I’m standing at the top of a steep trail—one of those black diamond runs with the kind of pitch that makes it impossible to see what lies below—feeling like I’m about to fall off the edge of the earth. My daughters are long gone having propelled themselves downhill sans hesitation a few moments earlier. I shuffle my skis forward until my tips point perpendicularly out from the mountain, nothing but air beneath them. I want to launch myself forward, but chicken out, side-slipping my way down the steepest section of the trail instead until I’m able to make a few comfortable turns. Rats.
As a skier who has moved well beyond the basics, on-mountain lessons often leave me wanting for more. While it’s always great to have an hour or two of one-on-one time with a pro, those finite pockets of instruction tend to focus on just a couple of skills, rarely providing the opportunity to delve deeply into who you really are—or could become—on snow.
Ready to Take the Leap
In contrast, the Women’s Alpine Adventures clinics at Okemo Mountain Resort break from that traditional ski-lesson mold, offering two, three, and five-day small-group learning experiences that give participants the chance to truly understand themselves as skiers and take their technique to the next level. Last month, fellow All Mountain Mama Mara Gorman and I had the opportunity to take part in a W.A.A. intensive two-day clinic. In an effort to keep up with her two boys on their favorite runs, Mara hoped to focus on improving her speed and coordination in the glades and on bumps. My own goals were also fairly straightforward—gain the confidence I needed to take the leap on those harrowing diamond and double diamond trails while skiing faster and with more control on steeper terrain. Regardless of the accomplishments that lay ahead, we both knew we were in for a good time.
Women’s Alpine Adventures participants are split into groups based on information provided prior to arrival. I found my place among six enthusiastic women at breakfast on the first morning and discovered that we all had similar goals in terms of upping the ante on challenging trails. Our coach, Laurie Cobb, a high-spirited veteran PSIA instructor with eleven years at Okemo under her skis, introduced herself and set the first order of business—she wanted us on the snow by nine o’clock. Those of us who were thinking of lingering over a second cup of coffee needed to buckle our boots and grab our skis in a hurry. Laurie ran a tight ship but that was exactly how I liked it—the more time on the slopes the better. I later learned that Laurie also had the reputation among the WAA instructors for always being the last one back at lunchtime and the end of the day—and both days I was happy to be right alongside her bringing up the rear.
The few inches of snow that had fallen the night before gave the mountain a fluffy layer of powder that made for beautiful morning conditions and we headed up Jackson Gore Peak for a warm-up run down Tuckered Out, a long, winding blue cruiser. Laurie’s only directions were to focus on feeling our shins on the fronts of our boots—something she referred to throughout the clinic as “shin tongue,” and to have fun, to just get out there and enjoy the snow. In fact, reminding us to have fun became a bit of a mantra throughout our two days together. Despite consistently rigorous instruction, practically every run began with Laurie telling us to go have a good time.
All of the W.A.A. groups had been asked to take a few runs and reconvene at the Solitude base by ten-thirty. This would give the instructors time to see us navigate a variety of trails to confirm that we’d been placed in the appropriate groups. That assessment went for participants too—if anyone felt as though she were with skiers who were either far below or beyond her skill set, she could switch to a different group. The seven of us decided that we were nicely matched and after a quick pit stop Laurie had us heading back up the mountain where our lessons began in earnest.
Using the metaphor of a house, Laurie encouraged us to think of our bodies as having an upstairs and a downstairs. The bulk of our skiing would happen downstairs—flexing and rotating our feet, ankles, shins, and knees—while the upstairs would remain far quieter. I found the visual to be a helpful one, especially since I’ve developed the habit of swinging my upper body in the direction of my turns rather than keeping my core aimed down-mountain like I’m supposed to do.
Consistent with her “shin tongue” idea, Laurie reminded us to “drop into” our boots at the start of every run and I’ve since found the phrase coming to me on my own during my post-clinic days on the slopes. It takes a while for that forward-leaning feeling to become instinctual—I think it’s a natural inclination to lean back in an attempt at self-preservation when rocketing down a mountain. But Laurie had several tricks to keep us from leaning too far back. Here are a few key takeaways:
Coach Laurie Cobb’s Words of Wisdom
- Drop into Your Boots – At the start of every run be sure to feel your shins pressed against the fronts of your boots and keep them there the whole time.
- Hit the Quarter – Tuck your pelvis underneath you slightly to keep your butt out of the “back seat.” This is another way to help keep from leaning too far back.
- Ten and Two – Position your hands out in front of you like you would on your steering wheel. Your hands should be visible at all times and using your poles should involve a simple flick of the wrist just before you begin your turn.
- Leap of Faith – Project your core diagonally into your turns. This will help you carve beautiful, rounded turns as you ski dynamically down the mountain.
Though the first day on snow with Laurie ended with a million details zinging cosmically around in my brain, everything began to gel on day two, and when it did it felt amazing. I found myself ripping down black diamond runs like Quantum Leap, Defiance, and Wardance at a far faster clip than I would normally find comfortable, getting up on my edges and completing my turns without fishtailing my skis erratically in my wake. Still, I was surprised to discover that even though going fast can be exhilarating, especially when you’re skiing with authority, I actually prefer taking my time, breaking up bursts of speed by traversing in wide, arcing turns that allow my runs to last longer and utilize as much of the slope as possible. It’s been said that skiing is a dance and the mountain always leads. I think that may be a motto I can embrace.
Coaching, Camaraderie, and Confidence – The 411 on Okemo’s Women’s Alpine Adventures
- Women’s Alpine Adventures clinics are offered several times each season. Skiers and riders can choose the 2-day intensive program, the 3-day complete program, or the 5-day premier program.
- With a small student-to-coach ratio, all participants will receive instruction that is truly tailored to their specific needs and goals.
- All clinics include lift tickets, a welcome cocktail party (with music and dancing!), and a delicious breakfast and lunch each day. The 5-day premier program also includes a celebratory farewell dinner in the mountain’s farm-t0-fork Coleman Brook Tavern, which is, as Mara notes in her post, a great place for evening drinks and victuals.
- W.A.A. participants also receive special lodging rates at the Jackson Gore Inn–which is walking distance to clinic headquarters–and the convenience of Jackson Gore’s overnight ski valet.
- Want to learn more about the Mamas’ experience at W.A.A.? Check out Mara’s post here.
Gina Vercesi is an award-winning freelance writer with an adventurous spirit and unwavering wanderlust. Despite growing up in New England, Gina didn’t don a pair of skis until February 2014—the result of being raised by a beach-loving dad who eschewed everything having to do with snow and cold. When she finally took her first lessons and hit the slopes at Stowe Mountain Resort, she became an instant convert. As an All Mountain Mama, Gina loves sharing the joys of Vermont skiing with powder-lovers and novices alike.
Chronicling journeys on land, water, and snow, Gina’s words and images have appeared numerous print and digital publications including National Geographic Traveler, Travel + Leisure, Sierra, the Boston Globe, Delta SKY, Afar, Yankee, and many more. She is passionate about helping families (including her own!) unplug from electronics and the frenetic pace of modern life and believes that travel and adventure are the best ways reconnect to one another and the world around us. Gina lives in a friendly village on the Hudson River with her husband, three daughters, and a good dog. www.ginavercesi.com