We’re here folks, in the heart of the season. Judging from last weekend’s deluge of posts, replete with images from across the country of frosted smiles on chairlifts and bodies in flight, it seems like it’s snowing everywhere. With ski season at its peak, a lot of kids are also in the midst of their winter breaks. Timing is indeed everything!
I had the good fortune to be in Jackson Hole for a few days as the snow came down, and see some eastern ski racing teenagers unleashed on “The Rock,” the 4,000 plus vertical feet that is Rendezvous Mountain. Seeing the collective energy and glee of these kids taking on more mountain and more snow than they had ever seen, reminded me of a chance meeting I had with Jared Goldberg earlier this year at Snowbird. He was just on his way back to Europe to dig into the World Cup DH season. Goldberg grew up in the Snowbird racing program and gives the program’s laid back vibe—which is more about nurturing lifelong skiers than churning out racers—lots of credit for his development and success: “The first priority is having fun on the mountain,” said Goldberg, who then described how coach Steve Bounous handled powder days: “Instead of us drooling at everything we wanted to ski, Steve would say, ‘Go ski out the powder, then come train.’ It helped keep our priorities straight,” says Golberg. “When you’re 15 it is way more important to have fun and powder ski.”
For sure it’s important to train, and to race, and to manage yourself athletically. But from a personal and athletic development standpoint, there is no substitute for going out and whooping it up freeskiing. Pointing yourself down the fall-line and making friends with it frees you spiritually and technically. With no words or advice, the fall-line teaches you to maintain balance by coordinating your upper body and your feet, moving them both efficiently and effectively to match the terrain and snow conditions. There’s nothing quite like looking down a chute and having that little flutter of nerves before dropping in, or making split-second decisions through the trees, or feeling the burn of taking on entirely too many moguls or too much crud in one shot.
All of this is especially important for today’s young skiers. They have grown up with advances in grooming and equipment that have made the sport easier to master in some ways, but have also had the unwanted effect of taking away a degree of creativity and movement in skiing. As every crotchedy skier has told the next generation since the beginning of time: “It’s just too easy now!”
Winter break, snow days, big mountain escapes and little mountain excursions let kids of all ages discover or rediscover the moves that get lost in the homogenized skiing/training experience. It’s a time to get off the groomers and the rock hard training hills and explore the moguls, chutes, trees, bowls of areas big and small; to find the places that require a bit of effort to get to, and when you get there, to jump in and see what works. Chuck out the anchor when you’re gaining too much speed, smear turns to avoid obstacles, use your feet, jump, land right, land wrong, fall, get into and out of unusual places. These times off the clock, when coaches and parents aren’t looking, are ideal opportunities to retrieve and build on that creativity lurking in every skier’s soul.
There’s a lot of skiing and racing left in the season. In fact, the best is yet to come. It’s only just now, with more daylight and deeper snow, that we can feel our toes and see where we’re going on a regular basis. As important as it is to log training days and practice drills, the days of exploring the mountain, connecting with friends and our love of the sport, are the ones we will remember. They can also be the experiences that unlock our full potential.
Enjoy every one of these days, because you know what’s coming. Yep, Championship Season, and all the freaking out that tends to goes along with it. You can fall into the rut and get caught up in the stress of results and qualifying for the next big thing, or you can resist the urge to care overly much about the U-Whatever Championships. Take a page from Snowbird’s coaching manual, and use your energy to work on your skiing and on having fun. And if you do end up at the top of a run in the powder when the rope drops, fergawdssakes take a run for me!