When new skiers take their first lesson, will they return to the sport, or say “never again?” The ride to the resort, the ambiance, the gear guys and the ski instructor contribute to the decision-making process. Natalie Terry at Sugarloaf was not my first instructor, but she was the one who made me fall in love with the skiing. In fact, it was Natalie, combined with the “Sugarloaf Mystique,” that made me forget my first horrific skiing experience.
The Killington Ski Trip From Hades
My first attempt at alpine skiing was an absolute disaster. Many factors contributed to this epic failure:
1. I was working at a New York City gym that sponsored a bus trip to Killington. The bus arrived two hours late, because the drivers stopped to pick up some workers from a Long Island recycling plant, who were also going on the trip.
2. Said workers were already drunk and rowdy. Almost all of them were smoking legal and illegal substances. Beer bottles rolled down the aisles. They showed the movie Rocky Horror Show.
3. I was the only staff member who came along for the trip. The club members were a conservative group, who had brought their kids. I got blamed for the entire debacle.
4. I was a 35-year-old aerobics instructor who had never skied. My students were expert skiers. My pride and dignity were at stake.
5. We arrived at 1:00 AM. The condo managers told us we needed to report any pre-existing damage to our rooms. Failure to do so would mean that we would have to pay for things that weren’t our fault.
6. Waking up the next morning, I looked out the window and cried “What the hell did they do to Vermont?” At the risk of offending Killington fans, this section of Vermont does not appeal to me. Visuals are important. More on this later.
7. The ski class had about 40 people, most of them in their late teens and early 20’s. There were a few instructors – of the same age range – working with the group. None of them wanted to work with “the old lady.” The guys wanted to flirt with the younger chicks. The female instructors showed an impatience that I often see in young women sport instructors. They benefited from Title IX. As such, they had athletic training since elementary school. Women of baby boomer age did not have that advantage. We took home economic classes and learned to make tuna-noodle casseroles.
8. Adding insult to injury, despite my unusually high level of fitness, I was not a natural skier. Years later, more than one boot-fitter would say to me “Nobody would look at your feet and say that you should be a skier.” Ouch!
It took 10 years for me to return to a ski resort.
Round Two: Mount Snow
When my step-kids came to visit us from Florida, they wanted to go on a ski trip. Rather than sit in the lodge at Mount Snow, I gave it one more try. This time, things were different:
1. I loved the Mount Snow ambiance.
2. I had added balance training to my workouts. Thus, I did not fall once the whole time.
3. The instructor was in his 50’s.
4. The class was smaller.
5. The gear guys took their time making sure that the boots fit right.
Success! I liked it. We continued to ski at different New England resorts. However, I was one of those conservative, fearful skiers, who stayed on the groomed greens. In fact, fear, challenge and thrill did not motivate me. I didn’t ski for the adrenaline rush. I skied for the “flow state” and for the stunning visuals found on certain trails. Thus, one year later, I was stuck in the perpetual intermediate zone.
The Sugarloaf Mystique
The Sugarloaf logo is one of the most recognizable symbols of North American skiing. Designed in 1959, it evolved into a cult phenomenon. The mountain’s devotees bring Sugarloaf stickers to remote places in all corners of the globe, and place them on high-profile spots.
John Christie, author of The Story of Sugarloaf, says:
“To me, the logo speaks to the unique configuration of the Mountain and the only lift-accessed snowfield skiing in the East. The fact that it’s been virtually unchanged for over 40 years says something about Sugar loaf’s devotion to tradition and its origins.”
“Ski Guru,” who writes the Boston.com ski blog, writes:
“The Loaf is the closest thing to a ski cult I have ever encountered. There are some rabid Mad River Glen lovers, and some absolute Alta enthusiasts, but their bonds seem more of an old school, anti-snowboard society. Loafers are extremely devoted, even defensive, about their downhill ski resort.
The Natalie Terry Mystique
Sugarloaf’s ski instructors are as devoted as its loyal fans. Many have worked there since the 1960’s. Natalie Terry is an example. With over 40 years of teaching at Sugarloaf, Natalie Terry has taught over 23,000 skiers. Now in her late 80’s she has taught at The Loaf since 1969, and she still rips past kids young enough to be her great-grandchildren. Her dedication to each student has made her the most requested private lesson instructor at Sugarloaf. Skiing Magazine recognizes her as one of the top 100 instructors in the United States.
I first heard about Natalie from a group of Boston University college students. Their admiration surprised me. This particular group wouldn’t take an aerobic class from any instructor over 30, but their ski guru was a 75-year-old woman.
With everything I heard about Sugarloaf and Natalie, I wanted to go. My husband nixed the idea, because the drive was too long. I opted for a bus trip with Boston Ski and Sports Club, and rode to Maine with a lively, but well-mannered group of Sugarloafers.
The next morning, I practiced my turns on the trails close to the base area. After lunch, I had my private lesson with Natalie Terry. She asked me what trails I had skied. When I told her that I had been skiing the easy green called Broadway, she said, “You came all the way from Boston to ski that boring trail? There’s great beauty on this mountain, but you’ll never see it if you stay near the base area! Besides, you’re spending more time riding the lifts than you are skiing!”
She had me, there. Short beginner trails mean frequent lift lines and lift rides. That gets old. However, she had already motivated me with the promise of gorgeous views. Somehow she knew that skiing down the gorgeous, 3.5 mile Tote Road inspire me. That’s the secret of an excellent instructor.
In an interview with New Center 6, Natalie Terry says “A good student has to be motivated. You can motivate them, but if they come with more motivation it’s easier on me.”
I would add, if the instructor can sense what motivates the student, it’s easier on both the instructor and the skier.