One of the items on my Whitefish list was to go with a pro or in other words to take ski lessons. I have been skiing since 1998 and have never taken an official ski lesson. Friends of mine have given pointers and they have taken me through various drills. That help has gotten me far along, but I wanted to see what a pro ski instructor could do for my skiing.
Too many of us think ski lessons are for rank beginners or children. I am telling you they are not, no matter your level or experience taking ski lessons is valuable!
Go with a Pro — The Basics
Early March of 2017 my cousin and I drove out Whitefish Montana to ski Whitefish Ski resort. I did this the first day after Bert (a Whitefish mountain ambassador) gave us a tour of the mountain and after a lunch break.
At Whitefish, the cost for an adult group (up to four skiers per group) lesson is $81 for two hours.. I and one other registered for the intermediate class and we met up and got on the Big Mountain Express. The instructor Lori asked us what we were hoping to get out of the lessons. I replied I was looking for a check on my skiing fundamentals. Let your instructor know what you hope to accomplish with the lesson. When your instructor knows what you are looking for they will be able to avoid wasting time.
So we got off of the Big Mountain Express (Chair 1) and Lori took us down the Ant-Hill side and starting us with the “ready pose”. After getting us in the ready pose she asked us to execute a few turns going down the Ant-Hill. The Ant-Hill is an unnerving place to do this. The ant-hill is not tough, but it is grand central station at Whitefish. More than once Lori chided me for turning my upper body out of the fall line. Since I was making slow wide turns I was looking up to make sure I was not about to cut into a dive-bomber.
Go with a Pro — The Instruction
I will not bore you with the details of the lesson but Lori’s biggest emphasis was the need to keep the upper body pointing down the hill at all times through the turn. This is not the first time people have said this to me and is something I do try to work on constantly. When I am in the groove the feeling of the legs being in control is sweet.
Lori led us down a number of runs working a number of drills emphasizing the disconnection between our lower and upper bodies. Eventually, she took away our poles for a time. In any event, for what we were doing, the poles were not needed, there was never any talk of pole planting. However, at the end of the lesson she discussed using our poles as whiskers (something I do) to sense the snow conditions we are in (especially in the all too common flat light of the upper Big Mountain).
Go with a Pro — Turn Shape
My biggest take-away from the lesson was on turn shape. When skiing on steeper terrain I hurry in turning out of the fall line. My fear is if I spend too much time in the fall line I will get sucked into it. So, Lori kept reminding me not to hurry the middle-portion of the turn. Yes, despite my time in the fall-line, I kept the speed well in control.
Actually, it felt odd (at first) that despite my leisurely time in the fall-line I was not on my way to speed C.
On a run the last day I was skiing I found myself in the backseat in the middle of the turn and I felt the skis accelerate to C. I was not off-balance, but the skis started to rocket down instead of into the next turn. I simply laid it down, came to a full stop, and started over. The key here is making sure you are pressuring the tongues of your boots.
I suspect this has always been a problem with me. The only time I ever considered myself in the backseat was when a bump would knock be off-balance. I have probably spent much more time in the backseat than I realize! It is subtle but if the skis want to go straight down the hill instead of into the next turn you are probably in the backseat.
Go with a Pro — Tired
I was really tired at the end of the lesson. We were taking a run and I was doing okay but then we came to a stop. Lori noticed the skiing tired me and suggested side slipping down. I did just that and then Lori took her leave. I made it to Russ’s Street, took a rest, and skied the cattrack back. Once I got back I made my way to the Hellroaring Lodge and ordered up a beer. Shortly after that, my cousin Lars appeared.
I attribute the tiredness to the amount of time I spent at a standstill listening to our instructor. In addition, earlier I had spent time with a mountain ambassador making frequent stops. While I don’t consider myself in terrible shape I have not been skiing that much this year and I have not been training as much either (cycling specific training).
The ambassador tour was important, it gave me the comfort of knowing the difference between the blue and black at Ski Whitefish and confirmed my ability to handle the blue runs. Some of those runs would qualify as blue back home but most of them are blacks.
I retrospect, I should have signed up for the lessons on the second day and spent the rest of my first day free-skiing.
Go with a Pro — Do It
I found great value in my session going with a pro. Lori’s emphasis on a still upper body is good reinforcement of something I already know. Her feedback on my turn shape set me up for a great day of powder skiing on Thursday.
So, I strongly urge going with a pro and when you do so open your mind and listen. The pro may very well have some different ideas on what you need to do.