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When my daughters were born, I didn’t think I had much to learn about skiing. I’d stepped into my first pair of alpine bindings at age 12. I couldn’t afford lessons and never had a season pass, but I went skiing as often as possible. In high school, I discovered backcountry telemarking, a passion that lasted until my late 30s. I was a good athlete, and what I lacked in technique I made up for in enthusiasm. I loved skiing, but it always came in a distant second to climbing.
It wasn’t until my husband and I decided to raise our trio of girls as alpine ski racers (rather than ballerinas, soccer players, swimmers, or rock climbers) that I gained an appreciation for the nuances of the sport. Teaching them, from propping them up on the bunny hill as toddlers to keeping them on task with instructors and coaches, had the unexpected result of making me a better skier.
Related: 3 Tools to Help Young Skiers Learn
The thing is, when you teach kids to ski, you lead from the front, even when they’re in lessons or a race program. I quickly discovered that number of days on snow count. We skied every weekend, every holiday, and several afternoons a week. We devoted the entire Thanksgiving to New Year’s period to teaching each child to ski independently. I hadn’t skied every day for a month in my entire life, and that alone boosted my ability.
Teaching them also helped me improve upon basic skills, since I needed to understand what I was explaining. Early on I winged it. Later, I soaked up tips from instructors and coaches. I did the drills myself: hips forward, hands up, shin pressure, athletic stance. I learned that skiing is not just getting from point A to point B, but how you do it. Every turn counts, and you get more from working on turns on repeat for a half-dozen runs than skidding around all day.
On that topic: Are you carving or are you skidding down the hill?
Teaching them reacquainted me with the sport as play. We embraced silly terrain, made circuitous side treks through trees, caught air on wind lips and mastered slashes. Ski days in my 20s and 30s had been slogs into ice climbs or sufferfests with way more up than down, but with my daughters, I learned to embrace the repetition that lift access provides.
The girls benefited from excellent race coaching, but my husband and I were active participants in the process. Early in the season, we’d all practice one-ski skiing to better initiate turns. We worked on ankle flexion, creating a box with the knees and feet, keeping weight on the outside ski and not leaning in. We flirted with master’s racing to experience what our daughters were going through. The girls progressed faster, but again, I got better too.
Becoming a solid skier is one of the biggest accomplishments of my adult life. While my daughters pursued racing, I used my growing expertise to develop as a ski writer, a move that threw me in with journalists who were expert skiers and gave me the opportunity to ski in amazing destinations.
Two decades of ski photos show definite improvement. In Grand Targhee, Wyo., I’m still solidly in the back seat. Later, on heli terrain in B.C., my stance is narrow but my arms look better. By the time I reach Åre, Sweden, I’m really getting the hang of pressuring my outside ski. In Niseko, Japan, my stance appears more athletic. In France and Italy, I’m actually carving. There’s a video of me dropping off of a cornice in the Aspen backcountry; I look confident, more forward in my stance, and rhythmic. After every trip, I’d return to skiing with my daughters. I’d help to reinforce what they needed to work on and try to implement it into my own technique.
During covid, one of my daughters had a race camp in Mammoth, Calif. I joined her and for nearly two weeks, I skied first chair to last. I felt my edges hold as I worked turns. I dropped into beautiful chutes of powder, crud, and sometimes ice. A coach who has trained my girls for more than a decade hailed me in line. “You’re looking good,” he said, high praise from a normally taciturn Swede.
My family no longer dissolves into laughter when I ask about my form. Teaching my girls gave me the tools, training, and drive to become a better skier. While I’ll never be as dynamic, graceful, and fast as they are, I can hold my own with them—at least, in my mind’s eye.