Monday, November 7, 2011

Snow on the ground

Spent this weekend up at the mountain, cleaning up the rental cabin with my new roommates, and in general preparing for my home away from home. Ended up sitting around having a few drinks with the group when we got the brilliant idea to go climbing towards the summit for the sunset. About halfway up we found snow. Not just the usual dusting or few inches. Nope, we found knee deep left over from last season with several inches of fresh from the recent snow falls. The start of the season is just around the corner, is anyone else excited?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Shake out the Dust

It's that time again... yep time to shake out the dust on this blog. The winter season is fast approaching. Or really, correction:

Wolf Creek has already opened for a bit this season.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The End of a Class

This year at Corpy provided me with my first chance to take part in a multi-week school program. Meaning one of the local grade/high schools would bring up a bus load of students on the weekends for instruction time.

For the past 8 weekends, I spent each morning with 9 junior high school students who wanted to learn to ski. The afternoons were spent with 2 grade school students, and 2 junior high students.

At the end of this past weekend, both groups expressed their disappointment that our time had come to an end. A few of the students also asked if they could continue on taking more lessons from me. They all seemed to say the same thing to me, they enjoyed learning to ski with me because we didn't do just drills. We did a few, but we spent more time going down runs fast, going down runs slow, cutting through trees, taking jumps, bumps, and learning to ride a box together. I watched one student move from never having skied to riding the black diamonds with us, only to consistently crash on the flat run outs back to the lifts. I watched all of them learn about the joys of riding in powder.

For me it was a sad end. I really enjoyed working with these students over the weeks. It gave me a better clue as to how they were progressing as skiers, and really became a lot more fun once we got to know the names for each other. I'll miss my classes. But hopefully I'll see them on the slopes as the season continues.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Plague of the Mountain

It happens every year, regardless of any corrective action taken by a resort. It swamps in and fills the resort both with money, but also with lots of frustrated, irritated customers. The "it" I'm talking about is high school ski race season.

If your local mountain has any kind of slope to it, it's likely at least one local high school will be practicing, running races, or do some event at your slope. Every year these racers swarm to the resorts, and it's always entertaining to see the young racers working through their lines and showing off their skills.

But there is also the dark side. Lift lines get insanely longer, with many of these racers feeling they are privileged to push in front of other paying customers. And then there is the lunch time rush. I'm not talking about the rush to get in line for the food at the resort. No, I'm talking about the tide of skis left strewn about the entire base area with reckless abandon.

At my previous resort, we tried to keep the racers contained to an area. We built an entirely new building for them to connect and have lunch at, with a huge open area in front. But this didn't work, and their skis continued to liter the entire base area. Eventually management's answer was a lot simpler; "step on them." As employees we were encouraged to just walk on the skis when we found them laying on the ground. When that didn't work, we bought a large push-shovel that we ran across the top of the snow and collected 20-30 pairs of skis in a push. We'd then pile them up in an area in front of their lunch stop without care. This worked a few times because it had a direct impact on the racers. They had no idea where their skis were, and only a limited amount of time to get to the start.

It also had the effect of generating one great over heard conversation:

Ski Racer Dad: Are these your skis?
Ski Racer: Yeah.
Ski Racer Dad: (dropping skis and kicking them) How do you like seeing that happen?
Ski Racer Dad: You think I'm doing it? By leaving your skis here the ENTIRE mountain steps on your skis. What's the difference if I do?
Ski Racer: ....
Ski Racer Dad: (grabbed another pair of skis) Look at this! See these burrs, those are from the staff here stepping on the skis.

I was actually proud to hear Ski Racer Dad telling his son to take care of the equipment. Only a little disappointed to hear him blaming the staff for the burrs and not the fact that little Johnny probably got those from any number of people stepping on them.

At my current position, the solution was to put up large amounts of ski racks for the racers to use. Judging from the carnage the past few weekends, this hasn't worked at all either. The racks, while used, were not enough to break the habit of the racers. Management's answer has been to not touch the equipment and raise the issue with the training staff directly.

Just curious what other resorts do to contain this infestation of skis.

Monday, February 21, 2011


One of my favorite overheard quotes from this past week at the resort...

Skier 1: I just went over there and helped some people.
Skier 2: Why'd you do that?
Skier 1: I thought they were bro's, but they weren't.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Over-Protective Parents

Sometimes parents get to be a little overly protective of the children, or really over state some special needs for their children.

In a recent class I had two students, one young boy (we'll call him Charles) and a young girl (we'll call her Amy). When the class card was handed to me, the management of the kids school told me specifically that Charles was not to ride a chair lift alone. Apparently he had some issues with paying attention on the exit for the chair.

Out on the slopes he really did well skiing, and was more advanced than Amy was. I spent more time with Amy trying to get her up to speed with Charles through the morning. She was struggling a little bit on the beginner slope with some of the ideas we were working on, but nothing too bad. Each time we made it to the bottom though, I rode the chair back up with Charles as directed to me. We eventually broke for lunch.

At lunch, I joined my class eating lunch, which means the barely controlled chaos of kids school was everywhere. In keeping some of the chaos slightly contained, the front office people asked me to come out and talk with one of the parents who was wanting to talk with me. Turns out it was Amy's mother, who told me that Amy was feeling left out of the class. Specifically Amy felt that I found Charles more fun because I rode the chair only with him and never her. The front office rep and I spent some time explaining what was going on, and Amy's mom seemed to be very understanding of what was going on. I also went and spoke with the kids school manager regarding the earlier statement that I cannot let Charles ride without me.

The manager and I spoke, and the reason this statement came down was Charles's parents put him in the class with the understanding that Charles would be distracted by the bullwheel on the chair lift. This was somehow translated to him being a danger to himself on the chair through a discussion with the front office staff and the parents.

After skiing with him, it was clear he was neither distracted or a danger to himself on the chair. In fact he was just like every other kid on the lift; eager to stand up and ski some more. With my manager's approval I now moved to Charles riding every other chair ride with another adult. Amy's enjoyment of the class improved in the afternoon as we now addressed her major concern.

In the end, we learned some new questions and behaviors to ask parents. It also became clear to me that, despite the best efforts of the front office and the school practices, some parents do provide misleading information in an attempt to get their child more attention. Please don't do this.

Pre-class Discussions

I recently had an all day student, we'll call her Julie. I first met Julie in the morning, she was already bundled up her gear, trendy goggles on, and ready to go. When I was looking for her in the children's lesson room, she quickly identified herself as Julie, and I brought her over to join the rest of my class. While talking there, I asked her to share her name with the rest of the class, at which point she told me her name wasn't Julie. Getting that sorted out took a little time, but in the end was kind of funny to me. I quickly made the connection that she was slightly shy and made a mental note of what I'd have to do to get her skiing.

Once outside, she was skiing with a snow plow that turned constantly to the left. We began working on what we could do to fix this. We'd start at the top of the hill, she'd repeat exactly what she was going to do, and then proceed to not do any of it while skiing down. It was a little frustrating, but happens often enough. While talking to her, I noticed that she was calling things randomly different words making talking with her confusing. For example, she'd say a chairlift was an elevator. After a little while we stopped and broke for lunch.

After lunch my class grew 3x larger, and a second instructor was added. We split the group up based upon skill levels a little later on. The second instructor opted to take the kids who were still on the beginner section and Julie went with the second instructor. At the end of the day I caught up with the second instructor who was frustrated beyond belief at how he couldn't communicate with Julie. We talked a little bit and I had noticed many of the same issues earlier. I had attributed them to her being a little stubborn 5 year old. It wasn't until Julie's mom showed up for the report card review that everything made sense.

Julie wasn't a native english speaker.

She had no accent, no indicators for us in why we might need to say something slower or a little different. In fact, after talking with her mom, we discovered english wasn't her second language either. It was her third. Both the other instructor and I felt we could have done a much better job describing things if we had just known this one detail.

This highlights the most important detail for parents. If your child has some special needs, please let us know. Despite everything Corpy's children's program had setup, we're still not mind readers.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Breaking Stereotypes

I was running late arriving to the mountain the other day, getting to the parking lot along with a large number of customers. I was parked several rows away from the standard employee section, which just means I'd have to walk my gear and self to the lodge area a little further. While suiting up for the walk, a car next to me starts blasting some current alt-folk music by Mumford & Sons. This isn't the sort of music you expect to hear on mountain so I turned around to see who it was.

To my surprise, the car blasting the music was a modified Subaru WRX, two snowboards attached to the top, with two early 20-somethings inside. Front windows were drawn just a little bit, with a little bit of smoke drifting out.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Snow Tires

For a long time now there has been a debate between my friends, coworkers, and I over the best type of tire configuration to use while traveling through the snow. There are essentially 3 main ways:

  • Studded Snow Tires - These are snow tires with small metal "spikes" on them. They aren't typically sharp, but they are good for pushing through the snow and providing a better grip in most areas. The downside I've found to these tires is on normal roads, they tend to rip up the roads. I also have found on wet roads they are completely dangerous, with sliding accomplished very easily. Oh yeah, they don't do any better on ice

  • Stud-less Snow Tires - These are tires made with a softer rubber that often utilize much different tread to accomplish a better grip while in snow. Some may have sipping in between the tread blocks. Currently these are my favorite type of tire to use (Bridgestone Blizzaks to be precise). They work really well in the snow, excellent on normal/dry roads, don't tear up the road, and hold on the wet roads really well. Downfalls to these tires are the fact that the softer rubber wears down quicker, and the noise level on dry roads goes up (a bit) Like the studded tires, they're not terribly good on ice.

  • All weather tires with chains - This would be your standard tire wrapped with your choice of chain. I'm not a huge fan of putting on chains mostly because I do not trust the other drivers passing me while I'm attaching them. That said, there are times where chains are the only possible means to moving around on the mountain and I carry a set of 4 for my car at all times. That said I feel there are many downfalls to chains including damage to your tires if improperly installed, damage to others tires if you've improperly installed them, lower speeds mandated (unless you like replacing wheel wells), having to attach/detach on the side of the road. Unlike the other two options, chains appear to work wonderfully on icy roads still.

We debate the merits mostly between studded and stud-less tires a lot. I feel the Blizzak is about as good (if not better) than any studded tire I've had. Now I find a new argument for not using studded tires; Studded tires may harm your lungs and heart over long term usage.

Huh? Over on MSNBC, they highlight a bit of research by some Swedish scientists observing the effects of studded tires. Anyways the MSNBC article is light on content. Either way, it's a fun fact for the next time we have this discussion in the instructor lounge.