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Women’s Ski Clinics, ’16-’17

If you’re thinking about taking a women’s clinic, you’re in luck; there are plenty to choose from. Over the past few years, more and more resorts have added them to their ski school line up. Why? Well, a lot of women prefer learning in a testosterone-free environment. Women’s clinics focus on building skills and confidence while providing the camaraderie that comes from skiing in a group of women and working with skilled female instructors. Research actually shows that women are more supportive and men more competitive in a learning situation. And this can carry over to the ski hill, too.

Here’s a sample of what some women on TheSkiDiva.com have to say about them:

• I go every year to at least one of the women’s clinics they have at my local resort. They are fun and it’s great to learn some new tips and have a blast skiing with other women. I like them because they are just a supportive group of skiers and each one of us encourages everyone throughout the lesson – something I certainly don’t get in other types of lessons.

• I have taken both co-ed and women only clinics. I prefer the women only because I feel that with other women the atmosphere is supportive and not so competitive. Every time I have been in a co-ed class, there has been one guy who thinks he knows more than the instructor. Then the whole goal of the class changes to be a competition between the two and I get lost. In co-ed classes I have been subjected to feedback from a guy in the class when I prefer to get my feedback from the instructor. The pace in a women only clinic meets my needs too. We stop for bathroom breaks as needed and to get warm if it’s really cold. Other women share what they think I am doing well not what I am doing poorly. They encourage me to take steps outside my comfort zone but do not slam me if I should choose not to take that step. And, I laugh more on the lifts.

• I opted for the women-only because it was the only clinic offered in my area. It turned out to be really fantastic. One of my instructors was very focused on the difference in the center of gravity between men and women, so the main reason I went to the clinic the first time was to hear more on that subject. The best thing about them — I’ve done two — was meeting new ski buddies. I met two wonderful ladies that I’ve stayed in touch with though we haven’t been able to coordinate skiing again yet. There really wasn’t anything I disliked, other than I wished more folks were signed up. I agree with the other posters – there is a relaxed vibe, we have a great time, we can kvetch about skiing at “that time of the month”, etc. Plus the clinic organizer makes the most awesome goodie bags EVER. She sent me one while I was recovering from breast cancer surgery (she is also a survivor) that blew me away. Again, that made-a-new-friend thing…love it.

That said, women’s clinics aren’t a one-size-fits-all answer. Everyone’s learning style is different, and a co-ed clinic might be fine for you. But if you’ve been looking for a women’s clinic, here are some to consider:



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So you want to be an instructor.

instructing_wbssu

For some people, being a ski instructor sounds like a dream job. After all, you’re out on the hill all day long, opening people’s eyes to the joys of skiing and sharing your passion with others. You get to wear a cool instructor jacket, go to the head of the lift line, and hey, you even get a free pass and plenty of discounts. Pretty sweet, right?

Maybe.

But maybe not. After all, being an instructor isn’t for everyone. Not that I don’t admire instructors. I do. It’s just something I don’t think would work for me. For one thing, I’m not very patient, and patience is very important in this line of work. Second, I’d rather ski where I want, when I want, with whom I want. For instructors, at least for part of the time, that isn’t possible.

Thankfully, there are loads of people who simply love teaching people how to ski. But as in any job, it’s important to know what you’re getting into before you sign up. So I recently asked some of the many instructors who belong to TheSkiDiva community what they like and don’t like about instructing. Here are some of their comments:

 

Things that have met or exceeded expectations:

• It’s the most beautiful office of my career;
• The whole teaching experience is absolutely wonderful: getting to share your passion with others, seeing a light bulb go on for someone or watching as they overcome a fear;
• The camaraderie of each day with fellow instructors has been great;
• Seeing the mountain every day is the best;
• The perks are great: free pass; discounts on equipment; discounts for friends and family etc.

Things that were disappointing or surprising (although they probably shouldn’t have been):

• A ski school is still a human organization so there are still office politics;
• There is an “in” crowd and an”out” crowd;
• Lots of huge egos;
• Still some greater difficulties for women instructors vs men;
• The clinics for instructors are very uneven in terms of quality;
• The certification process in our region is really messed up and doesn’t seem to be fairly applied. I’ve been very unimpressed with the examiners and the examination process;
• It doesn’t feel like we are all pulling in the same direction. There are different schools of thought about what and how to teach. Ski instructors are really just a bunch of independent contractors competing against each other for clients under the umbrella of the ski school.

So it looks like the list of disappointing things is longer than the list of good things. But really, the good stuff is SO WONDERFUL it way outweighs the little annoyances.

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I enjoyed the vast improvements in my skiing (just in going through the selection process, much less the certification training), and understanding both the mechanics of learning/teaching and the importance of the correct equipment. Where else can you get generally weekly clinics for free? I also loved the ah ha moments and the look in the students eyes when they finally get it.

I hated the fact that my skiing then suffered greatly by spending 97% of my time on the bunny hill. Yup, I lost 10-20 lbs every year running up the bunny hill, but I actually only put skis on about twice a week, and that was as a Level 2 instructor. That may be different at the bigger areas in the East and West, but it’s the core business here at the feeder hills. Ugh.

The ugliest part was the pitiful amount of money I made at it as an hourly employee, while still being expected to maintain PSIA membership and certification along with the bi-annual 1 or 2 day clinics and the $$$ that required.

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Overall, I’m really happy with how my first season went. I made some friends, learned a ton and really improved my skiing. I love many of the perks of being a PSIA member, so I joined as soon as I could and had my Level 1 cert by the end of my first season. Being very goal-oriented, I feel a strong desire to work towards my Level 2 and perhaps even Level 3 certification.

I’m still trying to balance that with my overall goals, though. This season, I did my best to make a schedule that would still allow me time to get into the mountains that I love this winter. Last season, I taught too much and ended up only climbing 2 pitches of ice all season!

On the con side, I did feel underprepared to work with children when I first started. I got better as the season went on, but I did feel at times that there was an unexpressed assumption that because I am the right age to be a mom, that I have kids of my own or must be good with children simply because I have a pelvic organ capable of birthing children. I am not a mom and would not consider myself good with children. Chicken or egg question, but regardless, I find working with children to be pretty exhausting in general. Even my nieces whom I love do that to me. Working all day with someone else’s children was quite draining at times. Even more so when the parents were ungrateful and even somewhat belligerent. I plan to take my CS1 this season and I hope that makes this part of my job easier for me, but who knows.

I did spend a lot of time on the bunny hill. That in and of itself didn’t bother me, but my right knee does NOT like skiing in a wedge all day. I’ve never yet had knee pain with skiing (maybe when I first started and was skiing in the back seat) but after those days on the bunny hill, my knee would ache the whole way home.

The pay can be a bit demoralizing. I certainly don’t know how people could afford to be full-time instructors unless they are retired and receiving a pension already! For the most part, the money I earned went to PSIA membership, clinics and some gear I needed to update. What was left, probably covered gas and food. I’m not sure how you are supposed to keep membership up or keep good instructors around when they are paid like pizza delivery guys.

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• I have spent most of my time teaching Level 1-3 skiers. I had no idea how much I could learn by teaching beginner skiers. A proper wedge turn is not intuitive and many instructors do not do or teach a proper wedge turn. A proper wedge turn is the building block to better skiing everywhere on the mountain. There are so many opportunities to improve your own skiing by teaching beginners proper stance, leg rotation etc.

• I have been able to ski with some amazing clinicians. I have also realized that no matter how great the clinicians are, learning is my responsibility and ultimately, I have to decide what makes sense, what does not and what works for me. Just because someone is considered a great instructor, does not mean they are the best instructor for me.

• I have made more friends and become part of a community that is amazing. There are so many people who are now part of my life that I would never have met. Many people teach skiing because they love it and that is what makes these people special. I love the locker room banter, after ski school happy hours, parties and the many friends I have made through ski school.

• I have become not only a better skier but a better teacher. It is a constantly evolving process of learning/teaching finding some new way to explain things that makes every day new.

• I get to be fun and crazy with people. My attorney job is not all that fun. I love to help people have a good time, enjoy their vacation and learn to ski. I can do and say things that would never go in my full time environment. It is liberating and enjoyable.

• I learned to ski in my mid 30’s. I tell all the adults that I teach this fact. I want them to believe that skiing is something that they can do and when they believe that, it is amazing to watch the transformation. I am thrilled to be a part of it.

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So there you have it: an inside look on what it’s like to be an instructor. I hope this helps, or at least gives you something to think about if you’re thinking about taking this path.

One more thing: I have to share something I found on Facebook. Yes, the first panel is ungodly sexist — but you get the idea:

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How to get the most out of a lesson.

Photo from Smuggler's Notch

Photo from Smuggler’s Notch

I remember once telling a non-skiing friend that I was going to take a lesson. “Why?” she said. “Don’t you already know how to ski?”

Well, yeah, I do. And yeah, I don’t, too. Skiing is one of those things that the more you know, the more you realize how much you don’t know. Which sounds kind of funny, but trust me, it’s true. There’s always so much more to learn, so many ways to improve. It’s a never-ending process.

Which is the reason I’m writing this today.

Lessons can improve your confidence and expand your options on the hill. The better you ski, the more you’ll be able to do, and to me, that means more fun. But lessons are also an investment in both time and money. So what do you do to make sure you’re getting the most out of yours? To find out, I went to one of the best resources I know — the TheSkiDiva.com — and asked the members there for their input. Here’s what they had to say:

• I think one of the important thing in a group lesson environment is to speak up. You can’t be shy about making yourself heard. In my experience, in many group lessons there is one person who tends to monopolize the instructor’s time and attention. Very good instructors will be able to diffuse this, but I have seen instances where they do nothing. In order to get what you want out of the lesson sometimes you can’t just sit back and be quiet.

• Being nice, respectful, and attentive is going to get you a better lesson than being sullen or difficult. If you don’t like what’s happening in the lesson, communicate that to the instructor – respectfully. Don’t just bitch about it to the other people in the lesson as you’re going up the lift.

• For a parent, it may be useful to provide a quick introduction for a child to a new instructor and pass on any information that might be useful. This is especially important when there’s something that’s not particularly obvious and you know your kid isn’t going to mention it. For instance, when my daughter was 6 or 7, she was already skiing black runs in the southeast, which is not that common. Since she was petite and looked a year of two younger than she was, I would try to make sure a new instructor knew something about her age and ability before the lesson started.

• If you’re a student, be sure to ask what the purpose of the exercise is if you want clarification. “Why are we working on learning pivot slips in easy terrain when I want to learn to ski bumps?” And if you’re an instructor, it might be helpful to say up front, “We are working on precise, effective pivot slips because they are an important skill you will use to steer through the bumps – and you’ll soon see why.”

• For a trip out west from the flatlands, consider the timing of a lesson. While it’s good to have a lesson early in the trip, if you know that adjusting to the high altitude takes a day or two then perhaps plan for the lesson on the second ski day. If you are not a morning person, then look for a ski destination that offers afternoon group lessons if that’s what you prefer. At Alta, it’s possible to schedule a semi-private or private for 2 hours, with the option of extending to 3 hours. That’s handy when working with a new instructor or the weather is changing the day of a pre-scheduled lesson.

• For most beginners, a highly certified (or even just Level 1 certified) instructor is not necessary, but the more specific a student wants to get, the more they are going to get out of a lesson with a higher-level certified instructor. First of all, the time, effort, and money invested in getting to level 3 (PSIA) means that persons who achieve that are not just great skiers, but they have a real passion for teaching and communicating with students. In addition, they have been teaching and learning how to teach longer, and have more experience. They can often quickly and easily change communication style, demos or exercises to help student learn quicker. That being said, I know some excellent Level 2 instructors who have a lot of experience, are wonderful instructors, but for various reasons — time away from work or family, injury/illness/chronic disease — haven’t gone for their Level 3.

•You can always learn something from an instructor, even if you find that you don’t agree with or like what they’re teaching, or even their style or approach. If you’re a chronic lesson taker like I am, mix it up — take some classes that you think might be too easy for you and other times, ones that will push you. Also mix up instructors. One instructor pointed out something so obvious that made such a huge difference, than I can’t believe no one else pointed it out! Maybe the rest of them thought it was so obvious it didn’t need mentioning? Or maybe they didn’t see it… who knows?

[From an instructor point of view] I think it’s important to come into any type of a lesson with an open mind. Many times what the student wants to work on or terrain they want to ski is NOT what they should be working on or skiing on. I want to know the following: skiing experience, why they are taking a lesson, what would make the lesson fabulous for them, and how they learn. If you know your learning preference, tell the instructor. I had a physical therapist student last year. She told me at the beginning of the lesson that she needed very descriptive, technical explanations and that she did not learn by watching. We had a 3 hour lesson and it was fantastic. I went in to much more detail than I would with some people and she was off to the races. It was phenomenal.

[From another instructor] If you are in a group lesson and don’t understand something, please let the instructor know. Don’t be afraid to ask for another demo or another explanation. Chances are others in the group are in the same boat.

Ski at your pace. Do not feel obligated to ski faster than your comfort level because of the group speed. If the group is too fast, ask to move to a different group.

Skier levels are to help put groups of people together with similar abilities so that everyone can learn. Don’t be disappointed if you are put with the 6’s instead of the 7’s. The numbers are really meaningless.
Be willing to put yourself out of your comfort zone. If you always go last, try going first. Instructors in a group manage a lot of things and sometimes it is difficult to manage all of the personalities. Go first – be seen! (I often direct who goes first so that everyone gets a chance).

Please be present! Put the phone on silent, be on time and listen/watch not only the instructor but the others in the group. It is amazing what you can learn by watching and listening.

[And from yet another instructor] If you’re a first timer, be sure to answer the following questions for your instructor:Why do you want to learn to ski? What do you do in real life? Work, sports, other. This gives them a good idea of your learning style without asking. Where are you from? Base elevation can play a big roll in the learning process!

For other skiers, it’d be helpful for your instructor to know the following:Why are you taking the lesson? What is your ski experience (hours, days, years)? What terrain do you feel most comfortable on? What do you want to get out of the lesson? And finally, what are your goals?

One of the best ways to learn is to take one of the many women’s clinics given at resorts around the country. You can find a pretty comprehensive list of them here.

More than anything, though, remember that skiing is supposed to be fun. So relax , enjoy yourself, and have a good time.



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Women’s ski clinics, ’15/’16

 

Divas in Liberty Bowl.

If you’re thinking about taking a women’s clinic, you’re in luck; there are plenty to choose from. Over the past few years, more and more resorts have added them to their ski school line up. Why? Well, a lot of women prefer learning in a testosterone-free environment. Women’s clinics focus on building skills and confidence while providing the camaraderie that comes from skiing in a group of women and working with skilled female instructors. Research actually shows that women are more supportive and men more competitive in a learning situation. And this can carry over to the ski hill, too.

Here’s a sample of what some women on TheSkiDiva.com have to say about them:

• I go every year to at least one of the women’s clinics they have at my local resort. They are fun and it’s great to learn some new tips and have a blast skiing with other women. I like them because they are just a supportive group of skiers and each one of us encourages everyone throughout the lesson – something I certainly don’t get in other types of lessons.

• I have taken both co-ed and women only clinics. I prefer the women only because I feel that with other women the atmosphere is supportive and not so competitive. Every time I have been in a co-ed class, there has been one guy who thinks he knows more than the instructor. Then the whole goal of the class changes to be a competition between the two and I get lost. In co-ed classes I have been subjected to feedback from a guy in the class when I prefer to get my feedback from the instructor. The pace in a women only clinic meets my needs too. We stop for bathroom breaks as needed and to get warm if it’s really cold. Other women share what they think I am doing well not what I am doing poorly. They encourage me to take steps outside my comfort zone but do not slam me if I should choose not to take that step. And, I laugh more on the lifts.

• I opted for the women-only because it was the only clinic offered in my area. It turned out to be really fantastic. One of my instructors was very focused on the difference in the center of gravity between men and women, so the main reason I went to the clinic the first time was to hear more on that subject. The best thing about them — I’ve done two — was meeting new ski buddies. I met two wonderful ladies that I’ve stayed in touch with though we haven’t been able to coordinate skiing again yet. There really wasn’t anything I disliked, other than I wished more folks were signed up. I agree with the other posters – there is a relaxed vibe, we have a great time, we can kvetch about skiing at “that time of the month”, etc. Plus the clinic organizer makes the most awesome goodie bags EVER. She sent me one while I was recovering from breast cancer surgery (she is also a survivor) that blew me away. Again, that made-a-new-friend thing…love it.

That said, women’s clinics aren’t a one-size-fits-all answer. Everyone’s learning style is different, and a co-ed clinic might be fine for you. But if you’ve been looking for a women’s clinic, here are some to consider:



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A Chat with Freeskiing Champion Elyse Saugstad

Elyse Saugstad.

Elyse Saugstad (Photo by Anthony Solis)

In the world of skiing, Elyse Saugstad stands on one of the highest peaks. Winner of the Freeride World Tour in 2008 and recipient of the Best Female Performance Award at the Powder Awards in 2013, she was also named one of the Top 50 Women in Action Sports by ESPN in 2014.

Not too shabby. (There’s more, too. Go here for the full run-down.)

But Elyse has another title that some of you may not know about: Survivor. In 2012, she was in a group caught in an avalanche at Tunnel Creek in Stevens Pass, Washington. Three people died; Elyse survived by deploying an avalanche airbag. Since the group included some of the nation’s top professional skiers, as well as writers and a photographer from POWDER magazine, the avalanche received a lot of media attention. There’s a terrific interactive article about the whole thing in the New York Times (you can find it here), which I highly recommend.

I spoke with Elyse recently from her home in Tahoe.

Q: So Elyse, how’d you get started in freeskiing, anyway?
A: I started skiing before I could walk. As I grew up I got into racing, and I did well, but I burned out in high school. Then when I went to college I had a lot of friends who were really into freeskiing. I wasn’t racing anymore and I really missed skiing, so I went in that direction. And it was so much fun! I grew up in the big mountains of Alaska, and I think that helped, too. After I graduated I eventually moved to Squaw and became a pro skier. That was about ten years ago.

Q: You’ve made a number of ski movies. Are you working on anything right now?
A. Funny you should ask. My husband, Cody Townsend, who’s another professional skier, worked with Matchstick Productions; he had this incredible performance in Days of My Youth – you really should see it — but he wanted to do something a little bit different. So we decided to work together on a movie. It’s called Conquering the Useless. The title refers to a quote from one of Cody’s favorite alpinists, Reinhold Messner, who is one of the greatest alpinists of modern time, and the quote relates to his philosophy of climbing and mountains and how it’s an act of Conquering the Useless.. We brought in Team 13, a production company based in Salt Lake City, as the cinematographer and editor. But since Cody is the producer it’s sort of like an independent ski film. Cody and I are in it, along with Chris Rubens and Dave Treadway. It’ll be out the end of September. I’m working on the website for it now.

Q: I understand you’ll be heading down to South America soon. 
A: Yes, I’ll be heading down at the end of the month to host a camp.

Q: I know you offer avalanche clinics. Is this going to be one of those?
A: No, that happens in early winter. I have to say that I’m really proud of my SAFE AS clinics. I started them with Michelle Parker, Jackie Paaso, Ingrid Backstrom, Lel Tone and Sherry McConkey and Ingrid Backstrom. One day we were sitting around drinking coffee and talking about avalanches, and we decided it’d be really great to offer a women’s specific avalanche course. Most avalanche classes are made up of men. We thought if we created an environment that was for women only, then they’d feel more comfortable and be more likely to come get educated. Plus they could meet other women to become back country partners. We do it in December because for most of the winter we’re pursuing professional our ski careers, so we’re not all available. In the past we’ve held the clinics in Colorado, Squaw, Utah, and Washington.

Q: Has avalanche training changed as a result of what happened to you? Do you think you have a different perspective or a different way of teaching?
A: Most definitely. I think it’d be disastrous if I walked away from that event unchanged or unable to reflect on it. I do a lot of public speaking, and it helps me come to terms with what happened that day. And that’s hard to do, going over everything and taking apart all the things that went into it — this or that could have led to our demise. So I think humility is a very important thing in being a skier – not only a professional skier, but anyone who skis, either in the backcountry or in bounds. We can’t always think that resorts are the safest places, either. The mountains are alive. But that’s part of what makes skiing so fun. It’s really good to have the knowledge of what’s going on out there and to bring that to the forefront, to remind skiers that we need to be educated and make the right decisions.

Elyse Saugstad, Girdwood Alaska (Photo:Adam Clark)

Elyse Saugstad, Girdwood Alaska
(Photo:Adam Clark)

Q: I see you’re a big proponent of avalanche airbags and that you attribute your survival in the avalanche to that piece of equipment. Is that something you advocate in your clinics?
A: I do believe it saved my life. And I think it should be a part of everyone’s safety protocol along with your transceiver, your probe, your shovel, and above all, your brain. I’m hoping that as time goes by and as people become more and more familiar with these backpacks, they’ll become as standard a piece of equipment as those other items are.

Q: I saw in the Times article that after you activated the airbag you thought, ‘gee, I wonder if I’m overreacting,’ which I thought was interesting because I think that’s such a natural response. And as it turned out it was the right move.
A: Yes. When I do my talks about the avalanche, that’s one of the things I like to put out there, because there are several reasons why someone would hesitate to pull the lever on their airbag backpack, like, ‘oh, man, this may cost a lot, I shouldn’t pull it, I’ll have to replace the canister.’ But that’s what it’s there for in the first place. For other people – and this is more in my category – it’s about ego. You think, ‘Everyone is going to make fun of me. I’m going to look like a wimp for worrying that something is going wrong when actually nothing is happening.’ It’s understandable, but if that action could save your life then why wouldn’t you do it. Now I’m glad I did.

Q: What advice do you have for someone just starting out in backcountry?
A: Find an avalanche or snow safety course. A lot of resorts offer some kind of talks, and there are web sites that can help you find classes. Then build your gear as you go along. There are so many people out there who are knowledgable. Take advantage of it.

Q: Since you went through the avalanche, has your relationship with skiing changed?
A: Probably not in the way people might think; that I’d be scared to go out there. The kind of skiing I do can be very, very frightening. But the one thing the avalanche did was make me more methodical than I was in the past. I really think through where I’m going and what I do and who I’m skiing with; I don’t naively put my trust in others, which I used to do a lot more readily. I still love skiing more than anything and I think that in life in general there’s risk, so I do what I can to minimize that as much as possible.  I’ve learned how to say no, and I think I’ve become more confident in being able to speak up and say that I’m not comfortable with something. I’ve done pretty well so far. I’m always aware that there’s always an unknown.

Q: Was it difficult for you to get back out there?
A: You know, it really wasn’t. I started skiing about a week after the avalanche. For me, it was cathartic to be out there with friends. There was so much media attention around that incident. But my friends understood our lifestyle, what we go through. They were very supportive and it felt comfortable. And I wanted to jump back on the horse. I didn’t want skiing to become something I was scared of.

[editor’s note: Take the time to watch Elyse’s TED talk on fear. It’s well worth seeing.]

 

Q: I read your interview in Powder, and it said you’d been having difficulty getting sponsors, which pretty much blows my mind.
A: Yeah, you know, it’s difficult in being a female in action sports or in sports in general.

Q: Why do you think that is, and what does that say about women in the ski industry? It reminds me of Lynsey Dyer* and ‘Pretty Faces.’ She had a lot of trouble getting sponsors for her movie, and ended up running a Kickstarter campaign with tremendous response. She ended up doing very well.
A: It has a lot to with the ski companies. I’m sorry to say that some of the people who are in charge just don’t see women as a valuable asset to their companies. They don’t see that the women’s market is as important as it is. The Pretty Faces movie should have been a very good example for them. I mean, look, you may not want be fund ski movies that feature women, but the public will. They want to see them; they want to be inspired. I don’t think the industry noticed. It’s still the token female syndrome, where you have one female per company. It’s really unfortunate.

I feel like there’s been a lot of women in action sports who’ve put themselves out there on social media to get attention. They may be amazing athletes, but they put themselves out there in bikinis. It doesn’t make sense. It’s an interesting situation.

Q: You’ve had some amazing accomplishments. What are your goals now?
A: I’d like to do more public speaking, things along those lines. I want to promote skiing in positive ways to inspire females, from young girls to older women. As long as I’m doing that and making a difference, that’s good.

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For more information about Elyse Saugstad and her SAFE AS avalanche clinics, visit her website here.

* To see my interview with Lynsey Dyer, go here.



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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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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:

 

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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Considering a Women’s Clinic? Here’s the ’14/’15 List.

 

Divas in Liberty Bowl.

If you’re thinking about taking a women’s clinic, you’re in luck; there are plenty to choose from. Over the past few years, more and more resorts have added them to their ski school line up. Why? Well, a lot of women prefer learning in a testosterone-free environment. Women’s clinics focus on building skills and confidence while offering the camaraderie that comes from skiing in a group of women and working with skilled female instructors. Research actually shows that women are more supportive and men more competitive in a learning situation. And this can carry over to the ski hill, too.

Here’s a sample of what some women on TheSkiDiva.com have to say about them:

• I go every year to at least one of the women’s clinics they have at my local resort. They are fun and it’s great to learn some new tips and have a blast skiing with other women. I like them because they are just a supportive group of skiers and each one of us encourages everyone throughout the lesson – something I certainly don’t get in other types of lessons.

• I have taken both co-ed and women only clinics. I prefer the women only because I too feel that with other women the atmosphere is supportive and not so competitive. Every time I have been in a co-ed class, there has been one guy who thinks he knows more than the instructor. Then the whole goal of the class changes to be a competition between the two and I get lost. In co-ed classes I have been subjected to feedback from a guy in the class when I prefer to get my feedback from the instructor. The pace in a women only clinic meets my needs too. We stop for bathroom breaks as needed and to get warm if it’s really cold. Other women share what they think I am doing well not what I am doing poorly. They encourage me to take steps outside my comfort zone but do not slam me if I should choose not to take that step. And, I laugh more on the lifts.

• I opted for the women-only because it was the only clinic offered in my area. It turned out to be really fantastic. One of my instructors  iwas very focused on the difference in the center of gravity between men and women, so the main reason I went to the clinic the first time was to hear more on that subject. The best thing about them — I’ve done two — was meeting new ski buddies. I met two wonderful ladies that I’ve stayed in touch with though we haven’t been able to coordinate skiing again yet. There really wasn’t anything I disliked, other than I wished more folks were signed up. I agree with the other posters – there is a relaxed vibe, we have a great time, we can kvetch about skiing at “that time of the month”, etc. Plus the clinic organizer makes the most awesome goodie bags EVER. She sent me one while I was recovering from breast cancer surgery (she is also a survivor) that blew me away. Again, that made-a-new-friend thing…love it.

That said, women’s clinics aren’t a one-size-fits-all answer. Everyone’s learning style is different, and a co-ed clinic might be fine for you. But if you’ve been looking for a women’s clinic, here are some to consider:

 



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Clinic Review: Killington’s Donna Weinbrecht Ski Camp

When Donna Weinbrecht gives you tips about skiing moguls, you listen.

killington-logoDonna’s a three-time Olympian who’s won 46 individual World Cup mogul events, two silver medals at the ’89 and ’97 World Championships, and the pièce de résistance: the first Olympic gold in freestyle skiing in the 1992 Olympics. She’s also the star attraction of Killington’s Donna Weinbrecht Women’s Ski Camp, offered for five days in January and two in February. So when they invited me to attend the two-day camp, I jumped at the chance. I mean, how often do I get the chance to ski with an Olympic gold medalist?

Which is how I ended up in Killington’s Snowshed Lodge early on February 18, booting up with 24 other women who’d registered for the camp. And it couldn’t have come at a better time. Killington had just had more than 2 feet of snow, and the first day of the camp brought even more. I was excited. I was ready. I was willing to learn.

The camp began with  a short welcome speech, after which we were split into four groups among four instructors, based upon our abilities and the skills we wanted to work on. My group wanted to concentrate on moguls. So we spent our first morning in the bumps, practicing drills and getting feedback from our instructor, Leslie, a Level 3 with a great personality and an infectious laugh. After a noon buffet lunch in the the Killington Grand Hotel, we were videoed for analysis later in the day. And after that, we were joined by Donna Weinbrecht herself. The idea is for Donna to float from one group to the next, throughout the course of the camp. She spent half a day with us, offering tips and showing us how it’s done. It’s pretty incredible to watch her ski. Her pony tail doesn’t even move as she glides — yes, glides — through the bumps. Oh, if only I could ski like that…….

Donna giving us some pointers.

Donna giving some pointers.

Day One ended with review of the video. Some people are pro-video, some aren’t. Me, I think it’s a good thing. I like how it allows me to see how I’m skiing and what I need to work on. The instructors gave me a good analysis……..which led to Day Two, where we spent the morning, again skiing the bumps, and the afternoon playing in the trees. Conditions were so good that we just couldn’t stay out. No, my group didn’t ski with Donna again. But we had the chance to work the great tips she gave us, along with those offered by our instructor, Leslie.

My group worked on the bumps.

My group worked on the bumps.

A member of my group won a free pair of Ramp skis!

And they had a drawing for a free pair of Ramp skis!
Here’s Donna with the winner.

So what were the pros of the Donna Weinbrecht Ski Camp?

• It’s for women only, with female instructors. Why is this a good thing? Go here to see what members of TheSkiDiva.com have to say about it. Bottom line: it’s fun to ski with other women in a testosertone-free environment.

Donna Weinbrecht! Need I say more? In addition to being a sweet, unassuming, and generous human being, Donna knows her stuff. It was a real treat to ski with her and get feedback from one of the best in the world! (BTW, you can see my interview with Donna here.)

• Accomplished, friendly instructors. The clinic offered a good mixture of fun and learning.

• Killington has good terrain for learning to ski bumps, trees, and just about anything else you want to work on. It’s The Beast of the East! A great venue for a clinic.

And what were the cons?

• It took a bit to get organized the first morning. I would’ve expected better, since this wasn’t the first time they’d had this camp.

• The video taping also took a bit longer than I expected. We were all videoed at the same time, and I think it could’ve been handled a bit more efficiently.

• My group had seven people in it the first day, five on the second (two didn’t show up). And though seven wasn’t really a problem, five was much better.

The bottom line:

Is it worth the money? Yes. The two day camp costs $299, which includes instruction, lift tickets, video analysis, and lunch. A good deal, in my book. Did I learn anything? Most definitely. I got some great tips that I’ll be working on in the days ahead. Was it fun? Absolutely. And that’s what it’s all about.

I think Killington’s women’s camps are done for the year. However, the resort is offering  a two-day mogul camp with Donna,  March 22-23. It may not be too late to sign up.

Me with Donna Weinbrecht

Me with Donna Weinbrecht



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