Some of my favorite combinations in life can be described as perfect partnerships: peanut Butter and Jelly. My boys, when they’re getting along well. In skiing, there are a couple of “perfect partnerships” every skier should cultivate. One is an instructor who “gets” you and whose style suits yours. The other is a good shop that can guide you through the care and feeding of you ski gear quiver rather than just sell you what you think you want, or tell you what you think you want to hear.
The 2014 – 2015 season was my second year skiing Women on Wednesday, and when my two favorite “perfect partnerships” came together at the program’s welcome reception, I knew I was in for a treat. Jans Mountain Outfitters hosts the reception in their Snow Park Lodge store. Instructors and students mingle, meet and clinic veterans reconnect. I was happy to see Terri and Darlene, two members of the group I skied with the first year. And then, Donna—wonderful Donna McAleer. “The band is back together!” we shrieked (really, we did). I told them, excitedly, that our friend Kellie would be there in the morning, too. As far as I’m concerned, skiing with Donna is proof that perfect partnerships exist, especially when I think about the time we “lucked into” a ski day together, a couple of years ago.
We toasted our good fortune and then turned our attention to the excellent gear-head pep-talk from the Yoda of Jans Mountain Outfitters, Scott. (If, you know, Yoda were not short, green and hairy, but rather tall, gentle and genial.) “Please take advantage of the demo day we offer you,” he urged. “Finding the right pair of skis when you’re getting this level of instruction, can improve your skiing dramatically.” He also underscored the importance of a well-fitted boot.
He urged us to take advantage of the excellent tuning department. “Yes, I enjoy some privileges, but I will tell you that I never go out on the mountain without freshly-waxed skis,” he explained. “It makes the equipment work for you.” At that moment, I made a mental note to bring my skis in for a wax at the end of the following day. I’d logged more runs than I realized and the bottoms of my skis were, in fact, begging for some attention.
On day one there was a welcome breakfast, during which the catch-up continued, and students and instructors discussed goals for the five-week session. “We’re all here to have fun,” said Kelly, who supervises the Women on Wednesdays program. “So speak up if you’re not, so we know how to make it better.”
At the buffet, I bumped into a woman who had skied program the year before as well. “Wait a minute, I remember you,” she said. “Aren’t you an amazing skier?”
“Well, if you put it that way, of course I am!” I joked with her. “You’re my favorite, don’t tell the others!”
With my ego pumped, my pals Kellie, Terri and Darlene by my side, and the prospect of a sunny day on the slopes, I was ready to take on the day. A fun morning of get-to-know-you lift rides, including a warm up run on Success ski run, and a ski-off on Big Stick ski run, and we were split into our groups. We urged another woman to come join us with Donna. “We need a drummer!” someone said. “Come be our Ringo!”
Four instructors—two Advanced and two Expert—led us to the top of the double blue section of Big Stick, and we were told each group’s goals. Expert groups would spend the majority of their time, conditions permitting, off-piste, and likely in the Daly Chutes. “We’ll work on fundamentals on the groomers, double blues and blacks. So we can build confidence in every kind of conditions and terrain,” Donna said to the Advanced groups. “My group will go off piste, into moguls and probably the Chutes.” My heart skipped a beat, but I reminded myself this was a longer term goal, that Donna would build our group into a team that would be ready for the challenge by the time it presented itself. “Let’s go!” She said, as she prepared to make her first turn down Big Stick. “The Band is back together!”
All morning, Donna led us down double blue ski runs, Tycoon and Jordanelle were my two favorites. I love her “Ski it twice” mantra. If you like the conditions, ski it again. If you don’t like them? Ski it again because now you know how to adjust for the terrain.
By lunchtime, we were ready for a break—and lots of water, since we’d spent most of the day in the sunshine. The first day of Women on Wednesdays, we eat in Silver Lake Lodge, taking our trays to the Mariposa dining room, so that the instructors and students can compare notes on the morning. Instructors compare notes on the skiers they’re coaching, to make sure that everyone is placed in groups from which they will learn the most. And, as I learned, the resort uses this moment to make sure the groups are split into the promised 4 – 6 students-per-instructor ratio. “I’ve really enjoyed the morning skiing with you, but I want you to listen to what Kelly, who supervises this program, has to say,” she explained.
Kelly noted that if we wanted to remain as a group of seven, then we’d need to sign a paper that acknowledged that we were not getting the ratio we’d paid for. “Deer Valley wants to honor its promise to you,” Kelly said. “And we want to ensure a great experience.”
“I don’t care what I have to sign, I’m staying with you!” I announced to Donna—and the whole table. Everyone laughed, but I was dead serious. Still, It broke the ice enough for others to speak up. One of our group asked if she could move down to an Intermediate group from our Advanced crew. Another was encouraged—by the instructors and by the rest of us, to try out the Expert group for the afternoon. With that, we had achieved wiggle room, so that if one of the two changed her mind, there would be room to welcome her back.
With that settled, our newly-minted group of five headed for Stein’s Way—where conditions were not quite as stellar or consistent as promised, and for some reason, I lost all my mojo by the third turn. I clamped my boots down to the point of distortion and pain, and fought my way down the hill. The inevitable had happened—my boots were giving me every indication they’d seen better days. I made a note to stop into Jans to get my skis waxed—and to lay the groundwork for a boot fitting later in the week. I ended the day feeling grateful for perfect partnerships—and for the fact that four more weeks of fun lay ahead.