Mahre Training Clinic Part 2

Warning: I’m about to deploy every possible cliché about powder skiing.

Before I do, I’ll defend myself: Clichés are clichés because they are the truth.

And so, gentle reader, I Must. Speak. The. Truth.

Sunday was EPIC.

There were face shots.

It was POW-erful good skiing.

And Ep-ic.

I shredded that POW.

I shredded, hard, man.

I whooped and hollered my way all over the mountain. I skied. Oh, man, did I ski.

(Photo by Ryan Voight)

It was extra-fun because I was able to translate a whole arsenal of newly-acquired mad skillz…into the best powder turns I’ve ever made in my life. Did it help that I had Steve Mahre skiing behind me, turn for turn, calling directions into my ear?

Um, yes.

“Plant your pole, Nan.”

“Make a longer turn, Nan.”

“Be taller! Be TALLER!”

“Stay loose!”

“Good! Like THAT!!”

(Wait, really, did he just tell me I’m doing it right? Did STEVE MAHRE just PRAISE my skiing?! Um, yes. Well, that felt good.)

Yes, the powder day dawned on morning three of my long-awaited 3-day stint at the Mahre Training Center at Deer Valley Resort.

Last year, when Ski Dad completed the Mahre Training Center clinic, he told me that for the first time in over 20 years of skiing, he finally felt like he’d learned how to do it. Well, I can say, safely, that after more than 35 years on the hill, I, too, finally locked it in.  You’ll read more about what makes the camp special—and what it meant to my skiing—in the coming days, and likely in the coming months. It was that impactful for me.

For now, I’ll just let us all revel in the joy, the pure bliss that is an epic powder day. And I’ll maybe gloat a little about how good it felt to finally be one of “those” skiers, gliding through the soft stuff feeling (mostly) balanced and smooth. And the praise from Steve Mahre. Which didn’t hurt a bit.

Also, I have to tell you that at the end of the day, I found myself making matched powder turns next to my Mahre team’s coach, Craig.

“Oh my gosh, Craig! We’re those skiers!”

He shouted back to me: “Yeah, we are!”

Mahre Training Clinic Part 1

My Intermediate Days Are Behind Me.

As it turns out, this isn’t something new. They’ve been a thing of the past for longer than I realized.

The ski school gods know me a little, and decided to assign me to an “advanced” group when I signed up for the Mahre Training Center’s camp at Deer Valley. I balked, sort of. Then, they brought us all to Success for a ski-off. Mahre Camp veterans (and there are folks who go back 1, 3, 5 times…and more!) lined up on one side of the run, newbies on the other.

“Make your regular turns down to that sign that says “Ski Loose or Wild,” instructed Steve.

“All I see is a sign that says SLOW,” said one guest.

“Oh! That’s why I always get in trouble,” he replied. “I thought it was an acronym.”

The joke relaxed us a little. We skied down and the self-described Julie McCoy of the MTC, Chris Katzenberger (an impressive skier in her own right), waved us into place alongside our designated coaches.

“This is an advanced group,” noted Craig, our coach. “We’re going to have fun.”

The truth is, skiers of all levels and abilities have fun—there were a couple of Never-Evers in the camp, in fact. Skiers are divided into teams led by a coach who has been trained and certified in the Mahre method of instruction. The best way I can describe this method is that it takes apart your skiing, cleans out the bad habits and puts it back together so that you’re poised to think less and ski more.

By Saturday night, after two full days of skills-and-drills with my team’s coach, Craig a/k/a “Cruiser” I was on the verge of a breakthrough.

The first day was pretty cool—Craig kept mixing up hard-core drill work with free skiing, letting us try on for size the nuanced tweaks he was introducing to our skiing.

Craig told our crew of five, “I’m careful with what I tell you. I want you to know, I don’t want to overload you with information. So, I’ll watch you today and when I arrive at the one thing I want to ask you to work on, the one thing I think is holding you back, I’ll tell you.”

During lunch, Craig said he was about to start telling us what he’d observed. I listened intently each time he addressed another member of our group. I waited patiently for him to unlock my personal skiing secret. And then, as we skied into the afternoon, I waited some more. Finally, Craig took me aside.

I expected my ego to take a beating. It didn’t. In fact, it blew up a bit: “Bari Nan, I’m having a hard time—you’re tough,” he said.

I looked at him with a puzzled expression.

“You ski beautifully. I’m having a hard time coming up with what’s holding you back. There’s something in reserve—and I’m almost there, so be patient.”

Um, what?

“Wow,” I said. “I’m blown away. But maybe you should call Letitia and tell her—she made me confident, she gave me the tools to advance.” (Letita Lussier is another one of Deer Valley’s crown-jewel instructors. On the team since day one, in fact. And I was lucky enough to ski with her in Women’s Weekend last year. And, yes, I owe her a lot!)

Still, I heard myself say that, and I knew there was more to the story.

“I have to tell you, Craig, I am always and forever, in my mind, an intermediate skier,” I confessed. “And I think I need to work on that.

He nodded. He left it alone.

A few runs later, he addressed the group (and may I say, our group included a 71 year-old retired Rear Admiral in the Navy with as much grace and humor as anyone I’ve met, a 60-something triathlete who was determined to crack the code, an Australian math teacher with a sly, charming wit, and a Wisconsin woman possessed of quiet, disarming charm—and killer ski skills)—“Will you please repeat after me,” Craig began. “I am a smooth, strong and graceful skier.” We did.

“I want you to repeat it again—and tell yourself that as you make your turns,” he said. “Because that’s what you all are—you just have to acknowledge it, admit it and own it.”

Later still, he issued his diagnosis of my skiing. “You need to be taller in your stance,” he said. “And you need to work on flexing down into the turn and coming back up to full height to start the next turn.”

I went to bed that night thinking about how to inhabit my 5’1″ frame in a taller stance. And I thought about how that change was going to be mental as much as physical. I needed to finally own my skiing.

The second day, I worked at it. We were videotaped. Craig pointed out the ways in which I needed to rise up from my calves and straighten my upper body just-so. But as he described the technical stuff, I realized that I was holding myself back in those moments, that the reason I couldn’t pop up and commit to the turn was because, somehow, I didn’t feel like I could. Still, the video didn’t lie—I spotted the exact moment I wasn’t committing, and I connected it with the noise in my head that told me to hang back a little. The shift, it turned out, wasn’t about physical skill. The breakthrough would be entirely mental.

The next morning was “Epic Sunday”—the unexpected powder dump that threw a wrench into the groomer-based training that comprises the Mahre method.

“I am going to have to shake the idea, forever, that I am a low-intermediate level skier,” I confessed over breakfast to Phil and Steve.

“Yes, you should,” Steve said.

“But don’t worry—that’s very common,” Phil assured me. “It’s especially common among women. You’re better than you think you are.”

Moments later, Steve was addressing our team. He seemed to be apologizing to the group as he explained that today’s lesson plan—short turns, a sprint through the slalom gates and more videotaping—and learn a new way of skiing. He couldn’t hide his grin or the gleam in his eye as he explained it all.

We cruised the pow. The three guys took turns taking diggers as they tinkered with staying centered on the skis so the tips could float. We hooted. We hollered. I exclaimed, incessantly, over the luck of a powder day. Seriously, some might have called my enthusiasm tiresome. I could give a hoot. And a holler.

Craig and Steve kept reminding me I needed to be taller in my stance to stay centered. “And don’t forget to let your skis work as a unit,” Steve said. “They should push the snow out of the way, rather than carve in it.”

Which is how I came to be found barking orders at myself clear down the face of Bald Mountain. “Push! Push! Be tall! Be taller! Tallllllll.”

Um, yes, that was me. The crazy girl talking to herself as she skied.

And yet…there was payoff. First, the personal satisfaction I felt when I hit that sweet spot of powder skiing: smooth, controlled and balanced. Perfect pole plants, created with the flick of a wrist. And, finally, more praise from Steve.

“Bari Nan,” he said. “You’re six foot one.”

I’m a hopelessly romantic…skier

I’m not really a Cupid hound.

Ski Dad and I, of course, exchange cards every February 14th. And, without fail, he brings home a bag of Conversation Hearts (only the original Necco hearts suffice for this New England girl). And while I’d like to say we downplay the day because we’re too cool for school, the fact is we are total dorks who like to mark February 24th as a special day. It’s the day we had our first date. Twenty-three years ago. We’ve been going steady ever since. Which is astonishing since I’m only 25…but I digress.

But this year, we’re doing something special to get ready for Valentine’s Day. We are, together, embarking on the Mahre Camp at Deer Valley, Feb 10-12. Because we both want to up our game—and what better way to lock in what we’ve learned than to give ourselves a rest day on the 13th (seriously, we’ll need one after three days of first-to-last chair skiing. Someone may take away our Locals’ Cards—or at least our membership in the Crack of Noon Club!), and spend the day, er, racing each other down the steeps?

Of course, no Valentine’s Day would be complete without some chocolate and bubbly. I’m voting for lunch at Royal Street Cafe, complete with the Ice Cream Sandwich and Hot Fudge, and a cocktail (St. Germain, anyone?).  Cheers!

What’s your perfect Valentine’s Day at Deer Valley?

Mahre Camp

The first week of February brought a palpable tension to my house. Ski Dad’s anxiety over his impending Three Day Mahre Ski Camp at Deer Valley was ever-present. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that a) Ski Dad’s work-day-to-ski-day ratio has been waaaay out of whack in the last few years. Whereas, I capitalize on any excuse to make turns, it seemed, increasingly, that Ski Dad found any excuse not to. And b) in our house, ski legends and twin brothers Phil and Steve Mahre have only one title that matters: Mel’s Uncles. Mel used to have a job title here—Babysitter Extraordinaire. And while that’s still an apt description of one of her many skill sets, she’s become our honorary daughter. We all take very good care of each other. So, in that spirit, Ski Dad pleaded with Mel (more than once) to reassure him that the uncles would not be too hard on him during the camp.

And where I bounced out the door in anticipation of beginning my three-day Women’s Ski Clinic the previous week, Ski Dad pushed himself out the door on that Friday morning. I had faith—not in the Mahres giving him any sort of special treatment, but in the system—both the Mahre Camp teaching system and that of the overall let’s-have-fun vibe in the Deer Valley Ski School. Still, I worried—just a little–that Ski Dad would not be able to let go and enjoy himself.

Turns out, even just a little bit of worry was, well, overkill. He called at lunchtime with a voice that packed 20 pounds of fun into a five-pound bag.  “Thank you for letting me do this! This is amazing! You can’t believe what I’m doing on the hill! These guys rock! Oh—I have to go! Thank you, Thank you, Thank You!”

Ok, I did not need the thanks—but that tone was all I needed to hear. Over the course of the weekend, he described the setup—50 skiers broken up into ability groups to ski with 16 of instructors trained in the specific discipline that is Mahre skiing. And either Phil or Steve spends half a day skiing with each group.

At the end of day one, Ski Dad said this: “I have been skiing for 30 years. I feel like today, I finally learned how to ski.”

At the end of day two, he said: “I am taking off next Friday to ski with you.” After he picked me up of the floor from a dead faint, he continued. “This camp is not for anyone who can’t check their ego at the door. Sheila (Ski Dad’s group coach) took apart my skiing, bit-by-bit, and put it back together. You have to be willing to do drills again and again, and trust that the outcome is going to be better skiing.”

On the morning of Day 3, Mel and her uncles and aunts joined us for breakfast at Snow Park—with Big Guy and Little Guy serving as the entertainment committee before we delivered them to their final day of ski school, and the adults split off into “Camp” mode. The mood was light, everyone was pumped for a great day—especially Ski Dad. 

At the end of the day, Ski Dad, settled into a corner of our living room couch with a well-earned beer, said this: “I may be sore from all the work I did, but skiing—for the first time in my life—was pain-free. Because, finally, I’m skiing with correct form and technique. Phil said it best—if you’re not skiing properly, in correct form, then you’re just taking your skis out for a ride—doing all the work while they have a fun day. The reality is, they want to take you out for a ride, so you can enjoy the day, and they can work.”

He went on to say that he finally realized why he’d skied less and less with each year we’ve lived in Park City. “When you are on vacation, skiing is just part of the fun you are having—so if it’s somehow painful, you grit your teeth and get through it, and then you go and do all the other fun stuff—eating, going shopping, walking on Main Street, whatever—and it’s worth the pain. But you can’t sustain that for more than five days a year.” And now, thanks to Mel’s Uncles, he doesn’t have to. 

P.S. Ski Dad is never without a camera. But the Mahre Camp was so intense, he found not one opportunity to take a photo of all the work they were doing on the hill. So I guess we’ll all have to take his word for it and sign up for one of the camps next year.  See you then!