A Very Bumpy Ride

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Moguls

I will not die in a mogul field. This is my goal. I will not lie sweating and bleeding in the valley of the shadow of a shaved and pointed mound of ice, broken femur bone sticking through crooked leg, life force oozing from my limp, pale, slightly overweight body, ill-fitting ski boots pinching my ankles, which, even though I'm about to die, are still sore from all the chafing. I've always had trouble with ski boots.

"I will not die in a mogul field, I say, even though I'm thousands of miles away from even the rumor of snow. I say it aloud. I can't help it. I get this way whenever I consider improving my skiing. And that's what I'm doing now. I'm filling out a registration form for John Clendenin's Ski and Board Doctors Camp with the Champs program in Aspen, Colo. The fact that I'm sitting in my 40th floor New York City apartment, shoveling moo shu pork into my mouth while watching the third season of Family Guy on my DVD player should mitigate my concerns. A wimpy northeastern winter shuffling out like a lamb. Honking horns drifting into my window. There's no reason, at this moment, to fear death by snow bump, if you don't consider my history of skiing and a few horrible mishaps I've gotten myself into at various sports camps. Also, there are some genetic issues. My mother once fractured her leg on a ski trip. Going up a ski hill. Tow rope, Missouri, legal action. To quote Mom: "I'd rather not discuss it.

And yet, I want to learn to ski moguls. I want, as the brochure promises, "to accelerate to the next level. I yearn to weave and schuss and fly down the mountain, whistling and grinning rather than doing what I usually do when I sense my path might be leading toward some verboten topography, which is to mutter over and over, "Please, God, no. Please, God, no. I want the camp instructors to appreciate how eager I am to change. But I don't want them to be unaware of some of my issues when it comes to moguls. How best to articulate my ambivalence? "What are your ski camp goals? the registration form asks. Goals? I don't want to be an alarmist, but I don't want John Clendenin and his mogul lackeys to overestimate my skills. I don't want to sound like a wimp, but I don't want the ski doctors (what's a ski doctor?) to schedule a curriculum tailored to someone with more derring-do, or advanced skills, than yours truly. Howto walk that fine line between sensibleand macho?[NEXT]Goals? "Avoid crippling injury, I write. "Do you have any questions? the survey asks. Of course I have questions. Will there be any sexy female fellow students in my class grappling with co-dependence issues, students who might be inexplicably drawn to a man who shudders when he gets to close to the edge of a groomed run? Will the 10-year-olds in the class call me "Fatty and "Pops, as once occurred at another ski camp I attended, and will I overreact and throw some french fries at the little bastards, and will there be tears and recriminations and lots of "oh yeahs and an embarrassing episode with one of their mothers and an instructor suggesting to me that "Maybe you'd be more comfortable sitting the rest of the day out? Questions? Focus, I tell myself. "Will I survive? I write.

They don't pay attention, of course. Not one of them. Not Josh, the PR guy I meet, who, when he reads my application form, says, "OK, what are your real goals? and who, when I repeat my strong desire to avoid crippling injury, says, "You're kidding, right? Right? Not John Clendenin, the program's namesake, guiding force and major-domo of the operation, who straps me onto a simulator and encourages me to feel for something near the ball of my foot that he calls the "epiphany pad. John invokes The Doors of Perception and talks about "existential skiing, and warns me that "Momentum is a mask for balance, and I nod a lot when he talks and try not to fall on the simulator, because people are watching, and to fall here would be humiliating beyond anything I can think ofNot Kurt, one of the instructors, who practices yoga and never raises his voice and suggests we embrace our fear, and who also tells the guys in the group to "think of the mountain as a woman. Caress her, make her moan with desire. Not Scott, another instructor, who, John tells us, "has the most beautiful feel in Aspen. Not Gino, the South American instructor with the flashing black eyes whose voice drops an octave when instructing female students but who doesn't have much to say to me. No one really pays too much attention to my fears, or my initial questions. Apparently, they have decided that the best way to teach people like me how to master moguls is to teach us to listen.

So they tell us things. One of the first things is to shut up. They command me and my fellow ski adventurers to translate what we hear into physical action, to save our questions until we are at the bottom of the hill or on the ski lift, so as not to slow anyone down. No one in the group listens to me, either. There is a photographer named Lynn who lives in Aspen and is already twisting through moguls. She tells me her goal is to become more "effortless. There are a couple of teenagers even better than Lynn. There is Terri, a middle-aged woman from Nebraska who has a question for the instructors at every stop. "When you say 'touch,' she says, "do you mean a hard touch or a soft touch? "Just touch, Terri, and remember, save your questions for the lift. "OK, but when you say 'balance,' do you mean balance like on a balance beam or balance like going through your life in harmony with… "Really, Terri, it would be better for the group if… "And when you say 'drift,' do you mean slide….

That's when Gino curses in Spanish, and Scott tells Terri she'll be getting private lessons the rest of the trip.[NEXT]Of course, I end up on the edge of a mogul field. John is encouraging me to enter. I wait until the two teenagers rocket down the mountain. I wait until Lynn makes a few graceful pirouettes, calculated and painstaking, but graceful. I stay close to the only guy in the group who cheers me, a slightly older, slightly heavier fellow than I who falls a lot. More than I do. "After you, Pops, I say. He snarls.

Then it's my turn. "C'mon, Stevie, John yells. "Go for it. Why is it that in athletic situations my instructors invariably cutify my name? "I think he's calling you, Stevie, the fat man says. I mutter under my breath as I push off toward doom. I survive, of course. The murderous mounds don't defeat me. I employ all the lessons I have internalized over the past two days at ski camp. I try to remember what it felt like on the simulator, when John told me to put pressure on the little toe of the direction I wanted to move ("We don't use words like 'right' and 'left' here, he said). I remind myself to focus on the Four Words (Drifting, Balancing, Touching and Tipping), to block out all of Terri's maddening little questions; I remind myself to make love to the mountain; I remind myself to not dig in on the big toe side of my downhill ski, but rather to apply light pressure on the little-toe side of my uphill ski (the revolutionary nutshell of the Camp with the Champs program, basically).

And then I'm approaching a mogul, and then I'm touching, and tipping, and balancing and drifting, and not even invoking the name of God at all, just marveling at how easy it feels. As I drift in and out of moguls, I finally begin to understand why that little patch of skin is called the epiphany pad, and I chuckle as I decide to pick up a little speed, and I turn to look over my shoulder to yell a good-natured insult at Pops, and then I'm on my back, as far as can be from my epiphany pad.

I think of bumps sometimes now without sweating or imagining a painful death.I embrace my fear, and I don't mistake momentum for balance, and I do all the things that John and his wacky band of instructors somehow got me to do, in spite of myself. (I'm still having trouble imagining any mountain moaning with desire at my approach, though.) I will not die in a mogul field. This is not just a hope anymore, but a firm belief. I will not die in a mogul field, but this winter, thanks tothe ski doctors, I will be skiing in one. Actually, many.

Details

Camp with the Champs is a two-day clinic in Aspen designed for intermediate skiers or better who want to reach the next level in their technique. Clinics focus on moguls, powder and steeps. Camp dates this season are: Jan. 5-6; Feb. 7-8; Feb. 28-March 1; March 14-15; March 21-22; March 29-30; April 5-6. Rates are $495 per person, lodging not included; $595 per person for the "plus package, which includes a half-hour indoor clinic with use of the ski simulator and a demo of Head high-performance skis. Ask about discounted lodging packages at Aspen's Hotel Jerome.
Contact 970-925-8900, ext. 257; skidoctors.com

JANUARY 2006ning any mountain moaning with desire at my approach, though.) I will not die in a mogul field. This is not just a hope anymore, but a firm belief. I will not die in a mogul field, but this winter, thanks tothe ski doctors, I will be skiing in one. Actually, many.

Details

Camp with the Champs is a two-day clinic in Aspen designed for intermediate skiers or better who want to reach the next level in their technique. Clinics focus on moguls, powder and steeps. Camp dates this season are: Jan. 5-6; Feb. 7-8; Feb. 28-March 1; March 14-15; March 21-22; March 29-30; April 5-6. Rates are $495 per person, lodging not included; $595 per person for the "plus package, which includes a half-hour indoor clinic with use of the ski simulator and a demo of Head high-performance skis. Ask about discounted lodging packages at Aspen's Hotel Jerome.
Contact 970-925-8900, ext. 257; skidoctors.com

JANUARY 2006

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