Tag Archives | ski instruction

Lessons We Learned This Season.

Divas at Snowmass

Divas at Snowmass

Skiing is a lot like life: You never stop learning. No matter how many years you’ve been at it, each day brings its own set of challenges, its own set of lessons. Recently the women on TheSkiDiva talked about some of the things they’ve learned this past season. So listen up, class, and take a lesson from the Divas:

  • Snow addiction is real. Powder fever is, too.
  • The more I try not to buy anything new, the more I inevitably end up buying.
  • I can’t say no to a good deal.
  • Trusty backcountry buddies are hard to find.
  • Telemarking is not as hard as I thought it would be.
  • Sit skiing is way harder than I thought it would be.
  • Confidence is the best friend for ski improvements.
  • Falling off a double black head first for 400 vertical meters destroys said confidence.
  • Always respect the mountain.
  • Marathon training and ski season do not mix.
  • Pilates and yoga are great supplements to skiing.
  • A ski resort is like a snow globe – a small bubble community. Once in a while, someone shakes the snow globe and there’s more powder.
  • Ski resorts are a mecca for flu, viruses, and food poisoning.
  • Bullying and sexual harassment still exist on and off the slopes.
  • All snow offers opportunities for learning, so boot up and make the most of it, even when it’s cornstarch-over-ice.
  • Stay relaxed when skiing on ice. I used to tense up and it made me more unsteady on ice patches. Now that I relax I handle them much better.
  • Proper pole length and usage are important and can have a major effect – both good or bad – on your skiing.  It’s impossible to get forward when your poles are too long.
  • Sometimes life gets in the way of skiing and that’s sad; accepting that takes some work. It made me appreciate the days that I got to ski even more.
  • A good instructor will push you just beyond your level of comfort to help you learn something new without making you terrified. When I achieved open parallel turns this season on some of the steeper green terrain at a new-to-me hill, it felt like a whole different world opened up.
  • A compassionate instructor can understand why a new skier may be fearful, and helps you get over that fear and keep anxiety at bay so you can continue to progress and experience the joys skiing.
  • Articulating what you want to get out of your lesson is essential for maximizing your skill development. I come prepared with an index card and a brief bullet list that I keep in my jacket pocket.
  • With control comes speed, and sometimes, with speed comes control.
  • Making more challenging terrain shallower and easier terrain steeper helps build confidence.
  • Even if you had what you think is a bad ski day, you’ve still learned something. If you walk to your car on two feet with all your body parts intact, whatever went wrong that day is fixable. The mountain will still be there to welcome you back.
  • Do apres. Whether it’s a beer for you or a plate of warm chocolate chip cookies with your sweetie, do apres.
  • Ski Divas are a great source of advice.


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How To Survive Spring Skiing.

I always welcome spring with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I love the warmer weather, the longer days, and the soft, carvable snow. On the other, spring signals the winding down of ski season. And to me, that’s a big deal. Skiing is more than just a sport to me. It’s a passion. And watching it disappear for 6-plus months is a pretty bitter pill to swallow.

Really, I have nothing to complain about. It’s been a great season. We’ve had a nice amount of snow here in New England, and as of today, I’ve had 75 ski days, with hopefully, more to come. I’ve skied at 14 different mountains (including a private ski area), attended a women’s clinic, and been to Diva West, Diva East, and our new this year Diva Mid-Atlantic. And even though my ski days are dwindling down, it’s important to remember that ski season will come again. Of that I have no doubt.

But in the meantime, let’s live in the moment and enjoy what we have left.

Me at Okemo, April 13, 2015

Skiing at Okemo, April 13, 2015

Spring skiing is a completely different animal from skiing in say, early season or mid-winter conditions. And though I’m not an expert,  there are a few things I’ve learned over time about skiing this time of year:

1) Wear sunscreen: The sun is higher in the sky than it’s been all winter. So even if you haven’t dipped into the tube of SPF 30 yet, now’s a good time. After all, researchers have discovered that even a little tan isn’t healthy. More than 2.5 million cancers in 3 million people are diagnosed  annually. If you want the look of a goggle tan, try some make-up, instead.

2) Wax your skis: You know that grabby snow that can bring your skis to a stop, while your body continues to travel? Not good. A coat of warm weather wax will fix that right up. Carry some rub-on in your pocket, too, for touch-ups on the mountain.

3) Dress accordingly: Layers are a good idea. It may start out pretty cold and warm up quite a bit, so you may want to peel as the day goes on. Also, no matter how warm it gets, do not wear short sleeves or shorts. Why? If you fall, you’re gonna pay big time. Falling on snow is like falling on sand. The ice crystals will scrape your skin raw, plus you’ll get very, very wet. So protect your skin, stay dry, and wear a shell.

4) Timing is everything: If the temps are still dropping below freezing at night, you might want to start your ski day a little bit later than usual. This is practically sacrilege coming from me; I’m always out when the lifts start running. But if you want to avoid rock hard ice, stay in and have another cup of coffee. Then follow the sun around the mountain. Ski the south and east-facing slopes in the morning and the north and west-facing slopes in the afternoon, so you can catch the snow as it softens up. Conversely, if you don’t get an overnight freeze, get out there as early as you can so you can ski before the snow turns  into a gloppy, sticky mess.

5) Softer and wider is better: Set aside your narrow waisted carving skis and go for something wider. Powder skis have a bigger surface area that lets them to surf over the heavy stuff  without getting bogged down.  They also have a softer flex, which allows them to bend more, so you don’t have to steer as much.

6) Ski it like you mean it: Keep a balanced, even weight on each foot. Also, steer lightly by tipping the skis on edge ever so slightly to turn. To put it simply, slow moves, long turns. Let the tails follow the tips, and don’t twist your feet too much. Commit to the fall line and don’t spend too much time shopping for good stuff.

7) Enjoy! A lot of people end their ski season when they no longer see snow in their own backyard. This is good for those of us who stick it out. The mountain is a lot less crowded. Quieter. Just the way I like it.

So what’s your spring skiing tip?



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Clinic Review: Women’s Discovery Program, Sugarbush, VT

UnknownVermont has 20 alpine ski resorts. And though each has its own particular charm, one of my favorites is Sugarbush. Located in the Mad River Valley, a beautiful region in an especially beautiful state, Sugarbush consists of two main peaks: Lincoln Peak (3,975 elevation, 2,400 vertical) and Mount Ellen (4,083 elevation, 2,600 vertical). Between the two is Slide Brook basin, a wilderness ski area made up of 1,000 acres.

IMG_0488

Sugarbush

So what makes it so special? First, it strikes a great balance between being a skier’s mountain and a family destination. There’s plenty of expert terrain — more than 40% of the mountain is rated black diamond — but there’s enough to keep intermediates and beginners happy. Instead of the broad groomers that make one mountain pretty interchangeable from the next, Sugarbush has terrain with character. There are lots of the traditional, winding New England trails that offer a surprise around every bend. There’s plenty of tree skiing and bumps. And there are spectacular views; look one way, and the Green Mountains stretch out before you; the other, Lake Champlain. What’s more, Sugarbush has what can only be defined as a Vermont vibe. It’s as if the place was weaned on maple syrup. And yes, it makes a difference in the atmosphere.

This past week I had the pleasure of spending a few days at the mountain’s Women’s Discovery Camp. Sugarbush ran two of these this season: one over a weekend in January, and one during the week in early March.  So let’s cut to the chase: Was it good? Would I recommend it? An emphatic yes to both.

I’ve always been a strong proponent of women’s clinics. I even wrote a blog post a while back called Why a Women’s Clinic, which explains why I think they’re so worthwhile. Meredith McFarland, Sugarbush’s Director of Adult Programs, agrees. “It’s a fun, comfortable, supportive environment. The women who come love the camaraderie. It’s just different from learning in a mixed group.”

I’ve attended a few women’s clinics over the years, and I liked what I saw at Sugarbush. Maybe it’s because it has a history. Meredith told me that the clinic at Sugarbush goes back at least 25 years. Although the focus was initially more social than instructional, it evolved over the years to the shape it’s in today.

So what did I like about it?

• Great student/instructor ratio: The clinic I attended had 13 women attendees, the one in January, 20. In general, there’s a 6:1 student/instructor ratio (though my group was 4:1). Which means you get a lot of individual attention and feedback.

• First rate female instructors: Make no mistake, these women are top notch. My instructor, Lisa Segal, is an L-3 PSIA Examiner. In case you don’t now, this is as high as you can go in the instructor hierarchy. It requires a massive amount of  training and expertise. And it showed.

So does it make a difference to have all-women instructors in an all-women’s clinic? I believe it does. As Meredith McFarland said, “I think it’s easier for a female instructor to understand what a woman is asking about some sort of movement. Sure, there are men who are great at teaching women. But I think women instructors generally have better insight into what works and doesn’t work for a woman skier.”

PSIA Examiner, and my instructor, Lisa Segal.

PSIA Examiner, and my instructor, Lisa Segal.

 

• The terrain: I described Sugarbush’s terrain at the beginning of this piece, and the variety makes it perfect for a learning situation. You get to try new skills in a lot of different situations.

• Off slope learning: The first morning of the clinic, we had an address by Terry Barbour, Sugarbush’s Ski School Director. Terry discussed the importance of proper stance along with the uses of edging and turn shape, and took us through a few off-slope drills. Later that day, there was a presentation about new skis. And the next day, a talk about ski boots. So a lot of good information about stuff skiers need to know.

Ski School Director Terry Barbour explains rotation.

Ski School Director Terry Barbour explains rotation.

• Sure it’s a learning experience. But if sure feels like fun! That’s because everyone associated with it — the instructors, the staff —  did their best to make this a low pressure, highly enjoyable environment. Let’s face it: we’re not trying out for the US Ski Team. The idea behind this is to not only make you a better, more confident skier but to amp up the fun factor. And they do.

Instructors and students of the March session

Instructors and students of the March session

• Ski demos: If you want to try new skis, you can. Demoing is a great way to figure out if a particular ski is right for you before you plunk down your hard-earned cash, and Sugarbush had a variety of skis available free to clinic attendees. Usually, you have to pay to demo. So this was an added plus.

• Running gates: OMG this was so much fun! I’m not a racer, so I’ve never had the opportunity to run gates before (full disclosure: these were stubbies). But it gave you a feel for what it was like. And it helped us with our turns.

Running the stubbies.

Running the stubbies.

 

• Videotape analysis: This is pretty standard in any good clinic. Nonetheless, it’d been a loooong time since I’d been taped. And yeah, it’s an eye opener to see how you really ski, particularly when it’s slowed down for frame-by-frame examination. A good way to find out what you’re doing wrong — and right! :smile:

An instructor takes an attendee through videotape analysis.

An instructor takes an attendee through videotape analysis.

• Yoga: We had the option of starting each day with a yoga workout, something I took advantage of.  And why not? Yoga gets your body ready and engaged for skiing. Plus it’s just good for your all around health.

Don’t just take my word for it.

Here are some comments from some of the other women attending the Camp:

• What I really like about the camp is how it not only helps engender a love of skiing, but also helps foster friendships that last. This is the third one of these I’ve attended at Sugarbush. And though the chemistry of each is different, they’ve all been fantastic.

• I love the low pressure environment. Sure, I’m here to learn, but I don’t feel the anxiety that I’ve found in a mixed group. The instructors really know what they’re doing. They’re so supportive. And they make it so much fun!

• I came to improve my skiing and I found a community, and every time I come back, I refind that community.

And then there’s the hotel…..

One of the great things about doing the clinic was staying in the fabulous Clay Brook Hotel, just steps away from the lodge at the base of the mountain (can you say pampered?). Opened in December, 2006, the hotel has accommodations ranging from studios to five bedroom suites. I stayed in a one bedroom unit, which consisted of a full-sized, completely outfitted kitchen, a living room/dining area with a  gas fireplace, a bedroom with a Queen-sized canopy bed, and a bathroom featuring a huge jetted tub. It even had a washer/dryer to take care of dirty ski clothes. If you want to soak out the kinks after your day, you can relax in the hotel’s heated pool or hot tub. Or if you don’t get enough of a work out on the slopes, there’s a fitness center, too.

All my interactions with the staff were extremely pleasant. For example, check in was a snap. They valet your car, unload your gear, and take your skis and boots to the respective ski and boot valets where they’re conveniently stored until you need them again. As for check out: I wanted to ski before I left, so they even put my bags in my car, where they were waiting when my vehicle was brought around at the end of my stay.

Here’s a file photo of the hotel. I love the Vermont barn-influenced design.

Clay Brook Hotel

Clay Brook Hotel

Here’s the living room/dining area of my unit, looking toward the kitchen (you can see the door to the hallway against the wall):

Clay Brook Living Room

Clay Brook Living Room

I also highly recommend the Timbers restaurant, which is attached to the hotel. I had dinner there one night. The food is terrific, and look at this place. It’s reminiscent of the round barns you can find in the area:

Timbers Restaurant

Timbers Restaurant

It was awfully nice to relax in this place at the end of a busy ski day. Truly, I felt like I was in the lap of luxury.

Was there anything you didn’t like?

Hmmmmm……um….no.

The bottom line:

Sugarbush has a great thing going. Granted, it’s probably not for those of you who are thinking about trying out for the US Ski Team. But for the recreational skier who wants to improve their skiing, increase their confidence and have a hell of a good time, it’s definitely worth doing.

 

 

 

 



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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 list of this year’s here. Next week I’m going to attend the Women’s Discovery Clinic in Sugarbush, VT. I’ll report back and let you know how it goes.

The best advice I have for you? Relax , enjoy yourself, and don’t sweat it too much. Remember: skiing is supposed to be fun.



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The Great Ski Pole Mystery.

SkiPoles

Ski poles are the Rodney Dangerfield* of ski gear: they don’t get no respect. After all, they’re not sexy like skis, with splashy graphics, a wide range of shapes, and high tech materials. And unlike ski boots, they don’t require someone with specialized knowledge or mastery to get you fitted just right. Ski poles are basically long sticks with grips on one end and baskets on the other. They come in different sizes and a few different materials, but that’s about it.

ancient carving

ancient carving

Nevertheless, ski poles have been around for eons. According to Wikipedia, the earliest ski pole was found in Sweden and dates back to 3623 BC, while the earliest depiction of a man with a ski pole was found in Norway in the form of a cave painting, dated at 4000 BC.

But despite this long history, a lot of people still find ski poles a bit of a puzzle. Many can’t figure out what they’re used for or how to use them. And some disregard them entirely: little kids, for instance (unless you count whacking each other or engaging in fake sword fights), or even ski luminaries, like Andrea Mead Lawrence, two-time Olympic gold medalist.

Then there are those who think they use poles when they actually don’t. They just carry them down the mountain, one in each hand — like a rose or a can of beer — with nary a flick. This has always puzzled me. I mean, why hold onto something you’re not going to use?

So why do we have ski poles? Do we really need them? What the heck are they even for?

Glad you asked, because it’s a good question.

According to Dave Beckwith, Director of Killington’s Snowsports School, ski poles are indeed useful. And for a variety of reasons:

  • Propulsion. You can use ski poles to push yourself along the flats.
  • Balance. When you’re not moving, poles can be extra points of contact to facilitate balance.
  • Timing/rhythm. The pole swing/touch aids in the rhythm and timing of a sequence of turns. It can act as a trigger or turn initiator.
  • Blocking. The pole touch also aids in blocking or slowing the momentum of the upper body vs. the momentum of the lower body. When the lower body turns across the fall line and creates a countered relationship to the upper body, the upper body still has directional momentum. This can  be slowed — or blocked, as we call it — typically in moguls or steeps. You can do this internally through the body and externally through the pole touch.
  • Proprioception. Poles create added points of contact to provide information that can aid in your spatial relationship with the mountain.
  • Deflecting. You can use a pole to navigate through areas by pushing off things to redirect yourself while moving.
  • Unweighting. By applying pressure on a pole, you can help unweight yourself to jump over obstacles such as ice, dirt spots, or rocks.
  • Visual aid. By observing your pole swing, other skiers may be able to better understand your directional intentions.

So is skiing without poles a bad idea? Dave says no. “Some folks just like to ski without poles. And some coaches like to teach students without poles. Often, the reason is to develop good habits and movement patterns within the body rather than relying on external input too early through improper pole use. Typically, you’ll see coaches teach young kids without poles because the poles can be a distraction. I’m an advocate of teaching with poles from the outset. I want to give students all the tools they need for success right from the beginning.” 

Katy Perrey, a member of TheSkiDiva forum and a Level 3 Keystone instructor who often teaches in the mountain’s women’s clinic, agrees. “Ski poles can be a disadvantage at lower levels because people don’t learn to balance on their skis and feet. They’re always trying to balance using their poles. At the upper levels, when used properly, poles can help with timing in turns, bumps, and steeps. The swing of the pole should make you move forward into the direction of the beginning of the turn. That said, we should all be able to ski all types of terrain without poles because of a balanced stance.”

What’s the biggest mistake people make using poles? According to Katy, it’s having your hands all over the place, as well as bad timing. “When you watch super-skilled skiers, you don’t notice the poles or the pole swing/plant. With a lesser-skilled skier, the poles are much more noticeable because their arms and hands are moving all over the place. This causes serious upper body rotation, which is very bad.”

Dave sees two mistakes. “Either people don’t use them at all — the poles are just along for the ride — or their pole plant timing is off. This can keep the skier from getting the best response from their gear or the smoothest ride possible.” 

So don’t dismiss the lowly pole. Embrace it. Give it the respect it deserves. And use it in a way that helps your skiing. That’s what it’s for.

BTW, check out a thread on skiing without poles on TheSkiDiva forum. Go here.

*Late 20th century stand-up comic and actor

 

 

 



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How to Survive the White Ribbon of Death

Photo: Chandler Burgess

Photo: Chandler Burgess

Whether your season’s already started (I’m looking at you, Killington and Sunday River) or you’re planning to ski as soon as your mountain opens, there’s a good chance you’re going to encounter something scarier than a zombie apocalypse (hey, Halloween’s coming. Go with it).

Yes, I mean the dreaded White Ribbon of Death.

Oooooooooooooooh.

Don’t run away screaming. I know it’s frightening, but there are ways to ski it and live to tell the tale. It just takes courage, fortitude, and a little bit of knowledge.

In case you don’t know, the White Ribbon of Death (aka WROD) is the narrow strip of artificial snow ski areas put down early in the season so they can open before Mother Nature cooperates. Generally, it’s populated by about a zillion people, all hopped up because they haven’t skied in a loooong, looooong time. Add in not-so-great conditions, and you’ve got a scary situation. You pretty much take your life in your hands when you ski it — not that that keeps anyone (including me) away.

So what should you do?

• Keep it in perspective. Sure, you’re loaded with excitement. After all, it’s been a long, long summer. But you’re not the only one who feels this way. SO — don’t expect to be all alone out there. It’s going to be really, really crowded. And don’t think it’s going to be knee deep powder, either.  Face facts: The conditions are usually pretty marginal. Just know what you’re in for before you show up.

• Make the necessary adjustments. Whatever you’re skiing on, make sure to check your bindings to be sure they release properly. It’d be pretty awful to take a fall and be out for the rest of the season.

• Use ’em if you’ve got ’em. Old skis, that is. There isn’t that much of a base and you’ll probably encounter a rock or two. So if you want to preserve your good skis, keep them for when conditions improve.

• Don’t dress for the polar vortex. It’s very early season. There’s plenty of cold weather to come. You can leave your heavy stuff at home. Layers help, so you can shed or add as needed.

• It might not be a long day.  You may only get a few runs in before the crowds or conditions get to you. That’s okay. The whole purpose of skiing the WROD is just to get out there. In fact, you may want to bag the whole first tracks thing and start a bit later, when everyone else is fed up with the crowds and long lines and has quit for the day.

• Relax and have fun. Remember, it’s not the only time you’re going to ski this season. There’s plenty more to come. So if you only get a few runs, think about the whole long season stretching out before you. And smile.

• If you do ski the WROD, report back. Share your story. Let us know how if you skied it — and lived.



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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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Support Zanskar, Make a Difference.

Zanskar

Imagine you’re a young girl living in Padum, a small village in the remote Zanskar region of the Northwest Indian Himalaya. It’s one of the highest and coldest inhabited places in the world. Winter temperatures of -22°F are common, and heavy snow keeps your village cut off from the rest of the region for 8 months of the year. Communication and transportation are difficult, if not outright impossible.

This is the world that Heather Chrystie and Cara McGlashan, two young women from the UK, trekked 100 km into two years ago. After spending several years skiing and working at ski areas around the world, they decided to work as volunteer instructors at the Zanskar Ski School, a small non-profit school set up to teach the children of the region how to ski. Its mission: to provide communication, transportation, rescue, and job opportunities for the people of the Zanskar Himalaya through skiing. Yet with one trail only 492 feet long and no lift, Zanskar offers only limited opportunities for learning advanced ski techniques.

Heather and Cara want to change this. They’ve started the Zanskar Ski Project to bring five dedicated students to Gulmarg, a larger ski resort in the Indian Himalayas, where they can benefit from a gondola, more instructors, and more intensive teaching. The journey will involve walking over 100 km on a frozen river, four flights over the Himalayas, and almost 300 km of jeep travel on mountain roads.

Yes, a big trip, with a price tag to match.

So Heather and Cara have done what a lot of people are doing these days to raise money:  they’ve launched a crowd-funding campaign. Right now they’re about a quarter of the way to their goal of $3,500 (Canadian). Which means they have quite a way to go before their deadline of October 15.

Here’s what the two have to say about the project, from their website:

Learning to ski effectively really can revolutionise communication links and transportation in this remote and isolated town. The five dedicated students that we bring from Padum will return home able to share their knowledge and experience with the other students. They will also be able to take more responsibility in the running of the ski school, ensuring its continuation. Their long-term prospects of finding a good job will be vastly improved, and in the short-term they may be able to travel to school more safely and easily.

For Cara and I, the deciding moment was when we asked Padma, the 13 year old daughter of our host in Padum, what she would think about the possibility of going to Gulmarg to ski. For a girl who has never left this remote corner of the Himalaya, and who has hiked for every ski turn she’s ever made, this prospect was mind-blowing. Her face was a picture of incredulous excitement, and left us in no doubt whatsoever. We would do everything we could to bring these children to Gulmarg and share the joy and usefulness of skiing with them.

And here’s a video about the Zanskar Ski School:

 

For those of us who view skiing as a recreational activity, it’s hard to imagine the impact it can have on these people’s lives, as well as how difficult it is for them to receive good instruction. Sure, I love to ski, but I don’t have to rely on it for communication or transportation. Heather and Cara aren’t just trying to  teach some kids how to take gates faster; they’re trying to give them the tools they need to improve things we Westerners take pretty much for granted. So how about giving them a hand? Visit Heather and Cara’s  Indiegogo page to make a donation.



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