Like so many things of yesteryear (vinyl records and photo slide film to name two), ski weeks are making a comeback. And, not surprisingly, they’re aimed at the same folks who went on these back during the ski week heyday in the 1970s and early ‘80s … the Boomers.
The original ski week hit when the baby boom became yesterday’s millennials. They had money, they were skiing, they wanted the social experience. Then boomers started having families and taking an entire week no longer worked. So short, specific clinics (racing, bumps, women’s) that lasted only a long weekend took over.
Now, as they say, it’s back to the future for ski weeks.
Why have ski weeks returned?
Because the kids have grown up, the money is available and so is the option once more of taking a week. Plus, it’s, well, your own age group. No trying to keep up with someone 30 years younger.
“It started as 50 Plus in 2011,” said Katie Balkwill, regional sales manager for Big White Ski Resort in Kelowna, British Columbia. “We ran it that way with very small numbers until 2013. There was a suggestion to change the name to Seniors Ski Club, which we did. And no one came the following week.
“Then we changed the name to Masters Monday and had 30 participants the next week. We average 45 people every Monday for most of the season now.
“It truly is all in a name.”
As for the Masters Week, it has grown steadily from 23 the first year (19 of whom have returned) to 59, then 109, then last year, 229 broken into two weeks and, after the second session, a third was added for the end of the season.
Skiing the Masters
And so, I signed up for Big White’s Masters Ski Week, along with 90 others. We would ski together each morning and enjoy a variety of social programs in the afternoons or evenings.
The first day of my week, when we were joined by the Monday only groups, the resort was expecting perhaps 130 for lunch. Nearly 200 came (many signing up just that morning). There was quite a scramble for food, but nobody went hungry.
Since we had all filled out forms suggesting our ski level, we separated into skill groups the first morning ranging from novice to expert. Then, after a bit of skiing, a few people shifted around and we were set for the week.
My group, Level 4 of 6, was perfecting its stance, getting more aggressive on our turns, and playing a bit in the year’s epic powder. Anthony, our instructor, tailored exercises to each of the five in our class.
For Sandy, it was ski down holding polls horizontally in her hands which, Anthony said, helps you lead the turn with your lower body. Her upper body was turning into the hill, which throws you off balance.
For Norm, it was a “prayer stance” holding his hands together in front of his chest. This balances you and helps you lead with your legs, rather than your upper body.
For me, it was making sure I looked downhill when turning, not to the side … again, helping with balance.
And for all of us, there was a maddening exercise where we dragged our downhill pole along the snow, which truly is not intuitive. This gets you onto your downhill ski throughout the turn, Anthony insisted.
And, well, it did.
Each day after class, there was something … a clinic, apres ski, a sleigh ride.
One night, we met for beer and pizza at Dizzy’s Ski & Board Shop where Lindsay Bennett (aka Dizzy) talked about ski gear. Along shelves in the shop sat hundreds of old boots, some from the 1940s, each representing a tech breakthrough.
“I skied down in a bare sock more than once,” he laughed.
Boots are, Dizzy said, the single most important piece of equipment you can own. A decent boot will last for 200 days of skiing. And custom foot beds are perhaps the most important thing you can have in a boot, he added.
No one knows that better than me. Slower than most to catch on, I spent a decade trying to figure out how to turn at all. Then someone noticed my board flat feet. I splurged on custom footbeds, headed for a lift and, in the space of 30 seconds, went from struggling novice to solid intermediate. I had been making the right moves all along, but my feet weren’t connecting with the boots.
I also learned to get ski socks. They’re a blend that keeps you warm without being too bulky. Don’t pull the liner out of your boot each night. Electric boot dryers will do a better job. And park your boots up high for the night (where air in your room is warmer).
I went into the shop the next day and an added thin innersole and heel lifts helped my aging boots fit snug again with the added benefit of tipping me forward just a bit more.
The next night, my friend Kay and I went on the dinner sleigh ride, riding in a large sled pulled by two beautiful Clydesdale horses through an magic scene of snowy trees and swirling flakes. Dinner was both gourmet and rustic … chicken cassoulet and bison ribs. We bonded with our seatmates, who produced bottles of good red wine and topped it all off with mini cheesecakes.
Our final gathering was apres ski at an Irish pub with good munchies, great beer and wonderful memories.
It snowed every day, but one that week and on the last morning, fog settled in clear down to the village. We all gulped, shrugged, and took off for lessons on how to deal with a whiteout. We headed for the Black Forest chair whose medium width trails were lined with trees heavily frosted in Christmas card snow.
Ski along the trees, Andrew said. And sure enough, there magically was definition in the snow at our feet.
Don’t look at your skis, he added. Yes, it’s scary to peer into the white void, but find something ahead … another skier, a line of trees, a pole, a lift, and keep your eyes on that. It absolutely helps avoid vertigo and, of course, falls.
I had truly hoped that last day we could find some steep cruisers along one of the outlying chairs and some untracked powder but the fog and near blizzard conditions squelched that.
Instead, I took the lessons home where, yes, it all made a huge difference. — By Yvette Cardozo, RFT Ski and Dive Editor
If You Go
Big White Ski Resort’s Masters Week is actually five days, Monday through Friday. There are on-slope lessons each morning, then social activities in afternoon or evenings.
For 2018, Big White is planning at least two Masters ski week programs, Jan. 29 – Feb. 2 and Feb. 26 – Mar. 2, plus possibly a third at the end of the season.
Price for the week (lessons, clinics and most social activities) will be $278 Canadian. Canadian dollars have run about .75 per US dollar for a few years meaning $278 Cdn works out to about $208 U.S.
There are also Masters Monday classes, held each Monday morning, for people who don’t want to commit to an entire week.– YC
Big White: www.bigwhite.com/
Masters Ski Week: www.bigwhite.com/ski-school-rentals/camps-special-programs/masters-week