Her Turn Women's Clinic: Skiing Out of Your Rut is More Head Than Legs

5th February 2015 | Heather B. Fried

News Regions: Colorado, Rocky Mountains

Resorts in this article: Vail

Vail's North Rim - ©Laura Morvay

About to drop into the lower part of Vail's North Rim.

Copyright: Laura Morvay

You inch to the edge of a steep mogul run, bumps bigger and more irregularly shaped than the fake ones on that cougar in the leopard print power who's wedging by. As you stand there, looking down, you contemplate whether your inability to see your first turn is due to the run dropping so dramatically below you or because that initial mogul can be seen from space.

You also contemplate your death.

You stand there. You stand there. You stand there. Then you go catch up with that coug making her way down the cat track. Want to ski it instead? There’s a clinic for that. 

Her Turn is a worthwhile women's clinic for those looking to progress ski skills and gain confidence, no matter the level or terrain goals. - ©Heather B. Fried

Her Turn is a worthwhile women's clinic for those looking to progress ski skills and gain confidence, no matter the level or terrain goals.

Copyright: Heather B. Fried

Ski Like a Girl 

Part of Vail’s Adult Specialty Programs and one of a handful of women’s clinics, Her Turn is a three-day, choose-your-own-adventure style learning experience. On this particular January weekend (another one coming up Feb. 27-March 1), the Her Turn turnout was impressive, drawing women of all abilities and ages—up to an astounding 92 years, no joke. It also revealed itself to be a destination of sorts, with a good representation of reappearances from Colorado natives to women from all over the country and world. 

One gal in my group was from Switzerland and on a three-month ski holiday with the goal of hitting all Vail Resorts on the Epic Pass. After Colorado, she’s on her way to a couple quick jaunts in Utah and Tahoe before jet setting to Niseko, Japan. No big deal. (Note to Self: figure out how to become Euro somehow). 

After a quick breakfast and welcome, we divided into groups by our own valuation, hitting the mountain immediately to confirm whether self-assessment and on-snow aptitude matched up. Some were shuffled around, almost exclusively falling into the underestimated their abilities category, as we women tend to do. In fact, the ladies in our advanced, mogul-oriented group were shocked to hear that we’re skiing on a level 8 of 9 skill scale. 

Getting us to believe and own that is all part of the point. And while it can feel at times a vulnerable position to admit you need help taking it up a notch, this clinic manages to foster a refreshing climate of camaraderie over competitiveness. 

Among the steeper mogul runs we skied, but the whole run was ours for the bumpin. - ©Heather B. Fried

Among the steeper mogul runs we skied, but the whole run was ours for the bumpin.

Copyright: Heather B. Fried

Mogul Mastery

Our occasionally regrettable focus for the weekend: bumps, with PSIA-certified instructor, Laura Morvay as our fearless guide. In the scenario we opened with, the standing there part is pretty much the worst thing you can do. So we didn’t—not even to pick a line and especially not to get over our mounting trepidation. 

While cruising troughs or slicing up zipper lines is enviable to be sure, most moguls skiers aspiring to do so flail the moment they start picking up too much speed. Not to mention mogul fields with no line to speak of. You see, bumps, like boobs, range from perfectly shaped and spaced, fun-to-ski A's and B's to not-found-in-nature mega D's, Morvey explained. One she pointed out had a 9-foot spine, clearly a surgical implant to slow skiers in a high-traffic zone.  

Pack those A’s and D’s, natural and not-so, together in one stretch of run and you’ve got a teenaged boy’s dream and a skier's lineless nightmare. Unless, instead of looking for a line, you start making your way through the moguls, turning where a flat-chest presents itself and sliding any gnarly spine or space in your way.   

Using this tact, any line can be yours as slipping and schmearing replaces stopping and traversing as the permissible bail out. And even then, it’s not a total bail—we were still tasked with committing to finish the run on the side we started, and the fact is, even the good bumps skiers let it slide… just watch.

Sure, you prefer not to ski moguls. But learn anyhow; they’re everywhere, like an all-mountain right of passage that sets you up to ski anything. That said, the number of ways to think about and ski moguls is head spinning. Morvey’s approach is accessible, keeping you moving and looking at the opportunities to turn instead of the obstacles that prevent it. It’s just like one of those black and white images that reveal a vase or two people nose to nose, depending on your focus. 

Moguls we were laughing at/bombing down by the end of day one. - ©Heather B. Fried

Moguls we were laughing at/bombing down by the end of day one.

Copyright: Heather B. Fried

Blowing Out Comfort Zones & Perspectives

By the end of day one, lesser mogul runs were not only doable but fun. The steep ones of day two? Well, we’re all still getting there. But here’s the thing, nobody skis that s*&#. Not on purpose. Talk about the perfect, whole-run-to-yourself proposition, now available with a side of more conviction to actually ski it. 

Between bumps, we also worked on general technique, hammering home the classics like weight forward and fall-line driven, arms up and out front. Morvey offered each of us individual tips tapping into our inherent, if not incessant, bad habits we never noticed. Rather, she put positive form fixes on our radar (Note to Self: that’s arms UP and OUT FRONT. Poles aren’t rudders, nor are they paddles for that matter. Head and back up while you’re at it). 

Sometimes, you just gotta break for pushups to get warm. This was also an illustration of optimal arm placement. Message received. - ©Heather B. Fried

Sometimes, you just gotta break for pushups to get warm. This was also an illustration of optimal arm placement. Message received.

Copyright: Heather B. Fried

We skied steeps sans moguls where our new view of the mountain also applies—if you don’t like what you’re seeing, slide your standpoint and a line will present itself. Dissecting the terrain in this way, among many others, offers the kind of tangible takeaway and aha moment that instantly make ski clinics worthwhile. Put it back together and you're skiing something you wouldn't have two days ago. Ski it again and you're crushing that run. Find a new tipping point, repeat. 

As an added bonus, we talked ski-centric differences between men and women—the most interesting of which was that it starts out genderless: We all fear equally our ability to ski the terrain before us and keep up. Then we diverge, with women worried about warmth as the next biggest concern.

Being that my sweat 'stache has become a near permanent ski day fixture, I couldn’t relate less, anxieties running higher regarding ski-boot-induced foot pain than, say, death by frostbite. And on that front, we also talked gear. It’s unfortunate that my ongoing boot saga served as a centerpiece for said conversation, stimulating much fodder and Q&A, but my hope is that it was also a learning experience for all.

My takeaways include...

1. Never attempt to break in boots during a clinic.

2. Sizing down—virtues extolled as they may be—is not for me.

3. At a certain level, despite what some may have you believe, gear matters. It’s true, a good skier can get down anything on everything, but will they improve on equipment they’re over skiing? Probably not.

Everyone was game for a second run down North Rim, picking our way through some sketchy terrain without hesitation. - ©Heather B. Fried

Everyone was game for a second run down North Rim, picking our way through some sketchy terrain without hesitation.

Copyright: Heather B. Fried

What Stuck

If bumpin’ nearly nonstop for three days isn’t your cup of tea, not to worry, Krista Crabtree leads another advanced group that tends toward a more technical, carving sensibility drawing from her race background. She also happens to be OnTheSnow's Ski Test Director and one of the best skiers I've ever had the pleasure to try to keep up with. Beginners and intermediates working their way up are in equally good hands if the vibe during our Her Turn wrap-up was any indicator. And if you’re in your 90s, you might just get a well-deserved three-day private lesson.

Whatever your level, progression is inevitable. But the confidence that follows is, in my opinion, even more valuable. It’s about knowing you’ve got the tools and muscle memory in your repertoire to tackle more daunting terrain and/or finally getting over the nagging tendency to underestimate your skill level, which neither serves nor suits you.

My favorite example comes from my new Swiss friend, Michelle, who initially placed herself in an intermediate group only to be booted out within the first two runs to join our advanced posse. The kicker: she was awarded most improved, the new skills and assurance of which will certainly serve her well as she explores unknown terrain without hesitation in her ski adventures to come. 

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