VISA Freestyle International including “behind the scenes…”

Since the beginning of the millennium, Deer Valley Resort has embraced freestyle skiing by hosting Freestyle World Cups, Olympics and World Championship events. This year was no exception and while the Utah resort bested itself once again, the top international freestyle athletes met at what is, without much debate, their favorite venue in the word.

With its mogul and aerial events, freestyle is one of the very few ski competitions that can be seen and enjoyed by the public from top to bottom, without solely relying upon a giant TV screen. Deer Valley’s venue is quite unique in the way it is shaped and configured and is designed to accommodate close to 7,000 cheering spectators. A number in that vicinity could have been counted on both the Friday and Saturday evenings that, by far, attracted the largest crowds.

I’m a bit partial to the mogul competition which is a true test in edge-to-edge quickness, rolling bumps that come at the competitors like a monster conveyor belt eager to swallow them, where there’s a need for electric knee-action interspersed with a couple of high powered jumps where athleticism, balance, sporting creativity and a lot of good luck combine to offering a breathtaking show. As a single event, moguls is plenty entertaining but in its dual format, the whole spectacle truly comes to life, builds up additional pressure, intensifies the excitement and let the athletes’ raw talent explode in full view of a cheering public.

The aerial competition on the other hand is like a high-speed elevator lift that boosts a skier high into the air, which materializes into seemingly unending airtime that can be used to execute all kinds of twisting and rotating maneuvers while the flight lasts and until it becomes time to land the skis securely and stylishly on a steep and short reception area. Each jump is another opportunity for the athlete to deeply concentrate; balance apprehension versus desire to excel and almost go for broke, hoping to better the last best jump!

Oh yes, while the world’s elite was delivering their perfect show, and the adults were riveted on their awesome performance, another “unofficial world cup” was being held just below the tent and the television house, right on the edge of the immense spectators platform, where the slope is steep. The 5 to 10 years old who are between 3 and 5 feet tall and might have been a bit too small to see everything World Cup, decided to hold their own snow-ball throwing contest and testing the low friction of their ski suits on Deer Valley’s famous great snow, and thinking they were champions in their own right!

Each evening has been marked with big crowds, loud cheers, and pressurized atmosphere with spectators and athletes in communion for pushing the envelope and chasing excellence. A wonderful way for our entire community of visitors, residents and visiting athletes from the world over to bond over a sport we all love!

If you missed the live action these three nights, these World Cup events hosted by Deer Valley Resort will be televised on NBC on February 11, 2012 at 1 pm. EST and on Versus February 11 and 18, 2012.

Here’s the Versus broadcasting Schedule (all times EST):

Freestyle Moguls 2/11/2012 2 pm.

Freestyle Aerials 2/11/2012 3 pm.

Freestyle Dual Moguls 2/18/2012 2:30 pm.

World Cup FEVER

I’ve got World Cup Fever. I’ll tell you that right now. Sundance has not even ended yet, and I’m already counting the minutes until the 2012 VISA Freestyle International. The party starts February 1 with a concert on Main Street, featuring Robert Randolph and the Family Band. I’m especially psyched because this year is the 10th anniversary of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, and the concert will also include a special anniversary celebration. If, like me, you were a volunteer during the games—or just an avid spectator, dressed head-to-toe in Roots garb, wear your 2002 gear to the party on Main Street; prizes will be awarded for creative Olympic spirit.

I will be there in my official SLOC blue vest, blue jacket and black Olympic fleece. My kids were born after the Games, so I am eager to share some of that excitement with them. Sure, they’ve seen photos of Mommy and Daddy volunteering, and heard the stories, but having them see some of the Olympic stuff in action will be really fun.

And, yes, I’m letting them stay up late to attend the concert…and some of the events on the snow later in the week. There’s nothing like watching a freestyle event under the lights, cheering for the “home team.” And so much the better when the home team lives and trains in our town! So—are you coming? What are you looking forward to attending during the World Cup competitions? Any suggestions for ways I can stand out in the crowd in my Olympic garb?

A Marriage Made in Ski Heaven!

Deer Valley Resort and Freestyle Skiing share a very special kinship. Besides being a central venue during the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, Deer Valley has – with only two exceptions – hosted yearly Freestyle World Cup events since the beginning of the new millennium. Already in 2003, the resort hosted the World Freestyle Ski Championships and this early February, Deer Valley saw the culmination of this special relation crowned, as it hosted this world event for the second time, an assignment at the measure of Deer Valley’s excellence.

This year, Ski Cross (premiered here in 2008,) was added to the series of events and was contained into an ideal, contiguous and complete freestyle stadium, including both Moguls and Aerials. This unique site configuration for viewing the entire show, combined with the perfectionism that has always been Deer Valley Resort’s hallmark, has made it the freestyle skiing capital of the world and this might be another excellent reason for timing, if you can, your next ski vacation with an upcoming Deer Valley Freestyle World Cup, as competition schedules always allow to combine day skiing with afternoon or evening events watching.

 Like many, I love freestyle skiing because it embodies a skier’s expression of his or her on-snow dreams and fantasies; unlike the regimented and sometimes ossified sides of its alpine cousin, freestyle skiing still has a wide open potential for creativity on snow and for pushing even further the envelope of what’s possible. This remains true, even though the athletes’ technical level keeps on growing by leaps and bounds, in all the events that I have watched during these recent championships.

What’s amazing though, is that unlike alpine skiing, in which differences between athletes are often hard to pinpoint, the vast and limitless register of options given to each participant remains wide open and lets the spectator see and appreciate the various styles between competitors and this bodes well for the sport future. Ski Cross is also maturing and showing that it can hold its own as a permanent fixture into the world of freestyle skiing while offering a more diverse and thrilling vision of what’s possible on the snow. Halfpipe continues shooting skiers back and forth, higher up in the air, giving them more time and tricks to impress all of us…

I wasn’t able to see the Slopestyle event, but heard it was one of a kind (another one!) and can only hope that it will earn a lasting spot in the family. This said, I do have a favorite, and it’s moguls. Why? Perhaps I can do it without too many restrictions and can still adapt it to my dwindling technical abilities, slowing reflexes, and practice it on the many runs Deer Valley Resort offers in permanence to its guests. The event that in my view captures the best of freestyle remains the Dual Moguls and was the crowning conclusion of this year’s World Championships. It combines skills and mental pressure, repeated and amplified four times in the space of a short evening, and takes the very best out of the greatest champions. I must say that even though I thought I was cheering the whole evening, the performances I saw left me mentally speechless!

Women’s Ski Clinic

Day 1.

I’ll admit it, I was so excited about my first day of Deer Valley’s Women’s Ski Clinic that I leaped out of bed before 7, got myself and Little Guy ready to go, and shot out the door in record time. But I was so nervous that by the time I arrived at the welcome breakfast, I could barely make myself eat the delicious fruit and scrambled eggs that were served.

The Children’s Center hadn’t opened yet, so I brought him along to hang with me while I gulped some coffee and pretended to eat. He asked me lots of questions about my ski school, while snagging my half bagel off of my plate. As soon as it was time to drop him off at ski school, we walked over there, and the staffers there got a good laugh as I seemed to fly out of the room. “We love seeing how the parents seem to feel free as they leave, it’s hilarious!” Little did they know that nerves alone propelled me.

By the time I returned to the meeting room, the instructors were breaking us into our ability groups—it’s more or less self-selection, but they do a visual split on the hill to make sure that everyone is skiing in the right ability group. There were about eight advanced skiers, and half of us opted for the highest-level skiing, with up to 80 percent of the instruction devoted to off-piste skills, like trees and bumps. I opted into the lower half, and as Polly and Leticia, our two pro instructors said they may decide to switch some of us, I hoped against hope that they would identify me as someone who needs more time on the groomed trails.  Before we split off to organize our equipment, Polly and Leticia gave us a brief run-down of the days ahead. Then Leticia added, “The most important thing is that you plan to have fun.  Your job is to let us teach, and be ready to listen and enjoy it.”

After a delicious run on the freshly-groomed Little Kate, both instructors agreed we were likely in the correct slots, but that we should do several runs together before splitting off. After a few drills on Bald Mountain (wherein every one of us complained of our disdain for the top portion of that hill) we reshuffled a tiny bit, and wound up with four in each group. Leticia eased us into more drills, and got us working on our stance so that we’d carve stronger and more controlled turns.

Leticia demonstrates the force & power that comes with proper form

Interspersed with instruction were various crucial safety tips. “I can’t stress enough how important it is to be safe on the mountain,” she said. “Almost every injury is preventable, and almost every crash between two people is preventable. People forget that simply falling down is an option if you can’t stop from an upright position.” Her tip for falling? Make sure your feet are below you, so you don’t have to hike up to get your equipment if it falls off—and so you can, presumably, use your skis to stop you.

On the chairlifts, we got to know each other. One of our group had just retired from a career in business consulting, another sold her advertising agency a few years ago, and a third is a rock climbing, spin-class addicted thrill seeker who happened to be a 65 year-old practicing psychologist.

Once we split off into our final groups (landing with an exact four-and-four setup), Leticia asked our small group to introduce ourselves and to share our reasons for signing up in the first place. I explained that as my older son enters his fifth season, he’s poised to surpass my skill set. The other women laughed knowingly. Their kids are older, and they’d long ago been left behind. We agreed that this weekend was our vehicle to change all that.

The toughest moment of the first day happened on our first run after lunch, when the fearless psychologist had two successive yard sales on Sidewinder. Having seen her ski all morning, the falls seemed out of place. We noticed her boots were not fitting the bindings properly, and on the ride up Northside lift, found that she’d picked up the wrong skis after lunch. Let this be a lesson: Always, always, double check that the rental skis you are taking after lunch are the ones labeled with your own name. Our pal missed the remainder of the clinic, due to torn meniscus in her knee, which was a direct result of the fall. It was an honest mistake with regretful consequences. The rest of the group felt her absence the rest of the weekend—we all agreed she was the strongest skier in the group, and lots of fun on the chairlift, too.

But under Leticia’s excellent enthusiastic direction, we forged ahead. If you’ve ever heard the term, “No rest for the weary,” this would be the weekend that exemplified it. We were still laboring under an adrenaline rush from our morning accomplishments, carving turns with the kind of power and control we’d always admired in others but never been able to replicate. So when Leticia offered to take us on some “starter” bumps and trees near the Red Cloud lift, we agreed. “You can always bail out,” she said, wisely.

Collectively, my new friends and I shared the attitude that we’d signed up to learn and we wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to try terrain we’d always avoided. We three moms started making mental notes of trail signs and terrain lingo with which to dazzle our kids (2 in college, 2 in middle school and my two).  We also shared some laughs at our own expense, and made sure to egg each other on to push harder.

All of this came in handy when we arrived at an opening in the woods between Hidden Treasure and Square Deal, and Leticia led us on a traverse that was just a little humbling. “It’s not easy,” she said with empathy. “You’re on an angle, the terrain varies, and you have to just get a little momentum and go.” With a few wise cracks and some “you go firsts, no after you,” style comments; we were emerging from the trees above some lovely, soft bumps. That’s when Leticia pulled out the trump card. “You are going to get friendly with the wedge,” she said. We looked at her in disbelief, then relief, as she demonstrated the Christie Wedge method of approaching bumps—start at the top of the mogul (or behind it) in a wide wedge, as you ski down or around, bring the skis together and then “shop” for the next turn. It was with no small amount of pride that we finished the run, and signed up for another. By the end of the third run, where we’d traversed to the far side of Red Cloud lift to play in a mix of packed powder/crud and moguls, we had just one request for our instructor. “Can we please work on this stuff earlier in the day tomorrow?”

Day 2

As we regrouped Saturday morning, our crew of four, including Leticia, hopped on to Carpenter with a plan to ski over to Deer Crest. Swiftly, we compared notes on how much ibuprofen (dubbed “Vitamin I” by our clever instructor) we’d consumed the previous night, and how soundly we’d slept.

Still, we were rarin’ to go. All of us agreed our first run down Little Stick felt better than any first run we’d ever done. Whoops and hollers were heard. Then, it was down to business. Leticia offered us her thoughts on what areas she wanted each of us to focus on, and then approached the next couple of runs with a plan to watch our turns and then offer feedback. In another hour, we’d be heading over to the video shack to record out turns, and she said, “I want you to feel confidence going in.”

Chairlift chatter ranged from discussion of technique to work-life balance (recurring theme for skiing moms) to each of our desire to make the most of the weekend—from skiing skills to bonding new friendships.

The video analysis was amazing—we got to see how well we were skiing (really, truly, better than we had been the previous day) and what the next steps were to improve. Sweet.

The afternoon was spent with better carving, smarter moguls and lots and lots of laughing as we worked our way around Empire. Leticia has superpowers of perception, plus an uncanny ability to find the least populated slopes on the hill. We rarely had to contend with crowds.

I should add that the weather was beyond cooperative. For crying out loud, the bluebird was redefined, and someone missed the memo that it’s the end of January, not March, because we were downright hot under the sun every day.  (Day three also marked my birthday—and the end of my birthday weather curse. Every year for the past ten my birthday registered high temps in the below-zeroes, so cruising in the sunshine in the 30s was hard to believe).

Day 3 dawned pink and hazy, and it took a while for the sun to find its way to our slopes. In the meantime, I cracked wise that I’d watched the X-Games the night before, gotten inspired and wondered if Leticia was ready to teach me a 1080 flip. Right.

She got her revenge—announcing our first run of the day: Tycoon. No joke. “What? You warmed up on Silver Link and McHenry’s!” Okay, then. Surprisingly, we were up to the challenge. The bulk of the morning was spent lapping Stein’s Way and Perseverence bowl, experimenting in packed powder and practicing carving.

 Leticia so perfectly layered each day’s lessons so that she continued to build on our skills. Every run improved on the last, or built on concepts we’d been working on in stages all along.

We were also lucky because we found the magic of a well-gelled group. From the encounters we all had with the other women in the clinic, it was clear that we’d all approached it as an opportunity to improve our skills and find some fun companionship. I will say that I’m grateful my group are part-time residents of Park City, so that I now have two new ski buddies to call upon.

Favorite Moments from Women’s Ski Clinic 

1. Discovering Testosterone Ridge—and skiing on by.

Have you ever noticed the lineup of guys perched at the edge of the ridge above Solace/Conviction/Domingo runs on the face of Empire? Yes, there was the occasional female, scouting the perfect line, but as we did laps on Orion, our group noticed an overwhelming number of guys lined up and egging each other on. Thanks, but no thanks.

2. Writing new lyrics to Happy Birthday. “Happy Birthday To Me, I skied in the trees!!” My new pals (instructor included) sang along. Leticia got us warmed up to tree runs slowly, first by getting us over our fear of traverses and moguls (more on that in a second) beginning the first day, and building on that the following two days– and then by asking us if we wanted to check out the tree runs on the way to Empire on our last day. There was a very pregnant pause. “Did you notice, nobody wants to say ‘chicken’ and nobody wants to say ‘Yes?!” I observed. Wonderful, inspiring Leticia said, “You can do this, let’s go.” And we did. Before long we’d checked out every kids’ stash in the resort and then after lunch the big time: Anchor Trees. We liked it so much we did it twice. See also: Wedge, below.

3. Rediscovering the wedge. For reals, peeps. You know how you’ve been shamed out of the wedge—and how you hound your kids to lose theirs, fast? It turns out it’s a useful tool. And when executed as a “Christie Wedge” it looks graceful and powerful. That’s cause it is. Leticia cites it as the best tool for controlling speed in moguls. What can I say? It gave us bragging rights, galore—useful in the trees, too, where terrain is choppy, and there are lots of “Whoop-te-dos,” which look and feel exactly like they sound.

4. Getting safety and ski etiquette tips from a pro. Sometimes even having the right of way isn’t enough. When in doubt, cede it. If there’s a skier making wide traverse turns at the top of Stein’s Way, slow down and let him keep going. You’re in no rush, and it’s better to be safe than crashed. If nothing else, Leticia validated our already-ingrained common-sense moves.

5. Oh, yeah, celebrating my birthday with new friends (who went so far as to snag a piece of chocolate peanut butter layer cake, with candle, at lunch and got the whole room singing).

Put a few moguls into your ski life

As I do every year, I just attended the Freestyle World Cup at Deer Valley to get a boost of skiing inspiration early in the season. This is a first-class event that can only be seen in Deer Valley and impeccably showcases the best freestyle skiing has to over. The venue, the preparation and the execution of the event are seamless, charged with energy and designed to keep you on your feet. While I’m envious of the aerialists, I’ve never been able to land well enough to emulate them; I just watch them in awe along with the big crowds that come to cheer them. The mogul competition however, is something I can relate to a lot more, as I keep on encountering bumps in my daily skiing life.

Sure, we all love morning corduroy, the “rice krispies” feeling it generates under our feet and we can use groomed runs now and again for resting a bit, concentrating on our technique, looking perfect on skis or just enjoying the sheer joy of the sport. Yet, many skiers can’t just live off smooth, seamless
snow; there’s always a point when it’s time to change “textures” and evolve towards some more exciting relief and pick up new skills.  That’s right, skiing is made up of a variation of textures that begin with Deer Valley’s trademark corduroy, a few “waves” on the slope and culminate with World Cup moguls as seen on Big Stick.

But why should a satisfied skier even contemplate leaving the civilized, groomed universe for venturing into a world of “ups and downs?” It must have to do with our craving for change; like variety is spice of life, moguls are skiing’s salt and pepper. They build excitement, unpredictability
and, over time, turn every one of us into much better skiers. That’s right, the lowly little bump can teach us important things having to do with triggering our turns, enhancing our balance, sharpening our reactions and giving us the kind of unwavering style we all aspire to.

Without taking the “ski class room” inside, and boring you with theory, let me just remind you that skis love to pivot when they’re sitting on some convex spot, and what’s more convex than the top of a mogul? There, they can turn freely, without having their tips or tails hitting anything or requiring significant torque. That for sure is the “lazy way to making turns!”  Then the skis take the plunge into the steep portion of the mogul. This only requires a sudden act of faith and a positive acceptance on your part to espouse their motion, enjoy the slight acceleration that follows, stay in control, and very soon you’re at the bottom of the pitch where speed becomes controllable again. That’s right, a bump is the microcosm of the larger hill, made of successions of flat and steep portions that alternatively speed you up and slow you down. You just need some professional guidance to experience the feeling and become an adept.

From that point, we simply need to increase the difficulty level. Skiing bumps enhances your work out, activates all of your joints and on a cold winter day, will keep you so warm that cold feet and frozen fingers never are part of the price to pay to enjoy a day on the slopes. That’s right, moguls are a perfect warming up exercise that puts every element of your “suspension system” to work and bring a nice rhythm to the experience. If perfect grooming is the great equalizer, what will soon separate the budding skier from the better one is practicing the bumps. It’s a place where there’s no room for cheating, yet nothing is that complicated because you can pretty much adjust the speed, the grade of the slope and the size of the moguls to your current ability level. Of course, the beauty of great mogul skiing is fluidity; the thousands of spectators attending the Freestyle World Cup at Deer Valley could see that raw quality in action amongst the top contestants.
“Fluidity” is an aspect of skiing bumps we can all focus on, and then match with the level of difficulty we choose; the main objective being to always appear perfectly smooth. Beyond that, if we really want to keep on improving, we just need to dial-up any one or all of the components we just reviewed! Remember that viewed from a distance, everything is only a matter of texture; from corduroy to camel-backs, there’s always a mogul sized right for you. Simply decide today about making room for a few more moguls in your skiing life and you’ll suddenly get a spicier and more exciting experience!