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General Ed: Snowbird University

General Ed: Snowbird University

Travel
By Sam Moulton
posted: 09/26/2005

I'M CHASING A ROMANIAN SOFTWARE designer down Chip's Run at Snowbird, Utah, when the thought finally congeals in my brain: This is stupid. I could be floating through powder. Instead, I'm racing the Snowbird tram.

Ordinarily, tram racing isn't much of a challenge-but Snowbird has cranked its cable cars up to ten meters per second in an effort to re-create the 2003 Tram Off competition with Jackson Hole, which entailed both resorts racing for the most vertical logged in a day. With the Romanian pushing 45 miles per hour, I have no choice: If I lose him, I'll miss my ride-and the complimentary in-tram masseuse. And besides, being from Wisconsin, I hate losing to Romanians.

Welcome to Snowbird U, the resort's first-ever four-day, take-whatever-ya-feel-like ski camp. Today's tram-off is our elective. Yesterday, I fixed ropes and practiced mountaineering skills up Baldy Ridge, a slope so gentle and wide you could ride an elephant up it. Tomorrow, there'll be a backcountry navigation session, and on Thursday I'll rappel over a cliff band that drops into the Cirque's permanently closed "forbidden zone."

Snowbird U's dean is a freelance adventurer named Roger Kehr. He and his coaches-an assemblage of avalanche forecasters, snow scientists, and instructors-have devised a madcap itinerary: Every morning at 7 A.M., my classmates and I gather for a contortionist rally (some would call it yoga) where we grunt over wafer-thin mats while our guru hums instructions. Then we head out for a morning of alpine, backcountry, telemark, or snowboard instruction focusing on steeps, powder technique, carving, you name it. After lunch, more choices: Sign up for an elective, ditch your alpine boards for tele, or learn about avalanche safety and science.

Each evening, we reconvene for more tutoring. Day one ended with an avalanche seminar, on day two we had a toga party (I had to participate, homes: I was on assignment), and on the third night, during dinner, Roger swagged us with everything from Nepalese hats to free ski trips.

As a partially recovering freeheeler (fix the heel, fix the problem), my main focus is relearning how to alpine ski on Snowbird's famous steeps. Every morning, I chase instructor Joey Stoeger up Baldy, past the Sunday Cliffs, and out to a bunch of other locations I promised I wouldn't disclose. Then, like a privileged private-school kid, I drop into a specially preserved powder shot while Joey discourses on the benefits of skiing aggressively-all the time. By the end of the camp I'm skiing better and having more fun.

Even the tram laps are a blast: Skiing like a drunken monkey at mach speeds through designated slow-skiing zones is worth the price of admission.

THE METHOD: Snowbird U's primary (and risky) objective is to be all things to all people. But each day is thoughtfully structured, and deciding what to do every morning is easy. Coaches instruct on the fly-on the lift, while traversing. By the end of the camp, Joey's tips were on repeat in my brain-and I was skiing more fluidly.

THE UPSIDE: Snowbird employs its best instructors and caters to each student's needs. No detail is overlooked: VIP access to the Cliff's hot tub and unlimited Red Bull and Clif Bars made camp life sweet.

THE DOWNSIDE: Despite a DJ, open bar, and several young instructors in bedsheets, the toga party never hit terminal velocity. It was simply too forced: If there's ever a place to wear a bedsheet at 3 A.M., it's in bed.

TAKEAWAY: Huge. In four days, you could conceivably learn to telemark, ski mountaineer, and practice avalanche safety. Or you could work on steeps in the A.M. and snowboard all afternoon. Or learn the basics of backcountry travel. You get the point...

SNOWBIRD U

STUDENT/TEACHER RATIO: 4 to 1
FITNESS LEVEL: Moderate
ABILITY LEVEL: Intermediate
COST: $1,285. Includes spa pass, breakfasts, and lunches.
LENGTH: Four dayys
CONTACT: snowbird.com

Five more:

STRAIGHTLINE ADVENTURES; WORLDWIDE
Cost: Varies
Length: Varies
Skill Level: Advanced to expert
Synopsis: Gordy Peifer hosts big mountain camps in Utah, Alaska, and Europe, taught by skiing's best: Sage Cattabriga, JT Holmes, Jeremy Nobis, and others.
Contact: straightlineadventures.com

ALL MOUNTAIN SKI PROS; LAKE TAHOE, CALIFORNIA; BRITISH COLUMBIA; ALASKA

Cost: Varies
Length: 2-7 days
Skill Level: Intermediate to expert
Synopsis: The author of Ski the Whole Mountain, Eric DesLauriers, takes his ride-anything philosophy to these early- to late-spring clinics.
Contact: allmountainskipros.com

PRO RIDE SNOWBOARD CAMPS; WHISTLER, BRITISH COLUMBIA

Cost: C$725-$1,695
Length: 7 days
Skill Level: Intermediate to expert
Synopsis: These adult snowboard camps cover park-and-pipe, freeriding, and backcountry smarts. Add a heli-board day for an extra $700.
Contact: pro-ride.com

SKI WITH THE SUPERSTARS WEEK; PORTILLO, CHILE

Cost: $1,750
Length: 7 days
Skill Level: Experts only
Synopsis: Spend a week below the equator (but at 10,859-foot Portillo) with Chris Davenport, Wendy Fisher, Shane McConkey, and other ski stars.
Contact: skiportillo.com

NORTH AMERICAN SKI TRAINING CENTER; WORLDWIDE

Cost: Varies
Length: Varies
Skill Level: Intermediate to expert
Synopsis: Using the "total immersion" principle, NASTC brings together an A-list of instructors including PSIA demo team members and AMGA guides who'll teach you everything from the snowplow to ski mountaineering.
Contact: skinastc.com

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