Wide, slow turn, swoop; wide, slower turn, swoop – bluebird skies overhead, groomed snow below, why was I going so slowly?
Wide. Slow. Turn. Swoop. This was too easy.
But wait. Where was my body on my skis? It was crouched more than it needed to be or occasionally leaning back so that my weight was up the hill. Where were my poles? Out in front, “shopping for turns” instead of lined up with the toe of my boots. And what was happening as I turned? My shoulders led instead of my feet. Wrong, wrong, and wrong again.
Couldn’t I just speed up and zip on down in some jagged Z turns instead of these slow rounded ones? If I did that I’d never notice the inconsistencies in my speed or the errors in my form. I’d look pretty good, confident, zipping down the mountain, fast and then faster.
But I wouldn’t earn a nod of approval from Lucia. And that was what I coveted.
The aptly named Lucia Wing is a ski instructor at Stratton Mountain Resort in southern Vermont and although her small frame floats like a butterfly down the hill you should not be fooled: She is one tough cookie with a sharp sense of humor who knows all the things that will make you a good skier if you can bring yourself to do them.
I skied with Lucia and five other female students as part of the Women on SnoW (WOW) Camp at Stratton. These two-day clinics held once a month throughout the ski season are designed for and coached by women for skiers of all ability levels and ages. Our group was called Blues to Blacks because we were all advanced intermediate skiers and up who wanted to take our technique to the next level.
Other than the fact that we were all women we were different from each other in many ways: We ranged from a mother of two young children to grandmothers. Everyone’s specific reasons for being there were also different – one woman wanted to keep up with her heli-skiing husband, another, to get her mojo back after an accident left her feeling vulnerable on the mountain.
Some of us stood up ramrod straight and skied slowly and deliberately across every trail, no matter how steep. Still others darted down the mountain like rabbits. Some were more timid about bumps and black diamond trails; others loved them. But we all shared one thing in common: A desire to ski as fearlessly, expertly, and effortlessly as Lucia.
What she lacks in stature, Lucia makes up for in intensity and intelligence. She wasted no time on niceties and began our group lesson on the gondola ride up by launching into an explanation of the first rule of good skiing having to do with your center of mass or balance on your skis. The key is to be balanced properly and angled forward with your ankles, knees, and hips flexed so that your weight is distributed properly and you are headed down the hill.
No problem, I thought and zipped through my first run in what I thought was an athletic stance that turned out to be alternately too far forward and too far back (inconsistency was pretty much the name of my game). I paid for my confidence on the next run when she made me slow down to and follow her down the hill focusing exclusively on where my body was balanced over my skis. It was so much harder to ski slowly than to ski fast and all of a sudden every change in my speed and technique came into sharp relief.
Another gondola ride up, and it was time for Principle Number 2: Turn with your pants, not your jacket. This is just another way of saying that your legs should initiate turns while your upper body faces down the down the mountain.
My feet! How could I have forgotten they were under me? I’m embarrassed to admit that after eight years of focusing on this very idea in weekly hot yoga classes I had never brought it to my skiing. It took still more slow, slower, slowest runs to separate what the lower part of my body was doing from the top half.
Here’s how Lucia teaches: She tells you what to do. She shows you what to do. She gives you tasks that are designed to help you practice the things you need to do. She watches you as you do the tasks and she corrects you. All of this is pretty much in line with ski instruction I’ve had before, especially in groups, although I would say that her tasks are particularly spot on and her explanations especially clear. She also singled out each person in the group for the things she was good at and used her as an example where appropriate, which was a nice confidence booster and helpful for the rest of us.
But here’s what’s a little magical about Lucia: She also seems to have eyes in the back of her head that are watching each person in the group individually. And these eyes see into the soul of your skiing and pick out the essential things you need to improve to do it better. And then she says things like “don’t get in the backseat!” or “your skis are too far apart (or close together)!” or “you never stop using your edges – practice flattening your skis” and makes you follow and imitate her until you at least start to get it right.
She is also is the queen of what she calls “tactics.” These are more general strategies for getting the most out of your skiing. For example, she talked about getting a feel for the snow underfoot and then applying that knowledge to how and where we skied – icier conditions call for flatter skis because an edge won’t hold, while on softer snow or less steep terrain we might choose to carve with our downhill leg longer than our uphill leg to help us pick up some speed.
I’ve never had a better instructor.
At the end of our first day we rode up the gondola one last time and Lucia asked us each what our key takeaway was. I realized that for me it had to do with my speed – until I slowed down I hadn’t realized how erratically I had been skiing, fast and furious without completing my turns. After just a single day I was skiing more smoothly, effortlessly, and confidently than I had in years.
Of course, the two days weren’t all about work – we had fun too. They may have been designed to improve key areas of our skiing, but many of the tasks that Lucia assigned us also felt a little bit like playing in the snow. To address the fear that some members of the group felt on the steeper slopes she had us practice a racing tuck on vertical pitch that flattened out nicely on the bottom (the challenge? See who could resist turning and go the farthest). To help us work on short turns she had us make as many turns as we could on a short stretch of trail called Duck Soup and then made all of us do still more on the next run down.
And when she saw I was struggling with the skill of flattening my skis – who knew how much I had been edging? I sure didn’t – she showed us all how to do 360 turns, a skill I can’t wait to surprise my 13-year-old son with the next time we ski, since he’s always whipping around me like a dervish.
She knew when to push and when to let it go. At the end of the second day, she took me and two other women in the group on a bump run to show us her technique for skiing moguls, but she let some members of the group ski separately.
Her goal, always, was to help us become more advanced skiers. On one run she watched as a man in a blue jacket skied competently past as all going at a pretty good clip. “You want to actually ski the mountain,” she said as he disappeared down the hill. “So you need to do the things I’m showing you. Otherwise you’ll be like 95 percent of people, like that guy – just out for a trail ride.”
As the only female in my household who delights in the company of her sons and husband (and who is the most experienced skier in her family), I was dubious about the benefits of a women-only clinic. But I’m a solid convert now. The WOW coaches were generous and supportive and clearly liked what they were doing. And I loved and was inspired by the women who were 15 to 20 years older than me. I watched them working it on the slopes and heard their stories. We had our own dedicated space in the base lodge and it was lovely to gather there on breaks or at the end of the day to share our small triumphs – “I skied my first black diamond” or “I finally got my skis further apart – I’ve been trying to do that for years.”
I also realized that when I’m with my kids I’m usually more focused on how they are skiing than on myself. In fact it’s no wonder that I’ve been skiing so fast that I didn’t know what I was doing – I’ve been chasing my older son down the mountain for years. Or I’ve been trying to get my younger son to use his poles. Or I’ve been arguing with both of them that a double black diamond trail isn’t a good idea when the mountain is covered in glare ice. None of that is conducive to thinking about my turns or weight distribution. But after just two days at Stratton I feel certain that I can apply what I learned and keep up with my kids.
At lunch on the second day of the camp, the instructors gave out what they called “Paper Plate Awards” to each woman in their groups. Everyone was singled out for the unique thing she brought to the table, whether that be good humor, a willingness to try new things, or the wherewithal to get up after multiple falls.
And my prize? Thanks to my work trying to master my erratic speed and form, Lucia game me the award for Wild Woman Tamed. I love that it was a powerful woman who showed me how to harness my own strengths.
I was a guest of Stratton Resort, courtesy of my relationship with Ski Vermont and the All Mountain Mamas. They provided me with the clinic, a place to stay, and lift tickets for two days. You can always count on me to let you know when I’ve been given something without paying dollars for it – and also to share my honest opinions.
But I’d like to add here that I would pay for Women on SnoW without hesitation (I’m already thinking that I’d like to budget for it next season in fact). The cost for two days is $379, plus the price of lift tickets. In addition to the daylong lessons participants get the opportunity to demo new equipment; two breakfasts, two lunches, snacks and wine after skiing; an opening night reception; a great goodie bag; access to Stratton’s fitness center and pool; and a discount at the spa in Stratton’s Village. Given the quality of instruction and the personalized attention to say nothing of all these extras I consider it a great value. It’s offered in December, January, February, and March.
Photos courtesy of Ski Vermont
Want to learn more about skiing, staying, and dining at Stratton Mountain Resort? Here are some of the things my fellow All Mountain Mamas had to say: