Six top instructors share their stories—and their secrets for improving your skiing and riding.
KEYSTONE: Bobby Murphy
The adage that "one man's trash is another man's treasure" truly resonates with Bobby Murphy. "I grew up one block away from what's known as ‘Mount Trashmore,'" he says, recalling his early ski experience on a 100-foot-high municipal ski hill built on a former landfill in his hometown of Evanston, Ill. "It truly was a garbage heap that was transformed into a ski area."
At the University of Iowa, Murphy drove across the Mississippi River to teach at Chestnut Mountain in Galena, Ill. He chose to major in Leisure Studies, believing that it best fit his aspiration of being a ski school director. After spending more than 15 years teaching at two Colorado resorts, Murphy jumped at the chance to move to Keystone. "I always looked at all the Vail Resorts as the best in the industry," he says. "When the opportunity came to be director of the Keystone Ski and Ride School, I was excited to work with some of the top folks in my profession."
When not training Keystone's instructors, the second-term member of the PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America) Alpine Team helps develop curriculum for PSIA's 27,000 members. He treasures the time spent teaching his two daughters to ski, and has learned plenty in the process. "You have to be extra patient," he says. "Skiing's more about the environment and the time spent with family than it is about how many runs you can get in."
Drive Forward: "Many people are unaware that Keystone has expanded into five bowls with steeps, cliffs and beautiful open-bowl skiing. In shots like the South Bowl at the top of the Outback (shown on previous page [ck]), I focus on keeping both hands forward as I finish the turn. The uphill hand is especially important as the pitch of the slope increases. By driving the uphill hand forward and down the hill, I stay in balance and move down the hill. "
Details: 800-255-3715 or keystoneresort.com.
BEAVER CREEK: Chuck Hewitt
"Beaver Creek has the best terrain for learning to snowboard of any resort I've visited," Chuck Hewitt says of his home mountain. Hewitt, who is a fully certified AASI (American Association of Ski Instructors) instructor and trainer, and his wife, Natalie (who also teaches snowboarding at Beaver Creek), have seen most of the major resorts. They're always happy to come home.
Hewitt discovered snowboarding while attending Northern Michigan University on the south shore of Lake Superior and soon landed a job teaching at nearby Marquette Mountain. Armed with a degree in Outdoor Recreation Management, Hewitt headed west and found Beaver Creek. "I learned more from our staff in my first season than I had my whole life," he says. Now Hewitt runs the in-house training for the snowboard school.
"We have a unique asset in that all of our green runs are at the top of the mountain," he says. "That means the beginner goes straight to all the good snow and views." In addition, at Beaver Creek's base the Buckaroo Express gondola allows first-time snowboarders to access the mountain without the frustration of boarding a chairlift. The terrain is ideally contoured and the ultra-modern kid's lodge, The Ranch, allows students to quickly refuel.
Hewitt, in concert with the park crew, helped build the Mystic Island Park off the mountaintop Cinch Express lift specifically for the ski and snowboard school. The result: features that are friendly to park neophytes. Another bonus for beginners: Beaver Creek is a Burton Learn to Ride Center, which means that all of the rental equipment is designed to promote a successful first day.
Low Rider: "When you're going into Mystic Island Park and hitting the first box, think about staying low and using your lower body as a base of support rather than moving your upper body. For a first ride on the mountain, go to the top of Booth Gardens [off Cinch Express], at 11 or 11:30, and follow the snowcat's path for fresh corduroy after the midday grooming. If it's a powder day, go to 4 Get About It [off the Centennial Express] and duck into the trees for some fun gullies and natural halfpipes."
Details: 970-754-5300 or beavercreek.com.
VAIL: David Oliver
David Oliver is the product of a ski instructor love story: His parents met while teaching skiing. Oliver grew up at the now defunct Hidden Valley in Estes Park, Colo., and while attending school at Western State University in Gunnison he started teaching on the side. Stints at resorts in Colorado, California, Montana and Idaho exposed him to a wide spectrum of the sport, from helping never evers to getting his own dose of big-mountain skiing. Eventually he returned to his native state and Vail, where he specializes in teaching kids out of the LionsHead base village (and occasionally gets mistaken for the David A. Oliver from Breckenridge, who is also profiled in this story).
Oliver loves seeing the mountain through his young students' eyes, and at Vail he is able to take full advantage of a 5,289-acre playground with an abundance of terrain features built just for kids. He's come a long way since his own early days at that tiny ski area outside Estes Park. "I think back to my childhood," Oliver says, "and I realize how incredible it is to ski and teach skiing as a career."
Early Start: "There are two secrets to enjoying Vail. First, get out when we open and you will have the best snow—and the hill—to yourself. Second, grab the grooming report. Depending on what type of skier you are, the grooming report can guide you to great snow.
And for those who favor the off-piste, Vail's grooming gives groups of varying ability the chance to ride on similar parts of the mountain. To succeed on both groomed and off-piste slopes, be offensive. Practice spending as much time going down the hill as you do skiing across it. "
Details: 800-475-4543 or visit vail.com.
HEAVENLY: Michael Rogan and Robin Barnes
Speaking of love stories, this one is near impossible to top: Michael Rogan and Robin Barnes both fell in love with skiing, teaching and with the terrain of Heavenly Resort on the shores of Lake Tahoe. They both reached the pinnacle of their profession (and passion) as members of the PSIA Alpine Team. And now they're engaged to be married, though Rogan keeps telling friends they've set the date for…Feb. 31.
As the captain and four-term member of the Alpine Team—and as a skier who seamlessly blends natural, athletic power with flawless technique--Rogan arguably commands more respect than any ski teacher in the country. But he'll repeatedly remind you that it's his own respect for the sport--and his mentors--that made it all happen.
Rogan's first ski experience came at age 9 in ski school at Windham Mountain, N.Y. He was immediately hooked. At 18, Rogan started teaching at Catamount Mountain before moving on to Vermont's Pico. "The ski school director there told me, ‘If someone complains that all my instructor did was ski or all my instructor did was talk, I will only defend the first one.' I learned that we're in the business of ski teaching, not ski talking."
Rogan next discovered summer skiing and taught in Portillo, Chile. He stayed for 17 summers, serving as ski school director for the last nine. In Portillo, Rogan met Heavenly's then-ski school director and accepted a job. "Heavenly is a big, beautiful ski area," Rogan says. "I couldn't believe that a kid from a small town in upstate New York was now in California. This is where I stayed."
Rogan also serves as director of instruction for SKI Magazine, brainstorming, then writing technique pieces--and demonstrating them for the camera.
Find Your Path: "The Gunbarrel mystique comes from this great face of bumps staring at you, but if you pick the right path you won't be intimidated. There are tons of options: If you want in-your-face moguls, go right down the barrel. Skier's left is locally referred to as ‘old man's left'--the bumps are generally softer and more spread out. To the right, underneath the tram towers, you'll find smaller bumps with some wide-open tree sections. Remember: Don't miss a pole plant and work on making different-sized short turns."
Robin Barnes didn't get a chance to ski until she was 8, and then only a handful of times before she turned 18, when she packed her car and headed west from her Massachusetts home. "I stopped in at Heavenly and what turned out to be a few days turned into a few weeks and then 20 years," Barnes says. After landing a job selling tickets for ski school, Barnes was persuaded by Stu Campbell (also her fiance's mentor) to pursue teaching as a profession. "He taught me there's a lot of honor in giving people a great experience," she says. Barnes also landed a summer job teaching in Portillo, where she met Rogan.
Barnes, a self-described Jane-of-all-trades, loves teaching people from different nationalities (she's fluent in Spanish and Portuguese), and enjoys meeting skiers from all over the country in her role with the PSIA Alpine Team. "I've traveled from the East Coast to Alaska and met a lot of amazing people," Barnes says.
Go Glading: "If you don't ski the glades at Heavenly, it's like going to Italy and not eating the pasta—you miss out on a huge part of the flavor. On a busy day, ski the trees to avoid traffic and to find good snow. Keep your eyes on the locals who are ducking into the trees and follow them. Or grab a pro and let her show you where the best trees are at your level—there's gnarly and steep but also nice, intermediate pitches. Be light on your skis, and most importantly, look at the open spaces between the trees—not at the trees."
BRECKENRIDGE: David A. Oliver
As a kid growing up in Taos, N.M., David A. Oliver thought of the mountain as his playground. His mantra now is to share that passion with youngsters at Breckenridge. He still remembers a nugget of wisdom from when he first started instructing. "An education director took me under her wing and told me ‘Clients don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.' That changed me. That's when I really learned how to teach," Oliver says.
When Oliver arrived in Summit County, and landed a job at Breckenridge, he found himself in a big, bold playground. "David the Dinosaur," as he's known, not only teaches kids and trains other instructors, but he's the lead freeskiing trainer for Breckenridge. And he's also the first park and pipe specialist for the PSIA Alpine Team.
Oliver's career may be in teaching, but he still enters freeskiing competitions—just for fun. He competes in slopestyle and superpipe events at the U.S. Open and in Winter X Games qualifiers. At 35, it's not surprising that he's taught some of the competition to ski. But he loves the feeling of staying young. "I've learned to ski more with my brain now--and I think more before I huck."
Deep Breathing: "If you catch first chair on the Peak 10 Falcon SuperChair, you can be assured of uncrowded steeps for a few hours. Take a break at the Ten Mile Station around 11:30 a.m. to avoid any crowds (and to try their famous chili bread bowl!). As long as you breathe with your lungs and relax your leg joints, you should be able to handle Breck's great terrain."
Details: 888-LRN-2SKI or breckenridge.com.