Live free or die |

Live free or die

by Dan Thomas

True, the column I wrote when this page premiered promised, la “Fight Club” not to talk about resorts on this side of the Lake:

ME (PLAYED BY BRAD PITT. OK – SUSPEND THE DISBELIEF AND CUT THE SARCASM): “The first rule about South Shore is, you don’t talk about South Shore.”

Actually, I don’t think I said that. But since I’m only misquoting myself, I guess it’s OK because I don’t have a lawyer to sue myself. So that’s my excuse for breaking the only rule of my column. Well, that and the fact I haven’t gotten out of town to go explore Tahoe’s other ski areas in the past month.

So I’m going to talk about South Shore. But I’m going to confine it to one specific area, and one specific facet of that area. Since I’ve been riding Sierra on the season pass I bought (read: “No appearance of impropriety. No sir.”) during the summer, those are the only tales I have to relate. Two of those tales come from the resort’s free Vertical Improvement Program clinic, which meets at least twice a day at the top of the Grandview Express chair on the mountain’s east side.

On paper, it appears to be another gaper caper, which is what kept me away from lessons for a long time. Whether the impression is accurate or not, I at least like to think I have better things to do than falling-leaf down Sugar-and-Spice for two hours.

But what sets Sierra’s Vertical Improvement Clinics apart is an entrance exam, which most riders probably haven’t had to take since college. Sierra requires participants at least to be able to carve turns on blue runs. That opens up terrain – and new ways to explore it – to participants.

I mentioned I was frustrated with my riding – last season, my third on a snowboard, I finally broke through to landing simple grabs, sticking frontside 180s, occasional backside 180s and attempting 360s. This year, I felt like I was stagnating while riding with better boarders. So I swallowed my pride and signed up.

It turned out I didn’t need to do the former in either of the clinics I took. On the first, our low-key but supportive instructor, Brett, took us through the Gauntlet snowboard cross course twice and through the halfpipe at least twice, while quietly pulling us aside to offer advice on a one-to-one basis. The other clinic was similar – that instructor, Erik, took time out to spot us for launches off lips and rollers, and helped us with the finer points of the snowboard cross.

Every piece of advice helps when you’re trying to make a breakthrough, definitely. But the facet of the clinics that was most helpful to me was the fact that instructors keep groups of similar ability levels together. The hardest part about riding new terrain, be it course, park, pipe or steep, simply, is going out and feeling what it’s like and learning the challenges yourself. The VIP gives you an opportunity to do that with a safety net of riders who aren’t going to laugh at you when you overcarve and fall down the transition while getting the feel for the pipe.

So, I apologize for not being able to get out of town and writing about the local resort – but please forward the angry mail to the guy who gave me the cold. Because I can’t turn down taking free lessons, then getting paid to write about them. And hey – maybe I’ll see you in the clinic.

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