A Little Snow-How

Phil Mahre, who runs clinics at Deer Valley with brother Steve, leads a class. The Mahres push skiers to test their limits in search of a comfort zone.
Phil Mahre, who runs clinics at Deer Valley with brother Steve, leads a class. The Mahres push skiers to test their limits in search of a comfort zone. (Deer Valley Resort)
By William Triplett
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, December 10, 2006

"Basically, we take you to the edge of terror and then bring you back."

Not the most inspiring words I've ever heard from a ski instructor, but certainly among the more attention-getting -- and, I must say, more accurate.

For instance, call me old-fashioned, but I'd always assumed it was a good idea to carve a turn by putting weight on the outside ski. Imagine my surprise when told that our next exercise at this Deer Valley, Utah, ski school would be turning via the inside ski only. In fact, let's lift up the outside ski to make sure we don't cheat.

On an advanced-intermediate slope.

Couldn't even imagine such a thing, much less try doing it.

But several face-plants later, I was getting the hang of it. I was even getting the hang of skiing while leaning so far back that I thought I'd fall over, then leaning so far forward I was sure the skis would snap. Maybe there was method to this seeming madness otherwise known as a ski clinic.

How this was going to make me a better skier, I still wasn't sure. But this was a clinic run by twin brothers Phil and Steve Mahre, Olympic medalists and skiing legends. Besides, if you're going to ski terrified, you might as well do it at Deer Valley, where the snow can be incredibly soft while mountain vistas offer a beautiful backdrop for the spectacle you apparently need to make of yourself before you can improve.

And improving was the goal. With never enough time to ski as much as I'd like each season, I always savored a trip but also came away feeling like I'd forever be stuck in intermediate hell. You can certainly improve with simply more skiing, but not if you're doing something wrong and don't know it. You can find out what you're doing wrong by taking a lesson, but you won't necessarily correct it and learn the right way without extensive practice and supervision.

Hence, this clinic: three days of intense instruction, six hours a day on-slope, followed by an hour or so of chalk talk and videos of your work that day. Skiing boot camp. In a way, a working vacation -- but it was also my first ski vacation that was not only tremendously fun, but deeply satisfying as well.

The Wrong Stuff

With so many clinics available across the country, and having little clue as to which would be best, I relied on friends' recommendations last winter. The Mahre Training Center at Deer Valley, they said, is geared to all ability levels (not always the case among clinics); it accepts both recreational skiers and racers; and the Mahres have a rep for being really nice guys.

Indeed, at the meet-and-greet breakfast on Day One, the brothers mingled and chatted with many of the 40 or so people who had ponied up about $600 for the clinic. More than a few were repeaters, which may or may not have been a good sign. The brothers explained that a team of DV ski school instructors trained in the Mahre method would break us into small groups according to ability and work with us, while they -- the Mahres -- would float among the different groups.

Deer Valley has its own ski school, but the Mahres run theirs based on training techniques they learned during their time with the U.S. Ski Team. Apparently those techniques worked: At the 1984 Winter Olympic Games in Sarajevo, Phil and Steve took gold and silver, respectively, for the United States in slalom. They've been running their clinic pretty much ever since.

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