Friday, March 11, 2011

Shredding, diva style

Express Staff Writer

Wednesdays on Baldy, it's hard to miss them—groups of highly focused women, practicing drills and skills and looking to their coaches for tips and feedback. You may notice them smiling, laughing and cheering on their friends while taking run after run. If you happen to ride with them on a lift, you might also be privy to a good dose of a ski town's best mental health asset: "chair-apy."

These weekday ski warriors are Danielle Carruth's Divas. They are 27 alpine skiers who meet for nine weeks during the season with the goal of improving their skills and having fun. The brainchild of local skiing royalty, Carruth (nee Crist), Divas is a component of Sun Valley SnowSports School run by locals, for locals, at locals' prices. As an instructor for Sun Valley, Carruth saw a need and filled it.

Why the name "Divas?" In the time-honored tradition of poking fun at Sun Valley's heritage, and, again, with a nod to Vamps, Divas equals "Die Incredible Vimin Alpine Shredders." It sounds better in heavily accented faux Austrian.

Women's ski groups, both official and unofficial, are nothing new in ski culture or in Ketchum. Many have clever names (the Muffin Toppers comes to mind) or signature outfits. One of the original and best-known women's ski groups on Baldy, Chicks on Sticks, wore head-to-toe white. What they have in common is a love for the sport and a desire to share it with friends.

But the Divas' inaugural season surpassed even Carruth's expectations, and she is not known for having low expectations. She skied on the U.S. Development Team as well as for Middlebury College and CU. Now she's the mother of three young children and knows the luxury of time. The relatively short length of Diva ski days, two-hour sessions, allows all the group's members to take a short break from their other responsibilities and think about themselves.

"We are mostly working women, mostly moms, and everyone is juggling very full lives," said Carruth. "These women don't typically take time out for themselves. Divas is an excuse to do something for yourself. It makes you get out and up on the hill and you have an automatic built-in group to ski with. These women are very keen for tips. They do not want to waste time or money on anything. They love the camaraderie but really want to get some useful information. Most have some deep desire to 'shred better.'"

Modeled after the wildly successful local Nordic women's program, the Vamps, the Divas were designed by Carruth to provide busy local women with a time-efficient, high-impact and enjoyable way to improve their skiing. The four groups of Divas work each week on everything from bumps, to powder, to the bowls and racing gates. There are two full-time coaches, Carruth and Nicky Elsbree, and select other coaches who rotate in each week, according to the terrain the Divas will be tackling. One week the women might get the expertise of a bump coach; the next, someone who knows all there is to know about racing.

Pilar Tumolo, an original member of the group, said that's what she has enjoyed the most about the program. "What's been really great is that a lot of people joined it to be with Danielle, but every week we've been skiing with different coaches. That has been a huge benefit—to have different perspectives."

Carruth agrees the "team-teaching" approach benefits everyone. She said, "There have been some awesome breakthroughs. If a skier hears the same thing said a different way by one of the coaches, it's amazing what can happen."

The variety appealed to Tumolo. "We did gates for two days. Those were my favorites," she said. "We've also done bumps, short swing turns, long GS turns, everything to help improve your skiing."

Diva Danielle Fuller, another mother of three, summed it up this way: "Every Wednesday I think, 'I don't have time, I don't have time, I can't go ski,' and then I do and I'm so glad I went. It's a gift." She finds even her children enthused. Fuller said, "I've spent five years all about my kids' skiing. This is about me and they love that."

And there are other benefits. Carruth said, "It's outside, it's exercise, it's fun and most of the husbands and boyfriends love to see their partners get out and get better. It's really good to go out and do something physical. I think it's a lot better than getting together for lunch."

The Divas offer a productive form of peer pressure. "We try to help everyone get better at the things that intimidate them," said Carruth. Fuller joined the group because of the caliber of the coaches and because she wanted to be pushed. "I needed some pressure to put me outside my comfort zone," she said with a laugh. "Every single week I've learned something and every single week I've wanted to go out and apply it."

Ninety percent of participants are between 35 and 40 years old, while typical ski school skews older, said Carruth. Price counts, too. "We get out for about $40 a day," said Carruth. Participants are responsible for their own lift tickets.

The program has proven so popular that there's already a wait list for next year. Carruth attributes the success to "feedback, encouragement, camaraderie and fun."

"As a coach, the group setting is ideal because students can all watch each other, learn to help each other. They all know what each of their friends is working on and it makes it fun for them when they go free ski together without a coach."

Those interested in finding their inner divas next ski season should call the Sun Valley SnowSports School at 622-2289 and ask to be put on the e-mail list to receive information.

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