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!

Oops….Took the Wrong Run

“If you see anything in yourself to make you proud, look a little farther and you will find enough to make you humble” this is a quote by Wellins Calcott, Thought Moral and Divine.  Try skiing if you are looking for some humility. Last week I wrote about opening day and how “hardcore” I thought I was. Well pride cometh  before the fall.  Today I didn’t resemble a hardcore skier in any way shape or form. Thank goodness for the two good Samaritans who helped me out.

Day three of season two and I was enjoying my third beginner run, Ontario, and I noticed the sign for Hidden Treasure so I made a mental note to circle back.  I had skied that run during my Max 4 lessons last year but had completely forgotten how steep the top was.  From the lift, it is deceiving since the steepest part is hidden from view. From my vantage point, the run looked perfect so I decided Hidden Treasure would be my first intermediate run of the year.

The cross country style narrow connector trail should have been the first clue that I was in over my head but I had already committed to the run so I ignored that warning.  When I finally got to the top of the run and looked down, I saw something that spelled double trouble for me – a steep and bumpy run —  not a good combination.

Hidden Treasure is the run to the left that ends under Quincy Express chairlift

I took stock of the situation.  My options were to climb back up the hill and skate ski through the narrow uphill trail back to Ontario or traverse the steep part of this hill and take Hidden Treasure. Not normally one to retreat, I decided to go for it. It didn’t take long for me to get intimidated and lose all my confidence. I fell a couple times and did something unexpected.  I totally forgot everything I had learned. In my lessons last year, I was taught to traverse back and forth across the run slowly or to simply position myself to slide sideways down the hill using my edges to stop me.  Well, in the moment, I forgot all that.

Panic set in.  In my lifeguard days many years ago, I had to memorize the definition of panic so I know it well —  “a sudden unreasonable and overwhelming fear that destroys one’s capacity for self help.”  Since I wasn’t thinking straight, I simply took off my skis, threw them on my shoulder and started hiking down one step at a time through the powder.

I had only seen two people pass me the whole time so there weren’t many people on the run but the ones that did come by, stopped to help.  The two good Samaritans on skis reminded me of much easier ways to get down the steep part of the hill. With one below me and one above, I put my skis back on and then followed one traversing across while the other looked on until I got past the steeper part.

Once I got to the middle of the run, I could see why they called it Hidden Treasure (instead of Nancy’s Nightmare.)   I felt like I was floating on this powdery wonderland.  This my friends is snow. I thought I knew what snow was before but I really didn’t. Thanks to a couple of really nice Deer Valley patrons, I got to enjoy it. My story fortunately has a happy ending and as I shared it many people have laughed and told similar stories. But it didn’t have to be that way –  I could have had the wonderful experience without the panic.  Here is how:

  • Read the map. Deer Valley puts out a daily groomed status trail map so you can determine ahead of time the state of the run. It is also on the website so you can check it from your smart phone. It is possible, I might have been able to do that run earlier in the day.  Since it was on a “first shift groomer schedule,” it was pretty bumpy by the time I got there.
  • Ask a mountain host. These helpful people are everywhere! I could easily have discussed my plans and gotten advice from the mountain host at Flagstaff Mountain (right at the big map).  I am sure, he or she would have sent me down an easier run like Hawkeye instead.
  • Go with a friend.  When you are taking on a new challenge, go with a more experienced skier in case you need some coaching.
  • Take a tour. If you are an intermediate level skier or higher, catch up with the FREE mountain host tour.  The intermediate tour leaves daily from Snow Park Lodge at 10 a.m. and Silver Lake Lodge at 1:30 p.m. (Click here for a full schedule) Then go back and ski your favorite runs by yourself later.
  • Take a private lesson.  I know this sounds simple because having an instructor take you down new and more challenging runs just seems like common sense.  You learn more, are safer, and enjoy the experience much more.

Hey good Samaritans out there, I want to give you a shout out of thanks for stopping to help. Maybe someday when I actually really am a hardcore skier, I will pay it forward.

I ended my ski day on this run!

Epic feast at the Seafood Buffet

One of the best reasons to do a specialty clinic at Deer Valley is not necessarily the top-flight ski instruction—although, that’s certainly a worthy selling point. It’s the chance that lightning will strike, and you’ll be placed in a group with interesting people you wouldn’t have otherwise met. And if you’re really, really lucky, they’ll become your friends. This certainly happened last year , when I met Stacey and Jackie and our talented, big-hearted instructor Letitia.

We’d all stayed in touch, and tried our best to plan a Women’s Weekend Redux—and we almost succeeded. Jackie had family commitments that kept her from the March weekend we’d chosen. Stacey and I, however, were in “game on” mode. Stacey’s pregame strategy consisted of quick witty emails to me that described her ski days (“found my mojo in Perseverance Bowl today!”) and accused me of leaving her in the dust after I completed the Mahre Training Center camp at Deer Valley in February.

My pregame strategy was entirely different: I invited Letitia, along with Stacey and her husband Steve, to join Jeffrey and me at Seafood Buffet on the Thursday evening before the Women’s Weekend began. I half-joked that I wanted to see to it that Letitia overate, so that she’d go easy on us in the morning. I had another thing coming.

Before we embarked on the epic feast, Letitia tried to prep us for the coming weekend. “You can’t expect the same magic we had last year in our group,” she said. “You can only hope for it. And you—” here, she turned to me—“you are probably going to land in a higher group than mine. I hear you’ve made more progress.” Stupid me, and my big mouth.

Stacey added, “I don’t want you to feel obligated to ski with me. I don’t want to hold you back.”

I tried to remind myself that I’d learned not to downplay my ability—but I really couldn’t imagine that the differences in my skiing would be that great. .

Instead of engaging in a debate, I suggested we embark on the team activity at hand—tackling the Seafood Buffet.

The great thing about this restaurant is the subtle sense of surprise.

First, whether you’re a rookie—and yes, we had what we termed a “Seafood Bufffet Virgin” at the table (Hi, Steve!)—or a veteran, you can’t help but be surprised by the abundance of choices and the quality of the food—both in taste and presentation.

Second, there are always some new items woven into the mix—on this evening, there was a runaway hit with an appetizer of a roasted tomato stuffed with warm goat cheese—and a hint of heat.

Third, no matter how hard you try to pace yourself, you will always, always surprise yourself with the quantity of food that you’re able to consume in an evening.

We chided each other over sushi—“Don’t fill up on the rice! You need to save valuable digestive real estate for the crab legs!”

Letitia uttered a maxim that is as true as the local’s rallying cry (“No friends on a powder day!”) when there’s a foot of fresh on the hill—“There’s no waiting,” she said. “When you’re ready for the next course, you go get it.”

Our Virgin was not disappointed. Neither were the rest of us.

Katie learns just how much fun spring skiing can be on Day #3

So truth be told, I love to complain. If it were a sport in the Olympics, I would hands down take the gold, silver and bronze. So although I’ve said that I hated skiing before and I’m starting to like it now, doesn’t mean that I didn’t have my fair share of complaints during this whole experience. I won’t lie and say it wasn’t cold, and that falling didn’t hurt, or even that it was an easy experience that I fell in love with instantly. But I will tell you that it was something that I have zero regrets doing and that I may not be a diehard skier now, but through this experience I have grown to be more patient, more confident, and willing to put effort into it even though I’m not that great. It’s easy to love something that you are good at, but much more difficult to find fun in something that you’ve sworn to loathe.

After my first and second lesson, I was pleased with my progress and thankful for the chance to learn a new skill, but I really had zero intentions of ever going again (this is where my excellent complaining skills came into play). And then I was informed that I got one more lesson! I was excited, but also really nervous because I was probably going to have to really ski, like actual runs, with actual potential to eat it hard core. So while heading up the canyon I told myself that it was fun and I loved it and I would live. Cue complaining, again.

And then I got my stuff and we were off, just to the beginners slope at first but Eddy assured me that we would hit the actual slopes today in his perky-I-love-skiing-more-then-life- sort of way that he does best. The first run down I was shaking and not loving it, and then all of the sudden it hit. I felt that I was OK and that I could survive the full lesson and then real skiing began.
We went to some of the runs where it was super sunny, and created a whole new type of snow that I was not used to. Snow that’s a little slushy is clearly my kind of snow. It makes turning a bit more difficult but helps keep your speed in check, no complaint with that. Not to mention the sun! It was so beautiful and made the resort look so much different in such a breathtaking way. We made it over to Deer Crest and Eddy could easily sense my change of mood and knew that this sort of skiing was Katie Fredrickson sort of skiing. We went down our first run which was an easy blue, and I felt good about it. Then we did the same run again, and again, and again. It got to the point where I could relax and enjoy the run, instead of focusing on what my feet were doing.

Then Eddy told me that I was ready for a harder run and that it was not much different at all. Looking at this run was very frightening. I looked at Eddy and said, “Alright crazy, what run are we really going to do?” After about five minutes of me standing there and Eddy reassuring me about a million times that I was more than capable to handle this run, we set off. Turns out, I could handle that run, and had fun all the way to the bottom. When we reached the bottom Eddy started laughing and I asked him what was so funny, assuming I looked like a spazz. His reply was, “Look at you, actually skiing and you are smiling. First time I’ve ever seen that smile!” No joke this was when I knew that I would come back and ski on my own sometime.

Eventually we met up with Deer Valley blogger JF Lanvers and he asked me how I was doing. My answer was, “fantastic, we are skiing and looking legit!” And his response is probably the greatest thing that I have ever heard. Imagine his French accent and his smiley face saying, “Well why else would we ski but to look cool?” LOVE IT! We got some good runs in, I did fall (which was so kindly edited out of JF’s video), but if you don’t fall, you’re not trying.

This experience was the only thing that would ever have made me enjoy skiing. I’ve even have plans to go within the next week. I never thought I would actually have plans to go skiing. Thanks to everyone at Deer Valley, especially Eddy, you all made me like skiing and build the skills so that I can learn to love it.

Ski Lessons Day Two: The Hockey Stop

Deer Valley is renowned for having world class instructors. After my Max Four ski lessons, I now know why.  After two days of lessons, I was able to execute smooth parallel turns on the wide runs and make short tighter turns on the steeper runs.  Friday morning, I’d never even done a blue run and by Sunday, I’d skied seven.  Even better, the unexpected happened.  I learned the hockey stop.  Can you believe it?  I can’t!

I first took notice of the hockey stop when my husband and I were in the crowd at the base of the Freestyle International World Cup Ski Event at Deer Valley in February.  These incredible athletes flew in the air, twisting and turning only to land on their skis and immediately execute a hockey stop spraying the crowd with snow dust as they did so.

When my instructor, Mark, asked us if we knew the hockey stop, my lesson buddies and I excitedly said, “No but we want to!”  Mark, I am sure, was planning on teaching this powerful tool for safety’s sake since learning to stop on a dime not only builds confidence but prevents injury.  For me, it was all about the “cool factor.”

You see, I have three grown sons (ages 22, 24 and 29) who are all good skiers and snowboarders.  We all skied together this past Christmas and they were nice enough to do one run with their mother but were bored and subsequently ditched me (of course they all showed up suddenly around lunch time since I had the credit card.)   I can’t blame them because I was terribly slow and no fun to ski with since I didn’t know what I was doing.

The hockey stop is a life changer for me.  I have a plan for the next time we ski together: ski straight toward the three of them; slight jump turn, then rooster tail spray them from head to toe.  Then when they look at me in shock, I will say, “What?” with a shrug.  That is my plan and my instructor, Mark is making that happen for me.

We started on a green run to practice.  He gave me the basics – little jump, turn on edges, face forward.  We all did a pretty good job.  Ok now pick a point in the distance so your upper body doesn’t move – little jump, turn on both edges, keep your poles behind you.  We all did it on the practice run and then we were off to the blue runs where the rubber hit the road.

I walked away from my lessons with a new sense of self.  If you watch closely, you’ll see my head held just a touch higher with the inner knowledge that I am now “a skier” with a plan.

Ski lesson = Opposite Day

In my Max 4 ski lesson, I felt like George Costanza in the Seinfeld Episode, Opposite Day.  In the episode, George decides that every decision he has ever made in his life has been wrong.  Since his life is the complete opposite of everything he wanted it to be, with a little prompting from Jerry he decides to do the opposite of whatever his normal choice would have been.  Today I learned that in skiing, if my body naturally reacts one way, I should do the opposite.

The lesson started with all the adult students skiing a run under the watchful eye of our green jacketed instructors.  We were then grouped by our ability and the specific skills we needed to work on.  Two guys and I were picked by Dan and we were off to explore Flagstaff Mountain.  I jokingly asked Dan if he was going to teach us to ski backwards by the end of the day (as the instructors were demonstrating earlier as they watched us earlier) and much to my surprise, that is exactly what he did at the very beginning of the lesson.  I was starting to realize this was indeed “opposite day” as we learned about balance skiing backwards.

My ski lesson buddies and I were to hear the word “counter intuitive” all morning.  When we moved our body position the way were avoiding, we had more control. Doing this we learned to turn and control our speed making it easier to ski on the steep slopes. What amazed me was Dan seemed like he was always there giving me individualized attention even with three students.  He’d work with me, then ski ahead to catch up with one of the guys and then the other. Then he’d watch me ski down and give me some pointers.  Every lift ride was a lesson and then when we were ready, he led us to the blue runs.  By the end of the three hours, we were cruising down the blues like no tomorrow. I couldn’t believe it!

We even tackled Star Gazer which was a challenge for me.  I took a couple of tumbles on the steeper terrain because I reverted to the old habits (which I understand is typical for beginners).  Was that bad?  Of course not.  In fact, it was quite the opposite. Dan was there to pin point the cause of the fall so I was able to learn and make corrections. His guidance anchored that lesson in my mind and improved my confidence.  I also conquered some fears about falling and not being able to get up.  Who knew that it is actually easier to get up on steeper hills than on the flat?  Another counter intuitive aspect of skiing was etched in my memory.  Because of Dan’s coaching, now instead of being intimidated by the hill, I think to myself, “Oh good, it’s steep! Easier to get up if I fall.”

When I got home, I looked at the Deer Valley Trail map on my wall and traced all the runs we did with a blue marker. I was shocked to see how many blue runs we did.  I had not realized that we had done five as I stood there and took it in. As a beginner who’d stuck to green runs, it was quite surprising to see all the blue ink on my map. My first lesson was an outstanding success. Doing the opposite worked for George Costanza and today thanks to the skill of my instructor, Dan, it worked for me, too.

A Learn-to-Ski Rookie Mistake to Avoid

When I was a little girl my father always told me, “If you are going to do something, do it right.”  I wished I had listened to him instead of making a classic rookie learn-to-ski mistake.  I got the wrong equipment for my ability level.  A ski swap seemed like a good idea at the time, but was a place I really had no business going.

My husband and I moved to Park City last fall and were very excited about learning to ski.  So we picked up some gently used skis, helmets, poles, gloves and a really nice jacket for my son (which I have since claimed as my own) at the National Ability Center ski swap.  We love donating to a great cause but when you think about it for a minute; I really didn’t have the slightest chance of finding the right skis.  As expected, I didn’t. I found this out when I tried them out on the Wide West run (the bunny hill) and took off like a rocket!

After a few practice runs, I decided to try a green run so I hopped on the Carpenter Express with my friends and headed for “Success.” I must have been a sight crossing back and forth across the run.  My friends were probably thinking, “Doesn’t she know she is supposed to go down the hill?”  But every time I pointed my tips down the hill, I flew. I muddled my way down with some coaching from my friends but spent most of the day back on the Wide West run because I just didn’t feel confident.

When I got home that night, I “googled” my skis and bindings.  I read the words, “slalom, racing, expert, and carving” and knew I was in trouble.  None of those words even remotely applied to me.  So the next day, I decided to get some help from the experts at the Deer Valley rental shop.  A smiling green jacketed technician set up me up with some skis, Rossignol Avenger 74s that actually fit my height, weight and ability.  They were shorter and much lighter with auto-turn technology– I saw words like “stable and forgiving” and I knew I was in the right place.  My technician also gave me some tips on some runs to take.  He said, “Take Ontario! It is wide and very beautiful – nice beginner run.”  He took the time to show me exactly how to get there and off I went.

Guess what?  I had a wonderful experience with controlled turns and I was actually skiing down the hill, not back and forth across the run (making life much easier for the skiers behind me also.)  The right equipment made all the difference in the world.

Do you know what I am doing next?  I am avoiding the second most common beginning skier mistake – not taking lessons.  I decided to take my father’s advice after all and enrolled in a couple sessions of lessons.  I haven’t met the smiling instructor in a green jacket who is going to take this rookie and turn her into a skier in three hours, but I am looking forward to doing so.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Letitia Lussier’s Deer Valley

To ski with Letitia Lussier is a singular experience—in that a day on the hill will reveal multiple facets of her personality, and of your own ski skills. Letitia was my group instructor during the Women’s Weekend last season .

As she guided us away from more populated runs, so that my newfound ski buddies, Stacey and Jackie, and I could drill down to better turns without distraction, she shared funny tales from her career, as well as from her life as an artist. And, quietly, with a lot of nurturing encouragement, she insisted we ski the trees. My mom and dad may shudder (a lot) when I talk about it, but if they’d been with us that day, they might even be convinced it was the safest place to ski anywhere.

Throughout the years, Letitia’s artist’s spirit has taken her many places in the summers, “ I live in Park City in the winter,” she says. “And I’ve lived in a variety of places in the summer- Wisconsin (x1),  Hawaii (x2), the red rock canyons of southern Utah (x2), Washington (x2) and Wyoming (x2) but I’ve also spent many summer here in PC.”

And, her work in the mountains feeds her muse when she steps into her home painting studio. Art lessons are life lessons, and vice-versa. “Every day I witness such incredible beauty,” she says. “I make it a point to take the time to notice, to really look at my surroundings as they change every day sometimes every hour. Inspiration is all around me which is reflected in my paintings of DV,” she says, “I’ve developed gratitude for the peak moments I experience in these mountains and in life. There is nothing more powerful.”


Hometown: Auburn, ME

Years in Park City: “I’ve been with Deer Valley since day one!” In other words, you do the math.

Year one as an instructor was…”Fun! We were a tight-knit group of 23, counting one supervisor and director. We worked hard and played hard. Now we are nearly 500 instructors.”

I’m a fan of teaching Adult Specialty Programs like Women’s Weekend because…With a well matched group you have the opportunity to learn from each other, to cheer and support one another. You have the chance to create friendships with shared interests and the added bonus of finding others at your ski ability. This cohesiveness can offer the right kind of learning atmosphere for these programs. The group dynamics can be so much fun when people want to learn and have a good time. We (instructors) love skiing and enjoying sharing that passion with others.

My ideal ski day at DV is…

A “bluebird” day of crisp blue skies and deep, fresh, sparkling champagne powder. As I ride up on the chair I look in awe at the evergreen trees which are laden with snow, even the tiniest of branches on the aspen trees are decked with snow giving them a lacy, intricate look. Reaching the summit I stand there transfixed as my breath is taken away by the expansive beauty. I can’t believe how lucky I am to witness such grandeur.  On my descent the quality of the snow as I ski through it is so light it blows up in my face refreshing me with every turn. There is a unique quality to the sound as I fly through it, it is effervescent like my favorite bubbly. The snow is so light and deep I have the sense that I am floating weightlessly down the mountain, it feels velvety soft beneath my feet.   Skiing down the slope I am enveloped in a rich alpine environment  that gives me a welcome feeling. Off in the distance, I hear the call note of the chickadee, it is a sound I recognize and enjoy. I spot some animal tracks in the snow, giving hint of the activities from the night before.   This place I call home has a life of it’s own, and I feel energized by it. Every run is through virgin powder, putting a grin on my face that stretches from ear to ear. I ski until my legs feel like noodles and I can no longer go on.

On days like this I ski with: Skiing with my beau, Tom. First chair. First run is where ever the snow looks the deepest.

My go-to areas on the mountain are…

Sultan and Empire

Favorite groomer? 


Favorite trees? 

Anchor Trees

Must-have lunch break plan:

Empire Canyon Lodge. Salad Bar. Arnold Palmer. Chocolate-chip Cookie

My most treasured apres ski ritual is…Enjoying a nice cold beer and reflecting on an exceptional day feeling totally spent.

Best lessons learned as a ski instructor:

How to deal with a variety of people. Developing patience is key— every person has their own pace and learning styles. Maintaining a sense of humor when things go awry. Sharing my passion is contagious—that never changes.


Birthday Ski Day

I have a long-held birthday tradition of skiing the day away. Last year, I spent it with my new, wonderful friends who were my partners in crime at the Women’s Weekend ski clinic at Deer Valley.

This year, it fell on a Monday, and I was determined to play hooky from work and go ski. I put out a note on Facebook and a few text messages, and found some willing friends. Then, a voice piped up from the next room: “Mommy, I’ll go skiing with you, today!” I quickly recanted my nascent plans with friends to capitalize on some quality mommy-son time. Oh, I was so glad I did.

I was thrilled to see how quickly he sprung into action, assembling his gear, hunting high and low for Swedish Fish (priorities!) and buckling his own boots! [Seth Boots]

He insisted on being slope-ready before getting in the car. So, yes, dear reader, he rode to the mountain wearing his helmet and goggles. He was delighted by the tram-ride from the parking lot, and excited to introduce me to everyone he encountered. “This is Mommy!” he said, proudly. “It’s her birthday!”

Then, he launched into Cruise Director mode (wonder where he gets that from?), instructing me on the itinerary for the day. “Mama, we are gonna do Excess (oh, how I don’t ever want him to outgrow that particular nickname for Success run!) and then we are gonna ski to Candyland and then two runs on Wide West, one with the Race Course and then we can stop for lunch.”

Aye, aye captain. He delighted in leading me down the hill, creating hide-and-seek games that centered on hiding behind the “Slow” signs that Ski Patrol posts on the green runs. We talked lots about pizza and French fry turns—so much so that we ate pizza and fries for lunch in Snow Park Restaurant. Then he led the surrounding tables in serenading me with Happy Birthday. And then, it was back to the hill.

This time, he insisted we ski Last Chance—and he crushed it. He made up Jedi Force Field games to play all the way down (he’s a diehard Star Wars fan) and then, after we did the first part of Rosebud,  tried to convince me he could ski the bottom of Little Kate. Now, dear reader, there is nothing cooler than seeing your kid eyeball a ski run, contemplate it for a moment and look over his shoulder at you to say, “Let’s do it!” But Nervous Mommy won that battle. I know he could have skied it, but I worried about the fact that people would not expect a four year old making slow, deliberate turns as they whizzed down the run. “Next time!” I assured him. Of course, as we finished Rosebud, he spied some bigger kids taking a shortcut, and followed suit, arms raised, letting out a WHOOOOOOOOOO as he bombed down the hill. He then cut over to Wide West, did a few more CandyLand turns and discovered, at the bottom of the SunKid Conveyor Lift, a couch made of snow. He could not resist that, either.

When the day was done, he played at the bottom of Wide West, running around in his ski boots, using my poles to “hike” and “shovel,” and generally soaking up (in equal parts) sunshine and attention. As we arrived at the Tram stop turnaround under Snow Park, we were greeted by his favorite ski teacher, Greg, who had spent a well-earned day off skiing with a friend. Seth insisted they ride the tram with us (their car was parked in a walkable spot, but they couldn’t refuse)…and he boasted to them about all the runs he took me on. When I mentioned the Little Kate debate, Greg nodded, grinned and said, “Bari Nan, he’s ready.” Ok, but am I?

Skiing doesn’t have to be difficult!

If you still believe that skiing is hard to learn, long to master and also expensive, there is a way to change this misconception. During the month of January, Ski Mountains around the country, including Deer Valley Resort, offer a learn-to-ski program specially targeted to those who never had a chance to pick up the sport during their early years or when they couldn’t quite afford it.

I wish I had been able to learn skiing by taking some easier way and didn’t have to struggle as much as I did when I first encountered the sport. At that time, even though I lived in the Alps, there was no convenient and affordable program available for school-age kids like me and my modest beginnings on snow were placed under the banner of “teach yourself to ski,” with a wooden pair of skis handcrafted by my own dad, including a set of basic bear trap bindings with non-releasable cable clasps.

As for the conveniently located “beginner slope” next to the family house, it offered no lift of any kind to carry us to the top of a hill that consisted of a short and fairly steep slope, cut into the forest that surrounded a fairly large meadow. That ski run, a trench into the trees, was crowned with a makeshift jump. That’s right, it was almost as if I was expected to jump before I could even learn how to ski, but that’s how it was in these days. Then, the line between modern alpine skiing and Nordic remained still a bit blurred and jumping continued to be considered as being part of the total ski experience.

I don’t even remember exactly what I did, but I must have somehow practiced sliding on the snow and perfected a semblance of “hockey stop” before I dared to launch off that crude jumping hill. That’s right; I could descent and stop by making one single right-hand turn at the bottom of the hill (I’m a lefty…) In addition to my forays into catching big air off that jump, I also had to participate in some cross-country races which I hated with a passion, as my crude wooden skis and their bare bases could not perform nearly as well as the real cross-country skis owned by my most fortunate school mates.

So that’s how things began for me. Later, I remember working as a lift attendant during the school holidays. This entitled me to a free ski pass and that’s how I seriously learned how to ski – never with formal lessons – but through simple observation, imitation and sheer mileage. I wish I could have had access to some formal type of instruction, but it never came until the time I decided to become a ski instructor. Only then, did my technique get “corrected” and my terrible skiing “habits” unbent by some high ranking and very dogmatic “ski professors.”

Just a few days ago, as I was shooting a video about Katie Fredrickson taking her very first steps on skis, I was amazed by the evolution of the ski equipment now made available to beginners and by the markedly improved teaching methods that can, in just a couple of hours, turn a non-skier into someone able to evolve independently on snow and enjoy the thrills of sliding down some pretty long runs…

January is almost over, but it’s not too late for seizing the opportunity of learning how to ski in the very best environment and under the guidance of the most conscientious and talented ski instructors in America. If you or someone you know has been putting off that first day on skis forever, now might be the time to make that life-changing move. Just learn more about that great program and register yourself or your friends to the Learn-to-ski program at the Deer Valley Ski School. You’ll be glad you did it and your friends will thank you for it!