Novice 'snow angel' discovers the joys of ski clinics for women

November 13, 1994|By Ellen Uzelac | Ellen Uzelac,Special to The Sun

In the Sierra Nevada, folks measure the passage of time by the winter season, and winter itself is defined not by Mondays or Fridays but by the number of days skied. This time of year, the mountain is an altar and skiing a form of prayer.

Want to know a dirty little secret? I live in a mountain town and I don't ski. As far as I'm concerned, schussing is what people do when you talk at the movies. Quads are a body part I don't particularly like to think about and vertical feet can be corrected with orthopedic shoes. As for bindings, I'd recommend the dried fruit.

So it was with some trepidation that this snow angel trudged up the mountain last spring to join a women's ski workshop at Heavenly Ski Resort, which overlooks Lake Tahoe, the crown jewel of the Sierra. More women are skiing now then ever before, and more than half of the nation's 300-plus ski areas will offer women-only ski seminars this season. Designed and taught by talented female instructors, the clinics generaly include on-the-slope instruction, video analysis, lectures on fitness and the latest ski technology, warm up exercise classes, apres-ski socializing and sometimes lodging.

"About one-half of the skiing population is now female," says Dana White, executive editor of Skiing For Women, an annual magazine now in its second year. "Women have a lot of economic clout and make a lot of decisions when it comes to vacations and skiing. There's been a boom in women's ski classes -- Nordic, alpine and snowboarding -- and in every sport -- fishing, bicycling, in-line skating. More women are getting involved in recreational sports, and women traditionally have participated in sports in the shadow of men. There are gender politics when men and women do sports together. The women-only ski clinics create a sense of empowerment. Some )) women just find them more comfortable. . . . I think women just like to hang out together."

Most resorts offer one-, three- or five-day workshops. Some are tailored for novices, but most are geared toward intermediate skiers who want to break out to the next level. In my class, several experienced skiers wanted to improve their technique. One woman hadn't been on skis in 16 years and hoped to get her confidence back so she could ski with her young children. Another wanted to narrow the gap between her husband's skiing ability and her own.

"Why can't a woman be more like a man?" Henry Higgins lamented in "My Fair Lady." Someone should have sat old Henry down in my class. Forget all the emotional wiring that distinguishes the sexes, there is difference enough in the build. Women have wider hips and a lower center of gravity, and that pelvic tilt causes most women to shift back on their skis. One of my instructors, Baltimore's Brigit Shumate, said 60 percent of women could use heel lifts to bring their hips forward. They cost only a few dollars, and could mean the difference between a good day and bad day of skiing.

Ms. Shumate, who has raced professionally for the Women's Pro Tour, has taught both men and women. "All-male groups tend to be a little more competitive," she says. "Men are intent on beating each other down the slope, while women try to help one another. Women want to be just as challenged, but that ego involvement isn't there."

Another tech tip from Heavenly's female staff: Women's specialty skis, which first appeared as novelty items on the market about 10 years ago, have been getting increasingly sophisticated. Shorter and lighter than a man's ski, they often better match a woman's build.

Women's ski clinics were pioneered by Elissa Slanger, who held her first Women's Way Ski Seminars in 1975 at Squaw Valley, Calif. She started the classes because she didn't like the aggressive way in which women were being taught.

"For too long, a woman's way was looked at with skepticism," she told Skiing for Women magazine. "What's so important about these women's programs is that we're coming into our own and saying, 'This is how we want to do it.' "

"It's the atmosphere that is important," says 27-year-old Kristi Terzian, U.S. national slalom champion. "This is something that began with the women's sewing circles. I know that on my women's team on the U.S. Ski Team, some are better at some things than others. You motivate, support, you push one another. It's beyond athletics."

For the first time, Park City Ski Area in Utah this year will offer "Women's Ski Challenge Hosted by Kristi Terzian." The eight three-day sessions will be held between December and March, and will cost $237. Each will feature ski instruction, video analysis, two meals a day, agility drills, exercise and equipment seminars and a reception at Ms. Terzian's home. Lodging and lift tickets are not included in the package.

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