Author Archive | Louise Hudson

Foiling Fears

Most skiers consider fear a debilitating factor in ski progression. And there are many different fears involved: fear of heights, fear of speed, fear of falling, fear of failing, fear of fumbling or just looking foolish. But according to Kristen Ulmer it is not a question of getting rid of or conquering these fears but rather of turning them into useful assets and allies.

The 48-year-old former big mountain extreme ski star runs a series of mindset-only camps in Utah every season as well as heli-ski trips to Alaska. Her aim is to enhance a camper’s experience on the slopes through mindset rather than technique tips. “We don’t meditate, nor is it about therapy, it’s about getting to know what’s going on in your unconscious mind, and packs quite a punch,” says Ulmer. Day 1 is all about setting campers free from unconscious patterns that keep them stuck. Next day, different states of consciousness are experienced in order to discover which work best for each camper.

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Entitled Ski to Live, the Zen camps are geared to intermediate to expert skiers or telemarkers of either gender, aged 14 and above. They kick off with an evening group session at The Goldminer’s Daughter Lodge at Alta, the camp’s hub. “This is an important first gathering to meet each other and set the tone for the experience,” says Ulmer.

On the Saturday, participants are grouped into similar abilities with their own guides for the first hour or so. “This is an opportunity to burn quick laps and explore technical questions,” Ulmer explains. Everyone then congregates at base where Ulmer leads an exploration of Shift: The game of 10,000 Wisdoms. “This game is a faster and more fun way to access where you’re stuck than say, sports therapy or mediation, and can offer a powerful perspective on a camper’s life they never considered before,” she says. The skiers ride the same lifts together, gather at the top and bottom of each run, yet each group will ski different terrain appropriate for their ability with their guide.

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After communal lunch there are four different options: skiing with Kristen and exploring your mind further, skiing alone or with friends, going for restorative massages, or off-slope decompression time. A 90-minute facilitated evening event with refreshments is then followed by après ski and story-telling before dinner. “It’s a fun, wild ride and the experience lasts and shifts the way you experience not just skiing, but just about everything,” says Ulmer.

Under contract with Harpers and Collins, Ulmer, who was recognized as the best female big mountain skier for 12 years, is currently writing a book on Fear, entitled “My Love Affair with Fear”. Her approach to fear is diametrically opposed to traditional techniques, and, she says, it works brilliantly to alleviate stress, anxiety, irrational fear and more.

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Elevating Female Skiing at Jackson Hole

Girly grit taking over from timid turns, trusty teamwork eradicating harrowing hang-ups – just some of the reinventions made possible at Elevate Women’s Camp. With many strong intermediate and expert female skiers lacking likeminded and motivational ski buddies, Elevate offers a networking solution as well as inspirational instruction.

Held at Jackson Hole, the camps attract up to 65 women at a time divided up between a team of 12 female ski instructors and three female freeskier pros who troubleshoot each group. During the challenging four-day course, the famous freeskiers – Kim Havell, Jess McMillan and Crystal Wright – circulate among the ability and attitudinally-matched groups. Their role is to elevate mental and motor skills via extreme-ski example.

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Instructor Christina Cartier says the pros add so much to the camp on many different levels: “I think that it is always eye opening to realize that amazing athletes are women just like ourselves who, for a number of individual reasons, have taken their passion of a sport to a full time and rather extreme level. They help us understand that fear is a natural component of big mountain skiing, without it having to limit us.”

Hard-core in a semi-soft sort of way, they also push the campers, inspiring in them the confidence to take their skiing to the next level, says Cartier – “whether that means a steep couloir or jumping off of small cliffs, or even just getting off piste for the first time.”

But it is the repetitive reinforcement of having the same female instructor for the entire course that really facilitates technical improvement among the four and five-women groups. Cartier has been working with Elevate for nine years. A Jackson Hole transplant with French and Swedish heritage, she is a meticulous instructor, focused on finessing technique in order to provide a security blanket of skills for double diamond skiing over Jackson’s tough topography. “The two biggest things I have experienced with most women is that they will not attempt something new or challenging until they believe that there is a 100 per cent chance of success,” says Cartier. “The second piece of the puzzle which is mostly relevant to the camps is that they actually do well being pushed a little in a group once trust has been established.”

Group dynamics is important to Cartier who is happy to take more of a backseat at times, while different group members help each through the frustrations and fears of adopting new skills in tricky terrain. “It is critical to set the group up to be supportive rather than competitive,” she explains.
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With an emphasis on teamwork, the level 3 PSIA instructor also gives each camper individual feedback, aided by video analysis, to improve movement patterns as well as mental and tactical approaches to skiing. “My hope is that at the end of the four days, each participant feels that she has skied hard, and ideally has felt a tiny or large ‘butterflies’ moment when looking ahead at something she is about to ski that is visually challenging to her,” she adds.

One of the things Cartier has noticed since becoming an alpine ski instructor in 2008 (she taught Nordic before) is that women are hard on themselves. Because of this, her job can involve emotional buttressing as much as technical tampering. “Finding a way to help them improve while giving them room to not be perfect and still enjoy the sport is a delicate balancing act,” she says. “Every other camp I seem to have at least one, if not more, campers break into serious tears of either fear or frustration.”

With improvement varying among participants, changes over the four-day course can often be subtle. But, says Cartier, stronger skiers typically only need slight tweaking to take them to the next level. “Some of the improvement is not always visible, but more in the mental/psychological game part of the sport,” she explains. “I suspect that many women end up enjoying terrain they previously dreaded, or come to realize that the skills they already had actually carry over to more than they ever imagined.”

Camaraderie and Coaching with Club Ski

It’s not often that a seasoned skier gets the chance of a whole day’s instruction with a CSIA Level 3 instructor. So, when offered this opportunity at Sunshine Village, Alberta, Canada recently, I was thrilled to be able to address some of my bad habits and finesse my ski technique while discovering the delights of Sunshine’s black diamond territory.

Ski Big 3 Snow School Supervisor, Ross Hastings is committed to breaking the mould of traditional ski and snowboard lessons, integrating instead an ongoing instructional content alongside all-mountain experience. “Over the past few years, we have found that our average lesson participant has changed; as purse strings have tightened and lessons and indeed ski holidays have become more of a luxury, visitors to our mountains are more often accomplished and passionate skiers, rather than beginners,” says Hastings. “These higher end skiers often stay clear of what they see as a traditional lesson, as they want to ski more of the mountain as opposed to spending hours doing drills and perfecting technique.”devans_20141205-058

Hastings also extends this attitude towards newbies, giving them a holistic mountain immersion from the get go, rather than a static experience. “Any first time skiers, who take the plunge and venture out on a ski holiday, should be given the skills and confidence to experience the thrill of the mountains,” he explains. “This will give them the experience of a lifetime, hopefully making their ski trip the first of many. These beginner skiers and snowboarders, both kids and adults, are the future of our industry, the people who become the aforementioned accomplished and passionate skiers.”

Personalized Perks

Club Ski typically offers a three-day course in which the same instructor guides the same group of skiers around three different resorts – Lake Louise and Mt Norquay as well as Sunshine, all part of Alberta’s Ski Big 3. Hastings feels that this multi-centre experience adds significant value to the vacation, adding to the many firsts that the group experiences as they are conquering their first green, blue or black runs and adding new ski areas to their portfolio. But he maintains that the socialization element is also paramount. Instructors with Club Ski are social facilitators, encouraging guests to become familiar with each other, sharing experiences and stories. And this is taken to another level with the addition of shared lunches, après ski drinks and dinners. “Finishing touches like double checking rental gear, providing advice on new ski gear purchases and suggesting local activities and events can add that little extra to guests’ holiday experience,” Hastings explains.
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Club Ski instruction can also be customized to suit different schedules, ranging from three to six or nine day programs during Ski Big 3’s almost seven-month ski season.

My own day at Sunshine Village was a daring dabble in double diamond descents, with Hastings providing safety tactics for approaching narrow chutes and rocky areas. It was like an epic powder day with a skillful ski buddy who had my back!