Women on Wednesday Ski Clinic

I’m already digging Women on Wednesday. I signed up hoping to find some more confidence in my skiing, and I found myself surrounded by women with the same goal. One classmate happens to be a pal, Kellie, with whom I don’t ever get to spend enough time, so: Bonus!

WoW blog picture

Here, my “High Five” to the program, thus far:

1. Those Wednesdays are stretching out in front of me with “practice” time in-between.

2. I’ve scored Donna McAleer, my friend and sometime ski companion, as an instructor. “Can you be taught by Donna?” my husband wondered, aloud, after the first night. “She’s a good friend, you’ve known her so long.” The answer is, without a doubt, yes. “She graduated from West Point,” I reminded him. “I’ll do what she says.” Also, she loves her job, loves to ski, and is a professional, fun teacher. This, I told him, was the easiest choice in the world.

3. Including Donna and myself, there are four New Englanders in our group. I could not help myself, saying aloud to one of them, “I love listening to you speak. It sounds like home.” Wicked awesome.

4. The method to Donna’s madness is brilliant. Our first day out offered us some rather “crunchy” snow. A little firm, and some patches with thin cover. Donna would not allow us to be daunted. In fact, if we skied a particularly gnarly trail, there was no question we would ski it a second time. “You spend the first run figuring out the terrain,” she explained. “Then you spend the second run using what you learned to ski it better.” She’s so right. I am the first person to say, after a “scratchy” run, “Let’s go find some softer snow.” But it’s the wrong tactic. Skiing something twice gives you confidence. Abandoning it after one run leaves you defeated.

5, I found out how to overcome the anxiety I feel when visibility is poor: Make the next turn. This seems obvious. But if you’ve ever gotten to the top of the run and thought, “How am I going to ski if I can’t SEE?” This tip is for you: You don’t need to see the whole run. You just need to be able to see one or two, maybe three, turns ahead of where you are. One is sufficient. I found myself in low visibility, repeating a mantra: “Make the next turn,” all the way down Nabob. It’s one of those skills we all have, but don’t realize. Yes, you can ski, safely and enjoyably, in minimal visibility.

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.

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.

 

YOU DESERVE A BREAK!

Calling all moms! Wives! Grandmas! Overworked singles! And any woman who’s ever booted up for a ski vacation only to find herself shying away from the harder terrain her spouse prefers to tackle. It’s time to step up your game.

I’m in for the Jan 28-30 Women’s Ski Weekend Clinic. You should be too.

Here’s why:

  1. The emphasis is on fun. Heck, the weekend kicks off with a get-to-know-you social. Ostensibly, it’s a chance for us to get to know the other students in the group. But I’m guessing it gives our instructors a chance to get to know us a bit—and we them—so that they know best how to communicate with us on the hill, and we have a sense of familiarity, too.
  2. You can’t knock it ‘til you try it.  No matter what your skill level, there’s bound to be terrain you feel leery of trying. I’m not one to suggest people improve by skiing terrain that’s notches above their ability zone, but I will say this: We tend to not push ourselves toward that which we find even slightly intimidating. Now, if you become proficient on any terrain, but decide, Hey, I am not a huge fan of bumps/steeps/powder skiing, I really prefer blue cruisers, no harm no foul. But who’s to say you won’t develop a passion for powpow, or get bitten by the bug of the Bowl? In heavy snow years like this one, I have seen more than one friend declare, “I can’t ski powder” and bench herself for entire days of her ski vacation. As a wise man once said: That ain’t right!
  3. You deserve a weekend to focus on you…not your work, not your family, not anything but you and the condition of your quadriceps, the relative merits of your skills on groomed and ungroomed runs, etc.
  4. You get the kind of detailed instructional attention usually reserved for the pros—from test-ski gear to video analysis, to body position checks, no stone is left unturned in the quest to improve our skiing. You’ll pick up fancy jargon to take home with your bragging rights to improved skiing.

Celebrate My Birthday with Me at the Women’s Ski Clinic!

In my house, January 1 marks not only the New Year, but the commencement of Birthday Month. My birthday month. I’m not one a woman who thinks birthdays are better ignored. Instead, I generally spend the entire month (the big day is on the 30th) planning my Birthday Ski Day. And, of course, Birthday Dinner at a Fabulous Restaurant.

This year, I’m planning—wait for it—Birthday Ski Weekend. That’s because the geniuses at the Deer Valley Ski School were kind enough to plan the first Women’s Weekend clinic for, yep, my 38th birthday celebration weekend. Turns out, it’s just all about me!

It’s also the closing weekend of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, which is, hands down, the busiest 10-day stretch of my other life as an entertainment journalist. Work-wise, closing weekend holds the quietest couple of days of the ten, so I will cap off a week of seeing my colleagues from both coasts, screening the year’s coolest indie films, interviewing directors and actors, and visiting VIP lounges… with skiing, skiing and more skiing. I can’t think of a better setup.

I’m going to have lots to say about Women’s Ski Weekend over the next few weeks…but, all narcissism aside, I have compelling reasons to attend the clinic.

Here are a few:

  1. I have a seven year-old skier. He’s in his fifth season. He likes to go into the trees. I know there are more challenges ahead, and I want to be ready….because the leaps and bounds of improvement he made week-to-week in last year’s Sunday Ski Experience were just a taste of what’s to come this year. And I do not want to be the mom who cramps his style.
  2. My skiing ability has hit a bit of a plateau in the last few years. Part of that is my local’s attitude toward skiing—improvement is often a function of hours on the hill. Experience breeds confidence, and confidence breeds improvement. And I could use an infusion of both.
  3. I loved summer camp as a kid. Just ask my many friends whom I originally met at summer camp. Spouse included. Making new friends thrilled me then as it does now. So bonding with other women over a shared love of sport seems like the ultimate way to make the most of a learning experience.
  4. For once, I want to focus on my game, and only my game. Family ski days, as you know, are equal parts exhaustion, exasperation and exhilaration. And the days I head out with my kids do not find me focusing on my own form—or even tackling terrain that’s a notch outside my comfort zone. In a few years, that’s likely to be the case, since I’m planting the seeds for it now. But that doesn’t change the “now.” So carving out a couple of days to really push myself will be a nice break from the routine.

What? You say you worry you’re not good enough to take a Women’s Clinic? That, my friends, is patently untrue. The weekend is set up to cater to all abilities. All you have to bring is your desire to learn. That’s it.