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At Wintergreen, Women in Black (Diamonds)

By Daphne White
The Washington Post
Sunday, January 18, 1998; Page E02

"There are two ways to go down the hill," says Mary Beth Quinn, director of the ski school at Virginia's Wintergreen Resort. "You can fight your way down, or you can flow smoothly and gracefully. You can tense your muscles and exhaust yourself, or you can learn some skills and glide down the mountain with a fraction of the effort."

There she has me. My fear of falling has almost led me to give up on skiing altogether. As a middle-aged, once-a-year skier, I start out each season by fighting the mountain in an effort to reduce my descent to the slowest possible speed. Yet my 10-year-old son loves the sport so much -- and it looks like so much fun when he barrels down a mountain -- that I really want to overcome my fears. Which is why I've decided to look into Wintergreen's women-only ski program.

"Women are not small men," Wintergreen instructor Marian Spano tells the group of women tentatively perched on their skis. "When a man takes a ski lesson, he immediately wants to Rambo down the mountain -- he doesn't care if he falls five times. But as women, we often have others depending on us -- so naturally we have more fear of falling."

Because men and women have different styles of skiing, Wintergreen -- about an hour east of Charlottesville -- is expanding its women-only ski program this year. Taught by women, the three-day Women's Ski Seminars are designed to help women at all ability levels master both the physical and psychological aspects of skiing. The seminars are offered midweek, when the slopes are practically empty (less chance of collisions) and lift lines are nonexistent. Added inducement: Mothers can bring their children and enroll them in the Camp Wintergreen program (which includes optional ski instruction).

"Men are physically stronger than women, but the fact is that 75 percent of skiing is finesse and only 25 percent is strength," says Quinn, who trained as a skier for the Olympics, although she didn't make the team. "In my 25 years of teaching, I have found that, technically, women make better skiers."

But before women can ski well, they have to get over certain fears. So the seminar is intended to help women become comfortable with skiing by offering a variety of experiences: Women are encouraged to try on the new, shaped skis that make turning easier (the skis can be rented at Wintergreen); they receive four hours of instruction per day in small groups -- up to six per group, based on ability; and on two of the days, they are videotaped as they ski down the mountain so they can see their technique for themselves.

"So often a coach will ask you to do something, and you really believe you are doing it," Quinn says. "But perception and reality can be two very different things. Watching yourself on video can be a humbling experience." The idea is that you'll see how you've improved between the first and the second tapings.

On my first morning skiing with Spano, I watch as she leans forward and shifts her weight from side to side to execute effortless turns. I used to ski all the way across the slope and stop at the edge of the trees, too fearful to turn while moving. But following in Spano's tracks, I learn to trust my body and my skis and actually enjoy the ballet of skiing. I slowly gain confidence, as I begin feeling rather than thinking my way down the mountain. By the end of the day I'm able to ski the beginner slopes with my son.

Wintergreen has a lot of options -- 17 slopes and trails with terrain for beginner to advanced skiers. The beginner trails are wide-open and groomed; the most advanced slope features more than 1,000 feet of vertical drop. Some runs are over a mile long, offering advanced and expert skiers a challenging mix of steep pitches, mogul fields and cruising run-outs.

The women's seminars begin at noon on the first Tuesday of each month. (The next sessions are Feb. 3-5 and March 3-5.) "We have found that women in these seminars are more likely to ask questions and share their concerns than in mixed groups, where women often feel intimidated," Quinn says. "Some of the women come from families where their husbands and sons race ahead -- and they are always left behind. We have a lot of `terminal intermediates' -- women who can go so far and no further. We try to help women find a comfort zone in skiing that's beyond where they were before."

Wintergreen Resort's women-only ski seminars cost $150; midweek studio rentals at Wintergreen begin at $155 per night double (lift tickets are included if you stay at the resort two nights or more). Ski rentals are $54 for the duration of the seminar. A 25 percent discount is offered at Camp Wintergreen for participants' children. For more information, call 1-800-325-2200 (ask for Reservations) or call the Wintergreen ski school, 804-325-8064.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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