First off I have to thank everyone involved with this incredible experience. Philpug, who planted the idea in my head last year and is like the little pushing devil on my shoulder. Cgeib and Trekchick, for their enthusiasm and encouragement. Cgeib and Weems, for answering my myriad questions beforehand. Bazzer, who tolerated my presence more than anyone and made me feel as though we were old friends. Those of you who have not met Bazzer or skied with him (if there is anyone left!!!), should know that he is a true force of nature and the finest company there is. My group, Bazzer, Marcia, and Marty, and everyone who went out of their way to ski with our group; particularly Tog, Cgeib, and Alpinord. Everyone I met who had to tolerate my questions and blabbering and gushing newbie enthusiasm. The coaches-- Bud, Dave and Charlie-- and Weems for creating this unbelievable learning environment. And most of all my own coach, Bob Barnes, who created for me a perfect learning experience greater than the simple sum of its parts and led to revelations every single day.
At the beginning of the first day, Bazzer asked me what I hoped to get out of the week. I replied that I wanted to be an exponentially better skier when I left than when I arrived. Obviously, I had high expectations. I could not have imagined that even my own lofty hopes would be exceeded.
Day 1- Snowmass-- “Zoiks!!”
I arrived late on Sunday night so I missed the meet and greet. I walked into breakfast and immediately saw Philpug, whom I had met before he moved to Lake Tahoe. I joined him at the breakfast table with some of the rest of the crew and was immediately made to feel welcome. Of course, there was a discussion of what skis to demo. We settled on the Kastle LX82 in 172 or 180, and off I went. The LX82 wasn’t available over 164, so in my first inkling of what was to come, I text TC to tell Phil that I am manning up and getting the MX88 in 178, which I am sure is too much ski for me. We all meet up at the end of the village mall and we are off.
Bob gathers our group at the top of the lift, and suggests a warmup run. Bam!! Marcia, Bob, and Bazzer are 700 yards ahead of me before a I make my first turn and Marty blows by me on my second. I am so slow down the hill that I almost lose the group on our first run! I thought I was an OK skier who needed some refinement. Not exactly! I suck compared to these people! We spend the morning doing some drills, skiing blue groomers, and talking about the theory of skiing, It is mainly about the evils of braking unless it is tactically necessary, and how what Bob wants us to learn is a complete paradigm shift compared to every instinct that I have. We drill, we ski. Then we go to lunch. And then.... we all go to AMF and drop in to double black diamond terrain and are videotaped!! Bob’s last words of advice to me are to commit to the line and just keep skiing, not braking. Which I do. When I finish the videotaped run, TC looks at me and asks me if I ever thought I would do anything like that. My answer is that I hoped to, but not on my first day!! My confidence rising, we all ski back down through the KT Gully runouts from the Cirque area, and our group heads back to the blue groomers for more videotape. I am tired, not skiing particularly well on the easier terrain, and I know it. I am not looking forward to the video session. I show up early, and watch all the tape I can. Including my own. I am awful! My right ski comes off the snow by about a foot when I turn right, and my left about 18 inches when I turn left. I have a few good positions, but it is eye-opening to watch. It had felt pretty good, but the tape doesn’t lie. The only tape session I can ever remember being more excruciating to watch was in high school football when I was hit so hard on a kickoff coverage that I actually left the frame. I go to dinner and for a drink with Cgeib, Tog, Philpug, TC, Bazzer, and Bob, nervous and worried that I have too much to overcome.
My too strong, too expensive drink combines with my burning legs and the altitude and I am up in the middle of the night praying to the ski gods to allow me to get better and sitting on the bathroom floor praying to a different god that I will be upright by the time breakfast time comes.
Day 2-- Aspen Mountain-- The Sports Diamond Reveals Itself
Breakfast comes and I can hold my food down. A good sign. Bazzer and I head to Aspen Mountain a little early, and hang out on the deck. Cool. The night before, Bob had mentioned that pivot slips would probably help our group (by which I know he means me and my flying inside skis) but not to worry because a lot of instructors can’t really do them perfectly. He demonstrates. Weirdly, I can do these. They make sense. I am encouraged. We do some more, and I am more encouraged. I think that I am starting to get it. We go to lunch, and then break off into electives. I elect to stay with Bob, as does more than half the total group. I am unsure whether I should go and check out shrines with Charlie and Dave, because I am afraid to do too much in the trees. So I am a little out of sorts. The out-of-sorts continue as we do slightly more complicated pivot-slip drills and I am fighting myself more and more. I am fighting my lower body with my upper body, and am fixated on that frustration. We have a cool unplanned moment at the Jerry Garcia shrine, which seems to calm me a little, and then we dive into a double black bump run, which I am not too happy about after some easier bump runs in the morning which I just don’t love. I manage to get down but it isn’t pretty and I am still fighting myself. I can’t do this, my boots are too big, everyone is much better than me and I can’t keep up.
As we ski down to the bottom of Ajax, I decide that it is time to shift focus away from my power corner and into the touch corner. At least that’s what I later realize that I did. Bob had mentioned one of his renegade theories, about requiring a small fore movement of the feet to release the edges into the next turn, and I decide to focus on that on the hard pack at the bottom of Ajax. 3:15 pm, Aspen Mountian, The Sports Diamond Revealed! I am carving turns on my MX 88s without making a sound, effortlessly directing the skis into the fall line and engaging the edges and smoothly carving across the bottom of the turn and back uphill in a short radius ribbon turn exactly as I want. And releasing and repeating. I can see Bob watching me and when I reach the bottom there is no need for him to say anything. He smiles, gives me a pole tap, and I am on my way! I cannot wait for the next day.
Day 3 -- Aspen Highlands-- “Dive and have faith!!”
What a magical day. Aspen Highlands is a truly special place. The groomed runs are spectacular, the huge Thunder Bowl is unbelievable, the day is gorgeous, and the prospect of the Highland Bowl is looming. I am really skiing the groomed runs well, and we work a little more on initiating turns by “doing nothing”, a concept I could not grasp just a day earlier. I am no longer afraid to have the patience to let my skis turn into the fall line, I am not braking my turns, and I am loving it. Everyone in the group is encouraging me, and I can feel that I am not the same skier that I was less than 24 hours earlier. In fact, I suspect that I am a slightly different person than I was 24 hours before. Lunchtime comes and Philpug calls me over to watch the video he had shot in the morning. “You’re killing it!!!” he exclaims. Yes. Bowl time!
The hike up the ridge to Highland Bowl is one of the most spectacularly beautiful and satisfying things I have done. 45 min, a nice pace, a gorgeous day, a little conversation with Peter and Phil along the way. Pictures at the top, and a cool patrol ski strap as a souvenir.
And then we ski. I don’t think we took the steepest line we could have, but the snow was great everywhere we went and there were steeps and bumps and rocks and trees. Even cooler than I could have possibly imagined. And I really skied all of it. Not just braked down, or bounced off the bumps, or hockeystopped over small distances. I skied it. I had a plan. I had a line. I skied it offensively. I didn’t care if it wasn’t pretty or perfect, I just kept skiing and had a blast. As we exited the steeps into the bowl runout, I skied past Trekchick and actually shouted “Holy &*%! TC, I am a skier!!!” And then for good measure, after skiing the runout, a bunch of us took the Deep Temerity chair up with Bob and skied Sodbuster. Why not finish a magical day with a huge bump run I never would have considered doing just two days before? In flat light, with big spiny bumps? Now I’m a skier after all! And then blast down Thunder Bowl while Bob does whiterooms? A perfect ending to the best day ever.
The banquet is a blast. Charlie has us doing centering exercises and demonstrations that I have always thought were complete bunk, but now I believe and resolve to try it on the hill the next day. The raffle has to have been fixed, as TC’s boot bestows multiple prizes on a few lucky folks, but in the glow of the week no one really minds and we are happy for the winners as we all try to figure out the actual cost multiple of receiving a gift certificate from Philpug and Starthaus.
As the emotional crest of the evening and the week, Weems and GWSkier share with us personal stories that reinforce that this is not just a bunch of ski loons. EpicSki and ESA are a community not just of dedicated skiers but of dedicated people.
Day 4-- Snowmass redux-- One last Revelation
Back at Snowmass for the final day, we are working on carving on the gorgeous morning corduroy, angulating to touch the snow with our uphill hand (ok I cheated the last six inches) and falling on purpose just short of Tog’s “Polish Donut.” I am feeling great and confident. And Charlie’s centering thing is working too. And then the dreaded words... “let’s go do some bumps...” Bob demonstrates dolphin turns and leaps troughs landing tips down. It is remarkable. He tells us to try it. I of course will not go airborne because I am confident but not crazy. Along the way though, I do try to angle my tips down to engage them on the downside of the bumps, aim for the crest of the next bump uphill when I turn, and all of a sudden I am skiing smoothly down a bump run and I realize that Bob’s magic has once again struck “Bazzer, guess what? I can ski bumps!” At the same time, I hear applause from Cgeib in the chair above. Just keeps getting better and better.
At lunch there is some talk of the Hanging Valley Wall, but our group is not heading up. I would like a little gnar test, but I decide that rather than become distracted I will just see where the afternoon leads us. Good idea. We take the poma up to gorgeous Rocky Mountain High and ski down the groomed and just off-trail ungroomed, then head down into Garrett’s Gulch for a final test of gullies, bumps, trees and steeps. We finish off the day with a run through the trees off Sneaky’s and I end my skiing with Bob and Tog on the low mountain groomers.
The evening activities are at the Mountain Dragon, where we are sitting with Wigs arguing over technique to Bob’s obvious delight, poring over drawings on napkins and iPhone photo montages.
I have to try to explain what it is like to learn from Bob Barnes. The man is the most remarkable looking skier I have ever seen in person. He has a diagram and a technical explanation for everything, yet he teaches how to ski by feel. He says to ski a slow line fast, to turn further uphill in order to stop, to “dive and have faith” to start a turn. He teaches pivot-slips, divergent pivot slips (which unfortunately tend to come with divergent groins), multiple varieties of multistep turns, and teaches that a perfect effortless turn is really an infinite-step turn. He teaches to give up control in order to gain control. And he taught me, over four days, to be able to ski while doing nothing. As I mentioned in a different post, coming to ESA and being coached by Bob is the best athletic experience I have ever had, and one of the most meaningful learning experiences of my life.
In summary-- ESA is remarkable. Weems is right-- this isn’t a cult, but that Kool-Aid sure is tasty!!