Tag Archives | Killington

Have you ever ski biked? I have — and it’s a blast!

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I’m willing to bet that most of you haven’t heard of ski biking. Well, until recently, neither had I. But if you’re looking for some laugh-out-loud, just plain silly fun, this is the thing for you. I know, because I tried it last week at Killington Mountain Resort. And I laughed, whooped, hollered, and giggled all the way down the hill.

You clip into short little skis.

You clip into short little skis.

What’s a ski bike? As you can see in the photo above, it’s essentially a bike frame with a long, low seat and two skis: one in the front, and one in the back. There are no brakes, chains, or gears, either. You clip your feet into two short skis, straddle the seat, and you’re good to go.

Although ski biking is pretty new in the East, it’s been around for decades, primarily in Europe and more recently out West. The bikes used at Killington are made by Brenter, a family business in Austria that’s been making them since 1949.

Killington is the only resort in Vermont with ski biking, which it offers in partnership with Alpine Bike Works. The mountain has 12 available in three different sizes — kids, medium, and large — and it can adjust them to your physique.

Once you’re fitted, you’re given some instruction on how to stop, start, turn, and get on and off the lift. To be honest, getting on the lift was my biggest challenge. The bikes really aren’t heavy — they weigh less than 20 pounds — but they are a bit cumbersome. You hold them in front and keep them in place using your foot, knee, and the lift’s safety bar. And while I managed to get the hang of it after a couple times, I’ll admit that it made me a bit nervous at first.

Ski biking, on the whole, is a low impact, easy way to have fun. The learning curve is pretty fast, which probably makes it great for people who want to get out on the snow but don’t want to spend a lot of time taking lessons, or for people who have physical challenges, or for those of us just looking for something fun and different to do. Turning involves simply shifting your weight. To stop, you turn into the hill. And to have fun, you just point yourself down the hill and GO.

Here I am coming down the learning hill. As I’m sure you’ll note, conditions were sort of challenging. We’d been through a spring-like warm-up, and the snow was a mushy-gushy, piled up mess. But that didn’t stop me from having fun!

Right now Killington limits ski biking to two areas on the mountain: the Snowshed learning area and Ram’s Head, though this could change in the years ahead. My instructor said it’s great in all sorts of conditions, too, so I think I’ll have to come back and find out for myself.

So what’d you think, Ski Diva?

Two ski poles up! I can’t recommend this highly enough. Definitely give it a try.

And now, for Killington’s ’18-’19 season…..

After an afternoon of ski biking, I attended Killington’s annual Resort Update meeting. Everyone in the community is invited, and it’s a great way to learn about what the mountain is planning for the summer and next ski season. Killington deserves a lot of credit for being so forthright and transparent about what’s going on. The mountain’s General Manager, Mike Solimano, had a lot of great things to announce. Most noteworthy: $16 million of improvements, which include the following:

• RFID technology at lift access points for both Killington and Pico;
• Upgrades on the K-1 Gondola, including new gondola cabins;
• A 6-person bubble chairlift to replace the current Snowden lift;
• Installation of a quad chairlift on the mountain’s underserved South Ridge area;
• Trail intersection improvements;
• Creation of a dedicated race training venue.

For more details, go here.

 

 



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A Day at the Races: The 2016 Audi FIS World Cup

I think my ears are ringing.

img_5045It’s no surprise, since it’s just two days after the 2016 Audi FIS World Cup at Killington Mountain Resort, and I think every cow bell on the planet was there. And why not? This was the best of the best in ski racing, only half an hour from home.

How could I not attend?

This was the first World Cup Alpine race in New England since 1991 (Waterville Valley, NH), and the first in Vermont since 1978 (Stratton Mountain). And oh yeah, it was the first World Cup I’d ever attended, too.

Having the race at Killington in November, I thought, took a tremendous act of faith. Weather this time of year just about anywhere is sketchy. The Men’s World Cup in Lake Louise has been cancelled, as has the men’s race in Beaver Creek. But kudos to the people at Killington, who put forth a tremendous effort to make sure their course was World Cup ready. The resort has been blasting snow since October — enough to cover a football field 40 feet deep — and was lucky enough to get some help from Mother Nature: 15 inches in the past week or so.

The lower GS course on Superstar

The lower part of the GS Course on Superstar

But having the race in the East over Thanksgiving weekend was also a stroke of brilliance. Four and a half hours from New York and three from Boston, Killington is easily reachable from major population centers. And this means a lot of excitement, loads of publicity, and a ton of people on hand to watch the race. I was there for the GS race on Saturday, along with an estimated 16,000 other people — by many accounts the largest US World Cup crowd ever. (Which also accounts for what I said before about the cow bells.) In fact, US Ski Association officials estimate the combined attendance for both Saturday and Sunday at nearly 27,000, making it one of the most well-attended women’s ski events in US history.

Just a few of the people who showed up for the race.

Just a few of the people who showed up for the race.

Was it exciting to be there? Yes. It felt like a festival. There was a temporary village set up at the base with tents from all sorts of vendors. There was a pre-race parade featuring a thousand kids from ski teams across the state of Vermont.  There was a free concert by O.A.R. in the base area afterward. And the crowd was clearly stoked, full of Vermont and East Coast pride.

The course was set up on Superstar, a fun run that’s readily visible from Killington’s base area. Superstar starts with a steep headwall, mellows out onto some undulating terrain, and then plunges again with another steep pitch. The starting altitude of the GS course was 3,701 feet and the finish altitude 2,559 — all together,  a vertical drop of 1,142 feet and a course length of 3,166 feet.

Here’s a GoPro preview of the GS course:

Fog on the course.

Fog on the course.

By now, the details of the GS race are well known. Conditions were challenging, with a changeable surface that rutted up quickly. Visibility wasn’t perfect, either, with flat light and fog rolling in and out throughout the day. Thirteen of the 61 racers, including defending GS champion, Swiss skier Lara Gut, either fell or skied off without completing the course. In the end, France’s Tessa Worley, the 2013 GS World Champion, finished first ahead of first-run leader Nina Loeseth of Norway, who finished 0.80 seconds back. Italy’s Sofia Goggia came in third, 1.11 seconds behind Worley. And 2014 Olympic Slalom gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin ended up fifth after finishing 8th on the first run and 5th on the second.

BTW, Lindsey Vonn did not compete. She’s been sidelined by a broken arm she incurred training in Colorado.

What I especially loved was seeing the athletes up close and personal, and finding out that yes, apart from the fact that they’re amazing athletes and ski like goddesses, they’re very human, too.

Here are some small details that I dearly loved:

• Lara Gut wears a knit hat with her name as part of the design.

• Mikaela Shiffrin, who grew up skiing on the East Coast, had her 95 year old grandma there to watch her compete.

• Third place finisher Sofia Goggia uses Vermont Maple Syrup when she makes her favorite American pancake breakfast at home in Italy.

• Second place finisher Nina Loeseth loved the snow; she said it was more like European snow than the lighter snow she’s skied in Colorado.

• Mikaela Shiffrin does Word Searches with her mom before the race  to combat nerves.

• All the racers I heard speak said they loved hearing the roar of the crowd when they came down the final pitch.

• During her press conference the day before the race, Shiffrin talked about how she loved the passion of East Coast skiers. “It’s easy to love skiing in the West, because it’s amazing. When you’re in the East, it’s raining, snowing, sleeting, all in one day. If you’re still out there, it means there’s a passion.”

• And this, from the NBC broadcast of the race later on that day (yeah, I watched it, too): Announcer #1: “What do you think they [the racers] have learned the most from the skiers who have gone before them in these conditions?” Announcer #2: “Now they know why skiers from Vermont are so good. Because conditions change every two seconds. You’ve got to know how to do all of it.”

Here I am talking to Swiss racing phenom Lara Gutt.

Here I am talking to Swiss racer Lara Gut. Note her hat, with her name knitted right in.

The Slalom Race took place on Sunday, and unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend. But I did catch it on TV, and congrats to Mikaela Shiffrin for her 22nd World Cup win and her 10th consecutive slalom victory on the World Cup!



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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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And so it begins: My two first days.

At long last.

Like all of you, I’ve been waiting, waiting, and waiting some more for ski season to begin. After all, my last ski day was April 17. It’s been far, far too long.

This week I finally got my turn with not one, but two first days at my two local mountains, here in Vermont: Okemo and Killington. Okemo opened November 15, Killington, Nov 5. And this week, I was ready. This week, I was there.

Getting Ready For The Big Day

You’d think this would be a snap. After all, I’ve been skiing for — let’s just say lots and lots of years. Nonetheless, I think anyone’s first day skiing should be called “National You’re Going To Forget To Bring Something Critical Day.” Because invariably, no matter how much I plan, no matter how many times I fill up and empty my ski bag to make sure everything’s there — I manage to leave something behind. This year was no exception. Yes, I had my boots, goggles, gloves, socks, and helmet. But somehow I managed to leave out my gaiter. Not too big a deal, but still, will I ever learn?

First Day #1: Okemo

The ideal first day is sunny, cold, with great snow and blue, blue skies.

Mine was not like that at all.

Although we had a bit of snow Sunday night, Monday — the day I chose to ski — started out with an icy, sleety mix. No matter, I thought. Maybe it’s snowing on the mountain.

If only. Instead, it was sleeting there, too. But I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I mean, what’s bad weather? We’re skiers, aren’t we? We laugh at the stuff Mother Nature dishes out. We can take it.

Sort of. To be honest, visibility sucked. I took five runs, then quit. It was just too unpleasant; I looked like a popsicle and felt this side of pneumonia. But on the upside: the snow was soft and there was no one out there (big surprise). Okemo’s been blowing snow like crazy, and it shows. There’s top to bottom coverage, and it looks more like February than November. The mountain says it has 14 runs open, and I guess there probably are. In reality, however, there were essentially three ways down. But they were fun ways, so who’s counting?

It was cool to ski by the construction for the Sunburst Six, the new lift that Okemo’s putting in to replace the old Northstar Quad. It’s a bubble lift! With heated seats! The only one like it in North America, too. Things seem to be progressing nicely — the lift may be ready to spin in early December. I can hardly wait.

Construction continues on  The Sunburst Six, Okemo's new bubble lift.

Construction continues on The Sunburst Six,
Okemo’snew bubble lift.

 

In the meantime, however, if you want top to bottom skiing, you have to rely on two fairly slow lifts to get to the summit. But this isn’t unusual for early season skiing at Okemo, and really, early-December — if they make their goal — is only a couple weeks away (incredible, huh?). So I can suck it up.

Besides the lift, Okemo has a few new things in store this season. The mountain put in 100 new, energy-efficient HKD tower guns and snowmaking pipeline upgrades. This follows a $1 million snowmaking investment they made last winter, so they’ve made great strides in this department. They’re also re-doing their terrain park, in partnership with Snow Park Technologies. So for those of you who are into that, you’re in for a treat.

First Day #2: Killington

Weather-wise, a much better first day than my day at Okemo. Yes, it was colder than one would expect for November (in the teens without the wind, when I started), but it was snowing. And it kept snowing pretty much all morning. Now that’s a ski day.

Lookin' good at Killington

Lookin’ good at Killington

Killington’s been open since November 5, but I’m glad I waited. Until recently, skiers had to download when they wanted to return to the base lodge. That’s all over now. There’s top to bottom skiing, with more set to open by Thanksgiving (they’re making snow pretty aggressively).

How were conditions? Really, quite good. Lots of snow on the trails, no visible rocks, and very good coverage. It was actually a very fine day.

Killington has a number of  things this season you’ll probably appreciate. They’ve added 400 new, energy efficient snow guns this year and are working to improve snow coverage on high traffic intersections. And this is pretty cool: Killington is instituting Terrain Based Instruction in their ski school. In TBI, students are coached on a series of sculpted terrain features before moving on to the larger slopes or up the chairlift. The features help skiers learn to control speed and  promote balance. Killington says their system will be the largest in the country, and second in North America only to Whistler. I plan to check it out for a later blog post. They also tell me they’re improving their signage, which is a big plus. I’ve always had difficulty with Killington’s trail signs, so I like this a lot.

SO — my season is off to a great start. Last season I made 84 days. Will I equal or beat that record? Stay tuned.

 

 



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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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The ’12 Mountain Top Picks: TheSkiDiva’s Second Annual Best-Of Awards

You may remember that last year, the ladies at TheSkiDiva.com took part in their first annual Best of the Year survey. You can see the results here.

Well, we’ve done it again.

Roll out the red carpet, contact ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and SKI and Powder Magazines. Because TheSkiDiva.com has chosen the best in ski gear, apparel, and resorts for the ’11-’12 season.

There’s no prize, no gold or crystal statuette. Just bragging rights to being the pick of the largest online community of women skiers on the planet.

So without further ado, here are the results (please hold your applause until all the winners are announced):

 

 

 

Ski Gear:

Favorite Front Side Carver: Volkl Kenja
Favorite Powder Ski: Rossignol S7W
Favorite All-Mountain Ski: Volkl Aura
Favorite Ski Boot Brand: Dalbello
Favorite Goggle: Smith IO/S
Favorite Helmet: Smith Variant

Ski Apparel:

Favorite Baselayer brand: Smartwool
Favorite Ski Sock Brand: Smartwool
Favorite Jacket Brand: The North Face
Favorite Ski Pant Brand: The North Face
Favorite Glove or Mitten Brand: Hestra

Ski Resorts:

Favorite Eastern Resort: Killington
Favorite Western Resort: Alta
Favorite Midwestern Resort: Nub’s Nob
Favorite Eastern Canada Resort: Mont Tremblant
Favorite Western Canada Resort: Whistler Blackcomb
Favorite European Resort:  Val d’Isere
Favorite Women’s Ski Clinic: Roxy Ski Camp at Whistler

Big congratulations to all the winners!

 



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A conversation with Donna Weinbrecht

Donna Weinbrecht

 

Like anyone else, Donna Weinbrecht, Olympic gold medalist, needs new furniture now and then.

I reached her recently at her home in New Jersey, where she was waiting for a new couch.

New Jersey? Yes. Donna lives in The Garden State, home of The Boss, Frank Sinatra, Tony Soprano, and years ago, even me. “It’s my home in the off season,” she said. “My fiancé is a musician and needs to be in and out of New York, so it’s convenient.”

Makes sense. And it all sounds so ordinary. But there’s nothing ordinary about Donna Weinbrecht’s life.

Winner of the first freestyle gold medal in the Winter Olympics, in 1992,  Donna has seven national titles and 46 World Cup wins, and is a member of both the National Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame and the Hall of Fame at the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum. She’s also listed as one of the Ski Channel’s Top 50 Olympians of All Time.

Donna will be leading Killington’s Women’s Weekends, two weekend clinics scheduled at the resort this season. I asked her a few questions about her career and the upcoming clinic.

Q: So how’d you start skiing?
A: My parents fell in love with it when they were adults. My father bought land in Killington in 1979 and built our house in 1980, so skiing became a family sport. We were weekend warriors. We’d get in the car on Fridays and drive up 4-1/2 hours to go skiing.

Q: What attracted you to the moguls? And how’d you learn?
A:  I don’t remember ever being taught how to ski. I loved figure skating, and some of those skills, like good balance, carried over to skiing. I think sometimes people are just born with ability. I see it in my nieces and nephews. Some of them have that gene and pick things up quickly.

I learned to ski in the 70s, when hot-dog skiing was booming. I’d see these photographs in the ski magazines of the hot-doggers smiling and having fun, so I gravitated to that.

Q: Freestyle can be tough on your knees. How are yours holding up?
A: After I won my medal I had a bad ski injury, so I missed the ’93 season. I was practicing a new jump during a fall camp in Breckenridge.  I was a little pitched forward in the air, and when I landed my leg hyperextended. It was a contusion of the tibia plateau, plus I messed up my ACL, meniscus, medial ligament, and I had a fracture, too.  That was tough, because my comeback was in 1994, another Olympic year. Despite that, I had a great comeback,  I won the overall World Cup, so I jumped right back in.  My training was a little hesitant, but that was it.

Q: Do you have one win that really stands out for you?
A: I have 46 world cup wins, so it’d be hard to say. But the Olympics were like a childhood dream come true. I never felt more perfect as a person that whole season. There was pressure, but I always had the feeling of being centered.  I was on Cloud Nine.  It was incredible.

Q: So when did you retire from competition?
A: I stopped competing after ’98. I took two years off, but they left the door open for me, so I went for it in 2002. I came very close to making my fourth Olympics. It was fine that I didn’t; I was psyched that I went for it.  The team was fantastic. There was so much talent that we could have had an Olympic team within the Olympic team.

Since then I’ve been doing all sorts of things: a lot of events, alumni work for the US Ski Team,  and Powdergirls, a fundraiser for the ski team that’s held in Aspen.

Q: Tell me about Killington’s Women’s Weekend Clinic.
A: I coached at the Killington Mountain School in 2008, and I had all these mothers saying they wanted to ski with me. So I talked to the people at Killington, and we put together a nice fun package for a ladies’ weekend. There’ll be two sessions, one in January and one in February. Each will have a maximum  of 30 people. We’ll be working with Killington’s snow director and some of the elite instructors at the resort. We’ll split in groups according to levels, intermediate to experts, and we’ll work on whatever anyone needs – everything from moguls and the shape of turns to the way to carry your poles, pole plants, flat training, and so on,  I’m self taught, so I have very organic methods.

Q: What’s the most important advice you can give people who want to master the bumps?
A: That’s tough. There’s so much going on.  In moguls, you’re absorbing, you have to look ahead, you have to make sure you’re not being pushed into the back seat.  They always say that if you have a bad habit, it’s going to be pronounced in moguls. You need to work on your balance, use your vision, and work on your pole plants and the cadence of your turns. Practice in the flats, where you have to do some turns to fall into a nice line.

Q: What do you look for in a mogul ski?
A: An all mountain ski is better than a carving ski. I ski on the Chickadee, an all-mountain ski from Ramp, a new online ski company. The main thing is you don’t want anything that’s too wide or too stiff, because a lot of times you’re driving your tips into the  moguls and you don’t want them to push you into the back seat.  As for length, I started my career with I think it was 195, ended with 169. I also use shorter poles in moguls. If you start getting really good and you have those early plants on the backside or the tops of the moguls, you don’t want to have to lift a longer pole. You want to be able to swing out and have it connect.

Q: What do you prefer: machine-made or naturally made bumps?
A. I prefer natural. But machine-made can be a lot of fun, too. It’s all good.

Q:  If you weren’t a professional skier, what would you be?
A:  After high school, I went to art school, but my art school folded so I moved up to Vermont and worked at a small restaurant near Killington, The Pasta Pot. I made nationals in ’86 and then the following year I thought if I didn’t make the team I’d go back to art school. In ’87 I made the team — they took just one mogul skier out of the east coast  My rookie year was 1988 and everything fell into place, and I’ve never looked back.



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In which I am totally star struck.

Imagine how you’d feel if you were 13 years old and Justin Beiber walked into the room.

That was me about a week ago. Because last Wednesday something comparable happened that made me get all goose-bumpy and tongue tied.  I skied with two Olympic legends: Picabo Street and Donna Weinbrecht.

In case you need a reminder about who they are, here’s a refresher:

Donna Weinbrecht won the first freestyle gold medal  at the Winter Olympics, in 1992. She’s won seven national titles, has 46 World Cup wins, and is a member of both the National Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame and the Hall of Fame at the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum. She’s also listed as one of the Ski Channel’s Top 50 Olympians of All Time .

Picabo Street  won gold medals in Super G at the 1998 Winter Olympics and downhill at the 1996 World Championships, as well as three other Olympic and World Championship medals. She also won World Cup downhill season titles in 1995 and 1996, the first American woman to do so, and has a total of 9 World Cup downhill race wins. In 2004, Picabo was inducted into the National Ski Hall of Fame.

So can you blame me for being excited? I don’t mean to sound creepy about this; it’s just that I don’t fall over skiers of this caliber every day of the week.

Make no mistake: Picabo and Donna did not come to my little corner of Vermont just to ski with me. I’m not that delusional. They came to participate in a media event at Killington to promote the resort’s specialized education programs. Donna will be heading up two women’s weekend clinics at the resort. And Picabo, well, she was just there for extra star power.

Yes, I actually did ski with them. In  hindsight. I was so rattled that I’m sure everything I said was incredibly stupid. But both Donna and Picabo were extremely friendly and gracious. Picabo even said she liked my helmet, and took the time to give me some pointers (if you’re reading this, thanks, Pic! I’m working on it!).

Truly, a once in a lifetime experience.

If you’re interested in Killington’s new Women’s Program, here’s a link. And if you decide to sign up, say hi to Donna for me.

Me with my new BFF, Donna Weinbrecht (and she's holding a TheSkiDiva sticker!)

 

 

 



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Five Days After.

It’s a beautiful day here in The Green Mountain State. I’m sitting out on my deck enjoying perfect weather. I have power, internet, water, and food. Truly, life is good.

That’s not the case for a lot of Vermonters. As I’m sure you heard, people all over the state have lost their homes. They’re stranded on “mountain islands,” with no access to the outside world. Businesses are destroyed. Road and bridges,completely gone.

Here’s a road where I used to ride my bike. I guess I won’t be doing that for a while:

If you read my last post, then you know I was afraid I’d  be stranded, too. We parked our car on the other side of a deteriorating roadway, so  we were able to walk to it and drive away. And now that they’ve repaired the dirt road that’s our other means of access, we’re fine. The road’s pretty bumpy and adds a bit of time to any trip out, but that’s minor.

There’s work going on everywhere.  As I sit here, I can hear the sound of heavy equipment half a mile away. The National Guard is around, as are FEMA and the Salvation army, and there are tons of volunteers. And though the grocery store in Ludlow will be closed for months, they’re putting up a large tent in the parking lot, from which they plan to sell staples. People are coming together to do what needs to be done. It’s the human spirit at its very best. Vermonters are a hardy lot, and the generosity and ingenuity they’ve displayed through this is amazing. I’m proud of my friends and neighbors.

All the same, there is much heartbreak. An artist in Wilmington loses her life’s work. A young couple I know lose their entire farm. Three people in the state lose their lives. These are only a few examples. It seems petty to think about skiing. But skiing is an important part of life around here, and a major player in the state’s economy. So here’s what’s going on, in that department:

In my neck of the woods, Killington was the hardest hit. The biggest problem is Route 4, the main artery leading to the resort. In many areas, the road was entirely washed away, leaving 20-foot drops. Here’s an example:

How this can be repaired before ski season, I have no idea. It goes on and on, too. I know the road is a top priority, but jeez louise, look at it. Makes my heart hurt.

Until just a couple days ago, about 400 people were stranded at Killington, and helicopters were used to bring in supplies. That’s improved with the recent opening of a temporary road that’s allowed people to leave. Even better, I just learned that Killington is making temporary housing available for those in need. Kudos to the resort.

Killington says their infrastructure received only minimal damage, so they’ll be open for the 2011/2012 ski season. This is good news for skiers — provided they can get there.

Okemo fared a bit better. According to FirstTracks Online Ski Magazine, the resort’s Snowstars conveyor lift and F-10 conveyor were buried under four feet of mud and silt. The parking lot, a sewer line, numerous driveways and offices were also damaged, and there was a landslide above the resort’s Sachem chairlift. And though the resort’s primary access was damaged, it’s now being repaired. The resort is hosting  a benefit concert for local hurricane relief tonight. Kudos to them, too!

Many people have asked how they can help the people here in Vermont. Here are a few ways you can do that. There is much to be done here and people are in need, so please don’t hesitate to give.

 

We appreciate any and all help.



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