It’s the Olympic giant slalom run, super steep and super long — sometimes super scary. But this one’s not at Vancouver. It’s at Park City Mountain Resort, where the 2002 GS was held.
A sign at the top of the fencedoff run says, “Racers Only.” But the speed-suited racers skiing through the fence opening are obviously not Olympians. Though some are in their 20s, most are older — 30s, 40s, 50s. One is actually over 80 years old. In addition, Olympians rarely laugh and pal around as these skiers do on the hill.
This is Masters ski racing. And if you think you’re not good enough to race, think again. Training with the Masters will make you good enough to ski anything. Working out with this group will turn you into the skier you’ve always dreamed of being.
Adult ski racing in Park City
According to head Masters coach Bill Skinner, Masters is adult ski racing for anyone 21 years and up.
“This year, we’re allowing people 18 years old to train and compete with us. … We train on the 2002 Olympic GS run, and on different hills, easier ones, throughout the resort,” says Skinner, himself one of the fastest Masters racers in the country, even though he’s 54. Obviously, age is not a factor with Masters.
There are races at resorts all over the Intermountain West nearly every weekend. Masters competition can be a casual type of fun, or a lifestyle. Take it as seriously as you wish.
When you train with the Masters — whether for a day, a week or the whole season — you get coached, not “instructed.” The difference is profound. An instructor will smile and compliment you no matter how you’re doing. A coach will push you. Good coaches — as the Masters coaches are — will analyze exactly what you’re doing and communicate what you have to do next, physically, to improve.
You’re never treated like a “customer” — you’re treated as an athlete. It feels good. Running gates feels good, too; it’s addictive. This is far above NASTAR or town races.
There are three full-time coaches: Bill Skinner and his brother, Bobby, and Don Sears. Bobby usually takes more serious racers to coach; Bill and Sears take everyone else. If the Olympic hill is too intimidating, coaches will take skiers over to the NASTAR run or to blue runs.
Train like an Olympic athlete
Training starts every weekday morning at 10 a.m., beginning with a two-hour drill session where your coach breaks down the elements of racing technique and critiques how you’re doing. Next comes running gates, usually on CBs, the Olympic run. This is the cool part: The practice course is set to FIS standards, which means it’s the exact same type of race course that Olympic athletes are running in Vancouver. Toward the end of the session, a coach stands at the side of the run and shoots video as you weave through the gates, just as it’s done for U.S. ski team racers when they train.
Next is lunch break, where the video is shown. As each participant’s run comes up, the coach describes (often in excruciating detail) what needs to be done to improve. Sometimes it’s something as simple as holding a hand higher when starting a turn. Then it’s back to training, free skiing around the resort as you practice with your coach, who guides you in every subtle change you need to make to improve.
When you’re part of a group like this where everyone is pushing themselves, you improve too. A “before-and-after” video, even after one session of Masters training session, is shocking.
The cost is reasonable. A day’s training, six hours of coaching Monday through Friday, costs $115, including lift ticket and video. If you have a season pass, it’s $75. Night training, 6 to 9 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday, is $55, including lift ticket, $25 if you have a pass.
Many folks sign up just to become more expert skiers. As Bill Skinner says, “If terrain parks and jumps aren’t your challenge, and you want something that is a challenge, Masters skiing is the way to improve.”