PCMR ski college starts each season with fun, learning
To a Parkite, ski resort opening day is like Christmas morning to an eight-year-old: no matter the quality of the present, it has to be opened as soon as possible.
Many of the resorts open with less than 25 percent of the mountain open, but that means little to those who don skis and snowboards and brave the pre-season rocks. Barry’s Babes do it every year; just getting out on the hill with their favorite instructor is Christmas come early.
Since the 1980’s Park City Mountain Resort has been offering pre-season skiers a chance at a full week of lessons from the PCMR ski college. In groups of eight or fewer, an instructor takes moderate to advanced skiers out for five six-hour days on the hill.
Barry’s Babes, a group that has been coming back each year to learn from instructor Barry Wackwitz, has taken advantage of the ski college for almost a decade.
"It’s important to get out because it gets them going early in the season," Wackwitz said. "We start working fundamentals and then go from there."
Not only is the ski college, which runs for three weeks at the start of each year, a great way to help regain one’s ski legs, it’s also a fun social environment.
"It’s absolutely a social group," Wackwitz said. "The Barry’s Babes girls are basically a part of the Park City Newcomers Club. This year I had five returners from last year and they added three new. We have a lot of fun on the snow, but that doesn’t compare to the fun we have at the party they throw the Friday after."
The name Barry’s Babes was invented by the group of five returning women who also participated in the 2005 ski college. Wackwitz said he hadn’t heard the name until the group met him on the hill wearing racing bibs with his picture on the front.
"I had nothing to do with it," he said. "I was very shocked on Monday morning when I saw them walking toward me wearing those bibs. But, because of those bibs, everybody wanted to talk to us."
This year the ski college had more than 400 participants, or about 50 groups, with more than 20 instructors.
Wackwitz, an Australian-born native of New Zealand, began teaching in 1982 and has become one of the most requested instructors at PCMR. Out of the three weeks of the ski college, two are taken by returning groups.
"The second of my returning groups is made up of Park City residents or second-home owners," Wackwitz said. "They’re a really interesting crew themselves. They have developed from a group that another ski instructor put together; this group organized themselves and brought in some friends. The best part is, everyone in the group is over 60."
Working with skiers over 60 provides a challenge, he said, because pacing is increasingly important. With proper organization and management, however, he said it’s not usually a problem.
"It’s a matter of choosing the right terrain, taking the breaks before they actually need them and good organization," he said. "A lot of people ski until they’re tired, take a break, and then ski again before they can really recover."
Even for younger skiers, starting the season with five straight six-hour days can rubberize legs. The long days, however, are essential, according to Wackwitz, because of the freedom it gives the instructor to tailor the lessons to the students.
"The beauty of six hours a day for five days is you don’t work on a huge amount of stuff," he said. "The coach gets to guide the practice. We’ll work on some simple terrain, then move to moderate terrain and then difficult terrain, or we’ll try some bumps, all working on the same principle."
"For early season stuff like the ski college, you have to bring people on so they don’t fatigue," he continued. "On the last day I debrief everyone and talk about where they started and where they finished. I ask them to tell me what was really important, what helped them, and we focus on that and set goals."
One of his goals is not only to teach his students how to ski, but the difference between skiing well and skiing poorly. "I want to help them understand what they’re doing so they can figure it out when I’m not there," he said.
Part of setting the stage for learning is the proper environment, which, he said, the ski college program has built in because of its inherent relaxed social nature.
"You don’t learn unless the atmosphere you’re learning in is relaxed," he said. "The interaction amongst the people is great. There are times when I have to sit back and let them talk to each other, but it’s not about what I teach, it’s about what they learn."
Tom Pettigrew, director of skier services at PCMR, said the program is meant to give people a chance to meet with friends, learn to ski better and have a great time on the mountain.
"You can make some nice progress in a group format," Pettigrew said. "The participants are pretty passionate about their groups and tend to form their own and request specific instructors."
Much like the students, Pettigrew said the instructors are generally "chomping at the bit" to get on the hill, which makes lessons in the preseason that much more enjoyable.
Pettigrew said PCMR contacts past participants each spring to invite them back, and that the return rate gets better each year.
The ski college for 2007 will run for three weeks from Nov. 26 to Dec. 14. For more information on the PCMR ski college, call Sue Clifford (435) 647-5423.
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