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? 

Tycoon

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.

 

Leap Year Birthday Boy

Leap Year is now my favorite holiday—because it means that we get an extra ski day every four years! In honor if Leap Year, I’m introducing you to Deer Valley’s own…Leap Baby. He has skied at Deer Valley for ten years—which is astounding, considering he’s only having his third birthday this year. He has two younger siblings, Natalie and Ethan, both of whom have had more birthdays than Jack. While you struggle with the mental math, get to know my favorite Leap Boy!

Name: Jack Rubenstein, parents: Robert and Katia Rubenstein

Hometown: Hollywood, FL; He and his family are part-time Parkites, and they’re planning to celebrate Jack’s Bar Mitzvah next year (birthday confusion notwithstanding) at Temple Har Shalom in Park City.

Age: 3 or 12, depending on how you count.

Years skiing: 10

Happy Third Birthday Jack! What’s the best part of being a Leap Baby?
Thanks! The best part, probably, is not getting very old so soon, and I get to celebrate my birthday all week for three other years because I don’t have an official birthdate.

What are your three favorite runs to ski at Deer Valley?
Chute 1/ Daly Bowl
Chute 2
X-Files

What is your favorite restaurant for lunch at Deer Valley? And what is your favorite thing to eat there?
Royal Street Cafe- Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Sandwich with Hot Fudge
Stein Eriksen’s Buffet- everything

What is your favorite dinner restaurant at Deer Valley?
Seafood Buffet- I love the prime rib and shrimp and king crab. (Don’t forget the homemade whip cream at dessert!)

How many cocoa breaks do you like to take during a ski day?
Are you kidding? I’m here to ski not drink cocoa!!!!!

Which runs do you ski better than your dad
All of them. (Mostly, moguls.)

What is your favorite part of skiing with your dad?
Waiting for him at the bottom!

What is your favorite part of skiing with your whole family?
Ummmmmm…..

Do you like bumps or groomers?
Bumps

What do you want to be when you grow up?
I have no clue, I am only three years old.

What are you looking forward to about having your Bar Mitzvah in Park City?
The party, skiing, and getting presents

What is your favorite memory about skiing at Deer Valley?
Going down Chute 10 for the first time.

Mahre Training Clinic Part 2

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

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

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

Sunday was EPIC.

There were face shots.

It was POW-erful good skiing.

And Ep-ic.

I shredded that POW.

I shredded, hard, man.

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

(Photo by Ryan Voight)

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

Um, yes.

“Plant your pole, Nan.”

“Make a longer turn, Nan.”

“Be taller! Be TALLER!”

“Stay loose!”

“Good! Like THAT!!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Note from Our President on President’s Day

To celebrate President’s Day and the height of the winter, we met up with Deer Valley Resort President, Bob Wheaton to get an update on this ski season.

What a year it has been! We’ve continued to invest each season in the resort’s snowmaking system, and this season the system was certainly put to the test! The team we have at the resort in every aspect of our operations is second to none and this becomes increasingly evident when Mother Nature sends us a curve ball. Prior to the welcomed storm cycle, I have certainly been enjoying the Deer Valley corduroy this year, while curving lines on Stein’s Way and Magnet.

I hope many were able to get out and experience our VISA Freestyle International World Cup event the first week of February. We added another evening event with moguls on Thursday. It is always a thrill to see the events under the lights. The event means a lot of extra work for staff but we are thrilled to host such an amazing group of athletes from around the world. Our partnerships with FIS (International Ski Federation) and with the US Ski Team are great for the resort.

The President’s Day holiday means March and spring skiing are right around the corner. In the Wasatch spring also brings its share of powder days. Whether its spring corn or fluff  I am looking forward to being on the mountain and enjoying the amazing efforts of the Deer Valley Team.

Hope to see you out there!

Bob Wheaton shares one of his favorite powder stashes:

Mahre Training Clinic Part 1

My Intermediate Days Are Behind Me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I looked at him with a puzzled expression.

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

Um, what?

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

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

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

He nodded. He left it alone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, you should,” Steve said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Valentine’s Day Crush

My friend Josh likes the action verb “crush.”

But his version is more rockstar than cupid.

Let me explain:

When I bump into him and his son, Jack, at Deer Valley, he looks at me with a hint of irony and says, “We’re going to CRUSH Success!” And Jack, on cue, pipes up with a manly growl. Or, the best impersonation of a manly growl that an adorable seven year-old orange belt in karate can muster. Which is beyond cute.

And, yes, the kid can CRUSH a ski run.

And, so, in the spirit of Josh, Jack and Deer Valley skiers everywhere—and with apologies to David Letterman—I bring you:

Bari Nan’s “Top Ten Deer Valley Runs I Love to Crush….”

•Mountaineer

It’s longish and uncrowded; it’s got a couple of killer, empowering steep pitches. It carves like a champ.

 •Stein’s Way on a powder day

Yes, this is the run that inspires bragging rights. And while it’s a killer groomed run, nothing—and I mean nothing beats it on a powder day. When I have the top section to myself and I can bounce around in the powder, I sing while I ski. (Apologies to anyone in earshot…I can’t really carry a tune. But I can’t stop myself. I’m having too much fun). The pitches and dips on that run ride the way I would imagine a series of perfect rip-curl waves might ride…if I were a surfer. Which, for the record, I’m not.

•Tycoon

Steep, fast, and …steep. And long enough that if my form starts to tank, I have time to recover it and save face before I get to the bottom.

 •Supreme

Yes, I bust out the occasional Diana Ross tune while I make my turns here. There’s usually a little powder to be found on far skier’s left. Just enough to make it playful. There’s a neat little jug handle around the left side of the first mini-glade, and then three steeps that alternate with stretches I like to call “recovery flats.” Ski Dad and I did laps on Supreme a couple of weeks ago—and I’m still daydreaming about it.

 •Lucky Jack

Gladed rolling terrain unfurls after an initial quick, gentle drop. I’ll follow my kids through the trees on Ruby’s Tail or pick different lines to weave around the trees on Jack-proper. And, as with Supreme, the reward lies at the bottom…Empire Canyon Grill, home of the perfectly-crisp handmade potato chip. (You knew there would be food, right?)

 •Lucky Star

An excuse to sing Madonna while I cruise? Nuff said.

 •Blue Bell to Silver Buck to Star Gazer to Gemini

This run never fails to make me smile. The terrain starts out pretty mild, and ramps up as you turn down Star Gazer. And Star Gazer and Gemini are seldom crowded, so it can be fun to do laps here. And if I like the six or so turns on Star Gazer that link Silver Buck to Gemini, I’ll make sure that I finish the next lap by skiing Star Gazer all the way to the bottom. Then, I’ll scoot right onto Red Cloud Lift, eyeball the bumps below and see how brave I’m feeling (and whether there’s much life left in my legs).

If I’ve got the urge, I put a pin in it for a minute. Why?

•Star Gazer, top to bottom. That’s why. It’s usually good for two laps—three if it’s not crowded. After which, I slide into the line for Quincy Express, and make my way around the top of Ontario, and cut across the field, through the trees to my favorite run on the mountain.

•Hidden Treasure

I’m never bored here—powder or groomed, it’s a favorite run. Sometimes I’ll ski the top, then cut through the trees on skier left into Square Deal, making some gladed turns before opening up on the bumps. Other days, I’ll wait to cut into the bumps until they pop up after the trees toward the bottom of the run. It’s about 10 bump-turns to the bottom—just enough to say I crushed ‘em.

Finally, I’m ready to head home…

Solid Muldoon-to-Dew Drop-to-Little-Kate

It is, perhaps, my favorite way to (attempt) to end the day. It usually takes three tries. Because the first time, I am riding the high that comes from carving the top of Solid Muldoon, sliding across Success through the safety gates at the top of Dew Drop to the pitch that I know I should do with no turns, except that I can’t NOT turn. Weaving through the trees, finding little pow stashes at skier’s right and then zooming back across Success to Little Kate feels, strangely, like “home.” Or, rather, like I’ve just stolen home. By then, it’s 50/50 whether I’ll crush it or bottom out on my form from sheer fatigue. Which means there’s 100 percent chance I’ll do two more runs. One in which I’ll make a last-minute executive decision to do Solid Muldoon top-to-bottom, at speed. And the second, in which I’ll attempt to either redeem myself on Kate or relive the CRUSH.

Now…tell me what’s your Deer Valley crush run?

 

Old Friends

Well today couldn’t have been a better day to ski, with some fresh snow a couple days ago and sunny skies. My teammate for many years is in town on a “girl’s weekend. “Lucky for her, she gets to come ski with friends and is free of family duties for a few days.

Today was one of those days you realize the kind of relationship you have after 10 years of competing with someone. We haven’t skied together since 1994 and as we discussed the word “skiing together” we realized the definition had changed since then. We were not at the same place skiing and working together, we weren’t trying to be on the training course first, trying to have the fastest training time or trying to make sure you get one of the spots for the next race.

It was relaxing and full of laughs reminiscing about times on the road. I think her girlfriends thought we were crazy (at least me, since I did crash their party). As I reflect what it means to ski with Diann for a day I couldn’t help but think this is a lifetime friendship where we have shared so much.

I remember when I scored my first World Cup points, she was there to reinforce that if I kept going I could have a successful career. I witnessed her winning her SG gold medal in Lillehammer; she made it look so easy (It didn’t work out the same way for me, ha!)We shared our disappointments of injury and battling back and our highs when good results came our way. She even asked me for parental advice for her three year old. Now that’s a bond!

You can share so much and never realize until you’re out of the elements. A highlight of the day was our last run skiing down Big Stick. She began skiing the face and I jumped in after her. Unfortunately she didn’t get to see this, but it was as if we were the only two on the hill. Her movement into the next turn was the same movement forward I made; her next turn was the same time I began and so on… her girlfriends came down and said how cool that was to watch. The funny thing was we didn’t plan it! 

The best part of the day was when we met each other and saw we both had a yellow coat on and white warm-ups! My fault as she is traveling and I have a closet to choose from. I guess once a teammate in the same uniform, always a teammate!

 

 

The Good Side of Hard Snow

For those of us who’ve only known fluffy, powdery snow, this early season may bring a different experience, and while our snow-makers and groomers have worked wonders all over Deer Valley Resort, it may be difficult to fully experience these brand new “rocker skis” that some us got from Santa, until heaven dumps its next supply of bottomless powder. For one, I’m far from complaining. I’ve been more than twenty times on my skis this season and on each occasion; my actual experience has exceeded my expectations.

The added benefit of this year’s capricious weather is that the harder ski surface has forced me to pay greater attention to my technique and to the tuning of my equipment. It’s absolutely true that skiing in Utah makes all of us a little bit lazy and complacent. We lean or bank into a turn and that’s generally what it takes. Our minimalist technique often provokes sarcasm from Eastern skiers that sometimes don’t mince their words and will go as far as saying that Utahans can’t ski.  Granted, New England skiers are generally speaking better technicians, as most of them have learned to get a good grip on ice and make all of the right moves that a hard snow-pack requires. In the West and particularly in the Rockies where blue ice doesn’t even exist, our compacted powder is often called “ice,” and most of us have little idea about the hard-facts of hard-snow.

Perhaps this particular moment is another great opportunity to make sure our equipment is in tip-top shape, with skis tuned right for these more exacting conditions, boots fit snugly, custom insoles updated and buckles shut tight so there is nothing that can flop around or is left to chance.  Nothing that a qualified ski shop technician couldn’t do for us.   From a skier’s standpoint, we’re still building up our skiing legs in this early part of the season and are often the product of a those bad habits picked here and there, all these years on our legendary bottomless powder.

Now is the perfect opportunity to spend some time learning, or reviewing, the hard facts about super solid snow.  Learning what “keeping an edge” means, getting familiar with what “chattering skis” mean and what can be done about it, learning how to be brief, quick and finally getting the upper hand on that gentler cousin of “ice” that is Utah hard snow.  After all, a visit to the Deer Valley Ski School might be an excellent idea to review all these important basic elements…

That’s right, a good refresher course might be all what’s needed, because as we all know, great skiers don’t need to be told, they just have to be reminded, from time to time.  I for one, have decided to focus all of my skiing efforts to becoming a real ace on our gentler version of “ice.”   But don’t delay; do it now before the next snow fall spoils all these great plans!

Wide West Mania!

I’ve said it before—skiing gets the grumpies out.

There is no question we headed out to the mountain in snippy moods.

In spite of the promise of my shiny new boots, I was a little grumpy myself—for no apparent reason.

We took so long to get out of the house (add that to the reasons we were grumpy), that by the time we got to the mountain, it was lunch time. Baked Potato soup did a great job setting me straight, let me tell you!

Soon, I was back in Jans getting my boots fitted to my ski bindings. Boot Dude would not let me slide into the boots without parking them on the boot heaters for 5 minutes. Then, a quick review lesson in how to put them on. Apparently peeling them open from the collar, stuffing in the foot and then stomping down, hard, is NOT the preferred method. Nope…one should pull apart the leaves of the boot at the ankle, and the foot will slip into place, no problem. Yes, a quick kick-down on the heel is permitted. I’m now ruined forever for cold boots. I’m even considering splurging on a heated boot bag. Hear me out—Boot Dude said you can toss in boots, helmet and gloves, plug it in and it will dry and warm the whole lot. You can even plug it into the AC adapter in the car. Which is perfect for my ski days without the family—I really, truly prefer to boot up at the car, for reasons I can’t even explain.

Let me just say, the boots did not disappoint. The purple color made me smile (and ski better, I’m sure of it.) And the ski day, overall, was a huge success. Sunshine and sweet smiles of accomplishment from my kids go a long way to erasing a foul mood.

We tried out every obstacle on the hill—from the race course to Candyland, to a bumps area and even the new SunKid conveyor lifts. What a hoot! Plus, as the day wound to its end, Bucky made a surprise appearance. Apparently, he’s camera shy, so I couldn’t grab a photo at the top of the flower-pinwheel racecourse he and his pals had set up. My kids were thrilled to earn a prize just for agreeing to run the whirling “gates”—bubbles!

And the day ended in smiles!

 

Comfortably Snug

I have yet to meet a skier who didn’t have a boot-fitting horror story to share. In fact, on the Vacation that Changed Everything, my husband (who was several years away from becoming “ski dad”) had so much foot pain that he almost gave up on our first day out. Fortunately, we had a ski instructor who knew the drill—a good boot fitting (or re-fitting, in our case) can change the way you ski, for good. A name was passed, and the vacation was saved.

We’ve all got a story like this. We got a bad fit, or we have skied too many days (years?) in boots whose linings are packed out beyond repair. I’m guilty of the latter crime. My boots, custom and dialed-in as they were more than eight years ago—that’s right, just after the birth of my first son—had nothing left to give. This was probably true at least a full season ago, but I didn’t understand it until I tried on new boots. Mind you, I didn’t buy them right away, but as soon as I donned my “old faithfuls” for opening weekend, I knew. I was committing every possible boot-wearing crime—the most egregious of which was clamping down buckles until I felt secure, so that my feet, ankles and knees (and, thus, my hips) were whacked way out of alignment. This, I decided, would not do.

I was, it turned out, over my emotional attachment to my boots. They’d served me well. But my dear friend and ski guru Steven pointed out, “we can find new favorites if we just try something new.” The switch flipped. I was ready to find new ski-boot love.

And what do you need to find love? Well, you need a good matchmaker. Because that’s really what a boot fitter is—someone who is ready to help you find the right boot match for your foot. Deer Valley Resort has plenty of venues for matchmaking. Notably, none of them are known for speed-dating you into boots. This is for good reason. I’ve always been partial to the guys at Jans. You can argue the virtues of your favorite shop, and I’ll believe you. But, the truth is, all skiers have their “shop,” and Jans is mine. Still, it’s not necessarily important that you shop there—just learn from my experience and demand the same level of attention from “your” shop. Good? Good.

Now, “my” guy likes to think he flies a little under the radar. (We’ll call him Boot Fitting Guy to help preserve his anonymity.) People march into the store and demand his attention—and he’s excellent at keeping people in “queue,” without making them feel like they’re being kept waiting. He’s lauded by his colleagues as the go-to guy, and he’s quick to deflect the praise right back at them. I’m not going to try to referee, but suffice it to say, you can trust that even if he’s not directly fitting your boot, he’s involved in the fitting. I’ve seen it—the guys move seamlessly between clients, offering a supportive, “good idea,” or concurring on a fit diagnostic.  Bottom line: Look for a shop that welcomes collaboration, where there isn’t one “rock star,” to whom all others pale in comparison.

My fitting went something like this:

My feet were measured. Yes, one is larger than the other. This is common.

We singled out the boot that I had researched—I’d even had the chance to try it on before the season started—The Fischer Zephyr90. Several other boots came along for the ride.

Before we put the boots on, Boot Fitting Dude gave me a quick primer on my feet, and how there are three Zones (Video) we should be concerned with.

Zone One: The instep and the shin. The instep, in case you’re confused, is the TOP of the foot, right in the middle. The underside is called the arch.

Zone Two: Heel, Achilles, and Calf

Zone Three: Toes.

“Don’t jump around. If you do, I’ll make you buy me a Deer Valley Cookie.” Since I’d already shelled out for my kids to raid the candy counter at the front of the store (yes, I was brave enough to bring them shopping—after we’d spent the afternoon on the cross country tracks at White Pine Touring—no, I’m not above bribery to keep the peace), this got my attention.

We slid my left foot into the The Fischer Zephyr90, and my right into an Atomic model. The Fischer felt like a snug, comfy slipper. The Atomic felt decidedly more “tight,” and I could already feel my toes crowding. I started to mention this, and the Dude (with apologies to Jeff Bridges) piped up with, “I’m starting to taste that cookie.” So I shut up.

Checking Zones in my Boots (Video)

Zone 1: Fischer boot offered no extra pressure on the instep. Nice. Atomic boot gave me a little pressure on that instep.

Zone 2: Fischer boot’s collar wasn’t too tight around my calves, cradled my heel and supported my Achilles without any pinch. This last bit felt like a revelation. Atomic boot gave that little pinch.

Zone 3: Ok, finally, I could talk toes. I flexed into position and found my toes sliding back from the tips of each boot. This is a good sign. The Atomic, in ski position, didn’t make as much contact with my toes as it did when I was standing straight. Still, I didn’t love the feel. Fischer, on the other hand? It worked. (Video)

Some things I learned as we continued on to the other boots: The collar of the boot should not be super-tight around the calves. Any time you clamp too tightly—either across the top of the foot or around the collar of the boot—you risk cutting off circulation, and thus making your feet too cold and cramp-prone.

Buckles should be “finger tight.” If you’re wrestling to close the buckle, it’s too tight. It will cut off circulation, and you will suffer through however many runs you manage before you hobble into the lodge for sweet relief.

And, the boot fit should be comfortably snug. My ski guru, Steven, and the Dude agreed that whether a person is buying boots or getting them from a rental shop, they need to be fully indoctrinated into the idea that the boot is “comfortably snug,” or it won’t function properly. Believe it or not, this means you can, technically, ski without closing the buckles on top of your foot.

Finally, the Dude told me something crucial. “Your boot will warm and soften as you ski,” he said. “It will feel looser. Resist the urge to tighten the buckle by moving the clasp over to the next notch. Instead, open the buckle and twist the micro-adjustment (the buckle will actually swivel on a stem) to the left.” As in, righty tighty, lefty loosey. Make one or two rotations, clip back into the same notch, and see if you’re more comfortable. Repeat as necessary.

Now, I’m completely stoked to try the boots.

I’ve been instructed to ski a couple of days in them before we start customizing them—I’ll need new footbeds, and we’ll see what other adjustments might be needed after I ski in them a couple of days.