Magazine article Insight on the News

Mountain Schools Offer Skiers Improved Skills as Well as R&R

Magazine article Insight on the News

Mountain Schools Offer Skiers Improved Skills as Well as R&R

Article excerpt

Skiers tout New Mexico's Taos and Canada's Gray Rocks as two of North America's most sizzling cold-weather vacation spots, where bunny slopers and hotdoggers alike go for professional tune-ups.

Sitting in the bar of the legendary St. Bernard Hotel while waiting to meet the ski instructors, we middle-aged males are dealing with altitude sickness, Taos anxiety (which hits skiers the first time they see the New Mexico mountain) and the nagging doubts that accompany a receding hair line.

"Welcome to the ski school from hell," announces a woman of about 50 who is zipped into a gold Bogner ski suit. The stylish, outspoken woman, who comes to this ski school from Dallas each year without her husband (he attends a different session), does little to assuage our fears, citing in detail all the difficulties, dangers and demands we can expect during the coming week. Then she adds that the Taos instruction has improved her skiing beyond her wildest expectations.

And that's why we're here - to become better skiers.

Skiing is one sport, it seems, you can never stop learning - even experts take lessons. In the competition for ski-vacation dollars, many resorts are discovering that high-quality ski instruction gives them the edge. But to skiers in the know, that's an edge that Taos Ski Valley has always had.

Taos is one of the most demanding ski areas in the United States; it also is home to Taos Ski School. Founded by Ernie Blake and developed by Jean Mayer, the school regularly wins awards and citations as the best in North America; Snow Country magazine declared it "the best ski school there is, period."

The heart of Taos' training is Super Ski Week, a physically and mentally demanding course for intermediate and advanced skiers. Directed by Alan Veth, a former world-class racer and member of the French ski team, the program's goal is to break skiers of their bad habits. It's pretty tough: Skiers get six hours of instruction for five consecutive days. By the end of each day, most students are grateful that Taos has no real night life - all they want is a hot tub and bed.

Any competent ski instructor can figure out a skier's technical problems, but the instructors here follow an unusually simple prescription: Start at the beginning. "It came to me that if natural athletes, world-class athletes on national ski teams, can do the very basic exercises to get better, then it will help average skiers get better too," says Veth.

His program takes skiers through the earliest basis, starting with the wedge, or snow plow, and gradually moving into parallel turns, edge releasing and gates on easy inclines. It can seem pointless; in fact, the first day, most of the student dent skiers were wondering why they had traveled from all over the country to relearn a snow plow.

Veth calls it retuning. "People in a rut can't break out," he says. "You have to step out to break old habits. On the second day, people want to get their money back, but by the third day they understand. The plow is not the goal. It is a way stronger turns."

Veth says that mastery of the wedge is the key to balance and effortless, graceful skiing. He dissuades students from using the upper body to steer (the most common problem of intermediate skiers) and encourages them to concentrate on their legs and skis.

All the work pays off: Most of the people in my class improved their skiing noticeably. …

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