Ski Santa Fe Clinic Part 1: Game Improvement

(This is the first story in a three-part series about PSIA-AASI Lead Writer Peter Kray’s multi-week ski clinic at Ski Santa Fe).

Ski Santa Fe, my local New Mexico hill, kicked off 2024 with an e-mail advertising open enrollment in its Men’s Multi-Day Lesson Program, every Wednesday from 9 a.m. to noon for six straight weeks.

The e-mail read, “Ski with our instructors, improve your game and explore new terrain, make new friends.”

And I thought to myself, “Yeah, I want all of that!”

So I called my best local ski buddy, Tal-ee, gave him my pitch, “We get to go skiing every Wednesday,” and signed us both up.

The kicker? As season pass holders, the entire six-week clinic only cost us $270 each.

Ski Better

To be honest, Ski Santa Fe had me at “game improvement.”

As someone who gets to ski and ride with PSIA-AASI National Team members at least twice a year, whenever I ski under a group of them on the chair, I always wonder what kind of movement analysis they’re doing on my form and what they’d like to help me fix.

One reason – and there are many – I think the team is composed of such amazing people is that they earn their spot on the roster at the height of their teaching and riding ability (and yes, tryouts for the 2024 National Team are coming up), and immediately ask themselves, “How do I build on that?”

When the best riders and instructors you know keep pushing themselves, it’s pretty easy to see how you could step up your own game.

Which introduces a question I keep asking myself: With 24-hour sports talk TV and radio analyzing every professional athlete’s ability to improve their skills in basketball, football, golf, and tennis – why aren’t more people invested in getting better at snowsports?

The simple answer is that unless you are a professional, competitive skier or snowboarder, there’s no score sheet. People go riding with their friends and have fun. That’s it.

But I still try to ski better on every run and wonder about how to improve every turn I make. Signing up for my local clinic with multiple classes provides a unique opportunity to accomplish that.

Getting Taught

My clinic instructor, Nathaniel “Spooky” James, a beautiful skier who grew up in Aspen before moving to Santa Fe, gave me my money’s worth in the first class.

I’m someone who geeks out about trying to start a turn earlier and earlier, stepping onto and steering the outside (uphill) ski as soon as possible for new edge engagement.

Spooky helped me dial that. He said, “Think about dipping the downhill knee into the turn as you steer the uphill ski.” The more I worked on it, and as Spooky led the class through a series of drills to refine the movement, the more I felt both of my skis engaging with a kind of fluidity that I could easily access.

My turns felt rounder and more powerful with a rhythm and control that felt sublime on the fresh groomed hardpack. It felt like I had power steering on a newly paved road with the wind in my face.

That was six weeks ago, and I can honestly say that simple drill changed my skiing this season, from the groomed, to the bumps, to the glades, to the weird old off-piste.

Everywhere I went, as soon as I tipped that downhill knee, in any condition, I had better rhythm, pace, and edge contact.

Tal-ee, too. He’s a great athlete – especially accomplished as a hockey player – but this was the first lesson he’d taken since he learned how to turn in the first place. And he has said that because of that hockey background, just like skating, he tends to make turns from one foot to the next.

We were having so much fun we stayed on the mountain all day, and he was skiing lights out.

Sure, we did other drills, working on edge angle and counter positioning to keep our upper bodies quiet. We had one outrageous powder day when we skied lap after lap. And every Wednesday, it felt like outside the other clinics we’d see on the hill, we had the whole mountain to ourselves.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it is Wednesday, which means I should get back on the lifts.

Next week – The Community You Make.