Camera-Ready Skiing

A wise friend once told me: “Nobody wants to watch your skiing videos.” She’s probably right. However, I’m here to make an argument for watching your own skiing videos.

One of the benefits of enrolling in a Specialty Ski Program at Deer Valley is that it usually includes video sessions. I’ll be the first to admit that video days make me a little edgy—I feel like it’s the “final exam” I couldn’t possibly study for, or the one moment I’m going to make the “wrong” kinds of turns. I feel this way about the ski off at the beginning of a clinic, too. But the truth is, you can get a lot out of watching yourself—and your classmates ski.

The Women on Wednesdays program includes two video days. I missed the first one, due to the plague hitting my house in the form of strep throat. But on the final  Wednesday, there was another opportunity to ski for the camera. Our video point was on the section of Solid Muldoon ski run, just below the Little Bell ski run. The Murphy’s Law of Video Day is that, inevitably, other guests ski in front of your camera angle. Sometimes, they mistakenly think the camera is set up for them,  in fact. But the video crew are pros at keeping their focus on the students.

We watched the playback in the video shack that is tucked in the trees between Solid Muldoon and Success ski runs. There, under the guidance of our awesome coach, Donna McAleer, we were able to critique and appreciate our skiing. I say “appreciate” because when you’re well-coached in one of these clinics, there turns out to be a lot to like in what you see on the screen.

I was shocked to see that my form had improved dramatically since the beginning of the season. My stance was strong, and balanced. My edges were engaged. My arms were reaching forward at the correct angle to keep me facing downhill. Unbelievably, neither my coach nor my classmates had a single note for me. The notes for the other women were minor tweaks to form, that were helpful to all of us. We even busted our coach for a couple of form slips. (She got us back by making us ski a “Cowboy Drill,” down the Success ski run, using an improbably wide stance. It was, of course, enormously helpful, but I’m sure we looked ridiculous to the other skiers.)

“Video is very powerful.” Donna reminded us. “Even if you can tape each other—everyone has a phone with a camera, now—it’s a good way to check your form.”

Later that day, one of our classmates took that to heart. We were on our second run of moguls off the Orion ski run. Donna told us she wanted to watch us from the bottom, so she skied ahead. We all agree that it’s a gift to watch Donna ski. She’s strong and graceful. “You looked like that,” said my new friend Kim. “Really.”

I did not believe her. Our first run had been good—I found a good line and just skied it. The snow was soft, the bumps were forgiving, and I had just cruised down them. But I had not considered that it had looked at all good, from a technical standpoint.

“Here, I’ll tape you,” she said. And then Kim revealed herself to be a true friend. It was absolutely frigid out there. Single digits. Wind chills. Cold. And she took off her glove and then held up her iPhone, and proceeded to film her classmates.

Off I went. I don’t think it was my most graceful run, ever, but I can see where my turns and form are consistent, and I know if felt good while I skied. See for yourself.


I got to the bottom, and Donna said, “What are you thinking about when you are coming down?”

“I’m not,” I told her. “Perhaps the trick for me is to get out of the habit of over thinking, and just ski.”

“Good point,” she said, as we turned to watch the other women descend.

After we closed down Empire Express chairlift, we cruised over to Hidden Treasure ski run, and found an entrance in the trees, skier’s left, that would take us to the lower section of Square Deal ski run, for more bumps practice. I had not seen the video, yet, but I knew my “don’t think just ski” approach was working, so, I worked it.

Our final run of the clinic was the Solid Muldoon ski run “Ski it to the bottom, and I’ll see you inside,” Donna said. Or I think she said that, because I took off. I locked the image of the morning’s video in my brain, set my edges in, leaned forward and zoomed down the run. I’ve always had a little love-hate relationship with the very bottom of Solid Muldoon ski run. The fact that it turns, goes steep and is often a little, shall we say crispy, can mess with my head. On this day, my skiing brain was having none of that. She was just riding that hill for all that it had to offer. My classmates and our coach were not far behind, but they all remarked on my speedy run.

“Before you ask, Donna, I’ll tell you,” I began. “I was thinking about that image of myself on this morning’s video. I skied it just like the woman on the screen.”

Granddaughter’s Ski Lesson

The best ski lesson for your child or grandchild is one where you give them a kiss on the cheek and leave them to the instructor. The problem is you are just as excited about the lesson as they are! You want to be up close and personal to observe and take photos to memorialize the event.

That’s how my friends TJ and Lin felt when they set up a ski lessons for their granddaughter (and my little friend) Stella, age 3. The grandparents felt like it was important for the little one to have a positive experience right from the start. They called in Deer Valley ski instructor, Mark Shepard to teach her on her first day. Mark has a keen ability to really hone in on what a skier needs to make marked improvements. He helped TJ (a lifelong skier) make drastic improvements on the bumps and Stella’s Mom and Dad take on the blues. So why not make it three generations.

Mark was open to splitting a private lesson. The first hour, a private lesson just for little Stella and the rest of the morning went to their daughter and son-in-law (both beginner skiers.)  He started little Stella’s lesson in the lodge practicing “pizza and french fry” on aluminum pie pans (no skis yet – just with boots) until she got the concept down cold. The grandparents were quickly forgotten as Mark got right down to Stella’s eye level. Though TJ and Lin wanted to stick around, they knew better.

Photo Credit: TJ Lenahan

Photo Credit: TJ Lenahan

They also had a secret weapon – a serious telephoto lens! TJ is a wildlife photographer — an expert at quietly watching from a long distance and snapping amazing photos. He put those skills to the test for Stella’s lesson.

Here is what he observed (while in stealth mode) from way over on the other side of the run:

Mark carrying little Stella to the hill.

Photo Credit: TJ Lenahan

Photo Credit: TJ Lenahan

Practicing now with skis on.

Photo Credit: TJ Lenahan

Photo Credit: TJ Lenahan

A typical three-year-old, Stella points out an airplane in the sky during the lesson. Mark simply lies on his back to enjoy the delight of the plane with her.

In about an hour, Stella is skiing!

Ski Lesson 3

Photo Credit: TJ Lenahan

The moral of the story is you can have the best of both worlds. Your child or grandchild can enjoy their lesson and you can have photos to remember the event. All you have to do is walk softly and carry a big telephoto lens.
For more information on ski lessons at Deer Valley Ski Resort, click here

Learning to Ski at 65 – Call in the Professionals

photo (31)While I certainly don’t agree with it, I can understand why many people wouldn’t venture to learn to ski after age 65. The older you get, the more you realize that life (and your body) is fragile.  It doesn’t help that everyone loves to tell skiing horror stories, either.  You might ski a hundred times and have an amazing day after day but do you share those stories? Of course not.

Everyone tells the story of their most dramatic day that either involved extreme fear, pain or a combination of both. For example, my brother told me the story of when he skied in college as a novice with his buddies in California, his friends took him in the trees instead of staying on groomed runs. He fell flat on his face with his skis sticking straight down and he couldn’t get back up! His toe nails turned black and eventually fell off since his boots were too tight.  Unfortunately, this happened to be my first introduction to skiing, and I was left with a less than favorable impression.

Another favorite storytelling subject is “falling” which involves ledges, trees and collisions with other skiers.  Then there is the story of a friendship ending day when someone is taken to a black diamond mogul run, chute or bowl that is way too advanced for them.  The friend ditches them and leaves them to somehow slide or trek down alone, scared and angry.

Doesn’t sound like much fun, does it?  Doesn’t really make you want to grab your gear and head to the lift.   Why would you put yourself through this at 65? Well if you read this previous blog, you’d know why my husband is doing it. He wants to ski next season with our three year old granddaughter. He also wants to do it right so he can enjoy himself and minimize his chances of injury. At 65, he also certainly can’t afford to waste time learning things the wrong way and then having to relearn them.  He wants to do it right.

We called in the professionals.  We booked a couple one-on-one private lessons with one of Deer Valley’s professional ski instructors.  Since Mary Lou Mignot helped me bump up to a solid intermediate skier at the Women’s Ski Clinic Weekend, we asked for her to put together a Beginner Boot Camp for Jay.

It worked!

photo (30)Mary Lou got Jay from surface lifts on Wide West to the Carpenter Express chairlift in a matter of a few hours but more than that, he got a solid foundation in balance and control that will stick with him forever.  The lesson began with helping Jay get a feel for the skis and enjoying the slide. He then learned to take the wedge to more of a parallel turn and control his speed.

By the second lesson, he was very comfortable on the lifts and enjoying runs following Mary Lou’s ‘S’ shaped turns and having her follow him observing and providing tips to improve. He even kept his cool when some pint sized skiers went flying out of the trees within a couple feet of him. They didn’t faze him one bit and he passed his first test for skiing with grandchildren.

There were no dramatic stories of run-ins with trees, crashes, or cliffs.  He did catch the bug, however. You may know it well.  It’s the bug that changes your whole perspective on life;  the one that makes you excited when it snows on April 1st,  where you count the number of ski days left in the season and you no longer talk of events in years but in terms of “ski seasons”.  You know what I am talking about.

photo (32)It makes all the difference in the world to start your ski experience off well. Especially as you get older, you don’t take anything for granted … especially a ski season at Deer Valley.

Good Luck Charm- Three Mountains on New Year’s Day

Skiing three different mountains on New Year’s Day has got to be some kind of a good luck charm, don’t you think? My neighbor Dave wanted to ski with me for a day and help me practice my side slips and turns on steeper runs (after reading about my panic attack on Hidden Treasure.) Looking over the map at day’s end, I realized he had taken me to uncharted territory — skiing three different mountains in one day and on New Year’s Day no less!

We started on Bald Eagle Mountain and took Little Stick stopping along the way to practice the side slip technique for steeper slopes or when too close to the edge to turn safely. Dave made a perfect zig-zag on the hill maneuvering his skis by leaning forward and backwards. Unfortunately, mine looked more like a snow angel but eventually, I got the hang of it and felt more secure in steeper terrain.

A new mountain! We headed to Little Baldy Peak on a nice long green run – Deer Hollow that leads to the new Mountaineer Express chairlift. We worked on “patience turns” and Dave showed me how to read the fall line of the run like a golfer reads the greens to putt. You could call it the Zen of Skiing as I started to get the feel of the snow and the skis instead of always being concerned with forcing my next turn.

Flagstaff Mountain was next so we headed up Carpenter Lift and scooted across the “beach” at Silver Lake Lodge to the Viking Lift. It was practice time and we took a mix of greens and steeper blues and I found myself hooting and hollering feeling more and more in control on steeper runs and with increased speed.

Finally I was told that I must be tired because I was planting my poles opposite of what I was supposed to and I had reverted to my lean back ski stance. Have you ever felt like a little kid who knows he has to come in but just can’t stop playing outside? That was me but I knew it was time to go.

Heading back to Snow Park, I was treated to “animal house” on Lucky Chance. No, not the classic movie, but a series of houses that have whimsical statues of animals adorning their decks, yards and rooftops. We saw raccoon, elk, bear, and moose as well as a totem pole with a bald eagle’s nest atop. These sights made for an interesting run.

Studies have shown that good luck charms boost confidence which actually help people perform better. Professional athletes have superstitions like Wayne Gretzky putting on his pads the same way every time and Brian Urlacher eating two chocolate cookies before every game. Maybe there is something to the three peaks on New Year’s Day. Our rational minds will tell us that my skiing improved because my friend (former ski instructor) took me out and gave me some pointers and tips. But, I am going to hold out on the thought that there is something to the spending the first day of the brand new year standing on top of three different mountain peaks.

How many people get to do that in their entire lives? I think a new tradition is born.

Father Knows Best? Nah.

A few months ago, my dad called to tell me he’d hatched a plan for his next visit.

Considering one previous visit found me helping the kids select the most absurd Halloween mask they could find for their beloved grandfather to wear for Trick-or-Treating on Main Street, and another found me videotaping my father, a 68 year-old attorney, trying out the bungee trampoline at an amusement park, my interest was, shall we say, piqued.

 “What if I came out in January, took a week’s worth of ski lessons and then skied with the boys on the weekend?”

 I was thrilled by this idea–but also slightly suspicious. After all, he’d dived into ski school when I was in middle school, because I’d threatened to (wait for it) quit the sport.  Perish the thought. My dad, wise man that he is, felt like I might regret such a choice (which begs the question, Why, oh why, was I allowed to quit the violin??) – so he offered a deal—he would sign up for lessons simultaneously with my pre-race program at our local resort, and we’d meet up in the afternoons for some Dad-and-Daughter skiing.

 This is Parenting 101. Lead by example. Support your kids in their activities. Show up. Play along. My Dad, of course, got an A in this course.  And as a grandparent, he seems to go after extra credit, too (see: bungee jumping, above).

This plan, by the way, worked out really well—I improved rapidly, my dad, perhaps a little less rapidly. We found ourselves on a favorite blue—one with just enough steep to make it interesting, and about a third of the way down, my dad launched a yard sale. I skied up to him, a little worried. “Dad, are you ok?” Gamely, he began to collect his gear, and shake the snow out of his ski hat (pre-helmet culture, indeed). “Yep, I’ll be ok!” So, loving daughter that I am, I said, “OK, see ya!” And shot off toward the bottom. I know, very, very ungrateful. Bad, bad kid. I’m not entirely sure why his skiing tapered off, but given this history, it’s a wonder the man would volunteer his vacation time to relearn the sport and risk being exposed to such compassion again.

 And yet, he did.

 And he loved it.

I lined up two Max 4 lessons and a full-day private for “Parka.”(For reasons none of us can remember, Big Guy started calling him that around age 1, and it stuck). I wanted him to feel comfortable skiing wherever Big Guy wanted to take him on Saturday.  We had many, many discussions about gear. He reported to me mid-morning the first day that he’d struggled mightily with his boots, tried in vain to find the right positioning for his hat/gaiter/goggles arrangement. In a moment of mock exaggeration, this man who bikes hundreds of miles every summer, said drily, “You know, you just get on the bike….” I got a call from him from the chairlift that afternoon. “I’m skiing Success, and loving it. I will be here all night. Don’t wait for me for dinner.” I informed him the groomers may take issue with his presence after 4pm, so he decided to come home after all. But first, he stopped in the ski school office to change his lesson the next morning to the afternoon. It was my request—I couldn’t stand the thought of him having so much fun and not bearing witness to it.

Our ski morning together was a blast. He kept thanking me for helping him arrange it all. “I’m really having FUN!” And he was. He was also exercising caution. His stance was slightly hesitant, and his pace was deliberate rather than relaxed. Which was fine. I didn’t want to push. We parted ways after lunch—he headed off to his lesson with a sarcastic “see ya!” and I met up with my friends Lisa and Dave for a few runs on Flagstaff.

 The next morning, I decided to tag along for the first half of his lesson. I met Parka’s instructor, JR, and explained, “I’m just along for the ride—it’s his lesson.” As we descended our first turns, I shouted that I would ski ahead to watch—and to take some pictures and video. I was blown away by his improvement since the previous morning. We soon found our way over to Flagstaff, and did one of my favorite loops. Blue Bell to Silver Buck to Stargazer to Gemini. When we got to the Stargazer portion, my dad said, “Well, this is going to scare me a bit.” He then executed ten perfect, balanced turns to the top of Gemini. “Wait! I was just getting that! I want to do it again!” No lack of enthusiasm here.

 Soon enough, we were heading toward lunch at Snow Park when my father made a confession. “I made a mistake,” he said, with more than a hint of woe in his voice. He looked at me a little sheepishly before he continued. “I thought a full day lesson would be too much. So I cut it to a half day when I made the other switch. But now, I feel so great I want to keep going!”

 Sigh.

 “I can fix it. With my favorite tool,” I said, taking my cell phone out of it’s designated pocket in my jacket. Quickly, I was connected with a friendly member of the staff. “My dad thought he knew better,”I explained. This may not have been the first time someone decided to extend their day, because the very helpful gentleman on the other end of the call offered a knowing chuckle as he restored the reservation . Mission accomplished. JR and my dad and I sat down to a quick Snow Park Lunch (hello, Natural Buffet) before I scooted to town to pick up Little Guy and they headed off to ski more. We agreed to meet up an hour later on Wide West. Little Guy was keen to show his skills to his grandfather. He demonstrated three of his top skills (Candyland, Racecourse and Exhaustion Meltdown).

little guy skiing

 Unfortunately, by the next morning, Parka was sidelined with a minor but ski-boot-prohibitive foot injury, and he couldn’t complete the mission.

We all solved the problem at once. “When can we schedule a return visit?” Fab.