Eaglecrest's ski school teaches all abilities

Posted: Thursday, March 07, 2002

For someone who has never strapped a board or two on their feet, the idea of shushing down a mountain with the wind in their face may seem daunting.

But with a little help from Eaglecrest's ski school, that idea can become a reality with just a few lessons.

"If somebody who never skied came in and saw us for two consecutive weekends, they could at least be skiing the lower part of the mountain," Eaglecrest Ski and Snowboard School Director Jeffra Clough said. "That mostly pertains to adults and older children. Younger kids take a little more time."

Clough heads an experienced staff of seven full-time and 45 part-time ski and snowboard instructors at Eaglecrest, which is a member school of the Professional Ski Instructors of America and the American Association of Snowboard Instructors. The school taught between 5,000 and 6,000 lessons last year.

"Most of our staff are certified at one level or another," Clough said. "We do quite a bit of training - at least four to five hours of training a week are available for instructors."

Certification for instructors is done through comprehensive training, focusing on contemporary technical aspects of skiing and ski teaching. Clough said retention rates for ski instructors are very good, adding several have been teaching for longer than her 21 years at Eaglecrest, but there are always newcomers into the program.

"Many of our instructors have seasonal jobs that complements teaching," Clough said. "But some have full-time, year-round jobs, so they work on the weekends. And we have a few instructors who go to school in addition to teaching. All we ask is that they are at least intermediate in skill level and have the desire to teach."

Clough, who works for Wings of Alaska when she's not directing the ski school, is in her seventh year as director of Eaglecrest's ski school. She is also the president of the Alaska Division of the two ski instructor groups and said the biggest challenge for the ski school is to make sure it's always fun.

"The weather and the conditions can be an obstacle," Clough said. "And getting folks to recognize that everyone can use some skill improvement."

Eaglecrest offers several different lesson plans for kids and adults. Lessons range from first-time instruction to advanced programs, where experienced skiers and snowboarders can customize their lesson to accommodate their needs.

"One of the misconceptions about ski school is that it's just for kids," Clough said. "It's not just for kids. About 60 percent of our lessons deal with kids; the rest are adults."

Group lessons are offered twice daily, beginning with Eaglecrest's "Learn to Ski" class, designed to introduce skiers to balance, stopping and turning. From there skiers can make the next jump to the "Learn to Ski More" class, which continues to refine stopping and turning skills.

Both classes are available in two- or four-hour daytime sessions as well as Friday night sessions under the lights. Just two lessons can give new skiers proficiency to navigate nearly all of the beginner or "green" runs on the mountain.

Eaglecrest's advanced lessons start with the "Breakthrough Ski Clinic," designed for skill improvement for all-mountain skiers, and the "Above and Beyond Adventure Clinic," which is more challenging and aimed toward advanced skiers who want to touch up on their skills.

Clough said one of the ski school's best lesson programs is designed for kids from Dzantik'i Heeni and Floyd Dryden middle schools. The students take lessons Thursday and Friday as part of their physical education curriculum as well as the IDEA program, which takes place Mondays for home-schooled students.

"Every elementary school in town is scheduled for lessons at least one time this year," Clough said. "We have some kids who just started skiing this year and are already on the Hooter and Ptarmigan lifts. We also have a lot of schools from the surrounding communities like Tenakee, Pelican, Gustavus and Sitka who come here, which makes us more than just a local hill."

Lesson programs for the younger children, ages 3-5, are available for all ability levels and include mandatory hot chocolate breaks and lots of fun and encouragement. The ski school also gives these kids their first taste of ski racing with its popular Wee Ski and Race Rats programs, which have taught the fundamentals to many successful Juneau racers.

"I like working with the kids," first-year ski instructor Jim Shine said. "It's rewarding. I also like coaching the young ski racers - it's a blast."

Other lesson programs offered include Mountain Explorers, a four-week program for novice skiers and snowboarders ages 6-10, and the Extreme Team, another four-week program that focuses on improving the mountain skiers and riders for ages 11-17. In addition, Eaglecrest's ski school also has lessons available for adult telemark and Nordic skiers.

"We take the Mountain Explorers group on different terrain and teach them the skier's responsibility code," first-year ski instructor Steve Reid said during a Mountain Explorers' lesson Monday. "We have a little more freedom to take these kids around. I like teaching the adults, but children are fun. I love it. I'd definitely do it again."

Although the bulk of Eaglecrest's season is over, the 22nd Annual Kids "Learn to Ski" weekend sponsored by Capital Chevrolet and the Juneau Empire will take place March 23-24 followed by Spring Break Ski and Snowboard Camps on March 25-29. Eaglecrest wraps up its season April 13-14 with its traditional Spring Carnival.

Jeff Kasper can be reached at jkasper@juneauempire.com.

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