Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Itchy to ski

Can I just say that I love skiing? And that the last week I had, at the end of the season, was amazing. My skis feel on my feet like I never imagined skiing could feel. I keep thinking to myself, "Oh! This is why everyone is so stoked, this IS amazing!" and then the next week, it feels even better, makes even more sense.

I felt this year like I had the freedom and permission and encouragement to just explore skiing. I was encouraged by my team leader to pursue filling out my Trainer's Accreditation Passport for Ski Co, and I met with Rick Vetromile to discuss whether this was a good move or not. Was it appropriate for me to even begin to walk down this path?

Rick thought so. We had a good meeting, and the idea was that the passport could serve as a road map of sorts. How much of it got filled out was not really the point. But working on the things on the passport would serve as a diagnostic tool to tell me where I was in my skiing.

I was gratified and humbled at his willingness to let me participate in this process, and his encouragement of me to head down that road. Over the course of the season, he had a sharp eye on me, always telling it like it was. I'd see him looking and ski up. "No symmetry" he'd say, and then turn to Trish, a dynamic and accomplished instructor at Aspen Mountain. "What do you think?"

She'd look right at me. "Nope." and something like: you do something weird with your hip, you twist it in, its sloppy. You need to stop doing that. To. The. Point.

Rick would watch me take this criticism, checking to see how I felt about having my skiing filleted right there on the slope for all to hear.

Quite honestly, I love it. I loved it then and I still do. Until my turns feel perfect, and they never will, because they cant, I can only get better with a combination of honest feedback and hard work.

Right. Quit doing that weird thing with my hip. Ok.

I smiled at Rick and thanked he and Trish and went off to figure out what that weird thing came from.

I spent a lot of hours doing "that thing" that tends to make people say that PSIA is a bunch of fun-suckers, and I should "just stop thinking and ski!"

But my friend Kurt says it well. I always remember it this way: There is a difference between not thinking, and clear thinking. That feeling, when you are in the zone? That feeling that elite level athletes describe when everything gels and they are just KILLING it? They describe the sensation of having very very focused thought, of only needing to see the snow in front of them and feel their feet. They may describe it as not thinking, but research into this concept of "The Zone" is showing that these athletes are using very focused thought.

Meditation is the act of focusing on only one thing. When I'm skiing in the zone, I'm meditating, and its the most freeing, exhilarating experience I've ever had.

In order to feel that sensation, because the movement patterns of skiing haven't been with me since I was three, I need to get out there and break down why things are happening, deconstruct my skiing and look at the pieces, and beliefs I have about how to turn the ski in the snow. How to engage the ski, how to move with it, and so on.

I spent hours and hours on the groomer after this "weird hip" comment, which was echoed by other trainers, doing a side-slip to fall line to a stop drill, focusing on just the initiation of the turn.

What were my beliefs about what my body had to do in order to ask the ski to begin to turn? Was I STILL doing too much? (short answer: of course, you were, Kate, that's what you DO!)

I thought back to the argument three years ago that Rick Vetromile and Megan Harvey were having in an early morning clinic that I was tagging along on. Can you travel along the length of the ski before you cross the platform in order to begin your turn?

I remember standing in the dumping snow, in the powder, and not really understanding the technical aspects and concepts swirling around me, but Rick being patient enough to show me what he meant. He and Megan went on and skied it and talked about it, and I spent the rest of the powder day on the green groomer trying to get the sensation of moving along my ski before going inside.

It was an interesting experiment, and essentially what it did was slow down my lateral movement, make my turn more patient, give me an earlier edge angle, get me to the outside ski quicker, by virtue of moving to it rather than off it and having to over angulate to get back on it. At the time, I had no idea that this is what was happening, I just knew that something in the INTENTION of moving the length of the ski was changing the top of my turn, my feet were understanding something that my brain could not yet, and I was excited.

Later in the season, I was talking with Jonathan Ballou and he asked me if I was going to sit the TA exam, (the PSIA Trainers Accred is a different ball of wax than the TA Passport for the Ski Co.), and I asked him if he really thought I should. It was worth it to walk down that path and see what I learned, regardless.

The season was SO full of dedicated study, that I ended up shifting of the PSIA TA as a priority, thinking I might sit the exam at the end of the season if it seemed appropriate. I got a few chances to ski with Ballou, who has an incredible depth of knowledge and a great eye, and I realized how very far I had to go to make the Trainer level.

At the beginning of the season this year, I was not skiing at the Rocky Mountain standard for Level 3. I wrote about it a little bit, when I realized it with my first client of the year, a man who liked to do 22 minute laps on the gondola. (Yes, its an 18 minute ride, give or take.) Early season, going straight, trying to keep up, feeling like I was going to die, just so so so very glad that I didn't pass my 3 the year before, because I would never have been able to keep this guy in my sights, let alone keep up or give him any tips.

Near the end of the season, Jonathan asked me again, "Are you going to sit the TA exam?" I looked at him square, hoping for an honest answer.

"What do you think, Jonathan? Do I ski at that level? Is it a reasonable thing to do? Or should I wait?"

The consensus was, it was worth taking.

There was one small problem. I hadn't bothered with the prerequisites, I'd been so busy teaching and fitting in training. I thought about checking to see if I could sit the exam anyway, and I made some inquiries into it, and in the long run, both Jonathan and I agreed that it didn't need to happen this year. It was absolutely the right decision. I'm not in a hurry, I didn't need the exam as a diagnostic for where I am in my skiing, I feel like I have a good idea of where I am and how far I have to go. Taking the exam would have been rushing something that deserves more respect; training not just to get my feet there, but showing up with my mind and intention in the right place, thinking of it as a job interview.

This season, for me, was more about meeting the people in this extraordinary ski area, as many of them as I could, at all four mountains, and hearing their stories, and trying to learn where I fit, what I could offer, and who could I learn from? It was about getting out there as much as possible and feeling my feet and listening to the locker room chatter, and turning left and right in all the snow conditions, behind all kinds of people, in front of others, and often alone.

There were a couple of days when Cindy Lou took me out and tried to change my bump skiing. I was extending off the top of the bump, my body unwilling to understand how to control speed while retracting over the obstacle. She worked determinedly with me for three days.

Kurt took a look at it. It was still kind of a mess. The concept was there, but it was frustratingly inconsistent. "Do you know how to make a retraction turn on groomed terrain, Kate?" he asked. Sure I did, I thought!

I demonstrated. He looked at me, with a look that said something like: are you kidding? Until you know how to do one on groomed terrain, I'd suggest that you don't try to do one in the bumps. Good skiers make thousands and thousands of practice turns on lower angle terrain before they take that skill into terrain.

He was right. I burned at the idea of being seen as over eager, ambitious, green, I wanted to be taken seriously as a student. I wanted my trainers to see that I'm not purposely trying to skip steps.

I went out and spent a week doing nothing but retraction turns behind my clients, in all terrain. I did over 8000 of them. Yes, I counted.

Then, Cindy and I went back into the bumps. And NOW we can begin. Everything was different. There was some sort of muscle memory there to build on.

This is why I'm glad that we decided not to go for TA, this is why I didn't push, going to Passport Verification days to get my items signed off. Because it wasn't about getting the signature, it was about learning as much as I could.

The one passport verification day I did go to, I failed my Wedge Christies. I spent the next opportunity I had, six days in Telluride, doing wedge Christies all day every day behind my 4 1/2 year old clients who ski on groomed green terrain.

In the in between times, I got to shake off the cobwebs and ski ski ski with my training group, by myself, catching runs with people who were willing to let me pester them, just ripping around and seeing what my feet felt like NOW.

It wasn't until the very very very end of the season that those sensations I was having piecemeal, and the study I'd been doing on the various skills and the various movements suddenly began to gel into something that feels like the very beginning of understanding.

At Snowbird, I put on a pair of Crush's, early rise, fat and turny, and had the time of my life. I felt confident for the first time, just in that I basically understood where I wanted to be on the ski. Not that I was chasing it down, but that I wanted to move with it, tip and tail curling around my foot as my foot worked in the snow. This was a new idea for me, a new sensation.

I haven't been able to sleep for the last two nights because all I want to do is turn. This part of the season, for me, this is the "Just ski don't think" part. This is where I ski ski ski and feel feel feel all that's going on under and around me, from the burning thighs of the climb, to the numb fingers from taking off skins, to the lump in my belly that is PB and J, to the freedom and exhilaration of steep corn, to the disbelief that we are going to do it again, to the absolute quixotic joy of tromping back to the car through the reeds and the mud, sunburned, and sitting down on the tailgate, pulling tape off my blisters and opening a PBR, laughing with my friends in the sunshine, can you BELIEVE we just did that?

Well, they always can, this is common place for them. But for me, its a gift that I can't believe I get to open over and over and over. And its all those guys who let me pepper them with questions who lay the foundation for me to do it.

2 comments:

Bill said...

failed Wedge Christies? how can that be?

You can fix that in an instant. I can show you,, easy.....

Kate Howe said...

Hey, Bill! Thanks for your comment and your email. I'm just getting back into town and getting back in the swing of things, but I wanted to let you know that I got your letter!

There is a possibility that I will be in Hood for about 6 days at the end of July. If you are there, I'd love to ski with you! Thanks for asking!

I'll keep you posted!
Kate