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
On Sunday morning, I was still in a funk. I didn’t really feel like skiing, but I did want to meet JJ and see how things were going to go. I had mixed feelings; I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep up. I’d never met JJ; I’d only seen him at the ski school lineup, where he seemed to always have a hard charging group. Faster than me. The group consists of four couples, with a mix of very hard chargers and modestly hard chargers.
On this inaugural Sunday, only me, my husband, and one of the other couples was able to make it. JJ asked what we wanted to work on. I said that I had gotten overwhelmed with drills the day before, and I really just wanted to get my confidence back. JJ didn’t fully understand what I was describing at first, but this is where I got my first hint that I was really going to like him – he took a couple of minutes to understand what I was describing and what I wanted out of the day. I could tell he was really paying attention and responding to what I wanted, not his own agenda.
We did a warmup run on this amazing, perfect, mellow blue groomer. I mean the snow was so fast and so soft, not a square inch of scrape to be found. My husband sped off, and I quickly followed. We were HAULING. I normally overtake him on groomers, but not this time. I got going so fast that when we came to a roller and big yellow SLOW and NO JUMPING signs, even though I tried to absorb the roller, I still caught air. By the time I got to the bottom of the lift, I felt great. I liked skiing again. Heck, I loved skiing.
JJ is definitely a little more .. hrm … thinky? than some of my other instructors. He wanted to know each of our learning styles. He had a bunch of drills up his sleeve, but he made it clear that all drills were just suggestions, and that I could always feel free to just ski if the drills got into my head too much. And even when we were doing drills, we were skiing at a pretty brisk pace.
JJ’s focus for the first half of the day was on an athletic stance, and specifically the feeling of a basketball jump shot. He wanted us to really feel the balls of our feet. One drill was to ski while constantly pushing both feet forward – sort of like the shuffle Matt had us do, but with both feet acting in tandem. Another drill was crazy fun, although at first I assumed I wouldn’t be able to do it – actually jump off the balls of our feet, like a jump shot, at the initiation of each turn. I mostly found myself jumping upright rather than from the balls of my feet, but it was still a surprisingly fun exercise that reminded me of how much power I bring to my skiing. It’s scary to jump from the balls of your feet because you think you’re going to dig your tips into the snow and go sprawling, but that’s actually pretty hard to do.
Here is where my memory gets fuzzy about drills, but JJ was all about round turn shape and using your edges to initiate a turn, even if you smear the rest of it. He had me follow him down quite a few bump runs, allowing me to get the feel of nicely shaped turns. We skied Volunteer, the bump run where I’d called it quits on Saturday, and I felt great – the first half of the run was shaky, but the bottom was gold. He took us into some recently opened trails with older, manky snow – he described how pushing tails will get your skis caught in that stuff, but if you trust your edges, it’ll cut right through. I was … somewhat successful. Definitely getting tired, though.
I’ve noticed a weird thing about my fourth consecutive day. I seem to get a second wind. It’s like my quads have decided that there’s no point complaining because I’m just going to ignore them, anyway. This Sunday, I announced that “This is probably my last run” – three times. At some point, my husband headed in, but I wasn’t ready to go. And eventually, JJ suggested something I wouldn’t have thought of – he suggested hiking up to get some turns in Contest Bowl.
Once there’s enough coverage, you get to Contest via the T-Bar, but the T-Bar isn’t running yet. Instead, in the early season, Breck allows intrepid skiers to risk their bases via a short hike up Four O’Clock to parts of the upper mountain. We’d already heard that Contest had terrible snow, but the lure of adventure overcame us. As we approached, I noticed that there seemed to be beautiful, untracked snow to looker’s left of Four O’Clock. Definitely an attractive alternative to the known-manky Contest. The group was down to JJ, one of the shredders, and me. Shredder is a high-energy, extremely fit guy, well accustomed to going uphill. I am – well, I am 5’5 and 200 pounds. Even if I were extremely fit, I’d still be hauling a lot of weight up the hill. But dammit, I wanted to get my skis onto the upper mountain. I started the hike. Slow, but steady. Okay, slow with lots of stops. Shredder and JJ were nothing but nice, although Shredder could easily have made it to the top in a third the time. JJ offered a few times to carry my skis, but I declined. I have my pride, and in any case, the skis weren’t slowing me down – the altitude was.
As we got going higher, JJ pointed out that I could turn off to hit that mellow powder run I’d noticed. It was almost certainly better snow than where we were headed. But I had the bit in my teeth and wanted to check out the bowls. I also suffer from FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). Then someone – not sure if Shredder or JJ – noted that we could go up just a little bit farther and ski the nearest line of Horseshoe Bowl, Stampede. Who knows – it might be better than King in Contest. Oooh. So yes, we hiked just a little bit farther.
And then we traversed into Horseshoe. It was, well, pretty much what we expected – a mix of soft snow, crud, and breakable crust. Not exactly prime conditions, but rather a prime example of “Initiate your turns like JJ, or you’re going to hook up.” Stampede is a short section, and with the kind of snow we had, it’s pretty much going to be big, patient turns. Shredder took a couple of turns and looked up from the bottom of the pitch. So I went for it, and I pushed my tails, and I fell forward and lost a ski. JJ skied down to retrieve my ski, which I couldn’t see from where I’d fallen. He pointed out that from where we were, I could just ski across in a descending traverse and get to where Shredder was standing, but I said, “Hey, I’m supposed to be learning – if not now, when?” So I gathered myself, and I made a long, slow arc to Shredder, having patience and trusting my edges rather than thrusting my tails. And it worked! (I knew that if I did the technique correctly, it would work. The shocking part was that I was able to trust my skis and let it happen.) In retrospect, I think the first turn was also steeper, so that it was scarier to have patience and let the ski engage.
From there, we kept going into the area below Horseshoe and made another few turns in deep, though cruddy, snow. I enjoyed it. JJ described it as “Level 9+ snow.” We popped out above the T Bar. JJ had another tip for deep, cruddy snow: look up. “If you look at your tips, you’re going to sink. Look up.” And really, that should have been obvious – but in that moment, I needed that reminder. It’s funny how much of what you hear in a lesson is stuff you’ve heard a million times before – but you still need to hear again.
I finished Sunday’s lesson feeling accomplished, confident, and proud of myself – exactly what I’d wanted from the day. By skiing the mank in Horseshoe, I also got a concrete demonstration of why tipping your skis to initiate turns is so important, and how tail pushing can get you into trouble. And I racked up over 21k vertical – on my fourth consecutive day. Not bad. Not bad at all.
- Ski while continuously pushing your feet forward in gliding motions, like a sliding hop that doesn’t leave the ground
- Actually jump off of the balls of your feet at the initiation of each turn, like you’re making a jump shot
- Round out your turns. Follow JJ through the bumps to get the feel of those rounded turns.
- Look where you’re going, not at your feet!