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Women-only Ski Clinics Give Participants
a Time to Build Skills, Relationships

By Eileen Ogintz - The Record, Bergen County, NJ

By Eileen Ogintz - The Record, Bergen County, NJ

We moms weren't fooling around.

We had gathered at Snowbird Resort in Utah, home of some of the most challenging slopes in the country and a "macho" reputation to go with them.

We were going to conquer this "guy's mountain" (which now has a woman, Maggie Loring, as its mountain school director) and brag about it afterward to the skeptics we'd left at home.

There were 31 women in our Women's Ski Camp group, ranging in age from 26 to 70-plus. The group included moms and a few grandmothers. Among us were engineers and historians, doctors and homemakers, law clerks and graphic designers.

We'd come to starkly beautiful Little Cottonwood Canyon, about 30 miles from Salt Lake City, from places such as Philadelphia, New York, Houston, Las Vegas, San Diego, and San Francisco.

Our big reason for being there: to improve our skiing at the four-day camp, one of three that Snowbird hosts each year.

(Others are scheduled for March and April; for details, visit www.womensskicamps.com.)

But our time together turned out to be as much about meeting challenges as navigating moguls, as much about building relationships as carving turns.

I'd persuaded my sister, Amy Fieldman, to join me. We live 3,000 miles apart, and this was the first time in more than two decades that the two of us had spent any concentrated time together without husbands, kids, parents, and assorted other relatives. Much as we love family gatherings, we were thrilled not to have to mediate the kids' squabbles, hunt for lost mittens, shop for groceries, or cook.

We shared a room and leisurely dinners, exchanged confidences and jokes on the lifts, and encouraged each other on the steepest, bumpiest, slopes we'd ever attempted. No one was urging us to go faster, as our kids typically do.

We skied each day with the same upbeat instructor and a small group of campers whose ability was similar to ours, forging new friendships as well as skills. There were early-morning stretching sessions. We were videotaped so that we could dissect our technique.

At lunch, we recounted our triumphs and wipeouts. After skiing sessions, ski coach Mermer Blakeslee, the author of In the Yikes! Zone: A Conversation With Fear, taught us how to cope with our fear, on the mountain and off.

"You go back a different person, and it might not be the person you were expecting," said 61-year-old instructor Connie Bauer, a mother and grandmother who has long been involved with this clinic.

"When you're skiing, you can't think about anything or anybody else. You go home physically beat but mentally refreshed."

These types of women-only skiing clinics and other all-female adventures have become increasingly popular in recent years, as active women come into their own in traditionally male-dominated sports. This Snowbird clinic was the largest in the program's 12-year history, said Nona Weatherbee, who coordinates the camps.

Extreme-skiing champion Kim Reichhelm of Crested Butte, Colo., is offering women's clinics at five different resorts this season. (Visit www.skiwithkim.com.)

Some of the Women's Ski Spree Programs at the Okemo Mountain Resort in Vermont (www.okemo.com) have sold out, filled up by snow-loving moms.

There are now women's clinics for snowboarding and telemarking, for beginners as well as experts, ranging from weekends that cost a few hundred dollars to five-day, all-inclusive packages that run $1,000 or more. (For listings of such programs, visit www.nsaa.org or www.skilikeawoman.com.)

Still, the snow-sports industry, plagued by flat numbers and anxious to encourage newcomers, continues to ponder how to keep women on the snow rather than in the lodges.

Women account for a majority of snow-sports beginners, according to the National Ski Areas Association, but females account for fewer than 30 percent of snow-sports experts.

"I see a lot of moms who are frustrated by skiing," Reichhelm said. "They spend all their time taking care of the family and never get to enjoy it for themselves. By the time the kids are skiing well enough for her to ski with them, they are better than her."

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