Now that I’ve been home for a while after my travels from Snowmass to Tucson via several days in California I can finally sit down and reflect on this years’s ESA. This report includes a helmetcam video of Highland Bowl. This was my first time using the GoPro while skiing. Before I could edit the 45 minutes of recording down to 10 minutes I had to learn how to use iMovie on my wife’s MacBook. That is the reason that this report has been so long in coming. I know that Bud Heishman had a helmetcam in Highland Bowl and lots of video of the groups was obtained during the ESA. Hopefully these videos will surface as well.
I have been to 4 ESA’s, each time with a different coach. Each coach had a different style, but every one of them were fantastic, fun and notched my skiing up to another level after only 4 days!. I have had the privilege of being coached by Robin Barnes, Squatty Schuler, Bob Barnes and this year Dave Grogan. At first I had to get used to Dave’s Kiwi brogue and some of his interesting colloquialisms. I learned some of his stock Aussie jokes after hearing them a dozen or so times. I usually don’t remember jokes, but these I will remember! As far as skiing was concerned Dave was a marvelous skier. His style is very similar to that of Bob Barnes. My group included me, Trekchick (Tricia), Mark and Ed. I had been in the same group with Trek for the last 3 ESA’s and in the same group with Ed at my first ESA and for the last 2 ESA’s. Mark was a newbie to ESA, but had been to a couple of X-Team camps in Tahoe. We were quite a crew, three old guys and TC. This year there were fewer participants resulting in 4 small groups. The groups seemed to be organized more along the interests, goals and terrain survival level that each of us indicated on our ESA questionnaire and less on skiing speed. This made for a slightly different, but useful dynamic. I personally learn a lot by observing other skiers work through their issues with the coach. Seeing this in action in skiers with varying skills was really helpful. What amazed me about the group was that by the end of the first day the less skilled skiers seemed to get pulled up to a higher level by some sort of group osmosis. Of course I’m sure that clever pacing and instruction by Dave was a good part of this. All of the ESA coaches are consummate instructors. In every case I have come away with feeling that the sessions were designed specifically for me. And I trust that everyone in my group came away feeling the same. Each coach has told me the things that I needed to hear and instructed me do the things that I needed to do. Kind of reminds me of what is said about the Oracle in The Matrix when Neo is told that “what she tells you is meant only for you.”
Day One - Snowmass
The morning did not start out well for me. I caught an edge on the corduroy on the way down to the Big Burn lift and dislocated my ski brake. I absolutely could not get back onto the ski. This was quite embarrassing!! Dave clicked out of one of his ski’s, had me put it on, picked up my broken ski and skied off on one ski to get on the lift. I sheepishly followed. At the top of the lift Dave proceeded to the tool bench where he removed the brake, twisted it back into shape and remounted it. It was good as new! After a warm-up cruiser run the morning was spent with shooting some video and doing a few drills mixed in with runs through the trees and bumps. The drills were designed to get us angulated over the outside ski at the bottom of the turns, get more pressure on the inside ski and to even out our fore-aft positioning. We did turns where we had our arms extended like wings that we would tip parallel to the slope as we turned. We did turns focusing on pulling back on the uphill ski. We skied the bumps focusing on keeping our ski tips even while absorbing the bump. Each of us had our issues and somehow Dave managed to come up with some way for each of us to deal with them within the context of a group. When you do drills most of us get into the power corner and over think things, at least I do. Dave introduced the idea of the “Nothing Box” which the group decided should be in the center of the Sports Diamond. We all needed to go there at times. Of course we just flat out skied a good portion of the time. We did a lot of trees and bumps. Dave would pick a path and we would try to follow. We lost Ed and Mark at various times in the trees. The terrain and snow was challenging, but not daunting. These forays definitely had all of us out of the power corner! I just had to let my skis do their thing without my thinking about it. That worked very well for me.
After lunch we joined forces with Bob’s group and and made our way to the Cirque poma to do AMF. Unfortunately we did not drop directly into AMF from the top of the face due to a lot of scraped off ice and rock. I like the adrenalin rush I get in the steeps. This certainly wasn’t the steepest thing that I have skied, but it was more than enough to get my attention. It was a real head game up there. My challenge was to ski it like I knew how to ski (flow down the hill rhythmically, dynamically, and smoothly with round turns. I almost managed it, but found myself shopping for turns and fighting it at times rather than to just go with the flow. The good thing was that after doing that type of pitch everything else feels so much easier!
Skiing down from AMF I experienced the best 2 hours of skiing in my life!!! I had a peak performance experience; I got into the ZONE!!! Somehow Dave hit upon the right combination of buttons. The runout from AMF is interspersed with sections of bumps. As we encountered these Dave would tell me to “slow down.” After going through this a couple of times it actually happened; things slowed down! It was though I was in some kind of time warp and I was skiing in slow motion. There was no rush and there was all the time in the world for my skis to turn and do their thing. It was effortless. It didn’t matter how big the bumps were or how sketchy the snow was, nothing was an obstacle. I could look down a field of VW sized bumps, see a path and then just ski it without hesitation. Everything just clicked! Never in my life had I experienced this kind of thing. I had read about it. That day it was actually happening to me! Dave told me that I had found my mojo. Trek said that I was just “rippin’ it up.” This was worth coming to ESA for!!!
Day Two – Aspen
I really enjoy starting out in the morning in Aspen. There is complimentary coffee at the bottom of the gondola!
The morning drills concentrated on edging in longer radius turns and body positioning in the bumps. I had lost my mojo. My timing was off. There was one particularly onerous drill called “midget skiing.” It consisted of holding your poles half way down the shaft while skiing down the bumps. Foolishly I was holding my poles too far down and was in the back seat the whole way down. I finally lost it at the bottom of the run and crashed into Dave. The rest of my group thanked me for doing that.
That afternoon I stuck with Dave who was supposed to show us some shrines along with Charlie. Somehow the group was split up and we ended up doing a lot of bumps and seeing a half dozen shrines. Every now and then I found myself back in the ZONE for a minute or two, but it was unsustained. All in all I felt happy and tired at the end of the day.
Day Three – Aspen Highlands
Ed tweaked his hip on one of our last bump runs at Aspen and wasn’t able to ski with us today. He was only going to ski the morning anyway; he had planned to leave early due to professional commitments.
This was a fantastically beautiful day. It was sunny, but not hot; a perfect day for hiking and skiing. We spent a lot of the morning on fast groomers focusing on edging and balancing on the edged skis. We were videoed skiing down Thunder Bowl making moderate radius turns and while making turns holding our ski poles across our outstretched arms. I was having issues with my outside ski getting a little behind me and washing out toward the end of longer radius turns heading back up the hill. I couldn’t decide if moving my inside foot back or moving my outside foot forward was more effective in dealing with this. In the end staying in neutral longer (essentially a more gradual edge change) and just balancing on the outside ski worked the best. Mark and Tricia were looking nice and smooth.
During lunch we watched video and tanked up for the afternoon to come. Then we split up into groups. A number of us were interested in skiing Highland Bowl. The skiers in this group were
The coaches going along with the group were Bob Barnes and Bud Heishman. We head up to the ski patrol shack at the end of the Loge Peak lift. There some of us purchased ski carrying straps for the hike to come. We then skied over to the snowcat boarding area. The snowcat took us a ways up the ridge of Highland Bowl. I strapped on my skis and headed up the ridge with the rest of the group. As is usually the case in such a large group we ended up spread out all over the ridge according to leg length, conditioning, acclimatization and age. The ridge starts out quite narrow for the first part then gives way to a saddle before rising up again. At this point Bud Heishman GW Skier and Bazzer dropped into the bowl. The rest of us continued up the ridge looking for even more vertical. The ridge is a spectacular place with Highland Bowl on the left and endless mountain vistas on the right. Just being there taking it all in and feeling my body working hard to advance along the ridge made me feel more alive! The view at the top of Highland Peak was more than spectacular. I find such places kind of mystical. Whenever I am on the top of a peak or on a rock wall thousands of feet above the ground I feel more connected to nature and closer to God. There was an old chairlift seat up there to sit on. After taking some group pictures there we dropped in. I had a GoPro Hero 960 that I had received as a Christmas gift with me. I mounted it on my ski helmet and turned it on just before we began our ski descent. This was the first time that I had used it skiing. What follows is my first experiment with it.
I went into the touch corner and just enjoyed. The snow was wonderful!. The pitch was exhilarating and the skiing, though not pretty, felt great.
Day 4 – Farewell to Snowmass
We all started the day knowing that this would be our last and wishing that we had more days together to come. Ed had left for Denver yesterday, leaving me Tricia and Mark. Mark needed to leave right after lunch; Dave made sure that he got his money’s worth and skied our buns off. According to my Phresheez app I put in about 27,000 feet of vertical that day. We warmed up by doing edging drills and skiing trees and bumps off of Sams Knob. Then we made our way over to AMF to play in the steeps. I found the run more enjoyable than the first time down on day one. My turns just flowed down the face. Outstanding!
On the way up the Alpine Springs lift to get to Gwen’s High Alpine for lunch we noticed that the ski patrol was just about to drop the rope on Coffee Pot, the “noon groom.” After getting off the lift, rather than going into the lodge, Dave motioned us to follow him. He led us down to Coffee Pot to make first tracks on the fresh corduroy. We had a blast as we ripped high speed GS turns down the run. After lunch at Gwen’s High Alpine we screamed down some cruisers to escort Mark back down to Snowmass Village. On the way down I realized that none of my turns going back up the hill were washing out. None! All of those edging and related fore-aft balance drills must have worked their magic.
We said our goodbyes to Mark and headed back to the Cirque poma lift. We took it to the very end and proceeded down the Headwall. What a marvelous run. After the initial steep pitch Dave guided us to steep pitch after steep pitch. The snow was wonderful and each section was long and consistent. We then took it easy with a cruise through the trees off the Big Burn after which Tricia said her goodbyes. Dave and I finished off the day in the trees off Zugspitze, then closed the Village Express lift with a cool down run on Hal’s Hollow.
It was a marvelous last day of skiing. We had skied all over the mountain from one end to the other and back again. The skiing was delicious. I had a new sense of my edges. I felt the skis gradually rolling onto and off of the the edges throughout the progress of the turns For the first time I really had a good feel for what my skis were doing. What a wonderful way to finish off the 4 days of ESA!
As has been the case with every ESA that I have attended, I came away feeling that my skiing had advanced yet another notch. My skiing felt smoother and more subtle. Over the four days days I developed a better sense of touch for the ski edges. In addition, I had my very first peak performance experience (skiing in the “zone”). I credit my coach, Dave Grogan, for that. I’d like to thank Tricia, Mark and Ed for their support, encouragement, friendship and teaching that they provided me by allowing me to observe them working through their individual skiing issues with Dave. I was witness to the phenomenal gains that each made in their skiing over the 4 days. I thank the other participants and coaches at ESA for their camaraderie and support. I just wish that I had had the opportunity to have made turns with each and everyone of them. There is always next year!
Edited by bshon - 3/10/11 at 9:41pm