The 2005 ESA Weekend

So while everyone else was enjoying some nice easy warm up run. We were dropping our jaws wondering if we'd last the full two days. Gondolier had these little piles of pushed up powder snow that were just itching to grab on to a skidding ski.  Michael told us we should hit those suckers straight on, extending our legs to meet them. We could scoot our feet ahead a bit and lift the toes, then reconnect on the back side of the pile.

Someone was skiing Nordica skis (Michael's brand) and having trouble. Michael switched skis with him so that he could feel that the addition of a metal layer gave him better ability to hold input and return the energy. Good news: low performance skiing is not your fault. Bad news: you need new skis.

It did not take long for Michael to focus in leg extension and hip movement into the turn as the key to success. But he was saving the good stuff for after lunch. He asked us what we felt was the most challenging conditions for us to ski in. He got back a variety of answers from bumps to ice. He challenged us back that this simply represented the skill area we were weakest in as opposed to something being inherently difficult about those conditions.

We started working on bumps next. Michael wanted pole touches on EVERY bump. He wanted to see a pole touch on the uphill face of the bump just before the crest of the bump. He  explained that pole touches on the very top or the back side of the bump occurred too late (i.e. after the edge change). If we pushed our tails out, then went on edge in the bumps we would be skidding through the bumps.

Next we skied a run with no poles. Our arms could either be outstretched or crossed. Our task was to keep the skis on the snow and parallel at all times. The goal was to make turns slowly and accurately. Somewhat ironically (considering our first run of the day), Michael encouraged us to develop a warm up routine that compliments what we're working on in our own skiing. The no poles routine would be an example.

Our philosophical observation of the day was "where does edge change happen? (with respect to where the feet are relative to the upper body). When the feet are underneath the body, the edge change is effective. When the feet are ahead of the body, the edge change sucks. We proceeded to watch other skiers going by us on the trail. Every last one of the mediocre skiers was changing edges with the feet in front of the body. Ok, we've seen a ton of comments about how deadly being in the back seat was. But looking at it from the feet being forward perspective instead of the weight being back combined with WHEN the edge change occurred was really frightening, especially when viewing from the side.

There was time après ski to hit the hot tub and the steam room. The facilities at Stoweflake were quite impressive. You know a place is first class when they have 3 phones in your room. Of course they had turn down service with the little chocolates. In addition to the indoor and outdoor pools, hot tub, sauna and steam room, they had a combination squash/racquetball court, a decent weight room and of course the spa facility. When was the last time you had "sea moss" as an ingredient in your hair conditioner?

Next it was off to the video analysis room, where PJ was ready to handle any boot fitting issues identified in the video. Nobody in our group had any boot fitting issues, but Rusty used the opportunity to receive a mini lecture on the tradeoffs between full size cork footbeds (e.g. Super Feet) and a hard plastic 1/2 length custom made by a Doctor orthotic. PJ confirmed Rusty's fear - it often takes a lot of tweaking to get footbeds to fit comfortably. Doug Stewart and Michael did the video analysis. They used Stu's Mac hooked up to a video projector. We tried to get the video copied onto USB keys but we couldn't figure out where Apple's Imovie software stored the video clip files. 

We went straight from video to dinner. Worries that the dinner would not be worth it were unfounded. The convenience and the camaraderie were worth it alone. But the food was absolutely top notch. SkierXMan won a pair of K2s in the raffle. Rusty got a bright red Epic logo fleece and a maple syrup/coffee mug gift pack. After the raffle Stu cranked up his laptop to talk tech using past ski magazine columns as topic starters. It was amazing how the clinicians could talk about real issues without using "instructor speak". An example gem we got was that one reason a lot of people in rental boots have boots that are too big is that their feet swell up on the airplane ride to the resort. One that hits home for most of us: "You can always modify a boot to make it bigger, but you can't make it smaller. Two uncommon boot modifications that we ought to think more about are: cuff adjustments and the boot sole plate.

Sunday morning for our group started promptly at 8:30 at the Gondola doors. After a warm up run, we started a group circle ski where our group would ski down, then watch Jeb Boyd's group ski past. Then we would ski past their group. We did a couple of laps. Michael wanted us to see Jeb doing all the things he was trying to get us to do and burn that image into our brains. We also did some more watching of the other group turning with their feet ahead of them. We asked Michael if it was so obviously easy to diagnose as the reason for low performance turns, why couldn't you hot shots fix it just as easy. The answer was that part was not so easy. But it makes the Epic Ski threads that say pull your feet back seem to make a lot more sense.

The beauty of getting coaching from a demo team member is that they seem to have the knack for the "laying on off hands effect". Chris had been funny on Saturday when Rusty had asked him how he thought the coaching was going. Michael had given some personal feedback to the other group members, but we had gone unscathed/ignored (depends on your perspective/attitude). Chris gave Rusty the no big deal so far look, then 5 minutes later - whammo - Mike lays on the hands and Chris gets what he came for in the next 5 minutes of personal feedback. 

On Sunday, Rusty's turn finally came. Rusty has skied with Mike before. On Saturday Rusty got confirmation that last year's problem with countering had been addressed. He also got a few little tidbits for improvements but no big deal. Rusty expected the shoe to drop soon. He was skiing well, but wasn't skiing great. Surely there was some pronouncement that would take his skiing to the next level. Finally the answer came and it was MORE! 

We were working on extreme carving. Michael wanted us to get our upper bodies away from the skis and really crank up the edge angles. Rusty was doing ok and even better when he was told to bring his outside hand forward a little more. But oh no, that was not good enough for Michael. He wanted MORE! What a nice compliment to imply there's nothing major that needs tweaking - just go crank it up. That was the good news. The bad news was that MORE was  also more tiring and more dangerous. Rusty was following Michael down Gondolier with his feet out way away from the body (and finally getting it), when Michael's tracks dipped into a couple of moguls and disappeared in a puff of powder. At best, Rusty is only half as good as Michael. So it figures he came out of that with only half a pair of skis. Oopsie! Best crash of the day. Thank you very much. Ok - so there was something to work on - White Pass turns on scraped off snow at Mach 4. Whining aside, Rusty was pretty happy because he does not get to ski this way at home.

Dave Merriam (ex PSIA Demo Team coach and current Stowe SSD/Director of skier operations?) joined us for a run. Nice guy. Fun to ski with. Works too hard.

After lunch, we did a few laps on Liftline (Goat, National and Starr were still too thinly covered). It was steep and the snow was hard. In a word it was nasty. Michael's self assessment of his skiing on the first run: "That was bad. Let's do it again.". And so we did. Using the tips we had received over the last 2 days and watching Michael as a model, we slowly started "getting it". Michael had said "You ARE going to skid on this snow", but we started rounding our turns out and were looking pretty good by the third go round, especially Kevin. The big observation: "Fundamental stuff still makes it work.". The little observation: Kevin-> if you're making turns that good on a double black in nasty snow, you can call yourself an Expert skier now.

Michael made sure that each us was walking away with "what, where, why and how" for our skiing. It's amazing what you can cover in 2 days. The official last run of the day was a non-stop top to bottom run on Gondolier that's more than double what Rusty is used to. It was a real test of whether we were skiing efficiently or not. Chris gets the Speedy Gonzalez award. Rusty was skiing slowly on purpose to, ahhhh ....  help lead Byron down safely. Yeah - that's the ticket. We said our goodbyes, but a couple of us went over to Spruce Peak with Michael. We took a quick run on the new Sensation Quad on Spruce Peak. All Rusty can say is that is one heck of a long and steep "beginner" run.

So there you have it: Rusty's first ESA event. Many thanks go to StuC, Epic, Nolo and Wear the Fox Hat for making the event happen. If you're not an expert skier, don't let these notes scare you. The other groups went at a pace appropriate to their ability. Rusty heard only high praise from the other attendees. If you're serious about wanting to improve your skiing, ESA is a first class way to do it at a great price. The accommodations and facilities were impeccable. The trainers were world class. The attendees were quite a marvelous bunch. It's cool to meet up with a bunch of strangers, yet instantly be part of a big family. The results speak for themselves. So when are you signing up for the next ESA academy?

There he goes - O ....  MY ..... GAWD  ....... He's not stopping. 

Yes folks, that was Rusty's warm up run at the 2005 Epic Ski Academy Weekend that was held at Stowe, Vermont on December 17&18. Rusty has spent the previous 5 days a Killington rooming with Epic, the ESA head honcho, et. al. (small world, eh?). Epic had said getting assigned to Rogan (the "advanced" group) was a shoe in so that was not a surprise. But after seven consecutive days on snow and the day after hiking all over Killington in a foot of fresh, Rusty had no legs left for ripping down 2/3 of Gondolier at mach 5 non stop, even if it was only a blue run. That was a surprise. Thoughts of bailing out for a mellower group faded when we collectively decided that we were not PSIA demo team material. So Michael had plenty of time to analyze us as we moseyed on down to where he finally stopped. He was going to teach us how to ski better after all. Do you want to know how it turned out?

There were 28 people at ESA Weekend this year. We were split up among 5 groups ranging from rank beginner to expert run skiers. The clinicians were Stu Campbell, Robin Barnes, Bob Barnes, Jeb Boyd and Michael Rogan. Their bios are impeccable. Rusty would have been ecstatic to ski with any one of them. We all met on Friday night in the bar at the Stoweflake Inn for an informal early registration. It was pretty cool to have Stu Campbell walk up, greet me by name and introduce himself ( I think he cheated - we had never met). It was even cooler to meet some of those wacky Bears in person. You never know what kind of in person experience you'll get from an online friend. It turned out most of us were pretty normal. Well, everyone except that guy in the Fox Hat. Rumor has it his display name comes from rhyming slang.

Saturday morning started with a free breakfast over at Spruce Mountain. It was tough getting there by 7:30, but heck we only had two days and there was a lot of (cough) work to do. Like everything about ESA, breakfast was first class. We got our gear on and got into our groups and ready to go early. Rusty was all set for an easy warm up run when we found we were going to have to wait for the main lift at Spruce to open. Thus sprouted Plan B - hop the shuttle over to the Mansfield gondola and well, you know the rest already.

The official list of barking bears in Rogan's group were:

  • Scott (c3pio)

  • Kevin (kevinf)

  • Byron (Max Capacity)

  • Rusty Carr (therusty)

  • Michael Rogan

  • Chris Geib (cgeib)

Rogan's group is in the back row in the order listed on the right from left to right.
Picture by Wear The Fox Hat