Learning From an Olympian

By Wendy Clinch •  Updated: 02/23/21 •  7 min read

Today’s post is written by Pauline Law, a member of TheSkiDiva community. Pauline recently took a lesson from Barbara Ann Corchran, shown in the photo above. Barbara Ann won the gold medal in the slalom at the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo, Japan. So take it away, Pauline:

First, a confession

I never did snow sports as a kid. Before moving to northern Vermont in 2012, my only experience on skis was as a clueless, straight-lining college student shrieking down beginner trails on night skiing trips sponsored by my school ($40 for lift ticket, rentals, and transportation).

That changed after my first winter in Vermont, when I realized that I was here for the long haul and had to find something to get me through the season. Long story short: I bought a snowboard and fell utterly, hopelessly, and desperately in love with sliding on snow. After snowboarding came splitboarding, and with splitboarding came my many daydreams of going on an extended alpine touring adventure.

The thing is, snowboarding in the backcountry can be tough. Unpredictable, rolling terrain can turn into a total slog, with more hiking than sliding. Even my short backcountry climbs on the nearby Catamount Trail involve way too much unstrapping and skating on my board. After one too many times unbuckling and buckling back into my splitboard, I decided I needed to learn how to ski.

Enter Cochran’s Ski Area

Cochran’s may not be the biggest ski area around, but it sure has an impressive history. Founded in 1961 by Mickey and Ginny Cochran, the ski area has spawned a host of ski champions. In 1972, the Cochrans sent three kids to the Olympics in Sapporo, Japan: Marilyn, a world champion bronze medalist, Barbara Ann, and Bobby. Barbara Ann won gold in the slalom and Bobby took eighth in the downhill. Then, in 1976, Lindy, the youngest, went to Innsbruck where she finished sixth. Flash forward to the next generation:  Bobby’s son, Jimmy Cochran, who currently runs and manages Cochran’s Ski Area, raced at the 2006 and 2010 Olympics. Lindy’s three children (Tim, Jessica and Robby) have all been members of the US Ski Team, as has Barbara Ann’s son, Ryan Cochran-Siegle. In December, Ryan won the first US World Cup gold in 14 years.

But along with training champions, Cochran’s has had another important role: Introducing kids to the sport of skiing. In 1961, Ginny started an after-school program at the request of the Richmond parent-teacher organization. And over time, thousands of area children have learned how to “Ski the Cochran Way.” In 1998, Cochran’s Ski Area incorporated as a nonprofit corporation, and in 1999, it was recognized by the IRS as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization with the mission of providing affordable skiing and snowboarding, lessons, and race training for area youths and families.

Here’s a short video on Cochrane’s that aired on NBC Nightly News in 2018:


With its long emphasis on education and, yes, affordable prices, I knew that Cochran’s would be a great choice for a lesson. What I didn’t know, however, is that I could learn from Barbara Ann Cochran (known familiarly as BA) herself! When I emailed the ski school to request a lesson a few days before the weekend, Sue Carpenter, the assistant ski school director, gave me incredible news: BA had had an unexpected cancellation, so I could take a lesson directly from her!

To say I was excited would be putting it mildly. I mean, how often do you get a chance to learn from an actual Olympic gold medalist? I jumped at the chance.

Lesson Day

Getting to Cochran’s was easy. The ski area is about five minutes away from I-89 on Cochran Road in Richmond, VT. My lesson was on a sold-out busy Sunday, but I managed to find a parking spot easily enough and walked a few hundred feet from my car to my lesson.

At the start of the lesson, I told BA what I thought of my skiing: I could get down some blue trails, but I had no technique and was essentially muscling my way down the hill. BA suggested going back to basics, beginning with the snowplow. She must have seen the skepticism on my face because she told me that she made the US Ski Team skiing exclusively in the snowplow position. “When we got to Chile for training… the coaches didn’t know what to do with me,” she said. They told her to just “keep her knees together.”

So we worked on the snowplow for an hour on Cochran’s learning terrain. BA started me off simply bending at the waist — to the left if I wanted to turn right, and to the right if I wanted to turn left. The results were instantaneous and novel: I actually felt the ski turning itself. Even though I’d spent a dozen or so days on skis, I’d never consciously experienced this sensation before.

After a few runs on the learning terrain, BA had me effortlessly linking turns. She told me with my new skills I’d be able to  tackle the “Face” — a stretch of black diamond terrain that, thankfully, she didn’t take me on. Instead, we rode the T-bar together and did a top-to-bottom run down three green trails called Alison’s Alley, the Elbow, and Ginny’s Way. In between teaching, BA told me why these trails had their names: Alison’s Alley is named in support of a brave young skier who learned to ski at Cochran’s and who continues to battle a serious illness; and Ginny’s Way is named, of course, after the original matriarch of the Cochran family. The sense of pride and community fostered by this small but tight-knit ski area was palpable in all of BA’s stories.

All in all, my hour-long lesson with BA went by quickly — too quickly, in fact. By the end of the lesson, BA suggested that if I wanted, I could match my skis and try to ski parallel. “Just keep your knees together!” Even with the skills I practiced during my lesson, I don’t think I’m quite ready to snowplow on to the US Ski Team, but considering how accessible, affordable, and FUN the lesson with BA was, I’m sure I’ll be back for more.

Barbara Ann Cochran and Pauline Law

You can help other skiers learn the Cochran Way.

Cochran’s Ski Area is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt non-profit with the mission of providing affordable skiing and snowboarding, lessons, and race training for area youths and families. Its annual fundraiser, Rope-A-Thon, will occur this year on Friday, March 19, from 3 to 8PM. The goal is to ski 2,000,000 vertical feet as a group in one day (that’s 4,000 total runs). The rope is approximately 250 vertical feet, but since it’s just as hard to go up as it is to ski down, they figure 500 vertical feet credit for every run. Please consider participating or sponsoring Barbara Ann Cochran (or another skier of your choice) by clicking here.

Cochran’s is located 15 miles southeast of Burlington, VT,  just south of I-89 in Richmond VT.  Adult weekend tickets are $19. and weekday tickets $10. Seniors (72+) always ski for free.

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