no, not everyone wants pink flowers. But a lot of women don’t want the grim reaper or the skulls and crossbones you’ll find on men’s skis, either, so we went somewhere else.

Q. Where are your skis being produced?
A. We’re working with a factory in Japan, and we’re selling them directly from our website as well as through many online retailers.

Q. How’s response been so far?
A. It’s been amazing from both men and women. We’re not about eliminating or excluding men. They’re a part of what we do. And men who get it – who want to see women thrive – really appreciate our skis. There’s been an outpouring of support from women who I think feel like they’ve been ignored or marginalized by the industry. Let’s face it, the industry is predominately male. People don’t change unless they have to; the status quo has been working very well for the industry, but I think energy has grown around women being perceived in a different way. Women have been demanding that.

Women have been incredibly supportive. For the most part, everyone has been excited and that’s what’s kept us going. About once a week I get an email for phone call from some stranger who says, “We’ve needed this for so long, we’ve been waiting for this.”

Q. How can someone go about demoing your skis?
A. We have demos available in a few shops in Truckee. We don’t have any demos outside of the area because this is our first year, but if there were shops that were interested, I’d be happy to talk to them.

Q. It’s amazing no one’s done this before.
A. I think the reason is that we’re told it’s going to fail.  Lynsey Dyer said that about Pretty Faces. She was told over and over that there wasn’t a strong enough market. The data speaks otherwise. If you look at the data about women’s participation,  it’s on the rise in every single category, so I don’t understand why people feel that way. I think running a business is difficult, especially if you’re getting into a business like this. There are so many challenges. I think it’s definitely the right time to be doing this, and I think that being told you’re going to fail makes people not want to do it.

Q. What do you think has been your biggest challenge in getting this off the ground?
A.I think we’re in the middle of our biggest challenge right now. We’re lucky in that we have really good relationships with people who have been in the industry for a really long time, so we’re getting some good advice. But right now, we’re trying to determine if all that support is going to translate into sales. The only way we’re going to be viable is if people buy our skis. It’s sort of like a big social experiment.

Q. So what’s in the future? Do you plan to expand your line?
A. We’re actually working on that right now. We’re looking to add some longer skis, one with a narrower width, like a front-side ski, also a powder board. We’re doing research right now to figure out what we’re going to produce.

Women wonder why they’re not getting better at skiing. Well, it’s because your gear sucks. You need gear that’ll help you progress. There’s a reason you can’t keep up with your husband or your boyfriend. So we aim to change that.

 



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Merry Christmas!

Wishing you all the happiest of holidays!

May the new year bring you

PEACE,

HAPPINESS,

GOOD HEALTH,

AND PLENTY OF GREAT SKIING!

(See you back here on January 6!)



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It’s all about the baselayer.

I hate the cold.

I know —  for a skier, that’s practically blasphemous. But it’s true. Well, let me put it another way: I don’t like being cold. So there is a difference.

That’s where baselayers come in. True to their name, baselayers are the foundation for staying warm. And the warmer I am, the longer I can ski. So to me, baselayers are very, very important.

long-johnsYears ago, baselayers were pretty simple. We called them long johns, they were typically cotton, and you really didn’t give them that much thought. But things are different now. There are lots of options available, and it can all get pretty confusing. So let me try to help.

Material Facts

Baselayers come in a lot of different materials, but no matter which one you choose, your objective should be the same: you want something that’s comfortable, easy to move around in, and able to keep you dry by wicking, or transporting, moisture away from your body.

Some of the major players are:

Cotton: You know those long johns I mentioned before? Cotton. With all the other options available, this is something you should be sure to avoid. Never, ever wear cotton as a baselayer. Never. The reason is simple: When cotton gets wet, it stays wet. And when you’re wet, you’re colder. So resist the urge to wear that T-shirt next to your skin. Choose one of the materials below.

Silk: Another oldie but a goodie, silk is a longtime baselayer staple valued for its smooth feel, light weight, and ability to be worn without adding bulk. Some of today’s silk baselayers have been treated to enhance wicking, something conventional silk layers don’t do. On the downside: silk baselayers require hand washing, which can be a bit of a PITA.

Merino wool: Wool used to be big, then it wasn’t, now it is again. Part of the problem was its bad rep. Wool just sounds itchy. That may be because you’re thinking of plain old sheep’s wool. This is baaaaaaaa-d (pardon the pun). Merino wool isn’t like that at all. Its final finish is much smoother than standard sheep’s wool. It’s also soft and has a high warmth-to-weight ratio. And it’s naturally antibacterial, usually for the life of the garment, so it can be worn on consecutive days with minimal odor buildup. Some of the great choices for merino wool include Smartwool, Icebreaker, and Ibex, though other companies offer wool layers, as well.

Synthetics: These are typically less expensive than wool, dry more quickly, and retain their shape better. And while synthetics have a nasty reputation for retaining odors, many companies have come up with technologies that minimize the stink factor. There are loads of companies offering synthetic baselayers, each with its little twist. Columbia Sportswear, for example,  makes baselayers that incorporate its Omni-Tech technology. These are little silver dots on the inside of a garment that they claim reflects and retain the warmth your body generates. [Full disclosure: I'm a member of the Columbia #omniten team, and they send me a lot of cool stuff].

IMG_2048

See the silver dots? That’s Omni-Tech technology.

Patagonia has its popular Capilene series, available in a variety of weights. And Hot Chillys, who recently sent me some of their Micro-Elite layers, combines micro polyester yarns with spandex for a close body fit and full range of motion, then gives it a treatment to prevent odors. Some companies, such as CW-X and Opedix, offer compression-type baselayers, which promise to provide extra support to reduce muscle fatigue. But these are only some of the players out there: UnderArmour, Mountain Hardwear, Arc’tyrex, Obermeyer, MarmotTheNorthFace – really, just about every ski apparel company has a baselayer line. Yes, it can be dizzying.

A Word on Weights

You can get baselayers in a variety of weights: Lightweight, midweight, and heavy. As a rule, the thinner the fabric, the better it wicks and the faster it dries. If it’s not very cold, or if you’re  going to be very active, you’ll want to stick with a lighter weight. Colder, or less active, go heavier. And if it’s really cold, don’t hesitate to wear two or even three layers at once. You can always take one off if you get too warm. It may take some experimentation to nail down the best combination for your activity, and once you do, trust me, you’ll forget by next season.

Also, in order for a baselayer to wick properly, the fabric needs to lay against the skin so it can pick up moisture. So make sure the fit is relatively snug.

Color is the New Black

Open up my baselayer drawer, and you’ll see a whole lot of black. Black has its benefits. It goes with everything, and you can get it from just about any company.  Hot Chillys recently sent me one of their Micro-Elite tops, and yes, it’s black, but it’s really nice. Soft and fleecy on the inside, nice and smooth on the outside, with enough stretch to allow full range of motion. A nice weight, too. Honestly, I figure since baselayers go under things, it doesn’t much matter if it’s black or not.

Nonetheless, black can be boring. So some companies are offering  baselayers in a variety of colors and patterns. Here are a few of the many that are out there.

From Hot Chillys:

HotChillysFiesta

On the wool side, take a look at this from Smartwool:

Smartwool

Or this, from Ibex:

Ibex

 

Or from Helly Hansen:

Helly

A lot to think about, yes?

Bottom line: The baselayer you choose is a matter of personal preference. Select one that keeps you warm, dry, and comfortable, fits within your budget, and works with your activity, and you’re set.

 

 



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