An expert skier gains a new perspective on skiing and Beaver Creek’s terrain with the Ivy League of Ski Schools

By Rachel Walker

I was two turns into the aspens on Three Tree Glades just off the Larkspur Express Lift when things went awry. My weight shifted to the backseat, my skis shot out from under me, and my legs, previously strong and powerful, were worthless. I managed to skid to a stop instead of tumbling into a tree. Then, panting for air, I looked up, made eye contact with Coker Baldwin, my private guide and instructor for the day, and demanded one thing: that he not go easy on me.

By “easy” I meant call it a day. I wasn’t ready to quit—even though I was clearly tired—because since 9 a.m. when my husband and I met him at the White Carpet Club, Coker had led Jeff and me to some of the steepest, most interesting terrain at Beaver Creek. Along the way, he’d given me pearls of skiing wisdom, literally giving me some of the best tips of my life.

Not only was he revealing some incredible new and appropriately challenging terrain at Beaver Creek, with his small tweaks (his word, not mine), Coker took me from fine in the trees to formidable.

What, exactly, did he say? Nothing I hadn’t heard before. It wasn’t the information he delivered as much as how he delivered it. He reminded me about the importance of keeping my upper body and arms pointed down the hill. He explained the importance of driving into the turn with my knees. Look ahead and between the spaces—not at the trees—he cautioned. Anticipate.

Photo: Jack Affleck

For someone who’s been skiing seriously for decades and who has logged many a steeps clinic, I know what I ought to do to ski the best I can. And I also know that “skiing the best I can” means using my body efficiently and making my turns as effortless as possible. That way I don’t fatigue easily and quit early or, worse, injure myself.

But seriously? Bad habits happen. They especially happen to hot-headed eager skiers who sometimes forget to warm up before plunging into the moguls on Royal Elk Glades (ahem…guilty).

Having an expert like Coker to do double duty—offer pointers and guide us to the goods—was a luxury I didn’t know I wanted. When I first heard of Beaver Creek’s Private Mountain Guides, new this year, I thought it would be a great way to skip lift lines. Who wouldn’t want to grab five friends and split the cost of a guide in order to  get the most out of the mountain? Then I remembered that Beaver Creek rarely has lift lines. Then I thought: why bother with a guide?

So I investigated and signed Jeff and me up for a full day in January. Within one run, I knew exactly why one should bother. Here’s why.

Photo: Jon Resnick

Coker gave me several tips that made so much sense that I blazed through (most of) the day’s glades like a finely sharpened knife slicing through a tomato. With his instruction, I was balanced on the center of my skis and initiating turns from my ski tips.

And when I got tired and sloppy, he reined it in (and by that I mean he reined me in) enough to regroup, slow down, and knock out a few more wickedly fun, successful runs before the lifts stopped.

Best of all, his tips stuck and I actually remembered how to get to some of that amazing terrain he showed me. The next day, rested and refreshed, I carved through the trees and snaked through the moguls all over the mountain. I headed to places that had been previously unknown to me, and I even took my six-year-old down Three Trees Glade.

As we skied, I lectured my little guy, who had also been in lessons, about the importance of practicing. Even when you think you’re really good, I told him, you can always learn something new. Just as I was about to launch into how sometimes you have to hear the same instruction a million different ways before internalizing the knowledge, Henry demonstrated that his ski school experience had been as fruitful as mine.

“’Scuze me, Mom,” he said as he swept past me. “We talk on the lifts. We ski now.”

With a grin I followed him, grateful for the reminder that teachers of all sorts abound. And you’re never too old or too good to learn something new.

Photo: Jon Resnick