The Active Explorer Takes a Lesson With Alta’s Alf Engen Ski School

Posted: February 12th, 2014 | Author:

Words by Erika Wiggins, aka, The Active Explorer

Impatience. I was frustrated my skiing wasn’t progressing more quickly. My friends were skiing deep powder and trees and I wanted to play there too. At minimum, I wanted to ski steeper runs and bumps. It was time to get back into ski lessons nearly a year after I first learned, so I contacted Alta’s Alf Engen Ski School.

The Alf Engen Ski School has maintained a tradition of excellence for over 60 years and is highly respected. The ski school instructors are highly experienced and take their vocation seriously. So I felt like I’d be in good hands.

They were enthusiastic about having me take some lessons with them. I scheduled with Eric McLoughlin, who leads off trail workshops for the school and is a highly experienced instructor. Additionally, he is an examiner for the Professional Ski Instructors Association (PSIA), which is no small achievement.  When I mentioned the lesson to a friend, who is also a PSIA instructor, he commented, “Dang, I wish I could have just shadowed your ski school lesson!”

Alta Ski Area Alf Engen Ski School

Eric McLoughlin preaching the good word of skiing. Photo: Erika Wiggins

I arrived with Steve Seliger who offered to handle camera duty and looked forward to getting some instruction himself. I’m an intermediate skier, while Steve is an advanced and aggressive skier, so I feared we were going to challenge Eric with our disparate levels. Additionally, he knew we were writing about our experience….no pressure.

The semi-private lesson worked out perfectly. Eric handled our varying levels with ease. In fact, if I had to do it all over again I would want to be paired with a more advanced skier again. I found it helpful and inspiring to observe.

The terrain at Alta Ski Area is ideal for ski school partners with different skill levels, another reason our lesson worked out so well. I could stay on blue groomers, while Steve angled off onto steeper routes or found pow stashes in the trees.

Eric noticed immediately that turns intimidated me, especially on steep terrain. A clue may have been that I put the brakes on at the first medium-steep hill we approached and he had to coax me down. I feared we were off to a bad start, but he made me comfortable, explaining that I needed to transition my weight from foot to foot earlier in the turn. This is something that I had no idea I had been failing to do. That one simple tip, plus guided practice, made a huge difference in how much I enjoyed skiing. From there we worked on form and relaxing. What? Me relax? That’s not so easy sometimes. He said that I needed to relax and add flow to my turns. So I asked, “you mean like when I have two beers before I ski?” He laughed and said, “Yeah let’s call them ‘two beer turns!’” So a new skiing term was born.

Meanwhile he worked with Steve on developing a stronger stance in turns.

By the end of the day we both had valuable new skills.  I was in awe of how much more I was enjoying myself. Within the first 15 minutes of our time with Eric he taught me skills that utterly changed skiing for me. Thanks to our lesson, my skiing has advanced rapidly.

Two weeks later, I’m skiing steep blues and bumps without anxiety. I’m also doing okay in trees. I even managed a short section of a black run. Now my impatience is that another ski day can’t come soon enough and I’m ready for more challenging terrain. What a difference a quality lesson can make.

Without doubt, I’ll return to ski with the Alf Engen Ski School again as I transition to black terrain.

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