Everybody is staring at me. I can hardly blame them. It’s not often you see a 36-year-old guy standing in the liftline wearing a snow-white speed suit that’s so tight his kidneys are showing. Under the blaring sunshine here at Utah’s Canyons Resort, I’m practically glowing.
In my defense, this is not my typical skiwear. In fact, it’s the first time in 14 years—since the days I harbored dreams of skiing on the World Cup circuit—that I’ve worn any racing threads at all. After attending a Vermont ski academy and competing through college, I traded in my gate gear for rockered skis and baggy clothes and never planned on pushing through a start wand again.
Then I heard about PointZero1, a ski-racing camp that’s the brainchild of former U.S. Ski Team head coach Phil McNichol and former national team members Erik Schlopy and Bryon Friedman. From its inception two years ago, the goals of the camp—which lasts between two days and a week and is held at Canyons Resort—have been to give participants a taste of life on the World Cup tour and to train clients to ski faster. (The name PointZero1 comes from the hundredth of a second that often separates first and second place in ski races). “There are a lot of people who like going around poles,” McNichol says. “Why not share what we’ve learned on the World Cup and expose more people to the kind of high-quality training that you really can’t get anyplace else?”
The Lindsey Vonn treatment includes coaching from guys who either raced or coached on the U.S. Ski Team, high-tech video analysis, a personal equipment technician to tune skis and tweak boots, sports massage therapy, and blood lactate analysis to make sure clients’ bodies are recovered enough after training for a productive session the next morning.
Though it’s pricey at around $350 a day (lodging and meals not included), I saw it as an opportunity to spend three days experiencing the lifestyle I’d once hoped for but fell well short of attaining. The next thing I knew, I was clicking into a pair of 190-cm Blizzard race boards and heading toward the lift.
Joining me were eight other skiers, all in their 40s, 50s, and 60s, outfitted head to toe in spandex Spyder suits. Some came from serious ski-racing backgrounds while others never came close to sniffing the World Cup. But the disparity in talent within the group didn’t matter. PointZero1 camps are equipped to handle all skill levels, and if one of the participants is struggling, a coach will take him or her aside for one-on-one instruction. “We try not to exceed the four-to-one athlete-to-coach ratio,” says McNichol. “Skiing is very personalized and everybody has specific needs no matter how good they are. We want to make sure everybody leaves feeling like they’ve improved.”
That’s all Sarah Lamire, a retired TV costume designer from Park City, is after. “I don’t care that much about racing—I’m just trying to be a better skier,” she flatly admits during one of our lift rides. “And I figure this will help.”
Most campers, though, have loftier goals. Several PointZero1 attendees compete in the Masters Series (ski races held throughout the country for weekend warriors 20 and older) and are looking to gain speed between the gates.
“They’re like doctors,” Amy Lanzel, a Masters racer and medical sales rep from Park City, says of the PointZero1 coaches. “They diagnose what’s wrong with your skiing and fix it really quickly. For those of us who have jobs and not a lot of time to train, that’s huge.”
I’m looking forward to seeing how much faster the staff can make me ski too, but I mostly just want to be treated like Bode Miller. I quickly find out that that’s not always as glamorous as it sounds.
The plan is to spend a day and a half training in giant slalom, but first we need to hone our fundamentals with some skill drills—tedious on-snow exercises, from slalom turns on one ski to pole-less hockey stops, that World Cup racers typically spend hundreds of hours practicing. We also need a healthy dose of professional-grade (read: brutally honest) coaching.
“When you got it, it was like dancing,” coach Doug Lewis, a former Olympian who now calls World Cup ski races for Universal Sports, tells me after I finally get the hang of an edging drill. “Before then,” he continues, “it sucked.”
After finishing drills, we jump into a moderately steep, 25-gate giant-slalom course and begin learning the kind of tactics that separate Ted Ligety, whom McNichol helped coach out of anonymity, from just about every other ski racer in the world. “You need the apex of the turn to be at the gate,” McNichol explains to a few of us who are waiting to take our turn, drawing a picture in the snow. “And you need to commit on the entry into the turn. Stand hard on that downhill ski!”
“I understand what you’re saying,” Lanzel says. “It’s the execution part I’m having trouble with.”
“Skiing isn’t complicated,” McNichol responds. “But it is hard.”
To make things easier, McNichol herds us all into a room as soon as we get off the hill and cues up the video of the day’s training. “Looks like you’re having a hard time getting forward,” Schlopy tells one of the campers as McNichol draws arrows and circles all over the screen, illustrating Schlopy’s point. “Try lifting your toes in your ski boots,” the former World Championship bronze medalist advises. “It engages certain muscles that force your shins forward.” To help campers remember such tips, McNichol sends each person a video analysis of his or her skiing, breaking down every component, a week after the camp ends.
The combination of drills, coaching, and video (along with a little deep-tissue massage and razor-sharp skis) produces rapid improvement. By the second day, everybody is skiing noticeably better. “That was the best day of my ski life!” Lamire shouts after one of her final runs. “I finally got that turn! I carved it!”
My racing picks up a few ticks too. My arcs seem cleaner and I start reaching the speed racers crave: right on the edge of out-of-control.
“You nailed the line,” coach Cody Marshall, another former U.S. Ski Team member, tells me after my last run.
“Time for a comeback,” McNichol says.
“This has definitely given me an itch,” I respond. But the snapping gates have turned my body black and blue, and my lower back, not used to the torque needed to turn a burly race ski, is seizing up. Getting a chance to see how the U.S. Ski Team lives taught me two things: Life is good on the World Cup—but it’s also a lot of hard work. I’m already looking forward to some nice powder turns and a foamy beverage (rather than a video analysis) post-skiing.
“Maybe I’ll sign up for a beer league,” I say, grinning. “I can handle that.”