Deer Valley ski couple logs 1M vertical feet in synchronized style
The McConnells ski daily in matching outfits
If you ski with any regularity at Deer Valley Resort, chances are good you’ve seen them. Two skiers, in matching outfits, synchronized skiing their way down the slopes. If you saw them and had a little chuckle or a smile, well, that’s why they do it.
They’re out there doing it every day, too, and they’ve each already got 1 million vertical feet logged this season — and counting — to prove it.
Belinda and Mike McConnell, known as SyncSki on Instagram, have called Park City home for 10 years. Mike has been skiing for 50 years, since he was 7, while Belinda learned the sport from him 12 years ago.
“When Mike and I first met we decided to teach each other our favorite outdoor activities,” she said. “I was a golfer and Mike was a skier, so he taught me how to ski, and I taught him how to golf. To this day, he says he’s a much better teacher than I, because his golf game has not improved.”
Mike grew up in Michigan, and his family was full of avid skiers.
“I was very active in racing and instructing when I was young, and my dad served on the ski patrol,” he said. “I’ve skied several places in the U.S., from Tahoe to the East Coast, and in Europe at Chamonix and Les 3 Vallees. However, hands down, Deer Valley is my favorite ski destination.”
It’s a good thing, too, since they ski it every day. The synchronized skiing, now a fun wrinkle in their day on the mountain, started as a teaching tool.
“When Mike taught me how to ski, given my competitive and athletic spirit, I thought I could just throw on some skis and go down the mountain,” Belinda said. “I quickly learned that was not the best idea.”
Mike told her to follow him and mimic his movements, to turn when he turned.
“Before we knew it, we were synchronized skiing,” she said. “For the first couple years I followed him, but now when we ski, I’m the lead skier, and he follows. I set the pace and rhythm and he syncs with me down the mountain. We’ve been synchronized skiing for the past 10 years.”
Mike said finding coordinated outfits has been a fun challenge for him, as well, since men’s and women’s ski gear doesn’t often match.
“Overall, we have at least four matching helmets, six matching jackets, three matching sets of skis and 10 matching ski sweaters,” he said. “On a nice bluebird day we will often start with skiing in matching jackets, then ditch the jacket at lunch and finish the day skiing in matching sweaters. So it’s not always the same outfit, but it’s always matching.”
The McConnells said the joy of their sync ski routine, and the reason they keep doing it, comes from the reaction it gets from others on the mountain. They hear skiers cheering from the chair lifts overhead, or they’re stopped by others who tell them how much they love it.
“There are times when we ski by the Deer Valley Ski School instructors and we’ve heard them yell out to us ‘give us a show,’” Belinda said. “And then we quickly break into our rapid quick-turn synchronized ski routine. We’ve even had people stop us on mountain and ask if they could join in a synchronized run with us, which is frankly the best compliment one could get, because it’s so much fun.”
They’ve logged quite a few vertical feet doing all that synchronized skiing, too. On Jan. 8, Belinda and Mike both hit 1 million vertical feet at Deer Valley for the season — double that of the third-ranked skier on the leaderboard — and they say their goal is to reach 3 million before the lifts stop turning. They started on Nov. 20 at Park City Mountain Resort and moved to Deer Valley once it opened Dec. 5.
“We will ski Deer Valley every day until closing day,” Mike said. “In the late spring season we will head to the Cottonwoods if they remain open longer. We are almost always first chair and on average, we’re on the mountain 4-6 hours per day.”
Why set such a lofty goal? As Belinda said, they’re athletes, and they love the challenge. Mike said the two have always tried to add a little athletic motivation to their days on mountain.
“In the past, the day goal was 20-20-20, a minimum of 20 runs, 20,000 vertical feet and 20 miles, on the days that we were able to ski,” Mike said. “Last year I retired so it put us in a unique position to be able to ski every day this season, which is something we wanted to do in order to stay healthy and active as much as possible. We determined that if we could ski on average 25,000 vertical feet per day, we should be able to ski 3 million for the season.
“We’ve never done it before, and it will be our season record, so this will be a great challenge for us, and something to keep us motivated and healthy.”
Synchronized skiing is easy to spot when you see it in action, but for the uninitiated, Mike McConnell had this explanation:
“Synchronized skiing is when two or more skiers, either side-by-side or in-line, make turns simultaneously in a synchronized fashion. The lead skier sets the pace and the following skier emulates the moves of the leader. The leader must be rhythmic and predictable in making turns. The follower initiates turns when the leader initiates and completes the turn when the leader completes the turn. It’s great exercise. There are competitive teams at some resorts that do this with large groups and have more complicated choreography, but for us, it’s a way to focus on skiing well, making good turns, having fun while we do it, and hopefully bringing some joy and entertainment to others.”
Athletic achievement aside, Belinda said it’s their mutual love of skiing that keeps them motivated to head out each and every morning.
“There’s something magical about being on and with the mountain, breathing the fresh mountain air and doing an activity that is just fun and brings smiles and laughter naturally,” she said. “We have met so many people on mountain and made many ski friends, just by being out every day, talking with people, and having fun. Quite frankly, skiing together with your spouse, friends and family is such a wonderful activity, a way to enjoy nature and our beautiful landscape, and is our favorite thing to do together. Skiing is the reason we live in Park City.”
To follow the McConnells and their quest to crest 3 million vertical feet, check them out on Instagram at @SyncSki.
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