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  • by Karen Cummings

Dolan combines tradition with new techniques at Mt. Cranmore

Teaching skiing has strong heritage at the venerable Mt. Cranmore, according to Karen Dolan, director of the Cranmore Ski School for the past three years.


It was at Mt. Cranmore that Hannes Schneider, the undisputed father of modern skiing, came to teach skiing and run a ski school in 1939. Wealthy New York financier and North Conway native son, Harvey Dow Gibson, had ransomed Schneider away from the Nazis, who were holding him prisoner in his native Austria, and brought him to North Conway and Mt. Cranmore just when skiing was beginning to gain in popularity in the United States. Schneider was world-renowned for inventing the Arlberg method of making ski turns and so the world's eye turned to North Conway and Mt. Cranmore as the most prestigious place to learn to ski. The rest, as they say, is history.


"A lot of people have learned to ski here over the years," said Dolan, who started skiing at Mt. Cranmore herself when she was just three years old, "and we have people returning all the time saying they learned to ski here sometimes 10, 20, or even more years ago.


"Well, skiing's much easier than in the days of Hannes," Dolan continued. "Because of the great grooming of the trails and the better equipment, skiing technique has changed—you don't have to be extremely strong or even in particularly great shape, although it helps."


The skiing public's expectations have also changed since the time of Hannes Schneider, too. As recently as the 1970s, new skiers, following the Arlberg method of learning to ski, spent hours and hours of lesson time perfecting the snowplow turn before moving on to the stem-turn and on and on as their skill level increased. Usually, most of this instruction took place on a relatively flat slope often without its own lift which meant there was a lot of time and a lot of climbing involved with learning to ski.


Now, the same basic skills that the expert skier uses are taught on less challenging terrain to beginner skiers, then these same skills are utilized and perfected as the skier takes on more and more difficult terrain. "The days of keeping new skiers out on the cow pasture are definitely gone," said Dolan, noting that an overwhelming amount of the Cranmore Ski School's business is with the first-time skier and children. "People who come to ski school often want instant gratification and a lot of time they come in with unrealistic goals."


These goals, unrealistic or not, are not ignored at the Cranmore Ski School where Dolan and her staff of 80 instructors teach the American Teaching System.


"It's a very student-centered type of school," explained Dolan. "Our job as ski instructors is to work with our students, to determine what it is they want from us and to show them a more efficient way to ski while they're here.”


The purpose of the Cranmore Ski School differs depending on whether it's dealing with beginners or those who have been skiing for quite a while. "It's our job to give beginners the basic skills," said Dolan, "then it becomes our job to help them perfect these basic skills and therefore enjoy skiing more."


The addition of the new learning trail, Beginner's Luck, at Cranmore has made it an even better place to learn to ski. "It's great this year because we have all this new learning terrain," said Dolan. "It's wide and flat and non-intimidating to ski. I think we now have the best terrain in the Valley for learning how to ski and once the new skiers get confidant and have gotten their basic skills on that terrain, there are other side trails off of it to give variety.”


The new beginner's area at Cranmore is an especially good area for children to learn to ski. "I think it's great that we're teaching children younger and younger to ski," said Dolan, who taught her two daughters, Jennifer and Jessica, now 13 and 12, to ski at ages 2 1/2 and 2, respectively. "The parent has to be in touch with their child, though," she added. "Does the child really want to learn how to ski or is the parent's wish. And pick a warm-sunny day—you want it to be fun for them.


Dolan, who still gets out to teach herself, although not quite as much as she'd like, feels that everyone, young or old, fit or unfit, can learn to ski.


"Some will learn surprisingly quickly," she said, "and others take a longer time. They are the ones that are more of a challenge for me—I like working with them to find out why."


Dolan knows Cranmore and knows teaching people to ski there very well. In addition to growing up skiing on the slopes of the now 54-year-old ski area, she began teaching there in 1972 under the direction of National Ski Hall of Famer Herbert Schneider (Hannes' son, who at 72 still teaches skiing especially to the over-50 set at Cranmore). Except for a two-year hiatus from Cranmore which she spent teaching skiing at Vail, the Professional Ski Instructors Association (PSIA) fully-certified instructor has been a constant at Cranmore for more than 20 years.


"Cranmore is a great place to come to learn to ski or to take lessons because it's warm and sunny here quite a bit of the time," said Dolan, "and there's a lot of non-threatening terrain where people can feel very comfortable, yet there's enough of a variety."


It's this variety that Dolan especially likes about Cranmore, listing the 10th Mountain Division (formerly called the Upper Middle) and the Koessler trails as her favorites, which she says have a nice pitch and a nice fall line.


Although she enjoys the steeper trails at Cranmore, Dolan feels the biggest mistake modern-day skiers are making is being in too much of a hurry to get to more challenging terrain. "You see them out there totally out of balance trying to get back over their skis," she said. "They're out there just surviving rather than enjoying."


Skiing in balance is an important point with all ski instructors. "Being on your skis" is how Dolan refers to it. "A good skier's body is always moving down the hill, but their feet are moving under them," said Dolan, who recommended intermediate to advanced skiers try skiing on just one ski for both left and right turns to get a better feel for how the ski works under them—a lesson might be in order to learn exactly how this helps to improve skiing form.


Like almost all ski instructors, Dolan continues to work on her own personal skiing, attending PSIA workshops to examine her own skiing and also to work on more advanced teaching methods. Although she was brought up to believe that "a girl can ski as well as a guy" and, by all reports, she does, Dolan is planning to attend an all-women's ski instructors seminar at the end of this month. "It should be interesting," was the most she would say.

 

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