There Is No Place Like Home

Ever wanted to click your ruby red slippers together three times to get back home?  I sure did.  After months on the road traveling to far-away, beautiful places for training and racing all I could think about was being back home.  I made one of the most difficult decisions in my career a few weeks ago.  With a 700-point lead in the Overall World Cup standings I decided to follow my heart and stay home.

Our season began back in August with our opening World Cup events in Australia and New Zealand.  I favor the icy, hard conditions and won seven out of the seven World Cup races Down Under.  A continuous winning streak I had never experienced but knew deep in my heart simply could not continue because that is not the nature of ski racing.  From there things went “downhill” and try as I might to get back on top of the podium again, I made mistakes, crashed and did not finish as many races as I had consecutively won.  All the while my longing for home, family and friends was mounting until I made that difficult decision – go on the road for 22 World Cup races in five different countries over a two month period and race every race BEFORE departing to Sochi -OR- go home, train, rest and feed my soul giving up a chance at the Overall World Cup Globe, a trophy I had not won since 2007!

2007 World Cup Globes

2007 Overall World Cup Globe, Overall World Cup Giant Slalom and Slalom Globes

After hours of consultation with Marcel (my husband, coach and everything), my incredible sports psychologist Suzie and our Alpine Director Kevin Jardine, I determined that winning a gold medal in Sochi and winning the Overall World Cup simply could not be accomplished simultaneously for me this season due to the demands of the travel on the World Cup circuit and time away from training.  I would have to choose one or the other.  I chose to give my best performance in Sochi!

I grew up in a small town (sounds like I am about to start singing the John Cougar Mellencamp song – I’ll spare you), but everything that comes to mind about a small town when someone says, “I grew up in a small town” is true for me.  I did not know when I was growing up how wonderful small town life was. Instead I daydreamed about going to Hollywood and becoming an actress.  I wanted to star in moving dramas that would change people’s lives.  Not until my daydreams came true, and I moved to Los Angeles to attend film school at the University of Southern California did I begin to realize the beauty and safety of a simple life in a small community where people say, “hello how are you?” on the street and genuinely care.  I missed my family terribly.  If it weren’t for meeting my still best friend and soul sister Meredith Escabar at University of Southern California, I think I would have perished.  In our household my mother and father both owned their own small businesses.  They modeled hard work, commitment, dedication, honesty and love to my younger brother and me.  Their values became our values and my brother and I both in our own way wanted to grow up and be “good people.” Alone in a city of 12 million people not only did I miss sharing that daily interaction with my family, I realized it was the very core of who I am.

Age 4 - ready for Hollywood!

Age 4 – ready for Hollywood!

The Sundance Film Festival brought me to Park City.  I was promoting a small part in a film (not actually in the festival), which was my acting debut after loosing my legs.  I loved Park City from the moment I arrived (although I had been here before for a ski trip in college and when I spoke at Senator Hatch’s women’s conference two year’s before).  This trip was special because I met Marcel.  I had my first lesson in a mono-ski with him at the National Ability Center.

January 1999 first day I met Marcel and tried a mono-ski at the National Ability Center

January 1999 first day I met Marcel and tried a mono-ski at the National Ability Center

I was so taken by his passion, his love of life and skiing that I would do whatever it took to be on the mountain and ski with him.  The perspective of the world that he showed me from the mountaintop was unlike any other.  I had spent the last three years prior to meeting him in and out of the hospital, having 14 reconstructive surgeries.  From the top of the mountain that day on my very first lesson with Marcel I saw my entire life play out.  Small town girl raised in a loving family pursues acting dreams until one night simply going out to dinner, an out of control car crashed into me and in order to save my life the doctors had to amputate both my legs.  I would never walk or run or dance or stand in the shower as I once had.  My life had changed drastically, but as it holds true for all of us, I knew that my fate, my going forward was still in my hands.  I could create my destiny, my happiness, and my love of life if I so chose. On the mountaintop with Marcel I made the decision that I had no idea would fulfill my creating a new, beautiful life for myself.  I decided to move to Park City, train with Marcel and pursue Paralympic success in Salt Lake City in 2002.

2002 Salt Lake City Paralympic Bronze Medal in Downhill, Marcel cheering in the background

2002 Salt Lake City Paralympic Bronze Medal in Downhill, Marcel cheering in the background

As a result of that decision, on that one day on the mountaintop, I have married the man I love and adore more than anything in the world (in Deer Valley of course!) and I have an amazing career I share with him doing what we both love – ski racing.  Together we have won Gold in the Paralympic Games in Torino and in Vancouver.  We strive to win another this March!

Embracing Marcel in the finish area just after I won my first Paralympic Gold medal in the 2006 Torino Paralympic Games

Embracing Marcel in the finish area just after I won my first Paralympic Gold medal in the 2006 Torino Paralympic Games

I won the first ever, Paralympic Gold medal in Super Combined in the 2010 Vancouver Games

I won the first ever, Paralympic Gold medal in Super Combined in the 2010 Vancouver Games

For the last 15 years throughout my entire ski-racing career, I have been supported by our local community in Park City, a small town we call home.  Deer Valley has sponsored me and been our official home ski area for training.  Marcel and I have spent thousands of hours training in Deer Valley over the last 15 years and we know every square inch of the entire ski area, just like my backyard growing up in Sewickley, PA.  But more important than the safe and familiar, feeling of our home landscape is the connection we share with all the people who work at Deer Valley.  We deeply value the 15-year friendship with the same amazing people who supported me and provided for me in so many ways to make my Paralympic dreams a reality.  The deep bond of friendship we share has for many years felt like family.  I am so grateful to experience on a daily basis the warm welcome from guest services when we roll into Snow Park for training.  The personal inquire about “How I am doing?”, “How is training going?” from people who genuinely care.  Or the chefs who know my special training dietary needs and like my mom still want me to have a chocolate chip cookie reward so they offer me the gluten free one instead!  Deer Valley is my home and the people who work there are my family.  Compared to all the ski areas I have visited world wide, the atmosphere and the people of Deer Valley provide a comfort and charm I associate with the love of my small town upbringing.  I hope it will always stay that way.

We are so fortunate to train both at Deer Valley and at Park City Mountain Resort where we also have an incredible support system not just from our friends at PCMR but from all the teams we join for training at Park City.  My small town connection also includes a 15-year partnership with Rossignol, my ski company who doesn’t just provide me the fastest skis in the world, we share a bond of friendship and they have provided me incredible support.

As I prepare for my fourth Paralympic Games at age 44 in 2014, it only makes sense to return to where I started, to Park City with Marcel and focus on a Gold medal victory one last time.

Interview with Steve Graff, Bike/Ski Patrol Manager

Last week I caught up with Deer Valley Resorts’ Bike and Ski Patrol Manager, Steve Graff, as he was returning from inspecting the impressive network of hiking and mountain bike trails the resort will soon re-open to the public. Here are some of the many interesting things I learned about his busy department and their myriad of responsibilities…


DVR-MtnPatrol1

JF: Steve, it’s good to be visiting with you and the patrollers again. Tell me, where’s all the snow? What has happened to you and your staff since the end of the skiing season and what are you up to now?

Steve Graff (SG): After we closed the mountain down in April, we spent another week taking down signs, ropes, pads and getting everything ready for snow melt. After taking a little bit of time off to transition between seasons, our staff is back to work. As you can imagine, our personnel shrinks a bit at this time of the year; most get back to their seasonal jobs. Many go to work as National Parks Rangers all over the country, while those who can never get enough winter continue ski patrolling in New Zealand and Australia. Some are wild land fire fighters or smoke-jumpers, and the rest of us are back at Deer Valley Resort getting the place ready for warm weather activities.

JF: How many employees return for Mountain Bike Patrol?

SG: Out of our 70 or so ski patrollers, about 15 stay on during the summer.

JF: How long is the season?

SG: It goes from mid-June through Labor Day (September 2, 2013).

JF: Are you the crew in charge of maintaining trails and cutting new ones?

SG: Our main priority is helping injured but the bulk of our work is actually trail construction and trail maintenance.

JF: Any new trail this year?

SG: The two newest trails were actually started last season. Both are in the Empire Canyon area, off the Ruby Express chairlift.

  • Drift: An intermediate trail
  • Payroll: More of a free riding, “flowy” trail, with some nice jumps and drops that should add some extra levels of excitement in that general area

JF: This sounds promising! By the way who comes up with these unique trail names?

SG: Payroll is actually a mine name and Drift comes from a drift road that is off Tour de Sud. Some others come directly from the public, “Devo” is a good example; we were just finishing constructing it when we ran into a lady that said “Yeah, that trail is ‘Devo.”

Mountain Biking_DVR

JF: Does your remaining staff receive summer-specific training?

SG: There’s a lot of cross-over between summer and winter duties like medical training and lift evacuation skills and those are regularly being refreshed.  We add motorcycle, ATV and six-wheeler riding that are unique to our summer season.

JF: You mean, training on vehicles that get you around the mountain?

SG: Right; instead of snowmobiles, toboggans or skis, we use bikes, motorcycles and ATVs!

JF: What types of interventions are typical to the warmer months?

SG: Overall, the few injuries we deal with are less severe than in winter because speed is less of a factor. We see a quite a few scrapes and bruises though, maybe a few dislocations, perhaps more blood than usual, but in general, far less severe injuries.

JF: It seems to me that you and your staff aren’t always on the mountain; over the years, I’ve noticed your presence at all the Deer Valley’s summer concerts. What’s your role there?

SG: To attend the concert!

JF: I should have expected this! So, all Patrollers are music aficionados?

SG: Well, this is another one of our Mountain Bike Patrol duties. We offer first aid response at the Deer Valley concerts, so we attend them all. Depending on the event, between two and four of us are present. We’re there for medical emergencies or other situations.

JF: Are they specific recommendations you’d like to share with mountain bikers and hikers intent to use the Deer Valley Resort trail system?

SG: There are a few good rules; first, we don’t charge for uphill travel outside of chairlift rides. If trail users bike, they must wear a helmet and dogs must be left at home whether their owners hike or bike. Always make sure to look at the map and come up with a route before heading out; remember that there are some trails that are specifically for downhill mountain biking, others specifically for hiking and then they’re others that are designated for both. So, it’s good to know what kind of trail you’re planning to take. If you want to hike and don’t want to see bikers, go on a hiking-only trail. If you want to pedal up, make sure you chose the multi-use trail, not the downhill-only one. That way, everyone can enjoy their experience to the fullest.

DVR-MtnPatrol2

JF: Are there lessons or orientations tours visitors can take?

SG: Yes; both are available and are highly recommended. We offer guided tours of the mountain that will also provide some mountain biking tips; those are for intermediate level and above, but they’re also “mountain bike 101” lessons that will take a rank beginner straight to the single-track trails. Many riders often say: “I know how to handle a bike, therefore I don’t need lessons” but as you know JF, mountain biking is a very different deal, it’s not like riding in the neighborhood; there’s weight transfer, forward-and-back and side-to-side involved, it’s a lot more dynamic experience than pedaling on asphalt around the block.

JF: What other recommendations would you give hikers or mountain bikers visiting Deer Valley Resort?

SG: I know some people who chose to ride their mountain bike by themselves, purely for exercise. If you’re one of them, just let someone know where you are going and when you plan to be back. Always wear a helmet and sunglasses. Even if you’re going on a short trip, throw an extra power bar in your pack, a replacement tube, enough water, some basic tools if you ever break down.  Even if you aren’t quite sure how to fix it, some passer-by might be able to assist you and get you back on your way. Always wear gloves; if you ever fall, the first thing that’s going to hit the ground is your hand. Some extra protection goes a long way!

JF: Any tips about the weather?

SG: Always be prepared for anything! In the mountains, the weather can change rapidly. Look for thunderstorms. If you can hear thunder, lightning isn’t far, so get off the high ground, don’t huddle under the tallest tree, just wait for the storm to pass; it generally never lasts very long.

JF: What about encounters with wildlife?

SG: We do see quite a bit of wildlife. This is one of the great things about hiking and mountain biking around Deer Valley. I’ve had the pleasure to see all kinds of animals around this mountain. You just got to give them space. We’ve taken a lot of space away from them and we should always treat the mountain as their own domain. If I see a moose on the trail, I make my presence known, and hopefully he’ll amble on.

JF: So, how ready are you for Deer Valley Resort summer opening?

SG: Well, we’re opening on June 14, and based on my most recent trail inspections, we’re going to have a fantastic opening, with ninety percent of the trails perfectly passable, so please, come and join us!

 

Deer Valley Weight Loss Program- How to Slim Down Without Even Trying

A friend of mine spent an entire month participating in a live-in healthy weight loss program last summer. The group met with a nutritionist every day and had healthy balanced meals prepared for them on-site. A trainer worked them out six days a week, five to six hours a day both indoors and out.

I was very proud of him that he made a lifetime commitment to his health (and lost a few pounds,) however, the clinic just didn’t seem like much fun especially for an entire month.  I thought to myself, instead of booking a month at a boring weight loss clinic, why not put together your own weight loss skiing plan for a month at Deer Valley ski resort?  Let’s face it, skiing is a blast and burns a boatload of calories.

025 Mountain Scenic_Deer Valley ResortPersonally, I didn’t lose any weight this ski season.  When I stepped on the scale, the needle never budged.  But everyone kept asking me if I lost weight. I didn’t but what I lost this ski season was inches — two pant sizes to be exact. Even my feet have shrunk, (which is kind of creepy by the way) and I am buying shoes a half size smaller.  Seriously, who cares what the scale says!

Nancy PostThe weird thing is I haven’t done anything differently … except for skiing. I still am addicted to pretzels and wheat thins. I drink wine, eat pizza, cookies and chocolate — all in moderation. No deprivation diets in my house!  Even so, my pants hang on me and my suits need altering.  My body composition has changed with fat being replaced by muscle which is not reflected in the scale.  The only explanation I have for this phenomenon is skiing.

Since I had so much fun this ski season, I skied whenever I possibly could even when it was five degrees or snowing. Once I was there, I stayed out until I absolutely had to come in — my inner child wanted to continue playing in the snow!  This practice helped me lose inches without even noticing and could work easily for everyone.  Anyone wanting to lose their “muffin top” could put together a do-it-yourself weight loss plan and call it the “playing in the snow” program.

014 Deer Valley Resort Birdseye ViewAccording to Livestrong, downhill skiing with moderate effort for a 150 pound person burns about 400 calories per hour.  Taking into account the downtime riding the lift, you could easily ski three full hours in a day even with frequent breaks and burn about 1,200 calories a day. You only need a deficit of 3,500 calories to lose a pound of fat.  So with a ski program, you could lose inches without severely limiting calories.

Here are some ideas on how to put it together:

Ski three days on and take a rest day the fourth day – repeat for an entire month.

Try cross country classic or skate skiing to mix it up and burn even more calories.

Improve your skills and book some Max-4 lessons.

Incorporate a specialty clinic like the women’s ski weekend where you ski three days in a row with the same group and same instructor.

Eat healthy lunches like the “natural salad bar” or “turkey chili” at Silver Lake Lodge or Snow Park.Natural Buffet

Pile your plate high with good healthy delicious food at the Seafood Buffet or Fireside Dining.

If you want to eat the cherry pie, ski an extra half hour that day and indulge with a small portion.Cherry Pie

On your rest day, go to the spa at Montage, Stein Eriksen Lodge or St. Regis and get a massage, sit in the sauna, and/or steam room to relax, revitalize tired muscles and pamper yourself.

Now that’s my kind of a weight loss program!  You learn a new sport or improve your skills. When you are having fun, of course, you are going to get out there earlier and stay longer.  Getting slim by playing in the snow worked for me.  Do you think it might work for you?

Leaving My Son in the Dust

Nancy and RickSons have a special bond with their mothers. Well, at least when they are little since when most kids enter high school they are embarrassed to be seen with their parents.  I remember begging my mother to park down the street when she picked me up from school so I didn’t have to be seen getting in the car with….gasp…my mother.  She refused, of course.  I dreaded the time when my kids didn’t want to be seen with me.

It didn’t happen in high school with my youngest son, Rick (now 23).  He seemed to actually like having me around. In fact, he would even dangle his arm over my shoulder at…gasp….the mall! I thought we had bypassed the “my mom is embarrassing” stage until he came home from college saying things like “You aren’t going to wear THAT, are you?”  I guess certain things are unavoidable in life.

We came full circle recently when he came to visit. He is now a college graduate and a contributing member of society. He is also a snowboarder but wanted to switch it up and ski with me at Deer Valley.  His last memory of me skiing was not a good one – it was well over a year ago when we first moved here and before all my lessons!  He even took embarrassing photos of me traversing back and forth across the run and falling since my technique was so poor. He and his brothers ditched me after one run.  Who could blame them?

Nancy Rick JayThis time was different.  He was on skis instead of his board and I had been practicing, taking lessons and attending clinics. He started off on the Wide West run using the “magic carpet” people mover to get his “ski legs” since it had been 12 years since he had been on skis. Once he had the basics down, we headed up the Carpenter Express chairlift to Success.

I planned on taking the Rosebud cut off since it would be a bit easier for him for his first run.  He didn’t see me and stayed on Success where the bottom is a tad steeper.  I caught up with him and as anticipated, he had some initial challenges and stopped halfway down.

This was my opportunity – one that rarely comes and I wasn’t going to lose it. You see, Rick is a good athlete, and I knew he would quickly pass me up.  I wanted to show off my hard work and newly found mad ski skills.  So I did what any self respecting mom would do — I executed a controlled sideways slide then an abrupt hockey stop spraying him in the process.

With a straight face, I said, “Let’s face it, I am better than you.”

Then I took off.

Nancy and Rick SPWe had a great laugh as he told the story to family and friends at Snow Park Lodge.  Rick and I skied the rest of the afternoon with my friend Michelle and in no time, he was skiing beautiful turns, enjoying himself and waving at me as he passed me by. His wave, however, was one of respect.

It takes hard work and determination to learn to ski especially when you start after age 50. To be able to spend the day skiing with my son and have him dangle his arm over my shoulder again is a wonderful feeling and definitely worth the effort.

Thank you, Deer Valley.

Looking Back at Another Ski Season

In my December blog, I was trying to see into the future and guess what the new ski season might bring.  If you read that piece, you might recall that I had no specific goal in mind. I was just going to “play it by ear” as I had done it for almost six decades. Now, peeking into the crystal ball is over. It’s time to look into the rear view mirror…

ball2

One truth I learned this season is that each ski day – just like our fingerprints or our irises – is totally unique. People often say, half-jokingly that there’s “no bad day skiing” and while I subscribe to this truth, I can also assert that each daily ski experience teaches us something remarkable, provides us with one-of-a-kind sensation and makes us constantly view the sport under a fresh angle.

When you live near a ski paradise like Deer Valley Resort, it’s very easy to become spoiled and only go out when all the ski planets and stars are in perfect alignment. It’s so easy to become very picky and, often times, far too demanding. If we don’t keep our attitude in check, we might surprise ourselves muttering “I only do perfect blue-bird days, and today there are just too many jet trails in the sky…” then dismiss another beautiful opportunity to make some great turns. Thank heavens, I have not yet reached that level of decadence!

This said, going out skiing when you live in a ski town truly requires a certain fortitude and discipline. Plus some extra tenacity that can make a whole world of difference between a fun-filled ski season, in which one can get up to speed and enjoy the sport to its fullest, and a succession of sporadic outings where the “ski legs” never seem to appear, even on closing day.  Like many, I love powder and was rewarded earlier in April when we received some 18 inches of outstanding new snow.  I was able to re-live the soft, forgiving and all-absorbing feelings that come with a generous cushion of genuine Utah dry powder.

Unlike the way I was used to (until last year) when I could get my fix of “pow” on a near daily basis, I made do this season with looking forward to the next snowfall and was quite appreciative when there were only six inches of fresh under my skis instead of the 24 I had come to expect. At this point, I would open a technical parenthesis and say that with the new, extra wide skis, “bottomless” powder has lost its seminal meaning.  Moderns skis won’t sink, but for a few inches, no matter how far the hard bottom actually is from the surface!

jfski

Of course, I’m not a “dyed-in-the-wool” corduroy guy either, and I remain more attracted by the rough and tumble terrain, the one that is peppered with hidden obstacles like trees, “Volkswagen bumps” and small cliffs, the one that also requires tight turns and accepts the occasional “friction” between rocks, stumps and ski bases.  I am talking about the kind of terrain that abounds on the west side of Lady Morgan, Daly Bowl and Chutes, and Son of Rattler, just to name a few famous Deer Valley spots!

Son-of-Rattler

All this to say that in a winter with less than average snow, skis used in that type of terrain generally take a beating and, to avoid it, I have overstayed the allotted time I normally use “rock skis,” and extended their short, transitional lives to almost a full season.  Of course, in March as the snow turns to spring quality, I had plenty of opportunities to try my brand new skis on Deer Valley’s legendary corduroy, but for the most part, I spent a season taming some very unruly and hard to control “rock skis”.

I do believe that adversity makes us tougher as well as better and this is precisely what this season did to me. After skiing on my sub-par skis for months on end, I had an epiphany when I tried the new boards I had set aside, on some groomed runs or tested them on the April 9, miracle dump! This means I wasted no time:  While agonizing on my old skis, I was just getting better and doing my utmost to push-back my own technical decrepitude!

Oh, yes, I almost forgot! There was another great lesson I learned this winter.  Early January as I was filming Heidi Voelker, the new snow was beautiful but had blown into the open areas, which combined with a low visibility made skiing tricky, if not treacherous. Filming a fast skier like Heidi on bumpy terrain with a helmet cam isn’t easy either as the main objective is to keep the head – hence the camera – steady, constantly aimed at the skier and of course, try my best to stay in control. Suffice to say that I took at least two spills that cost me tons of energy. I discovered that, at my age, getting back on my feet is much harder than it used to be!

In conclusion, while I didn’t quite make it to the century mark in terms of days I skied this season, I still came quite close to that number with quality and fun-filled skiing, and this is perfectly fine with me.  I had some wonderful moments, great memories, not one single bad fall and no collision either; my body is still whole. I am now ready to rest for a few months with the firm intent to do much, much better next season!

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My Deer Valley – Donna McAleer, Ski Instructor

Last spring, I was out for a run in the Swaner Nature Preserve—and I ran past my friend Donna McAleer with surprising ease. In fact, I was so shocked that I had passed her up on the trail that I stopped, turned around, and greeted her with: “What’s wrong?” You see, at best, I’m a mediocre runner, and at her worst, Donna—well, in truth, I’ve never seen her at her worst. Until that day. “I’m recovering from stomach flu,” she confessed. “But my mind was racing and I had to get out for a run.”

Donna, you see, was midway through her campaign for a seat in the United States Congress, representing Utah’s District one. She’s a West Point Alumna, retired United States Army officer, and is the award-winning author of Porcelain On Steel: Women of West Point’s Long Gray Line. Oh, and she once served as a bobsled driver in a bid to compete in the sport in the 2002 Olympics. Which is, in case you are wondering, how she came to live in Park City, and eventually lead the People’s Health Clinic, a local non-profit dedicated to giving free and low-cost health care to underserved populations.

If that’s not evidence that she’s hard to catch, I’m not sure what is. Donna’s daughter Carly attends the same school as my sons—and we met about five years ago, when her daughter and my son were attending a local music program together. As two preternaturally busy moms, we bonded and recognized both kindred spirits and the opportunity to help each other out, and a friendship—with a side-order of carpool—was born.

Amidst all of this, the 40-year veteran of ski slopes has spent the last nine years as an instructor in the Ski School at Deer Valley—and eight years as a member of the Deer Valley Synchronized Ski Team.

It will surprise you not at all that the only time we could connect our schedules for a chat was at 6:15 a.m. on a recent morning.

1. Have you always skied on the powdery slopes of Deer Valley? No, I grew up in the east, and I learned to ski on the blue ice and in the frigid temperatures of Okemo Mountain in Ludlow, VT.

2. What interested you in teaching in the first place, and what is your favorite part about teaching at Deer Valley?   I love being outside and sharing my love of the sport with others.  And I love helping guests improve their confidence and ability. Plus, Deer Valley has the best office view, anywhere.  Any day on the mountain is better than a day in an office!

3. How often does the Deer Valley Synchronized Ski Team practice?
We do about eight sessions prior to the performance on December 30 – we train at 4:15 p.m., riding last chair to the the top of Carpenter Express and we get one run. By the time we get to the bottom it’s kind of dark. It’s a hard-core dedicated group of 12-15 of us, that have been skiing together for six-eight years.

4. Has the team ever participated in competitions? Here’s a little bit of quick history: in the mid-80s Deer Valley had a nationally-ranked synchro team, and the Deer Valley team were the world champions in 1995. After a while, the team disbanded and Andy Lane started it up again about five years after that.

5. You put on a great show for the guests—what makes it pleasurable for you? I love that we are all working to help each other get better—that is the great thing about synchro, even as an instructor, you are constantly working to improve your skills and it’s about the discipline, about skiing in line and on time and turning to someone else’s cadence.  vidually beautiful, we have gone through PSIA certification together, and synchro became a part of our training, part of our commitment to each other and the resort

6. What’s the mood like during the event? It’s very festive—at Deer Valley, the night before New Year’s Eve is all about the retro ski clothes—probably because you don’t want to ruin good ski clothes, since you are carrying torches that throw off embers. But you see these great, “sexy” 80’s one-piece ski outfits—which are the original synchro team uniforms. Visually, it’s very pretty, we are in headlamps, carrying torches coming down Big Stick and Wide West. . The the night before new year’s – suynchro demo component to it along with the torchlight. It’s not a competitive team anymore.

7. When and how will we get the best view?
It starts at 6 p.m. and we encourage guests to come at 5:45 p.m. People typically line the plaza at Snow Park and the staging area for ski school. There is hot chocolate, hot cider and the mascots are there. It’s very festive. The perfect way to do it is to plan to dine at Seafood Buffet, so that you can check out the show at the same time.

8. What is the secret to good synchronized skiing?
You have to be able to do the simple really well—and when it happens it looks really good. What you look for is everybody in synchronicity: are they in line, do they have the same shape of turn, how closely they are skiing? We want to provide a team performance, it might be opposite synch, in two parallel lines, skiing in opposite directions, everyone is in cadence. We do different size turns, different shapes, and it all gets back to just the fundamentals of skiing, all the things we teach people, the foundations of good skiing—good turn shapes, moving down the hill, using turn shape to control our speed.

9. You’re an author, an executive and a former candidate for the US House of Representatives, a mother, a wife (in no particular order!)—did skiing play a role in your ability to balance all of those roles at various times? Can you see any lessons you learned during and after your campaign that have parallels on the ski hill?
Being a writer—bringing a book to publication, writing is a solitary act. In terms of my book, thousands of hours of interviews and editing, and 19 manuscript drafts, and it takes a team to publish it. Similarly, while there is only one name on the ballot, it takes a team to make a campaign viable. Skiing is like that—it’s an individual sport, but you’re moving in relation to others. And the act of skiing—moving our bodies, maintaining dynamic balance, you need to be in balance over varying terrain, how we balance and how we stand on our skis, we want to always be moving forward and in the direction of our turn, down the hill, forward and across the skis. My campaign slogan was, “Not left. Not right. Forward.” It applies to a lot of sports, especially skiing, and for me it was a key point in how we think about our political system and we are so quick to make an assumption on how someone votes or legislates—no one is really moving forward and that’s a big issue in our political movement.

Also, another parallel between politics, writing and skiing: sometimes less is more. Really good writing is simple. Thomas Jefferson said, “Never use two words when one will do.” And sometimes we get so bogged down, so focused on technique, that we don’t just ski, we have to let it go.

10. Did Deer Valley play a role in your campaign at all?
My campaign manager is a ski patroller at Deer Valley—and , despite having met and had lunch together in the cafeteria, it was politics that brought us together. He had run campaigns on the east coast, but we bonded over the fact that we share the love of the mountain. There were a number of colleagues from all departments at Deer Valley that were part of the campaign as volunteers, making phone calls.

11. How did your experience as a teacher at Deer Valley Ski School prep you for life as a candidate? During the campaign I found myself relating moments on that trail to moments on the ski trail—There are always obstacles. In skiing we call them moguls, and you need to be able to be flexible to adapt to the terrain. No two ski lessons are ever the same, even with the same client. That’s the cool thing about teaching skiing,—to help someone, to understand how different people learn— you have to be adaptable and flexible in all these situations. In the campaign you want to stay on your message and how you are trying to interact with voters and you may take a different line, you need coaching, good peripheral vision….and you need to be an active listener in both environments, you need to understand what those people’s goals are—you have to be a good observer.

Look for Donna and the rest of the DV Synchronized Ski Team at Snow Park Lodge, starting at 6 p.m. on December 30, 2012.

Click here to check out the Deer Valley Synchro Team in action last season!

Looking at my Ski Crystal Ball

When I contemplate this brand new ski season, I often have a hard time seeing clearly into my “Ski Crystal Ball.” Skiing is for me something that happens, not an event or a succession of situations that can be planned, guessed or predicted like you would plan an outing, a family celebration or of course, a career. I guess there’s not much planning that goes into my skiing. That’s right, I’ve never looked at one single season thinking that I will be accomplishing this, that or achieve some other things (besides maybe a goal for skiing my age).

Even though I’m extremely goal-oriented for all the other areas of my life, this approach has never permeated into my skiing outlook. I probably am a fatalistic skier who wait for the snow crystals to randomly and gracefully align themselves and provide me with some heavenly snow experiences. It is true though that when I’m skiing, my competitive spirit – not my planning mind – eventually comes alive and takes hold of me.

For example if its already 2 pm and I am enjoying the runs that crisscross the Lady Morgan Chairlift, I will think, “…let’s do six more of them!” This mere thought pushes me and I end up having ridden Lady Morgan Express seven more times in that sixty minute time span! The performance wasn’t planned, it simply happened… I have never promised myself to ski 100 days per season, but I generally end up close to that round number, so while it’s hard to say that I’m not planning these kinds of minute details, they just seem to happen…

As a perennial late-bloomer, I must have reached my peak performance on skis in my early sixties (yes, dear reader, there is plenty of hope!) and one day, as I happened to boast a bit too much about some of my ski exploits, a slightly older and wiser friend of mine told me in no uncertain terms: “Silly you, at your age, what do you have to prove?” These words of wisdom were not lost on me, the skier, that always looked at performing better and faster, whenever possible.

This competitive approach of mine was colliding with certain issues that develop as one gets further into the years and as physical strength begins plateauing, if not declining, but is certainly no longer improving. Over the past couple of seasons, I have found that I was getting a bit less nimble, less powerful and considerably slower.

You might say that I was finally growing up as I had implicitly understood that speeding and risk-taking might finally prove to be harmful to me. This, in part, is the reason why, from that point forward, my goals on skis won’t be measured so much in speed, quickness or slaloming through a tight grove of aspen trees.

Instead, they will be qualitative in nature and are likely to consist of skiing much more often, but when I will do it, I will also concentrate on being that much smoother and my focus will be on saving all of my resources to enjoy a longer, fun-filled day on the slopes. Another new measuring stick for me would be the amount of time there’s a grin on my face and this should at least be in the 90% range, to make each day of winter another great moment on skis.

Sure, I’ll still go fast when I can and when it can make me more efficient, but never again at the expense of my own safety. I’ll think more about being lighter on my skis, on better using the terrain to check my speed and to my mechanical advantage, to make my turns effortlessly and remain “one” with the terrain. That’s about right, less brute force and more “caresses” on the snow, this is how my skiing will be looking like, this season and beyond!

With this in mind, when I review what’s inside my Snow Crystal Bowl, I see more slow fun, more perfect turns, more time to enjoy the whole experience, more seizing of the moment and with all that, always the surprise that comes with the never-ending adventure that skiing really is!

A Long and Winding Trail Into Mountain Biking

Our first experience with mountain biking can be traced back more than a quarter of century ago, when we moved from New York to Park City, Utah. Then, Deer Valley Resort was just 4 years old and there wasn’t any lift-served mountain biking available; in fact, mountain biking had barely been invented. This period of the early 80s was only the dawn of that great sport and just a select few began to get excited about it.

I remember that for the summer of 1987, my wife and I bought two Scott mountain bikes, with fat tires, 24 speed and zero-suspension. We tested them on the asphalt a few times, but used them mostly to take a weekly trip to Old Town Park City and while I may have tried mine on a few dirt trails, I soon found out that it was more work than what I had bargained for and concluded that it was simply not for me. As summer turned into fall, the bikes were relieved of their duties and stayed quietly in our garage until the end of the decade.

Fast-forward to 1990; this was a new and exciting year for us; I was now between two jobs while building a new home. That year, we first sold our residence and the two venerable bikes inside the garage were conveniently “bundled” with the house to give the transaction more of a “mountain” flavor. Our move to a new home also coincided with a noted progress in mountain bike technology: The advent of front suspensions. That’s right, until that time there was no difference between the front fork of a road bike and that of a mountain bike. They both were stiff, unyielding and quite shaky on rough terrain. Getting rid of our first bicycles gave us the opportunity to upgrade to a pair of brand new bikes that had a semblance of front suspension.

This time again, similar scenario; we only used them for a limited number of outings, albeit more audaciously; we began venturing into singletrack trails and I even remember flying over the handlebars in a trail called “Trans-Wasatch,” just where the St. Regis hotel now stands. Through sheer luck and some divine intervention I survived the move as I miraculously landed standing up on my own two feet. Needless to say that after a mishap like this, both bikes were “grounded” for good, and they paradoxically remained hung-up forever, high in the ceiling of our large garage.

That lasted right after the Salt Lake City Olympics, when our children left us and my wife and I suddenly became empty nesters in an over-sized home; we eventually sold the house, negotiating once again the pair of unused bicycles as part of the real-estate settlement. We subsequently lived three full years without bikes in the garage. In 2005 however, I relapsed into my two-wheel pursuit and purchased two-state-of-the-art mountain bikes (front and rear suspensions, disk brakes, the works…) My wife gave me the kind of look that means something like “you’ll never learn…”

We got our bikes in the fall and began to use them on the easy stuff, like the Park City Rail-Trail plus some other bike paths and even made a few timid forays into single-track territory. While the new, modern bikes were literally a “game changer” as they’re more efficient, comfortable and user-friendly, we were both anxious, not quite knowing if my latest infatuation would last. What got us going was the investment we had made and while we realized that a third time wouldn’t automatically be a charm, we just didn’t want to give up only after having tried our hardest.

What made all the difference however, was that I was now retired and we suddenly had much more time on our hands. While we continued for a while on easy paths like the Rail-Trail and both the Farm and the McLeod Creek trails, we then dared to try the lift-assisted mountain bike trails in Deer Valley, but still were woefully inexperienced to fully appreciate them. We then honed our skills on the easy trails that crisscross the Round Valley open space that stands between Park City’s new hospital and the Park Meadow subdivision where we live.

A steady practice on that gentle but technical terrain began to bear fruits and eventually would make a huge difference in our gathering the prerequisite technique and mileage that are the foundation of enjoyable mountain biking. This in a nutshell is how we become more attracted to the world of singletrack trails and almost without realizing it, began to become more confident and enjoyed the sport so much more. Each subsequent season, more days were added to our schedule with greater challenges that turned into better skills, growing assurance and much more fun.

We can now use the Deer Valley lifts and enjoy riding Sunset and Naildriver on the way down as if we had done it for a lifetime. We love the sport and, this season alone, have logged more than 40 days by the end of July! Make no mistake though; mountain biking isn’t an easy sport to pick and stay with, and I bet that there are a multitude of mountain bikes out there that, just like our first two sets of bikes, are hanging alone in some garage, even though they were purchased with the very best of intentions! In some next blog, I’ll try to explain how everyone can get some great “traction” in mountain biking without working too hard or even thinking that they where just not made for that sport. Stay tuned…

Mountain Biking Mama

I’ve often said I have a lot of respect for skiers who take up the sport as adults. It takes a certain amount of courage, to say the least. I have a hunch that I’ve learned exactly how much courage that is—because on a recent day in Deer Valley, I began to conquer my fear of riding my bicycle downhill.

Mountain biking (and I’m sure the same is true for road cycling—I just haven’t tried it yet) is as much of a head-game as skiing. For me, it’s more, I think—in part because I’m learning as an adult. I wore my first pair of skis at age 3, and began weekly lessons at 6, so skiing is as natural to me as walking—and at least 10 times more fun. Logically, I know I can handle just about anything on a bike—I’m physically fit—well for a normal person, not a competitive athlete (I have to remind myself, because living in Park City it’s easy to take your decent fitness level for granted when you’re surrounded as we are by elite athletes). I’m up for challenges. I understand the mechanics of the sport. My psyche, however, disagrees. And, frankly, I’m sick of hearing second-hand about how great my husband’s mountain bike rides were. Or weren’t. Even a bad ride is brag-worthy, at least in my house. And I’m done with feeling left out.

Thankfully, there is Jeff. Not, mind you, my wonderful husband Jeff. For whom I am always thankful. But Jeff the Awesome, Patient and Kind Mountain Biking Coach. I am sure his official Deer Valley title is something more like Mountain Bike Guide or Instructor or whatever it is that doesn’t describe him well enough.

So, Coach Jeff took me to Lot 3—that’s right, to the parking lot. Little known fact: There are mountain bike practice features at the back of Lot 3. We ran through some basics, and I was proud to have arrived with A-plus skills in braking appropriately (right brake first then add left, or equal pressure to both); creating a “platform” by bringing both pedals parallel to the ground, and standing on them as I bring my tush back behind my bike seat. (I’m sure it looks even sillier than it sounds, but believe me, it creates the most control over the bike.)

Then came the frustrating part—as much as I knew I could take a gentle downhill turn—KNEW IT—I couldn’t get my brain to let me. After MUCH unprintable sputtering from me, Coach Jeff took control of the moment.

“We’re going to change things up,” he said. “No use having you frustrated.”

What he meant was: After one more quick test on the practice track, he was taking me up Silver Lake Express chairlift to ride down the mountain on a trail called Tour De Homes. I gulped only a little as I noticed the trail marker bore the international symbol for “Intermediate”—the telling blue square. Um, ok. I guess I’m ready, I thought.

“You will gain confidence as we ride. You’ll see. It will be fun,” he said. “I promise.”

Ok, he was right. I walked a fair amount–but I have decided that there’s no shame in walking where you’re completely out of your depth as a rider. It’s called SELF PRESERVATION, people. And I had two kids at Deer Valley Summer Adventure Camp who were expecting to see their mom at 5 p.m. pickup. So, I walked some. But, mostly, I rode. I rode down slopes I didn’t think I could. I looked ahead and not down, not at obstacles, but rather at the path I wanted to follow. Just like in skiing, if you don’t want to ride into the tree, for heaven’s sake, DO NOT LOOK AT THE TREE.

In point of fact, I looked at Coach Jeff’s awesome day-glo biking socks, which were a great focal point.

I am going to have to learn to talk less when I ride—because every time I called out “I’m doing this!!!!” on something more technical than I’d been able to handle only minutes earlier—I lost it. LOST.

Tour De Homes, by the way, is a great hiking or biking trail. It starts behind Last Chance on a private ski run, and winds around until you actually come out onto Last Chance, just below the “Bear House.” We rode some single track through the meadow at the bottom of Last Chance, taking a moment to appreciate, mutually, how much we love skiing Dew Drop, and then worked our way down Rosebud, across some more single track beneath Solid Muldoon, Champion and Big Stick, and into the trees next to the Burns Lift. This was, by far the smoothest, prettiest part of the ride. The trail itself is tree-lined and did I mention…smooth? I even took the steep part back to Wide West with some middling success. Enough that Coach Jeff said, “You know, that was steeper than the part you walked at the trail head?”

And, yes, I flew down the Carpenter road—faster than a person is allowed to take it on skis, in fact. Speed, it turns out, is a good acquaintance. We’re working our way up to a friendship. Coach Jeff, though, whether he likes it or not, is a brand-new friend.

Easy Breezy Summer Day

Some days you don’t feel like exerting yourself -no biking and no hiking.  You just want to chill, relax and have an easy -breezy day.  Last Saturday was one of those days. We had some friends visiting from California so the chairlift to Deer Valley’s Bald Mountain was just what the doctor ordered.Great views – aspens, pines, and mountain bikers below us.  Now you are talking!

As we approached the top of Bald Mountain, my friends innocently asked me which runs I ski.  Since they aren’t skiers, I could easily have said something like, “Oh Grizzly and Orient Express but my favorite on powder days is Mayflower Bowl.  I stay away from Morningstar when it is really cold because I just can’t catch my edges but otherwise it is an exhilarating run.”

All that would have been a completely fabricated — a bald faced lie so I didn’t do it but it would have been fun to see if they believed me.  Well, instead I looked at them and laughed saying, ” None! Are  you crazy?  See the black diamond?  Let me explain what that means.  That  means not Nancy.” (Well, not yet anyways). 


We walked over to Sultan Express lift to see views of the Jordanelle Reservoir and the Heber Valley from what felt like the top of the world. We could see the Uinta mountain range from there.  I pointed out the Blue Ledge run to my friend and we stood at the blind drop off edge to get a feel for what it would be like to fly over the ledge on skis.  We stood near the top of Thunderer run and looked down on a black diamond run but with our feet firmly planted on the ground.


Mountain bikers and hikers were unloading to make their trek down the mountain as we climbed back on the lift to ride down.  The view of Park City and the valley was breathtaking.  I pointed out Flagstaff Mountain where I do hang out on the single blue and green runs.

All this sitting on the chairlift and relaxing made us thirsty! 

We headed up to Stein Eriksen Lodge to lounge on their patio, drink local brews, visit and watch the wind blow through the aspens in an easy breezy way.