Monday, December 9, 2013

Ski season to date

For the first time in many years, I bought new boots and new skis in the same season.  I have usually tried to alternate these purchase, so I don't have to adapt to both new boots and new skis at the same time.  But, I hated the skis I bought last year, and I simply refused to use them for another season.  Luckily, through Craigslist, I found them a new home with a skier who skis the terrain where those skis performed the best.  And, my old boots were four years old, and truly shot.  Plus, I really needed a higher level of performance in my boot, if I'm ever going to get ready to take the PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America) Level 3 skiing exam.

I ended up buying a very high performance Salomon Race boot.  I probably tried on at least 15 boots over 3 hours, before settling on this boot.  Then, I returned to the shop for a second visit, where I simply wore the boot for two hours and talked to the boot fitter, just to confirm it was the right boot choice.  Finally, I returned to the shop for a third time, to have the external shell heat molded to my foot shape.  In the end, I have a boot that fits exceptionally well and the performance is fantastic.  My only complaint is that the high performance race liner in the boot has allowed my feet to get cold fairly often this season.

For skis, I had been on Rossignol skis for years - at least four different models.  Last year, I switched to a highly rated Volkl ski, but I chose the wrong length, and I found the ski to be a one trick pony.  On groomed terrain, no matter how steep, the skis performed as advertised.  But, in bumps, mixed snow conditions, and in the trees, I simply hated them.  They were too stiff, too long, didn't float well in powder, and I simply lost my confidence on the ski.  But, there are some very good things about the Volkl brand, especially for east coast skiing.  So, this year, I bought the Volkl Kendo, an all-mountain ski designed for a variety of snow conditions.

My first day out this year was before Sugarbush opened.  I really wanted to ski on the new gear, and I found a half-price ticket to Killington online, so my wife and I skied there with some friends on 11/17.  This was one of my earliest first days ever, although I have skied Killington earlier than that at least once - in 1986, I believe.  I don't recall the last time Sugarbush opened by that date - certainly not since I've been an employee.

It was foggy and damp and Killington on our first day, but we were surprised by the amount of open terrain.  We even got to ski the headwall of Superstar - steep bumps in dense fog on our first day out.  I felt a bit unsteady on the new gear early on that first day.  The boots were fine, but the slightly fatter Kendos (89 mm under foot vs 84 mm last year) and the longer turning radius of the ski required me to make some adaptations vs. last year's skis.

One of the nice things about that first day is that I had no pain at all in my feet - either while skiing, later that night, or the next day.  This is a rarity with a new high performance boot.

By the weekend before Thanksgiving, Sugarbush had opened.  I skied my first day of the season with some of my instructor buddies that Saturday.  To stay out of the worst of the crowds, we skied just the afternoon that first day.  We had limited terrain - basically a chair ride to an intermediate run, which then took us to the summit chair.  From the summit, we had one intermediate and one advanced trail back down.  We stuck mostly to the advanced run, and I was struggling a bit with the new skies on that terrain.

The next day was "Train the Trainers" day.  We have about 15-20 people on the ski school staff who are responsible for training the rest of the ski staff before the season and during the season.  We try to get together each season to ski together for a day, and define our approach for training the rest of the staff.  This is always an intimidating day for me.  I've been a trainer in the segment of the ski school where I work for a few years.  But, I've only been a trainer for other parts of the ski school for two years, and this day of skiing with our best skiers and instructors is a bit nerve-wracking.  I feel like I spend that entire day trying to prove that I belong.  We didn't ski much difficult terrain, but we covered some complex topics that day.  Also, it was a bitterly cold day and I was visibly shivering for a lot of the day - something that rarely happens to me.  The day was improved by about 4" of new snow on top of the firm conditions from the day before.

The following weekend was the weekend after Thanksgiving.  On Saturday afternoon, I met some other instructors and we skied hard on firm, fast conditions.  By this point in time, I was feeling really comfortable on my new gear, and I was really letting things go.  I was able to keep up with some other skiers all day long - people who I normally trail down the mountain in any conditions.  I felt like I skied as well or better this day than any other day in my life.  I'm really liking the new boots and skis.

The next day was more "Train the Trainer" training, but this time, it was just the trainers for our seasonal programs, which is where I work.  In the seasonal programs, one coach skis with the same group for the entire season.  These programs cover beginning skiers from age 4 all the way up to highly advanced adult skiers.  I personally teach the advanced kids.  The last few years, I've had mostly 12 and 13 year old students, although this year I will be skiing with 9 and 10 year old students.  We wrapped up the training early and then started doing laps on Organ Grinder - a single black diamond run that had snow guns blowing.  The guns were blowing variable snow and the skiing was tricky compared to the day before.  By the end of the day, the guns were off and some natural snow was falling, leading to a few really nice runs at the end of the day.

This past Saturday, training day had finally arrived.  I had a group of 7 instructors - many of them new to teaching, new to Sugarbush or both.I followed our agenda to the letter and I think we got a lot done.  One of the tough things to explain to new instructors is how little they actually know.  I often train people who are better skiers than I am, but they don't know why they are better skiers and they don't know how to improve other skiers.  It is very eye opening when you initially realize just how little you know, and you accept that you have a long educational journey ahead of you.  I'm heading into my 13th season as an instructor, and each year, I'm overwhelmed by how much I feel I still need to learn.  Except for a final indoor segment to end the day (not led by me), I felt like we had a really good day.

On Sunday, I expected to take a creative teaching clinic.  Even though I am a trainer, I still want to take other clinics to improve my own teaching and skiing.  Regretfully, a limited number of trainers showed up on Sunday morning, and I ended up teaching the clinic in which I'd hoped to be a student.  But, I was prepared to teach this clinic if necessary and I think it went really well.  I got all 8 of my group heavily involved in doing some teaching to the rest of the group.  This is much more interesting than listening to me talk all day.  In the end, I think it was the best clinic I've ever presented.  I got great feedback from our more experienced pros.

In the afternoon, we had even fewer students, so I went along as a second coach with the person who has been my mentor for years.  He got off to a slow start, but finally pulled things together in the last hour to finish on a high note.  And then, we went to Ripcord, for my first double-black diamond run of the year, to wrap up the day.

After that run, my buddy and I enjoyed a beer, and as always, we spent the time dissecting our own skiing and teaching.  Sometimes, I think we learn the most in these post-skiing sessions, where everyone is brutally honest with each other - good things and bad things.  I'm very glad to work with a number of pros who are never complacent and are always trying to get better.  It keeps me on my toes.

So, training is now done.  This coming Saturday we start teaching our paying students.  After last year, where equipment issues took a lot of the fun out of skiing and teaching for me, and into my 13th season, I have to say I'm more ready and more excited for this part of the season to start than ever in the past.  I've never had the luxury of so many ski days and so much training before I started my teaching work for the year.

Now, all we need is lots and lots of snow.

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