Friday, February 3, 2012

Stand Like a Gorilla: Plattekill Ski School's Technical Director Ken Kimball

See Pixie-ish smile hiding a wry sense of humor.

Ken Kimball is Plattekill’s ski school’s technical director. He has Peter Pan pixie-ish looks, a good way with a joke and a way down the hill that ranges from balletic (he was a pro freestyle skier back in the Suzy Chaffee days—rocking the moguls and the spins) to the outrigger and then drill after drill after drill. He also teases me about my skiing (in a nice way) – one that I appreciate. One that makes me want to get better.

Now, I can tell you good coaching is everything. I’m one of those late-in-life skiers, a never-ever who’s now as close to ski-bum as you can get without working at the hill. And, as you all might recall I’m at Squaw skiing at the moment, where I yesterday freeskied with one of the coaches in the Masters Program (one who’d coached the Julia Mancusso), and he was amazed that I’d only been skiing for 5 years (five years this week in fact. He kept repeating this…). I think he was most impressed though with my coaching. So Ken, take a bow (you too Sarah Rogers at Belleayre…).
The outrigger...
A good coach is a rare thing, a fine thing and one who can help you finesse your skiing. Which in my case here in Tahoe has been getting me down and around steep rocks without killing myself. Or being too scared to come down.

Ken is the kind of coach who will notice if you’re hyper-extending your back. (Not easy to pick out. Not in baggy ski pants). Or that my femurs long. Details that are lost on most. And certainly were on me. He has a kind of skill that makes you (or me) practice over and over and over again side-slipping into a turn so I both stand up over my skis and release my edges, getting my stance better, taller over my skis (He’ll be happy to know I’ve been standing at the top of the stairs trying, though didn’t hurtle down them).

Ken grew up skiing. But his family only got to a hill maybe five days a year so instead he’d build jumps with his friends in the backyard and skied snowdrifts by the side of the road. He had the bug so badly he dropped out of his college 1.0 (forestry) to ski at Whiteface, begging for lift tickets from people leaving, not uncommon back in the day. (Warren Miller once lived out of his car to ski). When he got his degree at college 2.0 (studying phys ed) he also started teaching skiing, and quickly certified through all three PSIA levels and went to live and teach at the isolated Sunday River in Maine. He was pro, skiing freestyle and sponsored by Olin and Scott and coaching freestyle skiing with legend Greg Stump.

Ken discovered Plattekill decades later. He came up for a PSIA update course. It was one of those mythic weekends that makes the mountain seem like a fairytale: rain predicted, but on the first day Platty got eight inches of powder and on day two another four. He was hooked and came to help teach when he was off from his own day job of teaching PE. Now he’s at the hill every weekend. And, instead of having a team of instructors under him who just teach for the pass, the ethos is student focused. This means not just teaching the teachers drills, but about teaching itself – different ways of learning at different ages and how people learn. (Which is where standing like a gorilla comes into play. Kids can understand that better than describing what your knees should be doing, say). But, Ken has that skill the best coaches share. Vision. He can see what you’re doing. And what you should be doing. And he will work with you to find the way for you to master it.
Ballet on planks on Platty's Northface.

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