Girl Power mountain style
Women’s Tele Clinic Hits the Beavby Colleen A. WassonBeaver Creek Nordic Ski InstructorIt was a beautiful winter day when women tele skiers united again for the eighth Annual Beaver Creek Women’s Telemark Clinic.Some were there as first timers to learn the basic tricks of the trade while many others were returning to the “women’s only” to hone their freeheeling skills on the hill.What makes the women’s only clinic so much more popular for ladies than the co-ed clinic?Instructor Courtney Diehl likes the fact that the gals are here to learn and have fun not to “run their female instructor into the ground.” But she’s quick to point out that there are plenty of ladies here that are more than capable. Diehl refers to them as the “yeehaw group.””Women tele skiers can’t physically muscle through every turn. They need to gain the technique first in order to finesse their turns. That puts us all on equal footing.” explains Margot Timbel, a Denver geologist who was inspired to try telemarking by her husband Ned who recently took a lesson at the Beav’.Longtime ski instructor Marcia Bottomley recalls experiencing some “testosterone overload” at the co-ed clinics. “Today it was about camaraderie,” says Bottomley, “not just who’s faster. The ladies really gel.”Sure, there was the unyielding support that comes with a “women’s only” clinic, but there was plenty of technical advise as well.”I feel that the clinic gave me enough to work with on my own for a while,” said Avon’s Michele Evans.Instructor Sharon Dale of Vail encouraged everyone to practice a unique but grueling exercise called “the shuffle”.”I couldn’t stand it when I first started,” admits Dale, “but it’s what really improved my tele stance and without that I could never ski the bumps.”Breaking through bumps while dropping knees is a difficult pursuit, but bumps are what this intermediate group worked on for most of the day. Some of the more advanced ladies, like Jean Naumann, finessed through the moguls.The modest Jean, now a local school teacher, actually helped introduce nordic skiing to Vail many years ago, and now has the experience to make the difficult art of telemarketing look graceful on the mountain.Dale’s philosophy was to “ski the bumps – don’t let them ski you.” She talked about finding her own “rhythm,” but also shared the fact that she too sometimes loses it and, as she puts it, “blows up.”The day ended on a blue cruiser or what Sharon calls “an ego run,” to help everyone forget about burning thighs and enjoy the fact that everyone was now a stronger skier. Even though bodies were weary and frostbite was narrowly avoided on that incredibly cold morning, there seemed to be no doubt in the girls minds that it was well worth it. Women rule!Barrett Christy’s Retreat Yourself Clinic: The Portrait of Women as Bad-Ass Snowboarding Chicksby Molly SheaIt began with popcorn, but it followed through with three days snowboard instruction, yoga classes, spa treatments and snowmobile adventure.About 30 women from ages of 17 to 45 gathered at the popcorn wagon in Lionshead recently for a weekend of fun with Vail’s finest instructors and pros for the Retreat Yourself clinic for women.On the first day of the clinic each woman came equipped with boots, boards, gear and an eagerness to find out what the Retreat Yourself clinic was all about. It was known that within this bubbly, anxious, high-spirited group of women there were three capable professional snowboarders, five self-assured snowboarding instructors, a hand full of local experts seeking new challenges, and a slew of beginners and intermediates from Vail and around the country eager to learn from the best. But what are the best snowboarders in the country like? My introduction to Barrett Christy (the 1998 Olympian, 13 time X-Games medallist, and Warren Miller rider) came as we walked from the rental shop to the hill. It occurred to me that this soft-spoken, petite woman I was striking up conversation with was also the same woman who throws flips off half-pipes and dropped cliffs that most men would not think of attempting. This 5’3 female with a humble demeanor could easily be mistaken for a beginner like myself rather than the leader of Retreat Yourself.Retreat Yourself is run by four best friends who are also some of snowboarding’s top pros: Christy, Megan Pischke, Morgan La Fonte and Rhonda Doyle.In addition to competing professionally, Doyle is a long-time instructor at Vail. Christy wanted to include these women at the core of the clinic because, as she says, “aside from their riding ability it is their enthusiasm that is so contagious and I wanted everyone to benefit from that.”The idea behind Retreat Yourself developed when Christy and Pischke were doing a snowboarding trip in New Mexico. That’s where they came up with the idea of creating the ultimate vacation by combining snowboarding, spa treatments and yoga. Christy explains that the notion of the camp was not like going to preseason training where the coaches run their athletes into the ground each day.”I didn’t want it to be a boot camp,” she says, “but an opportunity to become a better rider and treat yourself at the same time.”As the idea of Retreat Yourself became a reality it was not a boot camp, but rather a low-key clinic where women came to learn everything they could about snowboarding, and the instructors and pros came to teach us the tricks of the trade.Being a novice to the sport of snowboarding and surrounded by so many bad-ass women, one might think this is a recipe for complete humiliation.Not so.My two instructors Susan Jennings and Nicola Nemcanin were able to take my incredibly unsightly way of getting down a beginner run and turn me into a semi-functional rider. On the first day up Suz had the unforgiving task of whipping me into shape in a matter of two hours.In this brief time with Suz, I realized that her calm manner and strong example provided an assurance I had never felt while on a snowboard.At lunch three of the various groups met for lunch at Mid-Vail. It seemed that Christy and Pischke’s vision of their camp was coming true. All the women were pumped up about the strides they had made in their riding that morning whether they were a beginner or an expert.Christy expressed the desire to get women psyched about riding no matter what their level they were at the beginning of the camp.”We wanted to do the camp to break down people’s mental barriers; a lot of women might not even try snowboarding because it looks so extreme on T.V.”Pischke had the chance to ride with some of the expert women and loved that all these female riders could feed off one another.”Now they can see other women doing these tricks I mean all these girls started the same way we did: by trying to keep up with the boys and trying to overcome their fears.”The women in the camp found that they were feeding off one another’s successes just as the pros learned by feeding off one another in order to improve.”Morgan is someone we looked up to (and still do) and we tried to do the things she could do,” says Christy.”But I am yet to do a back-flip in my bra,” Pischke joked. “Morgan is famous for that trick.”In addition to elite snowboard instruction, everyone finished out the day by treating our bodies to yoga instruction at Yoga for Athletes in Vail Village. Christy designed the clinic to incorporate yoga because of the role it plays in all four of the professional’s lives. Pischke states that “yoga is a huge part of our training and our healthy mountain lifestyle.” By the end of the yoga session it was clear that these women were not only excellent riders but they also took care of their bodies like professionals.As professional riders both Christy and Pischke are aware of the impact they can have on other females, especially kids, and they have the openness of the snowboarding world to thank for that.”I’ve enjoyed being a female in snowboarding,” Christy says. “The sport has been really open to women in a lot of ways; we haven’t had to create our own tour or participate in different events. Because 12-year-old girls have seen women in the magazines, the Olympics and the X-Games they are inspired to go out and do it themselves.” Pischke summed it up by stating “we’ve been fortunate to always have a good place in the sport.”Turning it around for female skiersBy Vail Trail StaffWomen’s equipment guru Jeannie Thoren is a skier with a mission, a crusader for women skiers everywhere.She has spent that past 30 years researching women’s technique and equipment to develop the “Thoren Theory,” a way to help female skiers radically improve their technique through equipment modification.The Thoren Theory focuses on four main skeletal differences between men and women: center of gravity, knock-knees, wider pelvis and differences in ankle and knee flexion between the sexes.For center of gravity, Jeannie demonstrates the solution by moving bindings forward on a woman’s skis to ensure proper balance point.To solve the knock-knee stance, custom footbeds align the foot properly in the boot and cants placed under the binding on top of the skis level the knees. Unlike men, women must shift their hips more while skiing to keep their center of gravity over the weight-bearing foot. By moving the bindings forward on a pair of skis, a woman’s hips can stay centered over the ski, allowing the ski to carve and eliminating the need to rotate the body in order to complete a turn.And for the average woman skier, it is more difficult to "get forward" and flex knees and ankles than the average male.Heel lifts in the ski boot tip the pelvis forward and create a more natural stance on skis, offering greater stability. The center of gravity is moved slightly more forward and since the heel is higher, a greater amount of torque can be generated with less force on the knees and ankles.It also is important that boots be properly fitted.As a competitor Jeannie learned she had to customize her own equipment to perfect her own skiing because existing ski equipment was geared more toward a male body type.When she shared her modifications and spoke with other women, Jeannie learned that many women also were facing the same problem. Her traveling demo allows women skiers to be "their own equipment testers". Demo participants receive the opportunity to try top quality skis and boots specifically designed for the female anatomy. In addition to using up-to-date equipment that is fitted by a professional, a skier’s ability level can be affected by time spent on skis, physical conditioning and instruction.For women thinking of buying new skis or boots, the yearly Thoeren demo at Vail (held early this March) is the perfect opportunity to try all kinds of skis and boots from several different manufacturers.Jeannie’s Web site has some of her advice and extensive knowledge on skis and boots. It’s a different experience to feel what it’s like to try different skis and different lengths.Many women find that their equipment is holding them back from becoming the skiers they want to be.To learn more about Jeannie and the Thoren Theory, visit her Web site at http://www.jeanniethoren.com.