A new way to ski: Pupil relearns the wonder of skiing
For the last few years, I have worked to become a more adept all-terrain skier, spending countless hours in the bumps, powder and crud. Until last week, I had convinced myself the days of frustration and embarrassment were past me. That was until my first day with Chris Fellows and his crew at the North American Ski Training Center.
Fellows and his cadre of ski instructors have taken a progressive approach to ski instruction and have developed an alternative method for advancement on the slopes. I’d heard about its successes, but I wanted to see for myself.
The Jump-Start Your Season course at Sugar Bowl provided the perfect opportunity to experience the total immersion clinic. I jumped into the five-day course on day two and instantly felt at ease with the other skiers. Riding up the chair lift for the first time, I was a bit nervous and somewhat rusty after only skiing a few days this season. Talking with Jon and Kitty Harvey from Pleasanton, Calif., and San Franciscan Chip Gower, who I came to refer to as Uncle Chip, eased my nerves as they recounted their struggles from the previous day.
We started the morning doing drills to teach balance, proper form and control. This is where it all began to go downhill. Skiing with one ski, boots unbuckled, no poles and in all forms of painful poses began the array of exercises we completed one by one down the uncrowded slopes.
While I would consider myself more athletic than the average Joann, I not only exhibited signs of dyslexia – picking up my downhill ski when I was instructed to lift the uphill partner – but I also fell numerous times for no apparent reason. As I focused my attention on the specific details of the drill, I lost all ability to hold my body upright and found it impossible to coordinate everything at once.
By the afternoon, any skiing form I had possessed prior to leaving my car in the Judah parking lot that morning had eluded me, and I found myself in the midst of a great lesson I did not yet understand. I watched in wonder as the other students completed the steps of each drill while remaining fairly oblivious to the stares of other skiers and snowboarders as they cruised by.
The rest of the group, already with a completed day of drills and instruction, were beyond feeling silly and foreign to their own bodies. I was helpless as everything I knew about skiing began to slide away.
Gathering for lunch, we watched the first of several video clips of our skiing. While viewing your performance on a large screen can be a humbling experience, I was pleasantly surprised at how much more coordinated I looked than I felt. I stepped back into my bindings with a new confidence.
“I see good things happening out there,” Chris Fellows assured me; still I was not convinced I would leave with as much faith in my ability as I had just hours before.
Later that day as we worked to integrate rolling the ankles, re-centering and various other turning essentials into the overall picture, something clicked.
It did not happen all at once, but slowly I could feel what I was doing wrong. I understood what had been plaguing me for years when I was unable to make tight turns on variable conditions. Things began to make sense.
“That is how you make progress,” NASTC instructor Mike Hafer remarked.
I began to feel my way into the turns rather than trying to muscle through them, and what used to be quad-burning torturous activity, became almost effortless as the day came to a close.
The next morning when my alarm went off, I was already up and ready to go. On day two, we discarded our traditional long skis for 135 cm short boards, specifically designed for learning.
The group of six quickly realized the beauty of edging and another lesson – short skis do not cooperate when used incorrectly. By the end of the day, my frustrations and inhibitions had sloughed off and not only did I feel confident and aggressive in my turns, but I was skiing fluidly and in control.
As we huddled at the bottom of each section to watch and cheer on our classmates, I was impressed by the significant improvement in form and confidence of each participant. All the while Hafer guided us down the run with constant attention, coaching and encouragement.
While the students represented different age groups, backgrounds, skiing experiences and aspirations, we had a common goal – to see the results the NASTC program provided. For some, bumps represented the greatest challenge; others struggled with powder; and many of us were likely to shy from the challenge of a narrow and steep grade. By the end of the clinic, we had taken on the mountain together and helped each other through it.
This personal element was the key to the success of the NASTC program – I was sad to leave the group on my third day. Fellows and his staff of accomplished and friendly instructors are the reason why many of this clinic’s participants were returning students.
Both Fellows and Hafer recounted stories of past trips, acting as proud parents in their description of how far Bob Oster had come since his first trip with Fellows and company to Grand Targhee, Wyo. Members of the group discussed planning future ski trips together. All agreed it was the best money they ever spent on ski instruction.
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