In May 2016, at the end of a wonderful and intense ski season, I had a bad fall at A Basin. I ruptured my ACL and damaged my meniscus. It’s now 6 months later, and I’ll be allowed to ski this season, but only “gingerly” – my doctor used that word several times – and on very gentle, groomed runs. Nothing like my usual playground of steeps, bowls, and trees. The graft takes over a year to reach full strength. This season is going to be tough.
So, as part of my coping strategy, I’m re-publishing the lesson write-ups I did for The Ski Diva last season, 2015/16.
You can see the full list of ski lesson write-ups here: Ski School Experiences
Dec 5: Randy
This was my first time meeting Randy. While my other groups are more geared to skiing fast and furious (“fast and furiously,” I guess?), this is intended to be more of a traditional ski lesson – on the spectrum of learning to free skiing, this one tips a little farther toward the learning end.
It might not surprise anyone that I had mixed feelings going into this group. I want to learn, of course, but I am also antsy to just ski, and ten days of intense drills when there’s good snow to be had might be intolerable. A big reason I do this series on weekends is to make Breck’s ginormous lift lines tolerable. Ski school has its own lane at all the lifts – even the T-Bar, E Chair, and Chair 6. On the flip side, Jenn told me that Randy is one of the top 5 skiers at Breck in her book. It was quite a coup to get him for this series.
One of the first things Randy did was to have us all express our goals for this Saturday series. We all had goals related to wanting to ski better in steep or otherwise difficult terrain. I specifically mentioned the “dead spot” I have between turns where I just stand on my downhill ski and traverse across the hill before committing to the next turn down the fall line. That “dead spot” is of course pretty closely tied to not allowing the ski to go through neutral the way Matt had described.
Randy turned out to have a wicked sarcastic sense of humor, so I felt right at home there. Banter was easy. At one point he made a comment about “yet another Delta Bravo instructor.” Yup. I was gonna like this guy.
Early in the day, Randy busted out an iPad and filmed all of us skiing. We each got a chance to review with him individually at lunch. I really liked that and hope we get to do more of it. I didn’t see anything dramatically wrong with my skiing, but neither did I see anything that would make me say, “Wow, that person is a really excellent skier.” (As a counterpoint, I know a skier who skis just beautifully. I would love to ski like her. And go figure, she diligently avoids ski lessons because she doesn’t want to get in her head too much.) Randy showed me the evidence of the lazy traverse I do on steeps – right there on a mellow blue.
(Note from the future: I just skied for the first time post-surgery. I noticed the dead spot I was writing about last season. ARGGH!)
Randy’s focus for our first day was to get us to turn from the bottom up, rather than the top down, meaning we should be turning just by tipping our feet in isolation – no hips, no femurs, just a tiny tip and a whole lot of patience. I struggled. We all struggled. Drills included skiing on one ski in various forms – Randy explained that PSIA level 1 exam just asks you to cross the slope with your uphill ski lifted. Level 2 is a turn with only the outside ski (inside edge) on the snow. Level 3 is one foot and being able to turn in both directions. Let’s just say I won’t be claiming my level 3 – okay, or my level 2 – any time soon. We were all doing crazy things with our upper bodies to get our skis to tip. I also lost sight of the intent of the drills at some point and was definitely adding femur rotation and such to the mix.
(Note: the comments about PSIA levels were just for reference. This class is not geared toward passing any PSIA exams. And just to confuse you further, PSIA levels are not the same as ski lesson levels. Someone who passes a PSIA level 3 exam is very very very good at skiing, among other things.)
Randy also had us just do a single turn – many times over – on a gentle slope. The goal was to only use that subtle sideways tip of the foot to generate the turn. At one point I tried this drill and ended up failing to complete the turn, skiing through a copse of trees with soft stuff underfoot before popping out below the group. It’s hard to claim I was disappointed to ski through some fluff and trees, but I want to emphasize that I did *NOT* do this on purpose.
Another drill, which I never quite understood, was to ski in a straight line and then stop. Instantly. I don’t think any of us really figured out what he meant by that or how to do it. I think the intent was to really dig in with our edges. Maybe?
(Note from the future: I’m still not sure what the heck this was about. I should ask him.)
So the thing is, the third consecutive day has always been rough for me. That’s usually the day where, if I ski the trees, I run into one. I’m just shredded. The same was true this day (minus running into any trees). I made some poor layering decisions and was cold all day. It sapped my energy. And while it was lovely to ski in real snow, the grey skies did nothing to improve my mood (or the visibility). So maybe this was not the best day for really trying to grasp the minutia of advanced skiing. On the other hand, I was grateful for the reprieve – lots of drills means lots of short skiing segments interspersed with talking. My thighs appreciated the break.
I also think, even though I liked it, the sarcasm/banter thing may have gotten to me. Randy was quite honest about us not getting it. I started getting cranky. There was one person who was getting it more than the rest of us, and I’m ashamed to say I made a couple of comments to Randy about her being his “favorite.” At another point, I asked if I’d gotten it a little (I thought I had!) and he said no. I said, “Really?” and he said, “Well, maybe a little bit,” and I snapped back, “Don’t patronize me!” I meant it to be lighthearted, but in retrospect, it didn’t come out that way. (Note from the future: Come on now, past Monique. There’s no way you meant that to be lighthearted. That’s just a story you told yourself to feel better about doing something crappy.)
In between drills, we did do some free skiing, including a run through Peerless trees that I was too sore to really appreciate. I was tail pushing like a champion and using all sorts of dramatic body english to pinball myself through what are some very mellow and generally lovely trees.
At 2:30, Randy said that this was generally the point of diminishing returns in lessons, and that we should just go ski and have fun. My husband suggested Volunteer, a wide bump run with some weird contours and some optional big wales (whales?)/rollers to jump on the right side of the run. I did one run, my thighs on fire, my mood deteriorating, and decided to call it. I headed back to the condo. As I clumped along the path, I felt worse and worse. I didn’t know how to ski. I was a mess. Why did I even bother with this stuff? It’s cold and my feet are a mess and I suck at it anyway … fortunately, a part of me was able to sit back and observe all of this and realize that it was way too dramatic to be fully real – I realized that I was just in “a mood,” low energy, whatever you want to call it, and needed to let myself sulk it out. I ate some brie and crackers, drank some wine, and cried a few little tears of self pity while DH was out shredding a few more runs. I tried to be happy for him, rather than cranky that he was having a great day while I struggled.
The strange thing is that, in retrospect, I actually was having fun and very much into the drills for most of the day. What I think happened was that as I wasn’t getting it and wasn’t getting it, my ego got bruised. It felt like this should just be *so simple* and it wasn’t. Add in fatigue from several days of skiing, grey skies, and temperatures dropping throughout the day, and yeah, I put myself into one doozy of a bad mood.
Later on, talking to DH and another friend, they assured me that these are not remedial skills, but rather very advanced skills. That it will take time and that this is the “good stuff.” DH pointed out that this is not how we’re supposed to ski all the time, but just a way to get us to isolate movements. And I know that getting this stuff right will be critical to maintaining control on scraped-off blues just as much as it will be critical to eliminating my “dead spot.”
Next weekend, if I am able to ski Saturday, I will bring a fresh attitude and fresh legs and try to actually listen to the drill as described, rather than adding all sorts of extra stuff into it that I think he wants us to do but didn’t actually say. (Like for some reason, in trying to get the feel for these drills, I added in femur rotation and inner ski turn initiation. In retrospect, this was exactly the opposite of what he was asking for.)
- Cross the slope using only one ski
- Make turns with only one ski – inside edge only
- Make turns with only one ski – both directions. Without using
your butt or shoulders as counterweights. Good luck with that!
- From a stop, ski in a straight line and then, only using the tipping of your feet, turn until you come to a stop
- From a stop, ski in a straight line and then stop immediately (need to get clarification here)
- Take off your skis in a relatively sheltered spot where you’re unlikely to get run over. Practice tilting only your feet without getting your hips in on the action. Have Randy try to hold your hips in place because they’re not really getting the message.
- If you have limited (or essentially no) success, console yourself with crackers, brie, and a nice red
Next up: JJ.