Mahre Camp – Or how to learn to ski much better in just 3 days.
According to the Deer Valley website – the Mahre Ski Camp is for skiers at all levels – I mention this because I’m a pretty good downhill skier. I take lots of group lessons – and unless the competition is very stiff – I place in the top group. As I will freely admit – I can ski pretty much any run that’s in bounds – badly!
So this report is from my personal experience – I didn’t interview other ‘campers’ – and I didn’t take a survey to determine group attitudes. This is how I liked it – a Personal bias – but there it is.
I’ve taken ski clinics before. Well just two actually – a Centered Skier week about 30 years ago and a much more recent clinic at Deer Valley. This more recent experience – before the Mahre camp – was a women’s 3 day clinic. Unfortunately, I was so disappointed with it that I gave up ‘clinics’ for several years. I found it way too social, the featured “Ski with an Olympic Skier” consisted of a quick glimpse one afternoon, and there was simply not enough about getting better on moguls, powder, and trees. One skier in our group was afraid of powder (and you call yourself an expert – I think NOT!) – and the group ended u avoiding things she was afraid of doing. Not good. While skiers with less ability might have had a good time – I was mostly annoyed.
But that said – I’ve been eying the Mahre Clinic folks for several years now. I liked the idea that Steve and Phil Mahre were very involved – although I wouldn’t have know how much until I took the clinic, and I liked the idea that they used a system of exercises that had been tried out and evaluated on skiers of all kinds of abilities. I also liked the promise in their literature – we form groups on ability – not on friendship or relationships. In any case – Feb 2013 the stars aligned. I was going to be in Park City, Utah on the right dates, my friends were willing to ski without me for 3 days, and I had a bit of money to spend on lessons.
The Mahre Clinic takes place at one of my top favorite (after Jackson Hole) places to ski – Deer Valley. It’s not just the grooming and the food that’s great there – they have lots of hidden powder stashes, and there are some short – but very nice mogul runs to play on. In addition, if the snow is good, there are plenty of tree runs to explore – at lots of different ability levels.
So – long story short – I decided to sign up for a 3 day clinic. They offer 3 and 5 day versions – and after chatting with lots of people who had some knowledge of the clinics, I knew that while the 5 day was ‘better’ – taking the 3 day would be OK too.
Like all clinics, you start with a breakfast gathering – a chance to chat up some of the other people participating, and meet some of the instructors. To my surprise – the Mahre brother were there as well. In fact – they were involved and on the ski hill or in the video room or eating lunch with us every minute of all 3 days. Wow – that’s what I call a personal involvement. Of course it’s a bit hard to tell which is which – as they are identical twins. One brother – I think it’s Steve – wears glasses – but otherwise – can’t tell them apart. I didn’t realize they were twins actually until we were on the slopes – and saw both in quick succession.
After breakfast, they did the traditional ski off – on a fairly flat section of trail. They weren’t looking for our ability to do moguls, they wanted to see how balanced on our skis we were. But before the ski-off they divided us into 2 groups – those who had done a Mahre Clinic previously, and those who had not. A surprise to me – about 1/3 of the 40 participants were repeats. That’s a lot! Says something good about the clinic when people take it over and over again, eh?
One negative comment – they also asked people who wanted to be in the same group to ski down one after the other – I assumed that they would be put in the lower skier’s group – it’s bad to have a better skier in your group, but it’s a disaster to have a worse skier. Why? Because the class will naturally gravitate to that level – making it too easy for the other members of the group. That is what happened in my last clinic – I assumed that it wouldn’t happen in the Mahre Clinic. Turns out that in at least one group – I’d have been wrong. So moral here – if it happens to you – Speak up NOW! Don’t let them get away with doing that to you – it’s all fine for the people who want to ski together – but it will ruin your experience.
Enough of the aside – I placed in the 3rd from the top group. But since there were only 2 other skiers – both male – I wasn’t complaining. At least the social aspect would be kept to a minimum. And I thought they were both good skiers . Our instructor was Don Hill – like all Mahre instructors, a PSIA level 3 – (that’s the top) – with additional training in the Mahre method.
Another disclaimer here – I ski hard. All day if I can. So I’ve had issues with ‘skiing’ better skiers under the table. It’s not that I’m that good – I just don’t stop. So at 3:30, when the other members of my class are begging for a break, I’m looking forward to another mogul run. This can be a problem if the group isn’t equally determined to ski, ski, ski. But this group looked strong. I was optimistic.
We started off with simple balancing exercises – a bit touchy-feely – but the idea was to make us aware of exactly how we balanced on our skis. According to the brothers, there
are 3 keys to great skiing – Balance, Balance, and Balance. By this they mean fore and aft balance (I’m good at that – I don’t ski sitting backwards – thank goodness), lateral balance (need to work on that. I just don’t angulate like I should. Oh well), and vertical balance. (I’m good at getting down – not so hot on getting back up!)
Day one, except for 2 mogul runs after lunch, was basically spent exploring and correcting obvious balance issues. First they had to make you aware of your issues – and trust me – denial is the name of the game there. I couldn’t believe that I don’t angulate (do the banana) enough – but sure enough….
One key message of the day – skiing shouldn’t make you tired. If your legs hurt – you are doing it wrong! And you shouldn’t need to rest 1 day in 3. Your skis might – but you should be able to ski day after day if your balance issues are under control.
Day two we got to ski with Phil Mahre in the morning – and then after being video-taped, he personally critiqued our skill level. Imagine – an Olympic Gold Medalist and World cup Skier looking at your video and slowly and patiently explaining what he could see were problems to be corrected.
The rest of Day Two was spent with Don, our instructor with his two new knees and one new hip, going over and over what Phil had pointed out were our personal issues. In the evening, Steve gave us a summary lecture of their key techniques – and then spent time talking racing tactics. Worth the price of admission. He actually got tears in his eyes when he was describing one particular race. I was very impressed.
Day Three was the most interesting for me. We re-did the video taping, and again our flaws were pointed out (and thank goodness – some improvements), and then spent the afternoon working on mogul skiing techniques. Effectively, we took the balance lessons and applied them to more intense terrain. Not too surprisingly – I ended up alone with the instructor at the end of the day. Managed to ski both my fellow skiers under the table. At least they had the smarts to quit before they got hurt. Even Don eventually had to quit – but here’s the best part. When we got back to base – Phil was taking some people up for one last run – I gleefully joined in – and got 2 more runs in before the mountain shut down the lifts on me. Well – that worked out well.
That evening, each instructor gave each of their students something to remember their lessons by – a pair of glasses with ski tips attached (so you stop looking down), a toy motor bike to remember to keep your hands in front, and in my case – a mantra – Do the banana (Angulate) and what goes down MUST come up!
But it’s not during the lessons that the quality of a clinic becomes clear. It’s in the days afterwards when you find yourself able to ski with grace on terrain that you’d avoided in the past, and in my case – while still not at the speed of my husband – at least coming a lot closer to keeping up!
Bottom line – I would definitely take the Clinic again – just for the personal nature of the very directed instruction, and I would highly recommend the clinic to any skier – regardless of ability. During the ‘awards’ party – it was made very clear that there were plenty of participants with precious little previous skiing ability – all the way up to speed demons and mogul buffs. So the lessons, as explained, apply to everyone!
Thanks a bunch Steve and Phil. I had a really good time. Learned a lot too!