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Resolving not to look like a dork on skis

Roger Marolt

I recently performed a haphazard survey of haphazard people to learn about our visitors’ New Year’s resolutions.

The results of the survey were not surprising. One woman said she wanted to be healthier. One man told me he wanted to spend more time with his family. Two told me that they wanted to help those less fortunate.

By far, though, the most common New Year’s resolution of people roaming our streets on a recent winter day was that they vowed to do whatever it takes to avoid looking like a dork on the ski hills. Perhaps this widespread fear of flailing across snowy slopes explains why these people were wandering through shops and restaurants instead of skiing during Christmas week.

Nonetheless, I want to be the first to commend these folks. With diligent follow-through on their pledges, we might be able to maintain our status as the premier ski resort in the world.

Remember, it is not enough for our sterling reputation to attract only the most affluent and physically attractive people on the planet, which we do very naturally. We must also be a center for people who look nice making turns down Little Nell at the end of a day. Need I remind anyone that, without skiing, we are just another place to purchase Gucci handbags?

Reasonably talented skiers have always been what separate us from other ski towns. Most resorts are phony and contrived all the way down to the people who pretend to be doing some activity on their slopes that only vaguely resembles skiing. We in Aspen are phony in many regards, even proudly so, but we have always harbored capable skiers.

The great majority of skiers on the slopes of such far-flung, less-significant places like Whistler, Winter Park, Copper Mountain and Vail look more like small bears dancing with large refrigerators than the graceful turners that adroitly wend their ways down our mountains. We don’t want to become what they are.

It’s not enough anymore to look at a skier’s tracks to determine if they have achieved some level of proficiency either. A single arc in the snow used to signify that a skier had mastered the art of carving a turn. That was a rare sight, indeed. Before 1999, Breckenridge never observed such a thing.

Today, with the advent of shaped-ski technology, everyone carves turns. Fat old men do it. Children do it. First-timers do it while employing the flying-wedge technique. I even thought I saw a ski instructor do it.

That said, here are a few pointers that will hopefully help our town’s ambitious revelers begin a new life of visually pleasing skiing, bright and early tomorrow morning:

First of all, forget the image of making train tracks in the snow. That will only leave you looking like a 200-ton locomotive wrapped in a Post Card parka barreling down the mountain.

Use a narrower gauge and bring your legs closer together.

Note: This does not mean that you should keep your feet glued together like a 1970s martini sipping, Val d’Isere vadeler. Your feet must separate as your skis swing out in the turn, but your legs stay together to keep them on the same plane and each ski edge at the same angle on the snow. Picture your feet moving up and down along the inside of the opposite leg, as the legs shift from side to side together.

If that’s too much tech talk (e.g. use of the ski term vadeler), look at Bode Miller in a giant slalom course. His feet are far apart ” but his legs are close together. Trust him:It works!

Second, drop your shoulders and relax your arms. This isn’t bare-knuckle fighting. You don’t have to assume the stance of a linebacker for this sport. Nobody is going to tackle you up on the mountain. (This, of course, is not true if you forget to alternate in the lift line or try to sneak into the Aspen Mountain Club.)

Third, now that your shoulders are relaxed, keep them parallel to the ground. Don’t sway back and forth like a Frenchman on Election Day. Pretend you have a cup of coffee balanced on each shoulder. Now, don’t spill a drop on the way down.

This is accomplished with angulation. Despite what you’ve read in the Iowa Ski Club newsletter, angulation didn’t fade away with Hootie and The Blow Fish’s greatest hit. For those who don’t know, angulation is moving parts of your body in different directions. Before shaped skis, we angulated with our knees. Now we use our hips.

We bend sideways at the hip so our skis can pendulum away from our bodies to make a turn while our shoulders remain parallel to the ground. By leaning your shoulders, you are angulating with your neck. This has never been a popular style, except in Des Moines.

Fourth, bend at the knees, not at your waist. This sounds like a natural, but it’s not. Most people get low by bowing forward. Why? Because it’s less tiring than flexing your knees. Why shouldn’t you do this? Because by bending forward at the waist, you lock your knees so that they can’t absorb bumps. Your back, which has been shown mathematically to have approximately a zillion times less shock-absorbing capability than even just one knee, takes all the hits. No wonder you have a sore back and aching knees at the end of a day.

Fifth, look where you are going. You already do this, right? You’ve never crashed into a lift tower or ski patrol person. Well, that may be true, but you also just missed every turn you wanted to make on the Ridge. The purpose in looking ahead is not just to avoid things you don’t want to hit. You are also looking for objects that you do want to hit, like the smooth troughs between moguls.

Finally, breathe. Breathe deeply and regularly. Take in the fresh mountain air through your nose and exhale a frosty cloud into the clear blue sky through your mouth. Relax.

Will this help you ski better? Probably not.

But it may keep you from going apoplectic when you realize how much you’ve just resolved to spend on ski vacations over the next 20 years before you actually get the hang of this sport.


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