The POWDER Library: Advanced Class
Getting ready for the ski season, '80s style
Editor’s Note: Here at POWDER HQ, we’re sitting on a wealth of archive gold—more than 40 years of recorded skiing history. Rather than let those stories collect dust, we’ve decided to resurface our finest work from decades past. Here are transcribed words from stories published in past issues of POWDER. This story was published in 1987 (Volume 16, Issue 1).
Uh, oh. Don’t look now, but here comes the ski season. It’s time to get ready. To get psyched. Those three miles you ran last month will help. And so will that dream you had last week about two feet of fresh powder. And, heh heh, remember how you hopped around the living room the other day with your skis and boots on? Even that helps.
Unfortunately, no matter how much exercising or mental preparation you do, come opening day those butterflies are always there. Excitement mixes with dread. Self-doubts creep in. As you stand at the top of the hill contemplating your first run of the year, your legs tremble with anticipation and fear.
You’re not alone. Even the best of us get jittery on opening day. But the best skiers are the ones who quickly work through those jitters and get back into a rhythm. The trick is finding the groove again.
To find out how to do that, we went to some of the best instructors in the country, our new Advanced Class crew, and we asked them for advice. We asked them a bunch of questions, but what we basically wanted to know was: How do I get up to speed?
How high should my expectations be on the first day of the season?
Mike Porter, head coach of the Professional Ski Instructors of America’s alpine demonstration team and head honcho of the Vail Ski Club:
People either have high expectations of success or equally low expectations of failure. It’s either, “I’ve forgotten how to do this,” or, “Hey, I can do this!” That’s why I like to go out with my students on an easier slope or a slope that’s well within their comfort range—so it doesn’t intimidate them. Then they can think about nothing but their turns.
When I start out skiing, I won’t make a move so demanding that it requires a high degree of expertise, but I try to make a realistic turn. If I try to do too good a turn and it doesn’t work, then I’m depressed. I always wonder what I’m doing wrong. But if I make a slightly detuned turn then I have room to develop it during the day. I can start positive and actually progress.
What should I do on my first run, the first day out?
Jill Firstbrook, instructor at Copper Mountain Ski School:
The first run should be a discovery run. Relax, and don’t push yourself. Concentrate on just getting your balance back—you’ll have to rediscover your ski equipment, whether it’s old or new. Even your old equipment might feel new. Your feet won’t have been strapped down in stiff boots for months. It will take time to find the sweet spot on your skis.
Don’t get frustrated. Remember, you’re dealing with four, five, six months, or even longer, of not being near ski equipment. Take it easy and don’t push it on your first run.
How should I prepare myself mentally for the new season?
Victor Gerdin, big kahuna at the Jackson Hole Ski School and member of the PSIA alpine demo team:
It’s the end of summer, beginning of fall, and you’re starting to daydream about skiing again. Sometimes you even “feel” yourself skiing in those daydreams. You might be surprised to know that daydreaming about skiing can improve your actual skiing.
In your daydreams you can be a “perfect skier.” You can adopt any style you want, from the wildness of your hot dog friends to the grace of a World Cup racer. Picture yourself actually moving down the hill, planting your poles and turning your skis in the style you admire. If you rehearse these new moves enough mentally, your mind and body will remember those styles when you get back on the slope.
I get nervous if I go too fast right away. How do I control my speed? How fast is too fast?
Julie Findley, instructor at Mammoth Mountain Ski School:
If you find yourself moving too fast, you can dissipate your speed by changing the shape of your turns. Guide your skis out of the fall line, across the slope or up the hill, until you feel more comfortable or in control. Give the turns more of a “C” shape, and make sure you finish them. That will absorb energy and reduce the speed.
Speed is relative to skill level and proficiency. Exhilarating as it may be, Mach one usually is less than ideal and most definitely flirting with disaster. You should only ski as fast as you are able to control your skis’ direction from start to finish, recoveries included. If you can’t finish a turn when and where you desire, and you become subject to that infamous condition of “runaway,” you are obviously exceeding your posted limit.
Alright, since this story is older than our interns, let’s bring it back to 2014.
We wondered if these Advanced Class Instructors might say something different 27 years later, so we tracked one of them down to ask them the same question again. Jill Firstbrook, who is now the Alpine Program Director at Mount Sunapee, New Hampshire, told us her strategy for the first day out would be “Go at 50 percent. Focus on balance, from the feet up.” Seems like good advice stands the test of time.
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