For years I harbored a dark secret. I couldn’t ski powder. I didn’t even really like powder.
“But you lived in Jackson.”
“But you grew up in Montana.”
“But your skis are fat.”
My friends’ protests were valid, but that didn’t change the fact I learned to ski on icy, man-made snow at a now-closed ski area. I didn’t like ice, either, but at least I was used to it.
My skiing improved exponentially after I moved to Jackson in 2006. The few times I linked a couple of perfect powder turns for a face shot of soft snow, I understood the hype. But I still didn’t understand how to make those turns at will.
After I moved away from Jackson my ski days dropped dramatically and natural improvement tapered. Add to that a blown knee a few years earlier and I might be better described as fearful than cautious. It seemed I’d reached my skiing pinnacle — mediocrity. That could have been OK, but I wanted more.
After a year spent too far away from the mountains and outdoor activities I loved, I made some outdoor-related goals. At the top of the list was getting better at skiing, specifically powder skiing. I wanted to join a group skiing and not worry I’d hold people up. I didn’t want to huck cliffs, or scream down narrow chutes, but I wanted to confidently tackle untracked bowls.
I wanted to get excited when it snowed, instead of nervous. I wanted to remember what I liked about skiing in the first place.
I knew I wasn’t going to be able to push beyond my comfort zone on my own, so I signed up for a lesson at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. My friends found this strange.
“But you already know how to ski,” they said. “Isn’t the best way to get better at skiing just go out and ski more? Will you be following your instructor making giant turns without using your poles?”
My instructor, Magdalen Shale, who is both the Mountain Sports School Recruitment and Operations Manager and a seasoned instructor, assured me adults take lessons all the time and they aren’t just for beginners. In fact, in 2015, 15,587 adults participated in some sort of instruction at the resort.
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort offers a series of camps, including one called Steep and Deep, where participants spend a week taking their skiing to the next level while exploring some of the mountain’s most extreme terrain. These multi-day camps, which attracted 1,193 students last year, are intense and for people working to truly elevate their skiing. The resort offers group lessons for skiers of all abilities. Some participants are stepping into skis for the first time, while experts use classes as a way to learn their way around the mountain. More than 7,000 adults took advantage of of group classes in 2015.
Private lessons offer a chance to work on a specific skill and I wanted to learn to ski powder. I picked a perfect January day, right after the resort received several feet of snow.
A couple of hours of instruction wouldn’t transform me, but it might leave with me a couple of new skills, a little better form, and what I was really after, confidence.
If you master a skill at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, you can take that skill anywhere, Shale told me. While the resort’s opened more beginner and intermediate terrain in recent years, it is still among the “biggest and the baddest,” Shale said.
“I think we’ll always be the expert resort,” she said. “Nobody does it better than us. What we really know and are masters of, is the upper all-mountain skiing.”
But instead of the upper mountain, Shale and I headed over to the new Teton lift which services the intermediate runs I’m already comfortable skiing. I followed Shale, making large swooping turns with my hands straight out in front of me. I felt a little foolish, but even though she was in front of me, Shale seemed to know whenever my form broke, or I cheated a turn, forcing it too fast.
We slowly made our way onto steeper terrain off the Bridger Gondola, Shale allowed me to tighten my turns while keeping what felt like an exaggerated motion.
Then it happened. I was so busy concentrating on my form, I almost didn’t realize I was linking easy turns in deep snow, and my legs weren’t tired. I was floating.
“I think it’s like a beginner hitting the golf ball right the first time,” Shale said. “All it takes is once and you want to do it again.”
And again and again.
“When did you get so much better at skiing?” My friend asked later that week.
“Monday morning,” I replied.
I’m never going to be an expert or extreme skier. But now when the snow is dumping, I throw my skis in the car with anticipation I no longer fake.