Ski Santa Fe Clinic Part 3: Knowing the Mountain

(This is the third story in a three-part series about PSIA-AASI Lead Writer Peter Kray’s multi-week ski clinic at Ski Santa Fe).

The Men’s Multi-Day Lesson Program at Ski Santa Fe, which I recently took for six consecutive weeks on Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to noon, enriched my skiing experience this winter. From informing new technical skills to finding new friends, it also gave me an entirely new “trail map.”

So much so, that when I hit the hill again this weekend, my options for where I will ski is going to feel like the equivalent of listening to an undiscovered mixtape.

It’s funny how skiing and snowboarding, with all its freedom, fun, and possibility, can be like music, how you keep riding the same runs on your favorite mountain the same way you keep listening to the same bands, just to hear that one guitar solo or rising chorus.

And the last couple years I’ve been skiing Santa Fe like that. Always hitting the short groomer of J.C. right off the base chair just to honor two long gone dogs who I once hiked it with in waist deep powder two weeks before the area opened the slopes.

Then onto the open perfection of Gayway from the Summit Lift, with the wide-open views of the Rio Grande Valley, or the steeps of Molly Hogan or Burro if you want to mix in some bumps. Then Wizard, then Avalanche Bowl, then Columbine or Cornice. Again and again, like the perfect setlist.

Until my clinic with instructor Nathaniel “Spooky” James gave me a brand-new setlist.

A Different Track

“Spooky’s Set,” as I’ll call it, typically started with the undulating rolls of Open Slope, where he could run us through exercises to increase our edge angle or improve our upper body positioning to center ourselves. Then he would take us to Muerte to test those new skills in the deep mogul troughs.

Before heading up to the summit, he led us into the glades of Thunderbird, a run I used to ski every day when I bought my first Ski Santa Fe season pass. It gave me a rush of nostalgia, like returning to some fairy-tale childhood forest.

Up high we skied Tequila Trees, a run I usually ski by, leapfrogging each other through the pines while trying to round our turns out enough to maintain a measured pace. And off the Millennium Lift (the other triple chair to the summit), he took us into Sunrise Glade to the skier’s right, exactly where I always go skier’s left.

We exited the trees on the catwalk above a series of untracked chutes, and I waited there a minute, wondering how much I remembered if they went through, or if I would be “ship-wrecked” on top of a small cliff or series of sharp rocks.

The whole experience reminded me of how often – and how easily – we tie ourselves to our own daily rhythms and patterns, very rarely questioning or altering the so-called choices we make.

It was a master class in that most important aspect of the Learning Connection Model, the “decision-making” aspect.

Local Knowledge

I like to tell the story about how if you and me, and maybe a couple other friends, went to some new place we’d never skied, we’d find a couple fun runs we liked and start making laps.

After a while we’d catch a chair with a local instructor who would tell us about the area’s “Back Bowls” or “Far Ridge,” and we’d discover a whole new tranche of terrain we would never have discovered by ourselves.

The instructor might also share where he thought we could après like the locals, with good drinks at good prices. Or have the best breakfast, or lunch. And if our gear needed a tune, the best shop. And at the end of our stay, we’d feel a deeper kinship with said place and start making plans to come back.

I already feel that way about Ski Santa Fe. For the past 25 years, I’ve bought a season pass. And wherever else I get to ski – and I will absolutely ski anywhere! – I’m happy to call this my home slope.

So here’s the bonus track. Last Friday was a powder day, and I ran into Ski Santa Fe Snowsports School Technical Director Bill Gould, a great guy who every day wants to improve the snowsports experience for everyone from first day never-ever to wannabe expert.

Bill led me through a couple runs I never knew were even there. Runs that flat out opened my eyes about how much more I have to learn about this place.

It’s been a wonderful experience. And I can’t wait to do it again. To keep getting better, to meet more people who love skiing and snowboarding, and to discover fresh tracks.