Majoring in steeps at New Mexico's Taos
Q: I'm getting older and I'd like to learn to ski better. Even if you've never been to my home state of Illinois, you probably know there aren't many ski slopes nearby. I'd like to spend a week to ten days at a resort with a ski school tailored to taking a relatively fit and athletic adult from beginner (me) or advanced beginner (my wife) to close to expert. The Adventure Advisor opined some time ago that the world's best school is at St. Anton. Is this still true? Is there a school in the U.S. or Canada that's comparable? Thanks!
Jon Lewis, Geneva, Illinois
A: No skiing in Illinois? We would have figured your fellow citizens would have come up with some sort of creative solution. You do, after all, have a paucity of rock climbing cliffs but some of the coolest (and most creative) artificial routes in grain silos peppered with plastic holds. But we digress. You ski with the grace of an aging Bulgarian weight lifter but want to shred like Schmidt. What to do?
Saint Anton in Austria is indeed home to a great school, but you're wise to try to stick closer to home to hone your skills. You'll enjoy the Alps much more once you are about a solid Level 4 skier. It sounds like you are about a Level 3, meaning you are comfortable making turns from a snowplow position on beginner runs. Your wife sounds more like a Level 4 or 5, meaning she can match her skis in each turn on beginner and some intermediate runs.
It'll be tough for you to go from beginner to expert in a season. Experts are, after all, experts for their years of dedication to the sport. But that's not to say you can't drastically improve your confidence and carve under the expert tutelage of a great ski instructor. According to the North American Ski Training Center (www.skinastc.com; 530-582-4772), a Truckee, California-based, ski school that holds clinics all over the world, you'd do well to sign up for a batch of private lessons at a ski resort like Vail, Aspen, Alpine Meadows, Sugar Bowl, or Taos. More important than place is that you do sign up for numerous lessons at once with a Level 3 certified ski instructor for you, a Level 4 or 5 for your wife. That way you'll be sure to keep the momentum going and get the most out of your trip.
Of the resorts mentioned, New Mexico's Taos (www.skitaos.org; 800-347-7414) seems to have the best deal going at the moment. If you buy a six-day lift ticket from January 5 through January 11, you'll get six days of "total immersion" ski lessons for free. That means some of the nation's best ski instructors will work with you two hours each morning for six days and give you "tech talks" on equipment, biomechanics, and snow safety each night. A six-day lift pass will set you back about $225. The "Learn to Ski Better Week" at the Ernie Blake Ski School (www.skitaos.org/SKI_SCHOOL) is offered throughout the winter and normally costs $180. The Hotel Saint Bernard, a 28-room French chalet on the slopes run by Jean Mayer, an affable Frenchman and renowned ski instructor, will give you a room, three meals a day, morning stretch classes, and lift tickets for those six days for $1,410. The lessons would still be free during that week in January.
Once you get yourself up to a Level 6 skier (can ski groomed intermediate and some advanced runs with parallel turns most of the time) you're ready for a North American Ski Training Center clinic. These guys employ the PhDs of ski instructors; the teachers here actually help write the protocol for all ski schools and instructors across the nation. During a three-day course you'll work with these instructors at a six-to-one teacher-to-student ratio on runs ranging from groomers to bumps to crud to ice and steeps. By the time you complete one of these courses, you'll be a skier capable of tackling just about any condition Mother Nature could throw your way. Well, Illinois sleet not included.