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Special classes improve skiers’ abilities, confidences

In blizzard-like conditions atop Kirkwood Mountain Resort, an instructor turned and looked at our small, bundled and goggled group and said, without a tinge of sarcasm in his voice, “Let’s go find some snow!”

Billed as a three-day clinic for “All Conditions Adventure Skiing,” one day into it, “all conditions” arrived.

On the second day Mother Nature began to unload what would be 6 feet of snow. The snow continued for three days turning hard packed moguls into fields of powder.



The goal of the clinic is to take skiers to their own next level by providing intensive daylong training. Organized by North American Ski Training Center, a business based in Truckee, the idea is to ingrain proper techniques, create muscle memory and provide something that a handful of hourlong lessons rarely do.

“What really gets me jazzed is seeing people’s improvement,” said instructor Mike Hafer. “Over a period of three to six days, that’s when people develop an ingrained movement pattern – stuff they’re not going to forget.”




Seven men and two women enrolled in the clinic at Kirkwood. Eventually the group split into two. One skied intermediate terrain, the other skied more advanced chutes, steeps and bumps.

Teaching were two of the top ski instructors in the country. One was Sean Warman, a 35-year-old who is a member of Professional Ski Instructors of America National Demonstration Team, a select group of 15 who travel the country and train ski instructors.

I skied with the more advanced group. Hafer was our instructor and a member of the Western Region Demonstration Team. Even in blinding snow, his gung-ho attitude toward skiing never wavered.

“Let’s make it 8:30 because tomorrow is a Saturday and we want first dibs on the tracks,” Hafer said to the group after an intense day on the mountain. Hafer, a Michigan native, has been skiing for seven years. Off-season, the 30-year-old works construction at Northstar-at-Tahoe.

“The only way you’re going to learn anything is if you can relate it to a feeling, something you can relate to further down the road,” he said. ” ‘Oh there it is. That’s what he was talking about.’ It can’t be all powerful (movement). It’s got to be subtle movement with finesse. It’s going for efficiency. That’s what it’s all about. Then you can ski bumps all day.”

As a person who is trying to make good skiers better, Hafer guides people through expert terrain. Sometimes they freeze and can’t move an inch. It’s his job to gauge them.

“It’s about knowing their experience level and knowing that terrain we go into I can get them out no matter what,” he said. “You always have to have a safety valve. It’s about knowing the mountain … knowing there’s not a big 10-foot drop ahead.”

Most impressive was Hafer’s ability to monitor the four skiers in his group. If you were tired, he could tell. If you made a good turn, he saw it and complimented you.

“It’s probably been a little more challenging than I hoped for,” said Len Mooney, a 56-year-old high-tech salesman from the Bay Area. “The deep powder conditions are really challenging.

“Frankly, Mike’s coaching has been very good. He’s been giving us a lot of pointers that I’m trying to incorporate. I want to go back to less intimidating terrain and work on them.”

Off the slopes and before a group dinner each night, participants convened to watch video of themselves skiing, participate in “tech talks” and listen as an expert explained the art of tuning a ski.

“I had never seem myself ski before,” said Bob Florian, a 44-year-old software engineer from Pleasanton, Calif. “(The first day) I looked like a tree coming down the hill.

“But I like the fact that you’re always skiing. He’s seems to be able to see you without trying, without being regimented … I’m pretty satisfied. I have definitely gone down some chutes I wouldn’t have done myself – but that’s what I was looking for.”

NASTC’s business is year round. In summer, they teach in Chile. In winter, they hold clinics in such places as France, Wyoming and Whistler-Blackcomb. The longest camp they organize is at Portillo, Chile, which lasts 10 days.

NASTC was started in 1994 by Chris and Jenny Fellows, both ski instructors. To make a reservation call (530) 582-4772.

Upcoming clinics

Introduction to Ski Mountaineering, Tahoe City, Feb. 17

Specialty Day 2 – Steeps and Bumps, Sugar Bowl, Feb. 23

Introduction to Ski Mountaineering, Tahoe City, March 3

Backcountry Overnight, Tahoe City, March 31-April 1

For more information call North American Ski Training Center (530) 582-4772.


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