Story and photos by Lynn DeBruin
The run was named FIS, but as I slid down it, headfirst on my back, my first thoughts were F%$# I’m Screwed.
While I would joke about renaming that bumped-up, black-diamond run on Aspen Mountain, not five minutes later I tackled it cleanly – a testament that an innovative program aimed at curing the terminally intermediate skier really works – if I slowed down and listened.
Granted, before I went to Aspen in January for a specialty four-day Bumps for Boomers clinic, I thought I could ski like the wind, flying down steep blue runs and even black ones at the best resorts the West had to offer. But mention a bump run, even a modest one, and I’d hightail it even faster in the opposite direction. That four-letter word, bump, to me translated to fear, and my surgically repaired left knee and I wanted no part of it.
Not anymore, not after surviving the clinic started by an original Boomer named Joe Nevin. Half a day in, after starting with baby steps and baby skis, our small group could be found navigating down runs like Midnight and Pumphouse, and eventually through black-diamond Reds and a double-black-diamond, Glades 3.
While the view from the top was stunning, looking back up at what we had just skied was what really sent the heart racing. Instead of aching legs from long days of skiing, I was energized at the prospect of breaking free from a 30-year skiing rut – all the while knowing my bad knee didn’t bother me one minute.
What clicked was instruction from a team assembled by Nevin, a former Apple exec, who followed the corporate mantra he preached in teaching boomers how to navigate the mogul world.
“I had just come out of 12 years at Apple where the corporate DNA is all about making complexity simple,” said Nevin, former chief information officer at the innovative high-tech company that revolutionized the industry with its iPods, iPhones and now iPads. In short, he wanted to turn terminally intermediate skiers into confident mogul and powder skiers – all in a matter of hours.
With help from instructors such as Alan Bush and Larry Feher, he has, turning this 47-year-old and hundreds of other boomer-groomers into bump and glade skiers. Now, instead of ignoring the egg-carton-like fields that generally are devoid of crowds, I’m drawn to them.
The biggest key for Nevin in starting the program seven years ago was identifying 20 percent of the information that would make 80 percent of the difference.
He began with ski boards – 98 centimeter carbon-fiber skis stubby enough to make macho men cringe. Nevin compared them to the old wooden Wilson tennis racquets before Prince came along with its oversized metal frames that drastically enlarged the sweet spot.
“They absolutely force good technique; they’re like truth serum,” Nevin, 63, said of the mini-skis. “You put them on and if you don’t have the proper stance, your feet will wiggle.” With no back seat, they magnify everything that’s going on between one’s feet and the snow. “If there’s a problem, we can immediately identify it,” Nevin added.
The shorties also provided a much smaller turning radius, something that went a long way toward instilling confidence while staring down a steep fall line and minefield of moguls.
Forget about skiing a zip line to the bottom through the troughs, knees bumping chests á la Olympic champions Dale Begg-Smith and Jennifer Heil. We would learn to ski the tops of moguls, where the snow is the softest, and at controlled speeds.
It was something Nevin felt crucial if he were to gain the trust of a largely untapped market on the slopes; boomers who don’t want to jump off cliffs or bang through a course with their knees in their face but want to explore the entire mountain.
“We were looking at a demographic that had certain attributes,” Nevin said of folks born between 1946 and 1964. “They’re getting older, maybe not in as good a shape as they were when they were younger and their reflexes are starting to decline a bit.”
Also, unlike the 4-year-olds who take off from the top of a run without an ounce of fear, there tends to be greater apprehension about falling and getting hurt, and their ability to bounce back.
Cathy Godshall, a partner in an Akron law firm, admitted as much, especially knowing her basic technique needed some work. “After doing it a few times, the things that looked scary didn’t look scary any more,” said Godshall, 58, who came to Aspen with her husband, Doug, 63, and a third law partner/friend.
While their friend would suffer a freak accident on Day 1, falling and breaking a shoulder before we even hit the bumps, it didn’t affect their desire to push on.
Ditto for the couple from Australia who hadn’t skied in four years or an Amazon.com software developer who was determined to keep up with his buddies. “I’ve skied nastier runs before and gotten down without killing myself,” said Seattle’s Chris Jones. “But I never understood how to do it in a way that was safe and controlled, necessarily. Now I can because it’s been broken down into a set of measurable and learnable skills (where) you go, ‘OK, it’s this.’ I love solving puzzles and moguls are a very interesting puzzle to solve.”
That’s not to say we, namely me, didn’t take a few spills over the four days. But most were because I was going too fast, or threw my body out of balance with bad habits. With the instructors’ choice of words and constant scrutiny, I’d finally get it.
It was evidenced as we stood at the top of Glades, a 45-degree hill of bumps beneath us along with hundreds of pines but not one other skier. We couldn’t help but admire the peace, quiet and beauty of nature all the while harboring the knowledge that we were about to ski where we hadn’t dared venture before.
“With our technique, it’s safer skiing over here,” said Feher, who has a PHd in sports administration and has taught everywhere from Taos to Jackson Hole, including the last 16 years at Aspen/Snowmass. “There’s trees, but they’re not moving. Out on the (groomed) slopes, there might be 100 people racing by you.”
It’s true. Some 80 percent of the people ski on 20 percent of the runs.
“Those are the groomed runs, so if you can get off the groomed runs and get away from the people, it’s nice and quiet and peaceful,” Feher said.
And because we ventured off the groomers, we ended up seeing things we might not have known about – like the makeshift shrine to cult hero Jerry Garcia, complete with dozens of photos and a Stoner Avenue street sign, that has been erected amid the pines and aspens.
It’s something just about any boomer could appreciate.
Bumps for Boomers
Ski purists might object, but in this class Nevin and instructors tell students not to carve but to slide, drift or even skid from spot to spot. “You can carve in the bumps if you’re young and have lightning-fast reflexes. But when you get to be 45 and older, you really can’t move that fast,” Nevin said.
Instead, students are taught to ski independent of reflex speed, which means they won’t be penalized as their reflexes slow even further as they age. And they won’t have to speed up their reflexes the steeper the hill gets.
“Overall, we’re really showing people how to use the brakes before the accelerator pedal,” he said. And carving produces speed.
The four-day clinic, with lift ticket, is $1,493 in February and March. Three-day clinics also are available for a slightly reduced fee. Classes are purposely kept small, with a maximum of four students per instructor. At times, our clinic provided almost one-on-one training. Ski boards are provided the first two days. Skiers simply need their boots and poles those days, and can either rent skis the final two days or provide their own. Find more information at www.bumpsforboomers.com or by calling 970-989-2529.
What we learned
On day 1, we learned proper balance, how to turn from a dead stop, to flatten our skis and sideslip or drift down to a spot where our eyes were focused. We also learned the parts of a mogul, from the spine to the trough, and secondary fault lines that we could parlay into green runs through the field or controlled blue runs.
We started slowly on small moguls. By Day 3, we ditched the short skis, and had pole touches and turns down, allowing us to ski controlled stretches of mid-to-large moguls.
Who are the students
Some 70 percent are men, and though the class is aimed at boomers, it has attracted senior fathers and 30-something daughters intent on skiing together, and one 84-year-old man who skied the double-black diamond Face of Bells both times he took the course.
The program also attracts a lot of couples.
“One of the most humorous things is when I get a call from a guy hemming and hawing a bit about how he’s an expert skier but his wife is pretty tentative, wondering if she’d be all right for the clinic. Around the end of Day 2, the guy is getting really upset because the wife is out-skiing him. I’ve actually had guys throw their poles down and get real (ticked) off,” Nevin said.
The reason is simple. Skiing the bumps using Nevin’s method is not about brute power. It’s about finesse and patience. He likened it to golf with a guy trying to whack the ball as hard as he can, only to slice or hook it badly.
“If you relax and do things smoothly, it’s much better. Less is more,” he said.
If You Go
Deals in Aspen
While Aspen still caters to the rich and famous, it isn’t immune to the bad economy, which means there are plenty of deals out there. February and March also are often the best months to ski. Not only is the base typically its deepest, but skiers might get a powder day one day and sunny blue skies the next.
“The promotions and deals they can get are better than they’ve been in the 22 years I’ve been here,” said Jeff Hanle, director of public relations for Aspen/Snowmass. “Everybody is trying to fill their rental property. If your dream is to come to Aspen, now is the best time to do it.”
Bill Tomcich, president of StayAspenSnowmass.com, said Aspen has never been more affordable, especially with lodging, airfare and lift ticket packages. Increased hotel inventory and airline capacity are key reasons.
With Frontier jumping into the Aspen market a year-and-a-half ago, it brought airfares down.
Tomcich said that there are 10 percent more airline seats available now, with United adding nonstops from Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles, and Delta serving Aspen nonstop from Salt Lake City and Atlanta through March 28. Tomcich’s website also contracts directly with airlines, meaning many packages don’t require a 14- or 21-day advance purchase. For more information, and last-minute deals, go to www.stayaspensnowmass.com.
Last year the Limelight Lodge (www.limelightlodge.com), a pet-friendly, 125-room upscale moderate property, opened in Aspen. This season, the new upscale 151-room Viceroy (www.viceroyhotelsandresorts.com/snowmass) opened as well.
We stayed at Chateau Dumont (www.chateau-chaumont-dumont.com), just a two-minute walk to the gondola, with spacious rooms, full kitchen, free internet access and free street parking.
Also nearby are the Aspen Square Condominiums (www.aspensquarehotel.com). Though smaller than Dumont, they were very chic, some with gas fireplaces, balconies, terrific views of downtown Aspen and also very close to the gondola and shopping.
The Little Nell (www.thelittlenell.com)is one of the top-rated hotels in Aspen, and perfectly located next to the Gondola at Aspen Mountain – also known as Ajax.
It’s also dog-friendly. It offers brass ID tags for pets, fresh water bowls, dog walking and sitting on request and even a pet menu from the elegant Montagne restaurant, featuring tenderloin of beef and grilled salmon with eggs.
During our stay, while we warmed up with a delicious dish of Beef Bourguignon after a day on the slopes, a bulldog wandered carefree near its owner, taking in the Aprés scene himself.
Aspen offers a four-mountain pass with Ajax, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass all within nine miles. It also offers the largest free groomed Nordic system in North America, and another Nordic area, Ashcroft, which sits in a valley surrounded by 14,000-foot peaks.
Pine Creek Cookhouse (www.pinecreekcookhouse.com) offers a chance to dine and dash with a two-mile ski trail to the restaurant. One can also get there via snowshoe or horse-drawn sleigh. Nearby, T-Lazy-7 Ranch (www.tlazy7.com) offers guided snowmobile tours of the picturesque Maroon Bells – North America’s most photographed mountains.
The area also has three new ice-skating rinks, a 25,000-square- foot child-learning center and free shuttle service between the ski areas.
Top photo: Ski boards or mini-skis help shorten the learning curve in the Bumps for Boomers clinic.
Lynn DeBruin is a freelance writer/photographer based in Denver and former sportswriter for the Rocky Mountain News. She is an 8 handicap and she skis better now than ever.