I just spent two days in a PSIA "Off Piste" clinic at Sugarbush.
PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America) requires us to take at least one of their clinics every other year to maintain our certification level. Last year, I was planning to take a certification exam called "Children's Specialist II" (CS2). I had completed CS1 the year before. But, the prep for CS2 is fairly intense, and I got behind last winter. The person running the study sessions at our resort completely forgot to inform part of the staff when the sessions would start. The people that weren't reminded were all of the coaches in our seasonal children's programs. Oops.
So, without the study sessions, I opted to not take that clinic last year. I decided I'd take it this year instead. And then, health problems derailed my season a bit. I once again missed the early study sessions. And, I had a technicality to worry about. If you fail a certification clinic, it doesn't count for your clinic requirement; a passed exam counts, but not a failed exam. I probably could have passed the clinic, but I had a lot of studying and paperwork to do on my own. In the end, I decided it wasn't worth the risk to pay the higher exam fee and then risk a fine for failing to meet my educational requirements.
So, I had two late season options at Sugarbush to fulfill my clinic requirement - "Off Piste" or "In Search of Corduroy". For a few years, I've said that when I feel I should sign up for the latter of those two clinics, I should retire from teaching. So, despite my health being not quite where I wanted it to be, I signed up for the Off Piste clinic.
We had two groups doing the clinic, with one instructor from Sugarbush and the other from Gore Mountain. Because I know the off-piste terrain at Sugarbush very well, I went with the instructor from Gore, to help him locate terrain. The groups did not get divided quite the way the instructors wanted. They had watched us ski and wanted to create an "upper" and "lower" group. But, a group of 4 instructors from a single mountain refused to be split up, and this caused both groups to have some strong skiers and some less strong skiers.
I knew early on that our terrain would end up being somewhat limited by safety considerations; the instructor could not allow us to go just anywhere safely. But, we had some good, fun skiers in the group, we had great snow, and our group leader was fun and talented. We skied a lot of trees the first day, even though we were limited in terms of difficulty and limited by a mechanical problem with the Heaven's Gate lift (this would last both days of the clinic). But, we still managed to ski Eden, Pump House Woods, Eden again including the unofficial "Lower Eden", Lew's Line, two passes through lower Domino Woods, and Sap Line woods. We also did a handful of bump runs, because tree runs that have seen traffic are essentially bump runs with obstacles.
At 3:00 the first day, 4 of our 7 skiers called it a day, and 3 of us plus our instructor remained. We weren't ready to quit, and we now had the three strongest skiers in the group, so we headed for hard terrain - the Mall and Christmas Tree Woods - a steep woods shot between a difficult single black diamond and double-black diamond run. That was a challenging run, followed by an easy cool-down to end the day. It was the hardest I'd skied all year and it was a blast, being the guide and sharing Sugarbush's amazing terrain with other instructors.
The second day, we did a quick warm-up and then headed out of bounds for our next run. We headed into the Slide Brook Basin, but rather than skiing an established tree line, we skied directly underneath the Slide Brook Express chair on a run nicknamed The Elevator Shaft, or sometimes just called The Elevator. I'd wanted to ski this run for years, but we are not permitted to do so in uniform, so it was a treat to finally ski this long semi-steep path. The snow was a bit wind-packed and slabby and there were a few falls, but I'm big enough that I blasted right through the snow.
From there, we went to Mt. Ellen and skied Black Diamond and FIS. Then, Tumbler to Tumbler Woods to Moose Run Woods to Lower FIS. Then, back to the summit, for FIS and Hammerhead. The theme of the day appeared to be steep bumps, and our instructor spent a lot of time focusing on bump tactics that translate to the trees as well. He had me focus on narrowing my stance, centering my weight, and allowing myself to pivot the skis quickly and simultaneously. Later we added some aggressive pole plants on some steeper bump lines. After a very late lunch, we headed to Castlerock. Everyone was getting tired, so we did two slow runs in Castlerock. Because it was clear we were all tired, the instructor had us focus on "low energy" techniques to safely navigate steep moguls. It really helped. It's not how I'd want to be seen skiing on an everyday basis, but these were great tactics for tired skiers on tough terrain.
We were the last group off the hill. There had been about 150 instructors in clinics, and our group skied later than any other group both days. I was exhausted.
I went home, got some dinner, made myself a cocktail, and fell asleep on my couch before 8:00.
Tomorrow and Sunday, I get to ski again. The mountain forecast for Sunday is 13"-20" of new snow.