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:

Empire Canyon Grill with Andrew Fletcher

Deer Valley is lucky to see visits from both loyal locals and returning out-of-towners. Many guests return each season with specific traditions that they must incorporate into their Deer Valley experience. A best kept secret for many skiing at Deer Valley is Empire Canyon Grill, located in the Empire Canyon Lodge, tucked away at the base of Empire Canyon Express Chairlift.

We caught up with Andrew Fletcher, Empire Day Sous Chef to share his favorite things about Empire Canyon Grill and Deer Valley.

When did you come to Deer Valley?

I arrived at Deer Valley in November of 1998 for one ski season, and have been here ever since.

What does a perfect ski day mean to you?

Any day on the slopes!  If you are cold you can come inside and warm up by the fire.  If it is sunny you can sit out on the deck.  You can always find the perfect run at DV no matter what day it is.

What is your favorite thing on the menu at Empire Grill?

The Steak Baguette at the specialty grill.

Who is your favorite person to ski with?

My wife and daughter.

What is your must have treat at Deer Valley?

A beer on the Empire or Sliver Lake deck after a day of skiing.

What run is a must for every ski day?

Magnet on Lady Morgan.

What is your most memorable chairlift ride?

I was once on a chair with two men who had just retired and were going to ski every resort in the U.S. that season.

Empire Canyon Grill is open during the ski season for continental-style breakfast from 9:15 – 11 a.m. daily, featuring fresh pastries, homemade granola and beverages including espresso, latte and cappuccino. Open for lunch from 11 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., offering a traditional and gourmet grill, Natural Salad Buffet, soup, chilies, paninis and fresh baked goods.  Afternoon snacks are available until 3:30 p.m.

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.”

Good to Great with 15 inches of New Snow!

This weekend saw our second “major” snow storm of the year, so after clearing my driveway and dressing for the weather, I went out to Deer Valley to assess the results.

The snow kept on pounding the mountain all afternoon and as the hills were shrouded in a mystical cloud cover, I chose to stay in the forested areas of the resort and skied an unprecedented ten “Centennial Trees” runs, non-stop and during each and every one of them, I literally let myself go, bouncing from turn to turn as if I were a ball bouncing down some stairways, in that fluffy, out-of-this-world and so forgiving soft matter…

It felt as if I had received some magic powers and as if gravity as we know it had suddenly lost its sting. There was no stump too high, no drop too steep for me not to embrace in total confidence. I suddenly felt as if I had become invincible and had received a license to “cheat…”  Yet, after the first couple of runs, I started to feel hot; that’s right, with all the powder I had to work much harder than usual.

At each turn, the abundant snow on all sides of my skis, my boots and my legs had to be moved around and was pushing back. At the same time, I had too be twice as concentrated as I watched like a hawk for hidden obstacles, sudden drops and of course, huge trees!   That day, 15 inches of new snow were measured and I rediscovered that unmistakable and special sensation of feeling deep powder hugging my lower legs.

What were imposing moguls 24 hours prior had been neutralized and didn’t amount to much anymore, the few twigs still emerging were now dwarfed and far less intimidating, the forbidding stumps were now totally covered and turned into fat snowmen and the rare rocks had magically sunk to the bottom.

All around me, there was a brand new ski world, and more than ever before, I took the time to appreciate every second of my descents!

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!

Upping the Ante on Bribes

By now, dear reader, you know that I am never on the mountain without a stash of bribery candy in my pockets. So I’m thrilled to report that Deer Valley has given me some new ammo in this department. Quincy’s–a kids’ self-service frozen yogurt bar, complete with exciting (and classic!) toppings like gummy bears and crushed Oreo cookies, is located in the Next Gen boutique across the hall from the lower level locker room and bag check.  

I had hinted to my kids of its existence on a recent ski day—and as soon as we finished our runs, my kids asked, “Did we earn some frozen yogurt?” They loved choosing their flavors and toppings—Don’t tell our orthodontist, but even Big Guy, who had acquired braces earlier in the week, partook of the sweets. He’s a chocoholic, so the fudge sauce suited him just fine. “Mom, don’t worry,” he assured me, as I broke the news to him that gummy and crunchy toppings were not on his menu. “Fudge sauce definitely counts as a topping in my book.” Yes, Dr. Maxfield, we brushed copiously upon our return home!

The yogurt café sits behind a knee wall within NextGen. Naturally, I took the opportunity to browse for items in my size—petite types get away with shopping in the kids’ store and, yes, in the kids’ sizes, too. I was impressed with the variety of style and price points. Meanwhile, our style-conscious Little Guy took the opportunity to peruse the merchandise from his yogurt-eating perch.

“Look!” he demanded. “Look. At. That. JACKET! It’s super-cool. I want it.”

Ski Dad and I had to admit, it was super-cool. Brown pleather bomber jacket with tons of Top Gun-style patches and a faux-fur lining. I could almost hear Tom Cruise and Anthony Edwards shouting, “I feel the need, the need…for…SPEED!” Which could not be more appropriate for the type of “bombing” down the hill that Little Guy had displayed just half an hour earlier. Quickly, he lost interest in his yogurt and demanded that he be allowed to try it on.

As he put the jacket on, he assumed a “tough guy” stance and a grin as big as they get.

Needless to say, Hanukkah came a few days early.

Opening Weekend

Most people took advantage of the bluebird (and frigid) day on Dec 3 to celebrate opening weekend at Deer Valley. My family waited for the storm.

My chat with a friend at Celebrity Ski Fest the day before, about skiing with kids on warm, sunny days is best, was ringing in my ears. So, too, was a chat with Ski Uncle, on the phone an hour earlier. “I like that you take them out in all kinds of weather—it makes them tough!”

Really, they’re both right. For the very littlest skiers, sunny, warm days are best. It takes the sting out of standing around/falling around on the snow if the sun is shining. However, on a colder day, you, the parent, don’t overheat as easily from all of the bending, lifting and overall schlepping activity that comes along for the ride. Also, if you’re sticking to the bunny hill, visibility isn’t an issue on a stormy day—and without fair-weather skiers on the hill, it’s simply less crowded. Which leads me to the best payoff of all…More fresh snow for those of us willing to “brave it.”

Sure, I wasn’t getting a lot of buy in from my Little Guy as we started layering up at home. But I made a strategically ostentatious stop in the pantry during gear-up. “What’s that??” My kids asked, as I extracted the Ziploc bag of leftover Halloween candy (really!) from the shelf. “Prizes! For the Rothchild Olympics! Who’s gonna win the race on Wide West?!” Suddenly, my too-jaded-for-the-bunny-hill Big Guy was clamoring, and my reluctant Little Guy (who, I suspected, couldn’t remember how much he loved flying down the hill the previous two years) was Ready To Ski.

Once we were booting up in Snow Park, we had a few other challenges to overcome. Ski Dad, for instance, had left his asthma inhaler at home—and miserably resigned himself to the role of Spectator in Chief. My heart broke a little—he looked crestfallen. Then, Little Guy recoiled (loudly, with dramatic screams) from the unfamiliar pain of putting on awkward, tight ski boots. Yes, I should have let him play with them at home. But I got lazy.

My friend Edo, one of Deer Valley’s experienced ski instructors, stopped by the table to offer some words of encouragement, and then whispered to me, “Usually we try four times and then we stop trying.” It turns out, the stopping is the key to success.

“Ok, you can just hang with Daddy, then,” I said, cheerfully. “More prizes for Lance!”

“No, I can put on my boots! I’m ready to ski.” Or eat candy. But who’s counting. It worked. And we were on the hill.

Not without incident. “I am terrible at skiing!!!” Wailed little guy, as he took off at the top of Wide West and promptly fell down. I definitely spend a minute or two cursing myself that we hadn’t taken the conveyor lifts for a warm-up spin. Everyone was just so excited about the chairlift ride, that I got carried away. “I am soooo bad at this!” He complained, as he fell again and again.

A few reminders about using “Superman” arms when skiing forward, and “Airplane” arms to make the turn, and he was off to conquer the race course. By run’s end, he was begging for more. He’d also made a friend in the lodge, and had a blast calling out to little Jack from the chairlift. “Go, Jack, Go!” shouted my boys.

Big Guy, of course, was a little bored on the bunny hill, but managed to be a good sport about the fact that we needed to keep it simple that day. Little Guy had skied so hard by lunch that a meltdown was nearly guaranteed if we left him with Dad in the lodge to go ski on the big hill. Not. Worth. It.

I followed my favorite “quit while I’m ahead” ski-parenting strategy , and home we went.  On the way home, candy prizes were distributed, and compliments were passed out.

“I liked your focus and determination on the hill, Seth!”

“Mom,” he said. “Falling is good learning!”

“Lance, your first run this year was better than your last run last year—because you grew, you’re stonger,” I said.

“Plus, mom, I rode my bike a lot and I think karate is helping me, too,” said Big Guy. “I’ve got much better balance.”

 

 

Gear Mania

As I was wondering if I should get some new skis this season, I saw a full ski rack inside my garage and the first order of business would be to make some room for a new pair. Since I can’t decide which pair I should get rid of, this becomes an easy decision to make. For a while, I had considered embarking on the rocker-ski adventure, but as I have shared before on this blog, I’m still hesitating about that design and while I can appreciate these skis might help me greatly in bottomless powder, I still have a few unresolved issues with them.

First, and as I’ve also said before, the longer rocker design won’t fit my car ski-box! The other part of my dilemma is that I have fallen in love with Deer Valley’s tree skiing and not just its nicely gladed runs, but the more challenging, tight turning skiing like the one found in Centennial trees. Rocker skis are a bit longer than regular boards, and when the turning radius gets tighter, every extra inch that stick in the front or in the back might be just enough to grab the next spruce or aspen that happens to be in the way.

To top it off, I still can’t picture myself riding these curvaceous boards on corduroy, moguls and hard-pack as I get to, or return from my powder stashes. All these good reasons mean that I’ll continue to use my semi-fat skis (90 mm under the foot) for another season. Hopefully, I’ll be able to eventually get used to the feeling and move to a shorter length as I also get a bit older, but frankly, I’m not ready yet and may have to labor at tiny bit more while in deep powder!

I hope you’ll fully understand my position with regard to double-ski-camber designs: I’m intellectually and practically not ready for them yet! Since I am all set and very happy with my current poles, the only area that is left for me to worry about is that other, all-important piece of equipment, the ski boots. Mine are still okay and I can see another full season in their sort-term future. This year, I will just add to my closet a pair of specialized boots that I’ll use for accomplishing other tasks. That’s right, I want to seriously get into alpine touring this season…
I already own a pair of skis dedicated to that pursuit, complete with skins and special bindings, and the only missing component is the pair of touring boots that I just purchased today. Will I use that “AT gear” – as it’s called – in the middle of winter? Probably not very often, but as April rolls around and Deer Valley Resort closes for the season, I intend to be all over the back-country, exploring ridges, bowls and glades where snow will continue to linger during the following weeks and even months. This will keep me fit and prolong a season that never begins early enough and always ends far too soon!