On mornings when I need an extra jolt of energy, I make myself a cup of coffee in a deep blue cup that has a big snowflake and the word “Alta” on it. As I take my first sip in that brief interlude before I rouse the rest of the family, the mound of foamy white milk on top prompts a quick flashback. It’s a bright mountain morning, crystalline powder reflecting the sun that’s breaking through the clouds that brought morning flurries. And I’m with a dozen or so of my new BFFs, skiing fresh powder on the steeps — not my forte. They’re telling me I’m great — and while I’m not great, I am doing far better than I expected. And one big reason I am is thanks to their encouragement.
Travel is about getting new energy and perspective from the new people you meet — and nothing does that like Alta’s Ski with the Girls. This is where you’ll meet women like Erika George, a law professor and yoga instructor, who went to Harvard thanks to a chance encounter with Barack Obama (he was wearing a t-shirt that said “Real Men Marry Lawyers”); Bobby Abrams, an emergency room doctor who thrives on trauma; and Naomi Wain, an 87-year-old from California who can drop into a tuck as tight and fast as any 12-year-old and puts in 50 to 60 days skiing every season. They are mothers and wives, sisters and daughters, professionals and stay-at-home-moms, 20- and 30-somethings as well as 70- and 80-somethings. They’re from all over the nation and the world. But they have a common bond: skiing at Alta.
Ski with the Girls is the brainchild of Connie Marshall, director of sales and public relations at Alta. She and the program’s two main coordinators, Julia Howlett and Laura Astle, with the support of Alta’s general manager, Onno Wieringa, created it as a service not just for the women of Alta but as a way to welcome visitors to the community. It’s a way for women to connect and expand their ski buddy circle, according to Howlett.
The group meets mid-mountain at 10 a.m. on Tuesdays at the Baldy Brews coffee shop onthe snow level of Watson Shelter. Come a little early if you want to have a cup of coffee. The group, for intermediate through expert skiers, usually breaks up into three or sometimes four subgroups, based on terrain and ambition. That can range from skiing groomed runs to the chargers who want to do runs like High Rustler, accessible only by a lift ride and crossing a high traverse with precipitous drops on either side. Those skiers are rewards with killer views and a beautiful run that’s little skied. Alta provides ski hosts to accompany each group.
Ski with the Girls radiates positive energy that puts problems that had pestered you into their proper perspective. “It’s wiping your mental slate clean,” says Abrams. It’s also addictive. Wain, who says she plans to ski at least until she’s 90, broke her collar bone when another skier crashed into her a few years ago. “It was 9:20 in the morning and I thought, ‘This is going to ruin my day,’” she says. But she got back in the lift line to squeeze in one more run before going to the clinic. “Then I thought, ‘This is stupid, act like a grownup,’” she says, and skipped the run to go straight to the clinic. She missed 40 days of skiing that year, but still kept coming to Alta. And now, she’s back at it with the same energy and joy she’s gotten from skiing since she started when she was almost 40. “I just adore it when it’s snowing,” she says.This is a varied group that changes every week. It’s a mix of locals and visitors — and is a great way for a visitor to plug right into the local scene. And it’s a group of women who have fun together and encourage each other to try new things. They applaud each when they actually do the run that they would never have tried had they not been encouraged by their newfound “sisters.” “There’s no pressure and everybody wants everybody to succeed,” says Abrams.
You also get better at your skiing. George first started skiing with the group when she was still doing a small wedge. Now she does perfect parallel turns and is a “really strong, strong skier,” says Astle. Ski with the Girls is not a ski school, it’s a purely social outing, but it still improves your technique.
Part of the energy of Ski with the Girls is due to Howlett and Astle. Their lives reflect the outdoor playground they live in. Their children are ski racers. Howlett’s now teenage kids started school right in Alta, attending elementary school in the Alta Community Center. Her husband, among other things, is an avalanche hazard forecaster. When Astle’s not skiing or packing lunch for her three ski-racing sons, she sells real estate and helps her husband with his fly-fishing destination business.
They are such elegant skiers that just skiing behind them helps your skiing. The two might sound intimidating but they are not at all. They are warm and welcoming. They love skiing in general and skiing at Alta in particular, and they want other women to do the same. Their generous energy pervades the group and attracts others with the same kind of energy. Spend a morning with them pushing yourself on slopes that you’d never try on your own and you come off exhilarated and ready to conquer your world.
When you leave, buy an Alta coffee cup. Take it home with you. Then, back home in your own kitchen, take a sip and channel all that girl power you tapped into at Alta.