Looking at NASTC: part three
After the first day of the five-day ski clinic I had signed up for – a day of rain-soaked misery as far as conditions went – I was getting the feeling that the snow gods were punishing me for some bad karma I had accumulated.
When I stepped out of my car the morning of day two, I was sure of it.
Overnight the temperature had dropped 10 degrees, and almost a foot of fresh, light powder covered everything in sight. I walked through the parking lot with the echoes of dynamite blasting from the hills above, a welcome sound, meaning huge powder stashes awaited.
Sugar Bowl ski resort had finally lived up to its name, and here I was stuck in a clinic rather than free to seek fresh tracks all day long.
When I made it to the Village Lodge and met up with my fellow students, I started to feel better. Everyone was excited to see the turnaround from the day before, and instructors Chris Fellows and Mike Hafer were quickly outfitting everyone with more powder-friendly skis.
“This is what I came here for. To learn how to ski this stuff,” said Allan Brookes who had come from Toronto, Canada, for this clinic with the North American Ski Training Center.
Brookes and a number of the other course participants expressed some hesitation about their powder-skiing abilities, which were sure to be tested, for almost nothing had been groomed overnight. Sure enough, Chris had us skiing untouched lines for as long as they lasted.
We started off with a couple of warm-up runs, during which Chris reminded us of the drills we had done the day before and the importance of staying balanced over our skis.
For me it has always been difficult to ski powder without leaning too far back, a position that left me with less-than-optimal control and extremely tired leg muscles at the end of the day. Chris had me and the other students concentrate on getting our hips forward over our boots – a change that took my body some time to accept and feel comfortable with.
Because of the conditions and everyone’s enthusiasm for pushing themselves both mentally and physically that day, we focused mostly on the tactics involved in skiing powder, steeper pitches and tight chutes.
“TGIF” quickly became our catch phrase of the day, even though it was Sunday. The day was so-called because Chris was referring to “tips go in first,” which was the technique he wanted to see us use when initiating turns in the deep snow.
When everyone started getting comfortable skiing moderate pitches in the powdery conditions, Chris decided that it was time to start pushing the envelope in terms of everyone’s comfort level, a phase that all of us were anticipating with a mixture of excitement and dread.
Wayne Goodman, who came from Richmond, Va., for the clinic, had already taken six other NASTC courses before this one. He was motivated to improve his skiing so that he’d be able to go heli-skiing without feeling that he was holding up his group.
“With the five-year plan I had, I wanted to go heli-skiing, and there’s a big jump from your ski resort [in Virginia and West Virginia] to heli-skiing. And I wanted to be an all-mountain skier. So I went out there and took a course from NASTC, and it was a disaster for me. I had gotten a little bit out of shape, and it was one of those days when it just kept snowing and snowing and snowing. So we didn’t get on any groomed runs because there weren’t any groomed runs, and I just started falling down,” Goodman said. “It really just highlighted to me that I needed to get better. So I decided that every year I’d come out and take a course with Chris.”
The difference in Goodman’s skiing was evident to all of us in the clinic.
“I had never skied top to bottom in powder like that without falling,” Goodman said when the day was over.
The NASTC staff saw the same improvement. Jenny Fellows, who co-founded NASTC with her husband, Chris, immediately noticed the improvement in Goodman’s skills and confidence on the third day of the clinic, when she came to help film us students for later video analysis.
Other students in the clinic told similar stories. Bay Area-resident Eric Connors was in his third season of NASTC clinics and professed to being pleased with their more holistic approach to instruction.
“I personally think that they work on all three (technique, tactics and confidence), and they kind of try to tie them all together. The stronger you are technically, the more confidence you take to these other mental aspects of things. And they certainly teach you tactics, and they’re very clear about the difference between the two,” Connors said. “And there’s also an aspect of taking you to sections of the mountain that you probably wouldn’t go to on your own. But being with a guide, you feel comfortable and you know that they’re not taking you to a place that you can’t handle, so you try it.”
The more difficult terrain had everyone struggling to transfer the techniques they had learned earlier to the steeper, less forgiving sections of the mountain that Chris led us down, all the while making it look easy.
“It’s always beautiful to watch great skiers,” said fellow student Sabrina Kay, and both Chris and Mike certainly qualified as great skiers. Amazing really.
Their ability to make the same precise turns in the fall line, while regulating their speed and maintaining control was constantly inspiring. Mostly it inspired us to make jokes about how we’d never get to that level, but it was inspiring nonetheless. Something to shoot for.
By the time the day was over, none of the students had gotten to the point where we could rival our instructors; however, everyone was skiing better. It had been a tiring day, but a satisfying one as well. A day that reminded every one of us why we ski in the first place, and why we continually strive to improve.
This is the third in a series of four stories about the author’s experience in NASTC’s five-day Jumpstart Your Season clinic at Sugar Bowl ski resort. For more information on NASTC’s programs, see their Web site at http://www.skiNASTC.com or call 582-4772.
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