by Lisa Blake
I took comfort in the knowing, sympathetic half-smile on my ski instructor’s sunbaked face when I told him the birth of my skiing career consisted of girlfriends dropping me at the top of blue and black runs at Copper Mountain 15 years ago and giving me a “good luck, you’ve got this, just follow us” pat before vanishing downhill.
I’ve lived in Summit County and skied regularly for nearly 10 years now, but I’ve never really taken a formal lesson. Today, on a perfect bluebird February morning, I’m standing at the group lesson meeting flags in Copper’s West Village with a mixed bag of women and men, mostly retirees, some 30-somethings like myself, all wanting to improve their technique.
The seasoned ski instructor, Dennis Meeker, is smearing in leftover sunscreen on his jaw, assessing the group, tossing out questions about comfort levels and terrain preferences. We adopt ease from his genuine smile and casual mention that he’s been instructing here for 40 years. I mean, 40 years? He must seriously love doing this. We’re in solid hands.
Copper Mountain’s adult lessons are tailored around beginners looking to elevate their skills, experts wanting a refresher and pretty much everyone in between. The most common requests, we learn, are polishing speed management, to look and feel smooth and to gain confidence on challenging terrain.
After an initial green run to see where everyone’s at, Dennis splits us into two groups. The women who want to work on form and confidence on mellow runs go with the other instructor, John from Iowa City and I skip off with Dennis to tackle bumps, trees and form.
Halfway down our first run, Dennis pinpoints a few fundamentals. I’m riding in my heels, rather than using my whole foot to power the ski. My poles should be out in front, wide like steering a Harley. The analogy sounds silly, but it works. I can feel myself linking and guiding easier in this new, more efficient stance. Dennis is a pro and gives each of us the attention of a private lesson in a learn-from-each-other group setting.
We burn laps down blues and quickly learn to use our chair lift huddle time to dissect the techniques and tactics Dennis is throwing at us on the slopes. “A lot of skiing is mental,” he says. And he’s right. I feel my mind making these small hinge adjustments as I glide down runs—ankle, knee, hips flexed and complementing; poles out front, loose athletic stance, take the turn using the front of my ski, swoop through that fall line leaning back ever so slightly.
But try not to over-think it. Skiing is such a contradictory mental mind game, I laugh, following Dennis over a mogul minefield and processing his pointer to use the crown of the bump as my pivot point, swooping down to the next hard-packed lump. The bumps become less intimidating as I tip and turn over and over.
Dennis reminds us in his approachable, intuitive way that he’s here to serve up techniques on a silver platter and it’s our job to cherry pick what we want to focus and improve upon. John and I get it—open communication with your coach is key to lesson success—and we head over to a generously spaced tree run.
I remember Dennis’ morning comment when we met by the flags: “We never stop learning. There’s no win or lose with skiing. No score.” And he’s right.
At the end of the day, following a recap at the base and tips on taking what I learned with me as I progress in this very individual sport, I feel great. I actually feel smarter and enthusiastic for more days on the mountain. If the girls from 2003 could see me now.
Learn more on Copper's Ski and Ride School offerings here.