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Steamboat Magazine

Slide into Skiing

03/10/2023 08:00AM ● By Sophie Dingle
(Photo: Five-year-old twins Brynn and  Dash Bird ski a freshly groomed trail at Steamboat Resort. Courtesy of Larry Pierce.) 

From Steamboat Magazine Mountain Edition 2023. 

For those of us who actually remember learning how to ski, it was often an experience fraught with fear, impatience and resistance – especially if you were over the age of 10 when you learned. Making effortless turns down the side of a mountain and stopping on a dime once you reach the bottom is a vision that most new skiers – especially new adult skiers – struggle to enact.

Imagine a redesigned learning system that includes a designated learning area – eliminating the terrifying occurrence of a more experienced skier whizzing by you – complete with a gentle slope and unbeatable mid-mountain views. This is Greenhorn Ranch, Steamboat Resort’s newest terrain for never-evers and early beginners.

The new area uses a concept known as Terrain Based Learning, trademarked by a company called SNOW Operating, which helps ski resorts across the country improve first-time skier and rider’s experiences from start to finish. It has been working with Steamboat Resort for the past three years, primarily on first-time guest experiences, including the pre-arrival and arrival experience of renting skis and finding the Snowsports School, and culminating with the on-snow learning experience at Greenhorn Ranch. 

“There’s a huge opportunity to change the way that guests learn to ski and ride,” says Eric Lipton, SNOW Operating’s COO. “The traditional way is a lot of standing and waiting and not a lot of sliding time. But Terrain Based Learning is just the opposite of that – it’s a lot of sliding.”

Lipton explains that Terrain Based Learning allows skiers and riders to experience high level sensations – the sun on  their face, the cold wind, the beauty of their surroundings –  
at beginner speeds.

“What makes people fall in love with skiing and riding is the wind in their face, lots of slide time and mitigating the fear,”  he says. 

Beginners move through a five-step process that starts flat and allows skiers and riders to learn a range of motions, including walking in their boots and sliding on snow. Step two is known as the “mini pipe,” which looks like a halfpipe but is on flat terrain. This is designed so that never-evers can learn to traverse, side step and turn, all while being able to see exactly where they’re going and, more importantly Lipton says, where they’re going to stop.

Step three is the rollers, or what could best be described as really long speed bumps. The slope now is graded at 5% and the intention is that when skiers and riders crest the roller, they move forward, figuring out their balance.

Step four is a bank turn and step five is known as the “perfect slope,” which Lipton describes as “basically a regular ski run with the edges of the trail curved up so that the skier is directed back to the center.” By the end of the process, the newbie is on a 15% angled slope and is ready to head to a green trail.

Essentially the idea behind Terrain Based Learning is to manipulate the environment so that the athletes’ natural tendencies make them successful, explains Nelson Wingard, director of Steamboat Ski and Snowboard School. 

“It’s shaping the terrain to remove fear and do something that they’ve done before,” he says, “which is stand.”

The process of building this nearly 19 acre area – it will occupy the space that used to be Rough Rider/Bashor Basin – began in 2021 and as Wingard says, “We had to move a lot of dirt.” But doing it correctly is important; creating the ideal pitch in the ideal space will have lasting effects on the resort in many different capacities.

Loryn Duke, director of communications for the resort, says Greenhorn Ranch is the ideal locale for Terrain Based Learning because it gets beginners out of the base area and up onto the mountain. Accessed by the new Wild Blue gondola, Greenhorn Ranch will eventually serve as a midstation while more experienced skiers and riders will continue on to Sunshine Peak.

“It gets new skiers and riders not only on the snow, but really envelopes them into the outdoor playground so that they can see why they should fall in love with the sport and the outdoors and the whole concept of winter play,” says Duke.

Duke points out that Greenhorn Ranch has value not just for beginners but for the staff and locals as well.

“It really immerses new skiers into the mountain so they’re not relegated to the base area,” she says, “and what that does, too, is open up our base area. You used to arrive at the resort and it was cluttered with Snowsports School – kids and parents who didn’t know where they were going – and that was your first impression of the resort. But a really great perk, not only for guests, but for staff and locals, is that creating Greenhorn Ranch opened up the base area and  created a space that allows people to gather.”

Lipton agrees. “The fact that the learning area is mid-mountain is a big deal,” he says. “At most resorts, you learn at the base. But people have an expectation that when they’re skiing, they’re in the mountains, not near the parking lot. A mid-mountain learning area is really a step above.”

And while Lipton acknowledges that “world-class” is a term that gets thrown around a lot, he can’t think of another way to accurately describe Steamboat Resort. 

“If you want to learn how to ski in the Rockies,” he says, “Steamboat is the place to do it.”