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You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

This guest post is brought to you by Dan Rabin, freelance writer, beer crafter and mogul conqueror.
You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

DSC_0289I had a moment of self-reflection recently following a decent, if unspectacular, ski day. I realized that, considering the number of years I’d been on skis, as a skier, I kind of sucked. Now, I’m not quite prehistoric, but when I donned my first alpine ski gear – complete with lace-up boots and cable bindings – Lyndon Johnson was president, Willie Mays was the National League MVP and the Beach Boys were crooning on AM radio about the virtues of California Girls.

As a skier, I wasn’t incompetent. I could cruise blue groomers all day with some alacrity. My problem was, when I would occasionally venture into steeps or bumps, my technique quickly transformed from Jean Claude Killey to Clodzilla. I’d been skiing at the same advanced-intermediate level for years, and I was getting bored. This old dog needed some new tricks.

For a long time, Id been considering taking a lesson and decided not to put it off any longer. I booked a private, half-day lesson at Winter Park, my first lesson since about the time Super Bowl I was played. Why Winter Park? There were two reasons. First, years ago, the Winter Park Ski School had transformed my then grade-school-age daughter from a tentative snowplower to a confident all-mountain cruiser. Second, and more importantly, the Winter Park base village is home to the Cheeky Monk Belgian Beer Caf. I knew, if necessary, I could put any on-mountain indignities I would suffer behind me over a glass or two of top-notch brew.

On the morning of the appointed day, I made my way to Winter Parks Private Lesson Center. Its a new facility with lockers and overnight equipment storage. Its a comfortable place to gear up and a convenient place to meet your instructor steps from the lift. You can also purchase discount lift tickets there if youre taking a private lesson. I was soon on the chairlift with my instructor, Nigel Conners, an amiable Aussie who, I was pleased to learn, shared my interests in road bikes and good beer.

We spent the first few runs on some mellow groomers analyzing my technique. Nigel quickly noticed that, although my stance was good, I would enter turns with my skis flat and complete turns by pushing my skis out. This was likely a habit I had acquired from many years on straight skis. He demonstrated that, with todays shaped skis, simply tilting the skis at an angle to initiate turns would result in nicer, rounder, easy-to-control turns.

A few runs later, we got into some bumps. Every year, I make an attempt to ski bumps hoping someday it will click. Invariably, after a few comic flailing turns, I panic and head back to the groomers to catch my breath and finish the day.
At the top, Nigel reminded me to keep making round turns, but to shorten them for speed control. My first run wasnt pretty, but I hadnt panicked and felt mostly in control. Good job. Dont forget to breathe, Nigel told me at the bottom on the slope. The next time down, we worked on a hitch in my technique where my left arm would come up too high when I turned right, throwing off my balance. My turns kept improving and my confidence building. Better, Nigel told me at the bottom. Dont forget to breathe. On the next run, after a particularly awkward turn, I was told I was turning too soon and catching the back sides of the bumps. I just needed a bit more patience before starting my turns. It was an easy correction to make and it helped immediately.

My skills were improving but my legs were beginning to tire, so on our last bump run, I concentrated on breathing. Surprisingly, it made a big difference. I was more relaxed and was increasingly comfortable with the techniques I was learning. We ended the lesson with two fast runs down a steep black groomer. By focusing on making a lot of short, round turns, I felt in total control.

Winding down after my lesson, I was tired but excited for the next opportunity to get back on the bumps to practice the techniques Nigel had taught me. Im sure Ill improve rapidly. As long as I remember to breathe.

Dan Rabin is a not-quite-over-the-hill freelance writer and ski enthusiast from Boulder, Colorado.