Want to learn to ski or to just get better? Take a trip to Sunday River – the most wonderful ski teachers hang out there. Even better, if you are a skier with a non-skiing friend, Sunday River will give them an incredibly gentle introduction to the sport. They can’t help but like doing something when it’s made this pleasant. They’ll walk away wondering why they didn’t do this much sooner! Pair this with Sunday River’s seemingly endless mountain and you’ve got a win-win situation. The experienced skier would never get bored and the beginner gains a wonderful new skill with minimal pain. All this with over 120 trails.
I’m an intermediate skier, familiar with the basics and able to get down most slopes, maybe not with the most style, but at least in one piece. However, I approached Sunday River’s Perfect Turn program as a complete beginner – someone who hadn’t been within 20 feet of a pair of skis. Walking in the door was a treat. Everyone smiles at you and spends a few minutes chatting, and there are a lot of them wandering around. You are led to couch by a cozy fireplace to fill out your info sheet and meet up with the instructor who will be leading your group. Groups are kept small, never more than 6 but the classes usually aren’t full. Their goal seems to be to give you as much personal attention as possible and they really succeed.
Next you get coffee or hot chocolate and move into a booth to watch a video about the equipment you need, from the clothes to wear skiing to which part of the ski is called a tip. Based on the info you filled out, a pair of boots mysteriously appears as the video finishes. My ski instructor, Marilyn Schroeder, helped me go through a check list to ensure I was adequately dressed and ready to start with equipment. Believe it or not, she says they sometimes have to scramble around to find parkas, hats, gloves and other bits to dress the new skiers that come through the program who not properly dressed for the elements. She then helped me into one of the boots and made me do the second. They do a lot of waiting on you, but do ensure that you know how to put your own equipment on. We then moved to another room and watched a video showing skiing and what we were aspiring to do, you know, get down the hill looking gorgeous and lovely with the biggest smile possible.
Next was a lesson on skis. It covered how they are shaped and what makes them work, etc. At that time someone ran in with a pair and I got a full briefing of what was going to happen next. They told me all about getting in a van and driving to the easy beginner slope set up just for our class. The tow rope used to get to the top was detailed carefully and all aspects of what we could expect – no surprises could ever creep up on a student of Perfect Turn.
Since I have a little prior skiing experience, they graciously dismissed me and sent me to a “Blue” lesson. Their line-up consists of Green (beginner), Blue (intermediate) and Black (advanced), then each informally splits into light blue, solid blue, dark blue, etc. What was most amazing was the ratio of instructors to students. There were easily 20 instructors milling around and about half that many students. It was a Friday, but the same happened the next day – more students showed up, but even more instructors as well. Sunday River seems to really want you to excel, since they were quite eager to split up the groups. Three others joined me in the blue line and we were all quizzed about how we skied and what we wanted out of the lesson. They did not hesitate to split the four of us into three groups, thus three of us got private lessons. Myself and another skier, Karen got dubbed solid blue and shared Marilyn as our instructor.
On the way up the lift she quizzed us about prior experience and goals in more detail then followed us for the first run to see if we lied about our abilities! Luckily Karen and I were on an almost identical level and it made it easy for Marilyn to put us through the same drills and exercises. Smooth, balanced turning was our goal and we got a solid 90 minutes of Marilyn’s expertise and patience. It was a wonderful lesson
On Saturday I got to report directly to the line-up and found myself paired up with one other student and we got the marvelous Ken Rosenthal as our instructor. He let us ski the first run and then decided we needed to work on keeping our ankles “closed” and leaning down the mountain. He had a very helpful exercise where he laid down in the snow and stuck a fist under the tip of our ski. We had to push his fist into the snow using only our ankles with no hip motion or up and down stuff at all. It took a few tries but we got it and then tried to use the same ankle/toe work on our ski while turning. It was a fabulous help for me and even now I think of pushing his fist down with the tip of my ski. It’s amazing how a little thing can make a such a big difference.
Sunday River is an awesome place to ski. The mountain seems endless and the trails go on and on and on. The best part though is the valuable resource of a world-class ski school at your beck and call. Not only can you get solid intermediate lessons (and advanced too, Paul got a lot out of one of their black lessons), but they have a beginner program that would take even the most skeptical non-skier and turn them into an excited to learn skier with solid basic skills.
Paul decided to take advantage of an opportunity to work with an upper-level ski instructor. He had been skiing for many years and decided that this was a golden opportunity to hone his skills. He was not disappointed. The small class of three people was taught by Ski Pro, Joe McMenimen.
They worked on edging and using both the inside and OUTSIDE edge to carve turns. Before the advent of shaped skis, skiers only skied on the inside edges of their skis with most of the weight on the downhill ski. Things have changed, now skiers pressure both skies and carve with the inside edge of the downhill ski and the outside edge of the uphill ski. The class practiced rolling their knees and making “railroad tracks” in the snow. This involved facing downhill, while in a traverse, bending at the knees, ankles and waist and pushing both skis through the turn. In no time, all the students were able to master this maneuver. They became aware of subtle pressure on the little toe from the side of the boot on the uphill foot and pressure on the arch on the downhill foot.
Next they worked on leading the turn with a downhill motion of the upper body and center of mass (hips) while executing a turn by carving with both skis. They found that once the center of mass crossed over the skis, it was easy to keep it downhill of the skis (known as cross-under). This was a big thing for Paul. He had been trying to make the transition from “cross-over” to “cross-under” for a long time. They practiced rolling their knees and using the inside and outside edges.
They picked up other little tips as well. As they initiated a turn, they were told to slide the new downhill ski backwards (like you see telemark skiers do) to keep the ankle closed. All the tips worked and Paul found that he could ski faster and more under control using this new technique. Faster turns mean more speed and Paul really liked that.
All-in-all, the Ski School at Sunday River has a lot to offer skiers of every level. For the rank beginner, to intermediate and advanced skiers, there are very talented ski instructors who can help you learn to ski or ride and improve your skills on the snow. When you take a lesson, please remember that the ski instructors are not very well paid, despite their fancy uniforms, so please remember to tip them. They deserve it. Marilyn, Ken and Joe all give private lessons, so ask for them and tell them you read about them in the Ski Bum News.