Thursday, January 20, 2011

Aspen Real Life - Blogging in Paradise and keeping it real.

Jillian Livingston is the mom of three boys, an adventurer, a writer, a dreamer and an all around amazing woman. She writes the blog Aspen Real Life and has the most amazing eye for a great local story! Of course, living in Aspen, local stories include ones like this; an interview with POWDER magazine's associate editor (and his nephew.)

Rock on, Jillian! Thanks for inspiring us all!

(You can always find Jillian's blog on the Blogroll in the sidebar on Skiing in the Shower.)

From Aspen Real Life:
My title is “blogger” but I consider myself a writer and feeling the need to connect with other writers, I contacted Mike Rogge, Associate Editor of Powder Magazine, for an interview.
Mike gives a witty account of what it is like to work for one of the world’s most popular ski magazines. Thank you Mike. And for the record, I’m up for hire!

For more of this article, follow ME!

Skiing AJAX with the POC crew! What a DAY!

Today is one of those days when you are really, really glad you showed up for work. I wandered into ski school to see if there were any lessons needing instructors, and I ran into Jarka Duba, the CEO of POC USA, my very first sponsor.

POC took a chance on me, opening the door to so much opportunity, and keeping my head, spine and hands safe while I learned to huck myself down the hill. I love their stuff, and I'm grateful for the trust they put in me.

"What are you up to Jarka? Are you free skiing?" I asked.

"Yup, we are skiing around, you are welcome to join us!" he said. I had no idea who "us" was, but I wasn't about to miss a chance to go play in the snow with these guys, its nice to say thanks by sharing a big grin on a bluebird powder day!

Turns out that "us" was Josefin Lowgren, head of Promotions for POC, Oscar Huss head of Helmets and Development, and Stefan Ytterborn, CEO of the whole shebang, as well as Jarka himself.

The snow was amazing on Aspen Mountain, and we skied everywhere, from groomers to the steeps in Walsh's, quitting for lunch at the Ajax tavern, where I got to know Stefan and Josefin a bit.

Like most excellent companies, this one is headed up by open, interesting, creative thinkers. We had a wonderful lunch talking about art, food, skiing, dreams, family, and so much more. I was struck by the similarities in my experience skiing with the TREW crew the other day, the folks heading up the company are real, they love to ski, they are dedicated to their product and driven to make it the best. I was proud to be a part of POC before, I'm really psyched, now.

I spoke with Oskar a bit about how the R and D department at POC is different than at other companies, what sets them apart? Oskar spoke passionately about the process of research and development for POC, they have several doctors; a brain specialist, a spines specialist, a neurologist and a doctor who deals almost exclusively with skiing induced trauma. Then they have a team of engineers. This unorthodox group meets in a "ski lab" setting and builds product from the injury up: what kinds of injuries are we seeing, and what kind of protection would reduce or eliminate this kind of trauma?

The engineers listen to the doctors and come up with solutions to the real world problems that high impact athletes face.

The company is so out of the box and progressive that they even designed a concept car based on the crash and impact data that they have gathered over the years.

It was a wonderful day of skiing, a real treat to be able to say thank you to the guys driving the product that I live in every day, and really nice to make some new friendships.

There's a possibility that there may be some exciting things that come out of this relationship... stay tuned for some (truly unreal) developments!

Dispatch from NASTC: Interski 2011 and more!

I got this in my mailbox last night, so many exciting things are going on in the world of skiing right now!! OH MAN I'd love to be at Interski! I'm so proud of our Team and all the delegates that have gone! Good luck guys!


Some cool events are coming up in both the NASTC world and the ski world overall.  We've been hearing back from the U.S delegation to Interski 2011 in St. Anton, Austria and sounds like our PSIA Alpine Team is doing us proud.  Our team gave a strong presentation  on freestyle skiing, technology evolution and teaching and adaptive teaching that resonated well with the other delegations and audience members.  36 different countries are represented at Interski and it is the closest event to the Olympics for ski instruction professionals. 

The famous Hahnenkamm downhill and super-g races will go off starting this Friday and Saturday.  The town of Kitzbuehel in Austria will be bursting at the seams as fans from across the world will flock to this tiny Austrian village to witness one of the most exciting events on the FIS World Cup circuit.  The Hahnenkamm is known as the most difficult course on the World Cup circuit.  The course includes jumps up to 80m which is about 262.5ft!! Steep slopes with up to an 85% grade.  The skiers will reach speeds up to 140 km/h which is about 87mph (most people don't even go that speed in their cars), they will have less than 2 minutes to complete the 2 mile long course, with a vertical drop of about 2831ft.  This is probably one of the most difficult courses in the world.

Daron Rahlves Banzai Tour is kicking off this weekend at Alpine Meadows.  This will be the first stop in the tour circuit where competitors will be vying for a $50,000 cash purse.  It is an event that combines skier cross, downhill racing and big mountain skiing technique and tactics.  4 skiers will race each other in each heat through gates in off-piste terrain.  This is event is likely to attract top skiing athletes from all over the country, whose talent and courage will be showcased with each heat they run.

All Conditions-All Terrain course at Alpine Meadows will be going off this weekend (in conjunction with the Banzai tour!)
3 full days of skiing and coaching with Chris Fellows at a great mountain - well known for its abundance of off-piste terrain and scenic views.  Price for the course is $995!!  Come on out, rake in lots of mileage, get great coaching and feedback on your skiing and start making some changes in your performance!

If you would like to have a peek at what the NASTC Val Gardena course will be like, click on the link below and start day-dreaming or trip planning!

Don't forget the Snowbird Performance Camp coming up soon.......Jan 27-31.  Enjoy 4 days of great skiing and coaching with Richie Jameson - the guy from "down-unda" who frequently references koalas, kangaroos and seagulls in his teaching verbage.  If you have ever taken a course from Richie, you know exactly what we mean!  Hop on over to Utah for some good times and who knows your skiing might also jump up a level or two while you're there.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

DONT CHOKE! - Mental Performance Coaching in Whitefish, Montana

Do you teach skiing in Montana? I'll be at Whitefish Mountain Resort in Northern Montana from January 24th through the 27th! Two clinics are scheduled and more will be added if demand warrants it!


Don't Choke!
Exam and Selection prep at Whitefish Mountain Resort in Northern Montana 
with mental performance coach
Kate Howe 

Coach to PSIA National Teams Candidates

"Kate's experiences as both an athlete and coach at the highest levels of individual sport give her a unique and valuable perspective. The biggest challenge in helping athletes as they become experts in their sport is working on a flat learning curve where each small refinement or achievement is hard won...

Kate's techniques truly shine when good enough isn't."
- PSIA Education Director, and former US Ski Team Adaptive Coach Ben Roberts, National Teams Candidate and client of Kate Howe

Tuesday, January 25
4 – 6 pm “Go Time” - indoor presentation
$20 per person in advance, includes materials $25 per person at the door

Wednesday, January 26
9am – 3pm “Pucker Factor” - On Snow Practical Clinic
$40 per person in advance $45 day of
Limited to 12 spots

Sign up for both sessions for $50 ahead of time! to register

Sponsor Appreciation Day! Thanks, TODI!

If you enjoy reading this blog, please visit the sponsors who make it possible!

Todi makes shoes for aggressive souls. They are the apres sport shoe of doom, and as you can see from this picture, I've worn one pair into the ground!

I'm gonna keep the new pair in the locker room for a little post ski Ahhhhh, and the other pair for my outdoor Ahhhh after I come down from a long back country ski or a day in the park on the slackline.

Those of you with tender, abused feet, this is the Rx! Click here to visit TODI, and here to "like" me as a Todi Athlete.

Thanks for visiting, reading, and supporting the sponsors!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Learning to Ski is Like Putting Together a Lego Car Without the Instructions: More Thoughts on Copy, Choose, Create

More than 25 pieces, the first build is always by the book.

My kids save up their allowance and buy little Lego kits that come with about 25 pieces. These tiny kits make up a Lego car, most of the time. I stand there with a handful of Legos, and I look at the box, and I KNOW this makes a car, because I see the picture on the box.

I feel this way lots of times when I'm following someone with real mastery around on my skis. Each of them explains what we are doing differently, each of them expresses the final idea with their own spirit showing through their skiing, but in all of them, the pieces are there.

I watch them ski away, and I think to myself, I see the pieces. I look at my hand. I see all the Legos. I know this makes a car.

Lots of times, I put the pieces together, and I have four or five left over. It looks kind of like a car, I tried to copy the picture, but there is something missing - I have rotation but no speed control; I have speed control but no ski-to-snow contact; I have ski-to-snow contact; but no flexion/extension.

Often on the lift, I flip through the Lego book in my head and go to the last page which shows the exploded view of how it all fits together. I can see the diagnostic, I can see where the piece goes that I was missing.

Most of the time, of course, the piece that I have left over goes in the middle, or in the base, and I have to take the entire freaking car apart to fit in that little, but important piece. Now my rotation matches the distance traveled down the bump, and I have rotary AND speed control, but I'm still lacking ski-to-snow contact.
One of the many ships Bodhi makes from his imaginiation

This place to me feels like the space in between choose and create, it's the space where you are skiing with choice, and seeing how often you are able to chose. Sometimes, it goes well, and you get a moment of freedom when five or six bumps feel like freedom and creation. And then, suddenly, there is a blank space: I don't know how to create in this terrain.

This recently happened to me in Sodbuster, a steep, long, fairly narrow double black bump run. There were sections in which I felt free to ski, speed came with proficiency, in these types of bumps, I could choose, and occasionally have moments where I felt like I was free enough to create.

Suddenly, we came across some bobsled run shaped bumps. I only know how to choose one line in here, i realized. I've spent three years trying to learn not to let the terrain dictate turn shape, but for some reason, I had yet to apply it in this type of terrain.

I asked Schanzy if he could show me several different turns in this situation, trying to free my brain from the prescription that it was wanting to hold on to. I had been skiing three bumps and stopping, trying to find the place where I could choose, but while I could chose on this bump and then that bump, I could not seem to string together any sort of fluid choice.

Schanzy skied away from me, and I watched the creative process, suddenly the prescription crumbled. I was in a place where I could copy, slower and more deliberately, but I could feel the liberation coming. I'm excited for the day when I can take apart all the directed kit cars I've made and mix the pieces up. I'd love to be able to come up with a cool car of my own design, like my kids do.

But I have to remind myself that while I'm eager for that kind of freedom, and I love to jump in and see how I do all on my own, its the learning to build that allows me to play with freedom in the future. Bodhi wasn't able to make the creations he builds out of his mind today before he spent years following the directions carefully.

Monday, January 17, 2011

When the Goal is not the Point

In our front yard, we have a pond. It is an incredibly inspiring thing to look at, in all of the seasons, but it's really exciting in winter. The ranch guys come out with a snowblower and a buffer and they clear the pond every time it snows so that we can all play broomball.

There are lights hanging from the tree at the water's edge; in the summer, we spent a whole night swimming in the freezing water and playing on a friend's stand-up paddle boards under the lights. We built a fire and tried to warm up after being dunked off the slackline, and eventually the evening turned into music and oversized sweatshirts by the campfire in our front yard.

Things are a bit different, now, the gaggle of kids that lived here over the summer couldn't come down and live here permanently, bringing its own challenges to all of us, and the house and pond feel empty without them.

My mom moved back to California, and my little sister moved here from Salt Lake City. Mike is in Africa and in Whitefish with his kids, and the rhythm of a seasonal life goes on. It's a hard reality that we are dealing with.

The pond froze over finally, after a few unseasonably warm spells, and I happened to be home on a day while they were resurfacing the pond for broomball. I had pulled a backpack out of the gear closet the day before, and looked at my skates, out of the closet only four or five times since I retired from skating in 1993, and that afternoon, I thought...

What if I went skating?

While this may seem like an easy, silly question, it's one that has been loaded for me for a long time. Skating, for me, was about winning. It was about the medal. It was about my parents' pride, about finally being good enough at something that they would be proud of me, that I would finally be good enough. Good enough to love, good enough to respect, good enough. I thought that if enough people said I was good, or if experts in the field said I had worth, my parents would have no choice but to agree.

For that reason, skating for me became nothing but the goal. There was no pleasure in the journey, nothing but single-minded focus on an absolute which is ridiculously difficult to obtain. Along the way, even though my parents held up sporting prodigies as models for how we all should behave, I was told that Olympic champions are born, not made.

I remember the day I won a full ride to the Olympic Training Center in Lake Arrowhead, California, having a conversation with my step dad, in which he basically told me that I had no hope of achieving, that this was a waste of time and money, a dead end. That if I didn't come from a long line of sporting champions, I had no hope of cracking the top 10, let alone making it all the way.

Meanwhile, he had torn a photo of Katarina Witt out of a magazine and put it in his briefcase to remind him that hard work pays off.

I was determined to prove him wrong. I was sure that no matter the obstacles that I was facing, I could, indeed, work harder, smarter, stronger and longer than anyone thought, and the reward would be the Gold. I went to the training center by myself, embarking on a journey whose goal was singular. To win. There was nothing for me but the goal as a terminus.

He also told me that there was no point in putting all my energy into skating because the end result would be that while I might be very good, athletes die if they aren't in the top two percent, because they can't get endorsement deals, so they spend their lives using their bodies and not their brains, and when they are over the hill at 19, they have nothing to fall back on and spend the rest of their lives in poverty working in a coffee shop and not fulfilling their potential.

I looked out the window at the empty pond from our house here in Aspen, and I held my skates in my hand and I thought how differently I feel about life, now. I took my portable radio down into the deserted front yard and pulled on my skates.

There was no one around, the pond surface was bumpy and irregular, and I felt wobbly beyond compare. But there were no judges, there was no audience, there were no parents, and I stroked uncertainly out into the middle. I wondered if I remembered anything. I was worried about how bumpy the ice was, afraid to catch an edge, lose my balance and hurt myself with ski exams coming up.

I turned around and suddenly I was flying backwards, and the sound of my skates cutting into the ice felt so familiar, and so happy, that suddenly, I was free. I was skating on the pond, I was just skating because it felt good, good to spin, good to jump, good to play, good to glide over every bump and twig out there. I didn't care what it looked like, it was just for me. It was beautiful. It was free. It was fun.

My step dad and all his judgment melted away, the pressure of a life lived perfectly evaporated, and then my sister rode up on her bike. She asked me, "Oh, my god, are you SKATING?" and I smiled. I was shy to have someone catch me at it, I wasn't sure how I would feel, now would I need to perform?

Liat asked me if she could get her camera, she is experimenting with low light exposure, and the sun had gone down, the single light was shining on one end of the pond. I trust Liat in a way that makes me feel safe in the extreme, so I agreed, and she came out and shot some photos. Looking through them later, I realized how different it was, how different everything is, from this side of life.

It took a long time, a lot of thought and purposeful action, over 18 years in therapy and studying, to separate my understanding of self, self worth, and personal action. I no longer feel like I, as a person, am defined by my accomplishment, and because of that, I'm free to learn and play and experience the road to a goal, without the goal being the point of the whole thing.

I have peeled myself away from the idea that to have worth, I have to fit into someone else's idea of who I should be. And I feel free.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Copy, Choose, Create: Skiing is just like Art School

I was skiing with Schanzy the other day in our Ski Lab (the group of folks from Aspen that are interested in training together before going to National Teams Tryouts), and we had a really great conversation about the bumps. I have been working on my bump skiing quite intensely this season, with LOTS of epiphanies, and the end result has been that I am suddenly able to SOMETIMES ski with more control, freedom and fluidity in the big double black bumps. Yay!

Schanzy said something to me that I've heard often before in teaching situations, but you know how sometimes you hear something in a different way when you are finally ready to take in the information?

It was something like, "You are caught in different moments somewhere in Copy, Choose, Create. Where do you think you fall in this terrain?" It was a great question, one that hasn't been asked to me directly, which it hadnt occurred for me to ask of myself in each type of terrain or situation. Its a wonderful diagnostic.

It occurred to me that learning to ski is just like going to art school. Lots of art school candidates enter school with a portfolio that we are proud of, a sense of where we want to go, and a feeling that going to Art School means we get to skip straight to the CREATE part of the equation. 

Self Portrait by Basquiat
Oh, if only we knew. The hard work begins. Our teen aged angst filled counter culture souls are begging to follow in the footsteps of Basquiat, Schnabel, Cy Twombly, Pollack, Anselm Keefer... let me express all 18 years of my deep, tortured experience in the next five minutes. That's why I'm here. 

Instead, we sit down and learn to sharpen a pencil with an exact o. We practice copying line width and characteristics, we practice copying the masters in one color. We practice copying the masters in two colors. We copy, copy, copy. We draw circles, cylinders, boxes. We draw everything mundane to train our hands to learn to chose line quality, volume, space. We haven't' even got to the part where we learn to chose the story, is it about the light? Is it about the shadow? Is the whole story about the shoulder of the model and nothing else?

Thus begins the painful process of the first three semesters of your undergrad experience: You are taught, and fight against the fact, that you know nothing. I attended art school at three institutions at various levels, first at Montserrat College of Art, then at the School for the Museum of Fine Art, then at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Because I came into each of these fine institutions with a long history of art appreciation (my mom was a painter and my dad an opera singer), and had spent most of my youth wandering around in museums, galleries and attending theater, I had a strong desire to skip ahead to the create portion of the process.

Eager to consume as much new information as possible, I was not realizing at the time that my early education, while a good starting place, had holes in it. It was full of observation, but lacked practical application, and I needed to spend some solid time learning to copy the masters before I could effectively choose in my own work. And that was years before there were moments when I could create. I suppose during this time I learned that part of the process of committing yourself to mastering something over time is being willing to find new information in bodies of information that you already possess. How many times have you re-read a book and found a deeper meaning?

Portrait of Madame X by Sargent
I loved and needed the hard realities of Art school, where so much of the discussion in the lower semesters amongst the students was about the institution's desire to crush your spirit (of course, art school is full of rebellious free thinkers, I can imagine that attempting to educate us is a bit like herding cats...). We griped while we sat on our charcoal covered benches cleaning our size o brushes, mixing pallets full of paint which we could do nothing other than paint a gradient of skin tone to compare to Sargent's palette and see if we had got the right mixture. Not a face, not a creative moment, a honing of the technical understanding of how the pieces interacted together before we were ever allowed to experiment with choice.

After that third semester of dedicated, disciplined, focused work, you find yourself having been beaten into copying the masters and being subject to brutally honest critique of your own floundering work, caught somewhere in between copy and choose, thinking always about the day when you won't get beaten about the head, shoulders and ego for desiring so badly to create.

I thought at this point about what it was like for the painters coming up in the Renaissance, grinding pigment for the master for years before ever putting brush to canvas. Years of rabbit skin glue, years of palette preparation. And finally, one day, if you were diligent, hard working, and your understanding of color and how the master worked, you could assist in putting in the sky. Perhaps the robe. Or a tree on a master's work. 

Art school was a great place to practice humility, setting aside of ego and personal want so you could HEAR what the teachers were trying to tell you. At the same time that you are absorbing as accurately as you can all the information coming to you, you must be nurturing and feeding your own voice, so that one day, the skills you have learned can flow together to show your person, your "muchness" as the Mad Hatter says.

Hamish Cox executing a blackflip with a twist off the Village Raceline. Photo by Charlie Brown

We see this in the best skiers. The technical foundations, well taught, absorbed through discipline of copy, copy, copy, underlined with a strong education in history, physics, bio mechanics, and a willingness to continue to evolve and learn, are present in almost every turn, but in the very best, you see them shine through, not willfully, but subtly.

This, I believe, is the moment of create. It is where the person comes back in, not through ego or desire to show oneself, but because of mastery, because the pieces exist in a way that choice happens almost unconsciously, there is a fluid playful experiential piece that inspires anyone who happens to observe, even and especially if it is in the privacy of the studio... whether that's late at night in the painter's private place, or off the backside by yourself in the trees.

Monday, January 3, 2011

RAT- Rocky Mountain Assessment Trials... here we go!

As you read this, you might want to hit PLAY.

Oh, my god, its becoming reality. Look what I am working on now:

Welcome to the PSIA-RM Assessment Trials (RATs). As a Division, we are creating this 3-day event to better prepare you for your process at the National Education Team Tryouts. An important part of the National Process is the Application that you turn in to the Selectors ahead of the event. This Application gives Selectors an opportunity to better know you and understand your goals and ambitions.

The selection process, while intense, can be rewarding. As Maverick says, "You never ever ever leave your wing-man."
Its time. It is finally time to begin filling out the paperwork and sending it in. I have such mixed feelings about this. First, it got here seemingly suddenly, as do many things once ski season starts. Bam! Its Christmas, see you in two weeks... work every day, try to keep food in and clothes clean... BAM! Christmas is over, fill your calendar with clients if you can and get your butt out there training because BAM its time for exams in February!

Wow. Here we are five years in to a six year process. First of all, I'm quite stoked to be able just to write that sentence. I think part of me was pretty sure I'd be shaken off my tree way before this by one thing or another.

I do know that my skiing and teaching and technical understanding is improving every day. I think my teaching and technical understanding are still far ahead of my skiing, and while I got several nice compliments from the TREW crew the other day on my skiing (blush), I got some video taken yesterday that made me want to crawl under the chair in Bernie's office and cry. Then I noticed my client saying "But it feels so much better than that! I can't believe it looks like that!"

I remembered Katie Ertl (nee Fry) last year sitting in the Movement Analysis watching her skiing from the year before get torn apart by a group of 40 trainers with a big smile on her face. She squirmed a bit, she was embarrassed a bit, she laughed, she taught us how to take it. Its never as good, as clean, as "correct" as we want it to be.

So my job here is to take my feedback from Andrew, Joanie, Johnathan, Scotty, Kurt, Trish and Weems and get out there and ski it until it sticks. I made some major changes in my skiing in the beginning of the year. When I looked at the video, I'd kept some of them and been lazy enough to let others go.

There is not time in life for lazy, let alone in the pursuit of a goal which has a definitive time line which is looming! If a change is made, it is my job to keep it. To have the discipline to hold it in my skiing as it tries to squirm its way out and default patterns, easier and somewhat efficient, present themselves as attractive options.

Train on, see you at Tryouts!