Younger Next Year

I learn something new every ski season. I like to think other people do as well like my buddy Bill Yalch, seen here with his eyes closed. He and Brady Cunningham asked me how to smooth out their turns and I gave them a tip that always works that basically says…”don’t be in a hurry to finish the turn and engage the new downhill edge early and ride it out- flexing the ankles along the way”. Ankles are the key. I followed them down the trails at Arapaho Basin and called out when to engage the edge and when to flex the ankle. They did it and were very happy. John and Richard Nicolette are two childhood friends of mine who are great skiers. They ski in a very efficient, traditional way, but were interested in the new method of engaging edges and widening their stance. Bottom line- good skiers like Richard and John get it done for sure, but there is always something to be learned with new technique.

Fast forward a day and I made my way to Reno to meet up with our annual gathering of F.O.E.D.( Friends of Eric Durfee).

This group comes from all over the country to ski with Eric due to his generosity and we all represent different phases of his life. Mark Hutchinson and Proctor Reid are his childhood friends from Vermont. Hutch was a race coach at Stowe and coached Erik Schlopy who was a U.S. Ski Team member. Proctor raced with them as juniors and eventually raced for Dartmouth. John Ingwersen and Bart Smith raced for Cornell with Eric, and I came on the scene after Eric was married to my friend Helen from Seven Springs. This group skis hard and for a bunch of 60+ guys, we go from the first chair to the last chair. This year we had a little addition to our usual hard core gathering. My friend Jeff Mihalsky, a snowboarder- splitboarder to be exact( he has great prowess in the back country), came up from Sacramento to ski with us at Mt. Rose. It was funny- he kept calling us “old dudes” but we all learned a bit about snowboarding and my friend Eric said no doubt that snowboarding saved the ski industry. It was a great vision to see a bunch of old hard core skiers having a blast with a young snowboarder. We all get down the hill hard and fast and it was a great day and a mutual learning experience.

So one day at Mammoth, Eric says to Hutch ( a seasoned PSIA Ski Instructor as well as race coach), ” Hutch- give us all a tip for us to work on this trip.” He thought about it for a while and after telling me to lower my center of gravity and look more ahead, telling Eric and Ing to follow the turns with their center of mass instead of being so countered in the typical race position, and telling Proctor practically nothing because he bends the skis so well and gets them out from under his body that there isn’t much improvement there. We all learned something from those suggestions and even though we all are seasoned skiers, we all can learn something every season. Thanks Hutch.

After a series of shoulder surgeries, hip replacements, and other corrected maladies with this group, the skiing is still pretty high level and I asked Eric how long did he think we could pound it like this. He remarked that as long as nothing catastrophic happened, he didn’t see any reason why we wouldn’t have at least another ten years of high level skiing. That is the premise behind one of my favorite books,” Younger Next Year” by Chris Crowley. Keep doing what you enjoy, stay in shape, and don’t let anyone tell you that you are too old. Chris is now in his eighties and skis and rides a bike everyday……everyday!!

I actually get a little depressed at the end of the ski season. I think about the year and how much fun it is to rip GS turns on a perfectly groomed slope. The thrill of skiing the steeps with the chalky smooth snow peeling from beneath my sharpened edges. The sun, the mountains, and the ability and the opportunity to enjoy them is something I treasure with my friends. As I nodded off on the plane after looking at the Rockies one last time this season, I daydreamed about the year and the laughs, the learnings, the fun, and the benefits of skiing. From the Laurel Highlands, to the Adirondacks, to the Rockies, to the Sierras, this season has been fun. Skiing is a lifetime sport and as we all move into another season, we have our motto…..” Younger Next Year”. Thanks Eric, Ing, Proctor, Bart, Richard, John, Bill, Brian U, McClean,Jeff L, Porter, John, Tim, Monty, Alan,Tom, Chris, Judy, Mike,Mike S, and my lovely wife and Holimont ski pal Janet, for a great 2016-2017 season. Thanks for reading and now it’s time to haul out the mountain bike.

The Return of a Classic Ski Area

I have skied a lot of areas in my time and most of them were in New England where there are the giant, corporately run areas and the smaller privately held areas. The smaller areas always held my interest because they had a sense of tradition and a feel of skiing in another time. Recently, in our neck of the woods, down here in the Banana Belt, Laurel Mountain came to life again this year. It went from being one of the lost ski areas to a vibrant, resurgence of a classic ski area reminiscent of those areas in New England. In fact, there is a tie to Mt. Cranmore in the Mt. Washington Valley of New Hampshire. Apparently, when the Mellon family first had the idea to develop a ski area in 1939 for the members of the prestigious Rolling Rock Club in Ligonier, they hired Hannes Schneider to lay out the trails. Hannes Schneider was the ski school director at Mt. Cranmore who was brought to the US from Austria by the industrialist Harry Gibson, a friend of Richard King Mellon. Schneider is widely acclaimed as the father of ski instruction in this country. newaerial

When you first pull past the stone entrance hut on the mountain road, you feel as if you are driving back in time. The parking lot is never full and as you make your way to the top of the mountain lodge which has been recently refurbished, you can relax in an Adirondack chair by a roaring fire and put your boots on. img_1263 You can then take your brown bag lunch inside or take advantage of some good comfort food in the new bar area in the base of the lodge. The picture windows look out on the whole Ligonier Valley which is not only scenic during the day, but a sight at night if you choose to night ski. The refurbished snowmaking by HKD and the new Pistenbully groomer make the Wildcat slope a delight to ski and it is known to have the steepest vertical in the state. img_1266

I remember skiing Laurel when it was run by the state and had some amazing powder days there with Frank Pipak, a friend who took the PSIA exam the same year that I did. Although, I spent the winter prior to that exam in Sugarloaf, Maine, I often credit my runs down Lower Wildcat with preparing me for the steeper terrain that was utilized in the exam. My friend Hiller Hardie always says, ” if you want to get your legs ready for the western trips, lapping Wildcat at Laurel will put you in good form.” Your legs get a work out on lower Wildcat with the steep vertical pitch. img_1265

When Seven Springs Mountain Resort decided to bring Laurel back to life this season, along with the DCNR of the State of Pennsylvania, it was time to promote it. I have told a lot of friends about my good times at Laurel and how they must try it. Like my two snowboarding friends, Tina and Mark Sauers who were totally enthralled with the area and the family feel to the place. img_1262

We have some challenges down here in the banana belt with the weather being on the edge of rain and snow. But credit Laurel with good snowmaking and grooming to make it possible for enthusiasts like me to get the most days out of rather dismal early winter conditions. I have a lot of good memories of skiing at Laurel back in the day including fun times with my son Jack and our visits to Fort Ligonier and the Pie Shop in Laughlintown at the bottom of the mountain. IMG00117-20100116-1123

Two years ago, Hiller, John McWilliams, Jeff Balicki and John O’Toole and yours truly used our snowshoes to hike into the closed area and after unloading our packs, took two runs down Lower Wildcat. Four hours plus of hiking for two runs was “having to have it” and it showed our devotion to an area which we all loved. It is so nice now to have Carl Skylling’s new Sky Trac chairlift instead of bootpacking to claim our vertical. IMG_1574photophotophoto

So if you are a local, get over to Laurel. You won’t regret it and if you are visiting, check it out. Lower Wildcat will surprise you even if you are a veteran of steep skiing from points beyond. I am so happy it is back. Hannes is probably up there smiling at all of us. Thanks for reading.

The Mainstreaming of Snowboarding

photo The Burton U.S. Open Qualifier for the best snowboarders in the country is at my home area of Seven Springs this weekend. Coupled by the excitement of the half-pipe,boardercross, and the slopestyle events in the upcoming Olympics in Sochi, Snowboarding is definitely on the international radar screen of winter sports in this country and around the world. I was riding up the chair the other day with a guy in his 20s who said that he had been riding a snowboard for 18 years. I remarked to him how mainstream snowboarding had become. I have been a life long skier but have seen the development of snowsports in this country include snowboards, twin tipped skis, half pipes, snowboard parks, and even the ski schools have been renamed Snowsports Schools. Hey- we all are playing in the same sandbox now and no matter how you choose to slide down a hill, the joy of winter sports can be enjoyed in many different ways and expressions.

It has been a tough slide uphill for the boarders up until now. A lot of skiers had questions and animosities towards these new guys who had the baggy clothes, boards and a bit of an attitude in the early days because they were trying to break into the old boys club on the slopes. I was not the only one to witness boarders getting into it with old guys as they entered the lifts and exited the lifts. Lots of bad feelings because of the mis-understandings between boarders and skiers. There are a few areas who still ban snowboards from the slopes but that is being challenged on a daily basis. The pure unvarnished truth is that snowboarding saved the ski industry. Skier visits have remained flat in recent years and if the winters were soft in a particular area of the country, clothing and equipment sales were down. Snowboarding revitalized the industry with sales of new boards and the funky clothing that is indiginous to the young crowd who tend to participate. Lots of those younger generation boarders are now sporting the gray hairs but still ride enthusiastically along with the next generation. I have not seen as many of the confrontations as in the old days, but some of that outlaw mentality does still exist.

I am obviously fine with the boarders and all the clothing, equipment, swagger, etc, that showcases the younger generation. What I would like to point out is that we all have a responsibility to each other when we go sliding down a mountain as fellow showsports enthusiasts. I grew up with the Skier’s Responsibility Code which outlined among many things, that the downhill skier has the right of way and that a skier must be under control at all times. We have all seen out of control skiers over the years and the hope has always been that the ski patrol or rangers deal with that dangerous situation. I also remember my wife being frightened when a straightlining snowboarder came up behind her and screamed “Get out of the way” even though she was clearly the downhill skier. I still see boarders and skiers come into a lift line “hot” and lose their edge or edges and take out a person standing in line at the knees. My friend in Colorado is still recovering from an out of control boarder who hit him in the lift line and blew out his ACL. All he was doing was standing in line and “BAM” cleaned out at the knees. Hey- it happens with boarders and skiers and it is time that the areas and the skiers and boarders who are experienced, take up the cause of educating their fellow enthusiasts and enlightening them on the Responsibility Code. It really should be called the Snowsports Responsibility Code. If we all are playing in the same sandbox then we all must abide by the same rules. If an experienced boarder sees bad form on the slopes by a fellow boarder, take the time to get him or her aside and tell them in a nice way that they have to be responsible out there. Same with skiers. I have had many conversations with skiers and boarders alike who have cleaned out one of my visually impaired skiers and just ridden or skied away. I often say, I could put a neon billboard on our blind skiers and some of these yahoos still would not see them, much less care about hitting them. Not good form at all. So take the time to make sure that it is safe out there and be responsible. Skiers are learning how boarders make turns and can steer out of their paths if needed. Boarders also must be cogniscent of where the skier is below them and respect their space and not mark a path and ride it come hell or highwater. And we all must be in control when we get close to a lift line. We don’t want to come in too “hot” and take out an unsuspecting skier or boarder in line or worse yet a little child.

So, the point of all of this is, we all are together now. Boarders, skiers, twin tippers, blade skiers, whatever gets you down the mountain. It’s all cool and we all must have fun but we all must be responsible. We have to care about the guy or gal downhill and in the line. And no cause to get ugly in the lift line either. We all are adults and can have a conversation without confrontation. Enjoy the boarding and skiing events on the Olympics in the coming weeks. I can’t wait. Thanks for reading and think snow. Thanks to the two guys in the parking lot who graciously posed for the post picture. They were cool and wanted to know more about the Chronicles. I hope they are followers now. Nice Guys!! One last thing, if you can’t get my pictures on your pad, I-phone, etc, just click on the title and the whole article and pictures show up. USA, USA, USA, ………

So you want to be a ski instructor?

photophoto972bda288a6333b6c48ee41b975ddcb8 A lot of folks think that being a ski instructor is a glamourous life. You work in a beautiful, mountainous, picturesque venue. You are perpetually tanned, athletic looking, have the best ski gear and clothing, get the pick of all the pretty girls/guys in your lessons. You get invited to all the trendy parties in the ski area. Everyone adores you because you are a ski instructor. People believe that you are paid well and that you only work in the summer as a supplement to your glamourous job. For some ski instructors, especially in Europe, this may be somewhat true to life. But for most guys and gals working as a ski instructor, the glamour is not so apparent.

In the major ski areas in this country, being a ski instructor is a full time job. In Europe, it is not only a full time job in the winter but it is respected by the public whose protocol is to always take a lesson when they are vacationing in the ski area. Skiing is a way of life in Europe but in the U.S. if you tell anyone you are a ski instructor, most likely it will be seen as a profession that is done until one finds a real job. In recent years, the Professional Ski Instructors of America have done a great job promoting the professionalism of those who are members of their organization that go through the rigorous testing of the certification program. Most of the professionals who work full time in a ski area take their job seriously and are in it for the love of the sport. Yes, you can earn a living but you have to be dilligent and establish a clientele especially in the major areas where families return year after year. But most likely, you will have to at least have a summer job to supplement your winter pastime. So is being a ski instructor all that it is cracked up to be?

I only worked one year as a full time instructor. The rest of my years teaching skiing were part time through college and on weekends at my local area for many years. I can remember driving my mom’s old car to West Virginia for my first PSIA clinic at Canaan Valley and became a registered member. I then racked up hours teaching in Maine and eventually went to my certification exam at Killington,Vermont which I have spoken about in past blog posts. When I ended my full time teaching, I continued to teach on the weekends locally and maintain my certification status by taking the required updates every two years. Similar to most ski instructors in this country, ski teaching is done out of a love for the sport with not much financial benefit. Certification helps the pay rate and also one can get benefits from manufacturers by way of Pro pricing discounts. When you visit a participating PSIA ski area, they give you either a comp ticket or a discounted lift ticket. But for the most part, most ski instructors are part time,are working towards their certification, and the life is anything but glamourous. Many of us who have taught part time have spent countless hours in the beginner bowl teaching new skiers in all kinds of weather. Private lessons and group lessons at night, in brutal cold temperature conditions, rain storms, ice storms, blizzards , are all par for the course in being a ski instructor especially on the east coast. Most of us have done it again out of the love for the sport and the willingness to pass on our knowledge to those who pay for the lessons. What is the upside?

Although most ski instructors teach part time and do it for the love of skiing, there is that wonderful feeling that you have especially if you like to teach, when the student “gets it.” That smile on their face as they master a maneuver is priceless and to most of us, that is worth the cost of the lesson. Most people who take the time to teach, work towards their PSIA Certification,and do it with no great financial expectations. They reap other benefits that can be measured in the smile of the student. Full time instructors work hard and even though they may work in a world class area, their hours are long and the lessons taught all day are taxing. Working with advanced skiers is always a plus because you can refine technique instead of teaching a new person from the beginning with a lot of physical work. But in the end, whether you teach full time or teach part time, if your heart is not in it, you will not be successful. A lot of ski teachers wear the jacket but are not willing to put in the time to develop their skills as a ski instructor. They don’t last long because they are trying to get more out of ski teaching and reap the benefits without a real heart for teaching others. I can say that anyone who takes the time to get registered and go through the 3 part certification process through PSIA is a dedicated teacher.

I remember many days teaching in Maine after college where the temperature was -40 and we were expected to be at the line up. We taught in the brutal cold and kept a close eye on our students to see that they were not experiencing discomfort and frostbite. We took many breaks. I remember teaching many lessons in the rain but the amazing thing was the enthusiasm of the student/students who wanted to learn no matter what. I said to myself,” If they want to learn that bad in these conditions, they are going to get their moneys worth.” I often went overtime to make sure they felt that they had learned something and could take something valuable away with them. This was especially true when I worked with our skiers who were visually impaired. They were always anxious to learn and to experience the exhilaration of skiing no matter what the weather conditions were like. When you have students like these, it makes all the work, little pay, and adverse working conditions worth it because they appreciate the effort that you make and you can see the fruits of your labor.

Lots of people have a negative experience when they first ski because they go with a friend or a relative who have no teaching experience and put the new skier in precarious positions. They often get hurt or at the very least humiliated, and never return. I always encourage people to take a lesson when they first start because the instructor is trained in the proper way to teach the sport of skiing. When you do take a lesson, ask for a PSIA Certified instructor. You will always be assured that you are getting a teacher who has taken the time to learn technique properly and has made the effort to be a part of an organization that fosters learning in a true educational environment. So, do you want to be a ski instructor? I did it for 40 years. Must be something rewarding about it. Thanks for reading and “Think Snow.”