Peter Shelton

The opposite of play is not work, it is depression

Posted in Life in Central Oregon, Ski teaching by pshelton on April 24, 2015

On my last day teaching with the Gravity School at Mt. Bachelor, I got a tip from New Hampshire Daniel.

I should know what Daniel’s last name is. I’m embarrassed I don’t. He’s one of the most stalwart ski coaches on the staff, has been for years. He works every day. He teaches a lot of kids, and he’s very good with them. I see him in the cafeteria surrounded by whatever tribe of little Indians he has that day, and the vibe is super mellow. The kids are free to be themselves, be silly if they want, but Daniel is in charge. And on the hill he has pockets full of tricks to get his troop skiing, playing at skiing – making skiing play.

With his thrift-store skis, white hair and slow smile, he’s brilliant at it. But he might not have been the first pro from whom I would expect to get the skiing tip of the season. Out of the blue, standing together on the ski school deck, after it was clear there would be no lessons that final afternoon, he told me he’d improved his own skiing with a trick that helps him keep his inside hip higher through a turn. Focusing on this one thing had put him in a better stance on his skis and allowed him to carve a clean arc with almost all of his weight on the outside ski, the working ski.

I tried it, and it clicked. I couldn’t do the arm thing that Daniel said triggered the positive response in his skiing. (It was something about raising your hand as if to ask a question.) But it was enough, the zeroing in on that anatomical link. It led, later that day and in days since, to my assuming a taller, more forward position, which led to more control, more playfulness, as if a delighted puppet-master were floating above my descent. It is a feeling I have treasured without always understanding it when it came my way in the past, by accident or other design. Now here was a direct-action tool to get me there more often.

Daniel’s hip tip joined a handful of technique gems from the season, my first at Bachelor. Instructor trainer Mike Philips led a clinic early in the year that focused on two-legged carving – railroad track skiing. His insight had to do with patience, the patience to stand in balance while a turn develops, gradually.

Then there was Greg Dixon, another clinician, who played with the idea that all turns fall somewhere along an intensity spectrum, a spectrum he defined with a nautical analogy. At one end would be your “submarine” turns, diving, pressing deep into an etched groove. At the other end, imagine a hovercraft skittering lightly atop the snow. There was lighthearted argument within the group about whether our between-the-extremes boat impersonations should be jet skis, or cigarette boats, or . . .

These late-spring weeks the submarining has been splendid. April storms turned Mt. Bachelor’s volcanic ribs into huge ocean waves the better to lean into a bottom turn followed by a soaring, weightless cutback off the lip. It’s a good thing I’m a goofyfoot. Most of this wind-deposited snow has filled in the left sides of the gullies. As a goofyfoot kid on the California coast (whose natural stance is right foot forward on a surfboard) I was always looking for left-breaking waves, frontside waves as it were, where my toes, my chest and my hands were facing the green wall of water. As skiers, we have no frontside or backside, in theory. We face forward, down the hill. We go left and right, foot to foot, not toeside to heelside. But still . . . the old love affair with big, left-hand walls remains, and this season Bachelor’s wave-like furrows delivered.

Now the teaching season is done. The beginner-area “magic carpet” is shut down. All but three of the chairlifts are closed. Still, there is top-to-bottom skiing. Some days very good skiing, other days not so much, as a high sun works its fingers deeper in the snowpack. The most exquisite snow might be on the ridges where, earlier in the year, a rain/freeze cycle set up regions of glassy ice polished smooth by each successive wind event. Skittering slick and loud, these places were to be avoided, until now. Watch, ski school supervisor Chris Smith told me one day last week, those pods of ice (I see them sometimes as breaching whalebacks) will turn to “silk.” And they have.

Getting to these delicacies can take some doing. You might need to traverse rock-hard chunks of cornice fall. And you’ll likely have to punch through half-baked remnants of the last powder storm – like a switching yard of frozen tracks. It’s worth it when you get to the silk, the quiet, smooth Yes! of easy. Technique, after all, is about more than aesthetics. It is, or should be, in service to where you want to go, to what state of play.

New Hampshire Daniel told me he’ll be attending the annual PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America) giant slalom camp the last weekend in April. (“I just try to stand up,” he said with a self-deprecating grin.) Then he will head back across the country to his home state and a summer job tending bar. Come fall, he’ll get in the car and migrate west again for another winter on skis.

Meanwhile, the season in central Oregon isn’t quite over. I’ll be out there as long as the snow lasts, submarining where called for, skipping like a stone where possible. And watching my hips.

Thanks, Daniel. When the snow is gone I’ll rewind, and press play.

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Hot Buttered Corn Snow

Posted in Ski evolution, Ski racing, Watch columns by pshelton on April 5, 2013

Powderhorn’s closing day on Easter Sunday delivered perfect corn. Corn snow, that is. (more…)

Flight of the Ski Season

Posted in Uncategorized by pshelton on April 13, 2012

Closing weekend at the ski area was all about flight.

Not flight from Telluride, though that too was about to happen, as locals who have been working since before Thanksgiving flee the sudden quiet and the retreating snows.

No, this was about the little girl standing rock still near the picnic tables at the top of the mountain hoping to lure a camp robber with a cracker in her outstretched hand. (more…)

Purgatory gets it right

Posted in Ski evolution by pshelton on April 9, 2010

Telluride’s neighbor ski area to the south, Purgatory, is displaying some heartening news on its website. (Current owners want to be known as Durango Mountain Resort, but that is a mouthful to which I haven’t yet grown accustomed.) Instead of shutting the lifts down as originally planned in early April, they will reopen for three-day weekends (Fri.-Sun.) as long as the snow lasts or until the end of the month. Sweet! They will run three chairlifts and offer reduced-price tickets. They’re doing this, they say, to reward their l0yal skiers. I say, right on; it’s the right thing to do.

More props: Aspen ends its daily operations this Sunday, April 11th. But it, too, is reopening for weekends, the 17th-18th and 24th-25th. Tickets are $39.

As usual, ski area closes too soon

Posted in Ski evolution, Watch columns by pshelton on April 8, 2010

Closing day at Telluride was such a beauty. Easter Sunday, and after a cold, windy week, the sun worked its magic on the hard surfaces, turning them slightly wet and slippery, smooth as lemon sorbet.

There were girls skiing in skirts. And at least one pirate in full-bearded regalia. And neon wigs, and a few vintage one-piece suits. And stretch pants. Oh, boy, if that doesn’t define an era. If you’ve still got a pair of in-the-boot stretch pants in your closet, and you can still fit into them, good on ya. Closing day is the day to strut it.

But, as often happens, closing day came too soon. (more…)