Snowbird PSIA/AASI Women’s Summit, Round 2

I have heard it said, “Every day is a gift,” and never had I felt it more than my days at Deer Valley and Park City Mountain. Every day was a new adventure, played out with new acquaintances: a good balance of being alone and being with people with doses of business, pleasure, writing, social media, nature and nurture. Nothing could top my week at Park City—or could it?

I had signed up for the National PSIA/AASI Women’s Summit in June, over six months earlier, mainly because I had gone to the Summit last year at Steamboat. And now I was headed to Snowbird for my second Women’s Summit.

I have been a member of the Professional Ski Instructors of America and American Association of Snowboard Instructors (PSIA/AASI) for over 20 years. I served on the Central Division board of directors in the early 2010s. Part of maintaining membership is continuing education, and the Summit fulfills the requirement. But the real reason I signed up was that last year’s experience was incredibly inspiring and fun. The women who attend are dedicated skiers and instructors, blending their physical skills with their intellectual capacity to parse out the components of good skiing, and convey that knowledge to their students. The Summit combines skiing and classroom instruction for a great balance of theory and practice. It also combined a good balance of educating and fun.

This Summit began Sunday night with Mermer Blakeslee, a nationally known PSIA Clinician/Examiner and author of the book, “A Conversation with Fear,” which was last year’s focus—fear. This year Blakeslee spoke about learning. One key take-away? Understand the difference between learning and performing. When in the learning mode, ski at 110%, at the tipping point of failure. When in performing mode, ski at 90%, just under the failure point. Case in point—my whole ski trip prior to this point was in performance mode—skiing under control, not pushing the limits. This week was for learning so I signed up for the intermediate/advanced group that would be doing groomers and off piste (off groomed).  We were split up into groups based on our self-selected ability level and assigned a coach who was a PSIA Examiner. An examiner is a person who assesses candidates for certification. Our coach was Julie Tsuruta Matises from Squaw Valley. We were from east coast to west coast and points in between. We ranged in age from 23-72. And our group was colorful: white, yellow, black. There were bionic hips and knees. And we all loved to ski.

Each morning our group would ski together under Julie’s coaching and every afternoon we would select interest groups like bumps, groomers, off piste, or ski with the Patrollers. There were also afternoon indoor lectures and cocktail parties at the end of each day. Our group spun off and met at the Tram Club one evening—it was our table of women, and the rest of the tables filled with men. We went to the Tram Club for the $5 shot and beer chaser. Wine and beer at the cocktail party were in the $10 range. Everyone was on the hunt for a cheaper drink.

I was feeling pretty good after the first day—none of the terrain scared me to death. So the second day I selected the group that was to ski with the Patrollers. In my early years working the ski industry in the Midwest I had been a ski patroller.  I figured we would learn about the Snowbird Patrol and their procedures, their particular challenges and learn how they manage the safety of thousands of snow sports enthusiasts over thousands of acres of terrain. The first thing out of the mouth of one of the participants when she was asked what she wanted out of the group was, “Steeps and double black runs.”  I thought, really? Then why not join the double black group?  I said, “I’d like to meet one of the avalanche dogs.” I think there was some dissonance in our goals…

That day we got off the Snowbird tram and went into the patrollers’ room at the tram station. They explained how the calls for help came in, who dispatched, and where their stations were on the mountain. There was also an avalanche dog in his kennel. I saw my dog: check.

Snowbird Avalanche Dog in the safety of his kennel, amidst the chaos of a patrol room.

 The first run the patrollers turned to was, yes, a double black. I peered over the lip at the top of the run, and if I were a swearing soul, I would have been swearing. But as a survival skill, traversing and side slipping can get a person down most anything, and this worked for me. It wasn’t elegant, but it was functional. 

Because the two others in the group were OK doing double blacks, they veered one direction, a patroller and I veered another. As we went down, my patroller was stopped by a young boarder who told us his brother had hit a tree but was coming down. When his brother reached us, he had a nose bleed and cut lip, maybe a little bruising on the side of his face. He said he was nauseous. Now THIS was what I was with a patroller for! I wasn’t skiing with a patroller to do scary runs. I wanted to see what their processes and procedures were, and how similar and different they were compared to our Midwest patrol processes. It was interesting to see the patrol in action. The boy hurt was an identical twin, and his twin brother was the one who stopped us to start with. I have identical twin grandboys, so it was particularly interesting to me. But that was where it ended. They loaded the young man up in the toboggan and took him down. They kinda just left the twin brother on the mountain to try to find the rest of their group. We didn’t follow the toboggan, which I would have liked to have done to complete the process, but had to meet up with our steeps and double black group members. By the time we met back up, it was time for me to head back in for a lecture I wanted to hear. This was one group that didn’t meet my expectations…

Our morning team had a great bond, and our leader was key in forming that bond. She challenged us, yet continued to make us feel safe. Everyday there was new terrain, new challenge. After skiing alone for so long, I appreciated the camaraderie that being with other skiers builds. I could ski areas that I wouldn’t go alone—trees, gullies, moguls. I fell on the last day going down a bumpy back run that we got to by going through some trees. I slid on my back 75% of the way down. When I finally stopped, my feet were up-hill, my head down, skis up in the air, snow down my neck. I unwound and righted myself, skied down to my friends, and proceeded to the bottom, embarrassed but alive.

Memorial plaque with a skier’s rules. Deep in the trees at Snowbird. 1. You never get hurt in the air. 2. When in trouble, do a double. 3. Speed is your friend. 4. If you’re not turning right, you best be turning left. 5. Go big or go home!

On our last run of the last day, we went back to the hidden moguls and I considered going around. But I figured I wouldn’t have the chance to ski with friends again for a while, so I vowed I would try. And try I did. I knew what to expect this time, and I picked my way around the bumps. Turn one, then turn two, then three, then four. On and on, and on to the bottom and to my support group cheering me on! Nothing feels better than regrouping and conquering a run that beat you before.

I relished my small victory, but needed to move on. My three days at Snowbird flew by! I loaded my little blue truck and pointed it west towards Salt Lake City proper only a little bit out of the way. I made a quick stop at Level 9 Sport where I picked up a very nice $150 rolling ski bag for $70 bucks, and then began my drive east to Colorado.

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