Aspen’s Bumps for Boomers
By Brian E. Clark
About 25 years ago, in the midst of yet another mind-numbing marketing session at Apple in the San Francisco Bay Area, Joe Nevin had an epiphany:
“I told myself, ‘I’m never going to sit through another stupid meeting like this,’” recalled Nevin, who now resides in Aspen, Colo., where he runs the respected Bumps For Boomers ski program with his wife Nancy and lives in what he calls “a state of grace.”
“I’d had my fill of never-ending meetings and just knew I wanted to live in the mountains,” recalled Nevin, an MIT Sloan School of Management grad who’d also worked previously at Citibank in New York City and Intel in Silicon Valley.
Within a few years, he’d cashed out of his well-compensated job at Apple – where he’d toiled for more than a decade – and moved to Colorado. He hasn’t looked back. And over the past 18 years, more than 2,500 graying students have passed through his Bumps for Boomers course – a number of them several times.
I met the Nevins this past December after fulfilling a long-held desire to take part in one of their mogul camps. Even with 40 years of skiing experience, I’d remained stuck on groomed runs, which meant most terrain was off-limits because I feared bumps and wasn’t comfortable with powder. Nevin estimates I was missing out on 80 percent of what resorts have to offer.
I could carve turns down black pistes and ski fast – like my favorite ski-racing idols – as long as I stayed on groomers. When I ventured onto a mogul run, however, my edging technique was all but worthless. Sure, I could navigate two or three bumps, but then I usually ended up on my backside. Or flailed as I attempted to recover my balance. It wasn’t pretty.
But after four days under the tutelage of 66-year-old Bumps For Boomers coach Bob Mattice – basically relearning how to ski – I was able to handle black mogul runs confidently, if not gracefully. At this point in my life (I was born in 1953), I have no plans to charge down bumpy pistes with my knees pumping up to my chin like a pair of pistons.
And Nevin’s course doesn’t promise that. Rather, my goal is to be skiing – on and off groomed slopes – into my 80s. Or be like Aspen resident and clothing maker Klaus Obermeyer, who is still making turns at age 100.
To get comfortable in the bumps, Mattice – one of six instructors in the program – convinced me and the three other students in our small group to abandon carving and instead, drift into our turns. We also were instructed to stay out of the troughs between the moguls – which is generally experts’ terrain.
Instead, we practiced slowing down and turning on the often snowy and flat tops of mid-sized bumps. As a result, I was more balanced and under control as I slid down the lower portions of the moguls, checking my speed and pivoting into the next turn.
That was the easiest, “green” way to ski the moguls, Mattice said. Sometimes I used the banked sides of the bumps to slow down, which was the “blue” or intermediate route. Better yet, I was standing taller, using far less energy and becoming much less fatigued.
For the first two days, I was on shorter, 137-centimeter skis as we worked on the basics. By the penultimate day, I was back to a more normal 173-centimeter length as Maticce’s teaching and my technique came together.
And on the final day, riding the Gents’ Ridge chairlift on Aspen Mountain beside the black diamond Northstar run in the afternoon, I was amazed that I’d skied the mogul-filled slope well.
Truth be told, if I hadn’t signed on for Nevin’s program, I never would have had the courage – or skills – to take on a piste like Northstar.
“I love it when students say that,” said Mattice, the former ski school director at Purgatory Mountain Resort outside Durango.
Nevin, a youthful 73, didn’t grow up skiing. An Army brat, he moved around the country as his father was transferred from base to base. He ended up graduating from high school in Burlingame, Ca. and began skiing in high school as (surprise, surprise) a way to meet girls.
“On my first trip to the Bear Valley resort in the Sierra, I floundered around on borrowed gear,” he said with a laugh over dinner at the Matsuhisa restaurant in downtown Aspen.
Nevin said his route to teaching skiing was “significantly different than most other instructors, many of whom often had been skiing since they were four years old and then went on to racing.”
More of a tech geek, he was anything but a ski bum. But during his years at Apple, he and his wife bought a home at Alpine Meadows and skied there often.
Apple also offered its employees sabbaticals every few years – adding six weeks onto normal vacations.
“They did that so you could get out of Dodge and let some cold air blow over your brain so you could come back refreshed,” he said.
On one of those sabbaticals, he spent much of his time skiing at resorts around the West. He ended up buying a piece of property in Aspen. On his return to Apple, he told friends that his plan was to eventually move to Colorado, though that took a while to come to fruition.
Nevin was passionate about skiing and had gotten his certification through the PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America) in 1995 to teach at Alpine Meadows. So he soon got a job as an on-slope teacher when he and Nancy arrived in Aspen.
He said the idea for the Bumps for Boomers course came after he noticed that most people were having trouble skiing off-piste.
“Part of my skill set in my career was thinking about problem-solving and making more understandable,” he said.
“When I started here, I noticed some clear pattern recognition problems of why people were having trouble skiing off groomed runs. So I put together teaching progressions that would facilitate learning to get off the main pistes as rapidly as possible.
“My goal was to take average blue, groomed-run skiers and figure out what could you do in terms of developing the skill base to get them to a point that within four days, they could comfortably be skiing mogul terrain. That was like ‘why not?’”
Nevin said he “reverse-engineered” the learning process, using techniques he’d garnered during a career in the tech world to simplify the learning process.
“You need to think a little different when you approach moguls,” he said. “You wouldn’t take a Porche 911 and drive it at a high speed down a rutted mountain logging road (moguls) that isn’t paved. Nor would you race a four-wheel-drive Toyota or Subaru against that same Porsche on a track or a highway (groomers).
“It’s not rocket science, it’s just recognizing the component pieces of what it takes to be a better skier on mogul terrain,” he said.
On a recent snowy day in Aspen, Nevin was riding the lift with a student, explaining his theories.
“Everyone was going up and down the groomed runs, screaming ‘powder day!’” he said. “But the new snow was quickly skied off there. Not on the bumped runs or in the trees, though. It was kind of humorous, but sad in a way, too.”
Nevin said many skiers figure by staying on groomed runs, it’s safer.
“But that’s not necessarily so,” he said. “I think the fun factor is higher off-piste, too. Nor are you looking over your shoulder to see if someone is barreling down a slope about to hit you going Mach 5.
“Once you learn balance, control, and efficiency, the bumpy terrain is much more manageable. Our primary observation after all these years isn’t that mogul skiing isn’t difficult if you have the basic foundational skiing skills.
“After you get those down, it opens up a whole new world of skiing and a huge part of the mountain you’d never have skied – even if you don’t have the same reflexes you had in your 20s.”
For more information on the BUMPS FOR BOOMERS ® program, see bumpsforboomers.com or call (970) 989-2529. The cost of the four-day course is $1,846.
Brian E. Clark is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer and photographer who contributes to the Chicago Tribune and LA Times on a regular basis. He also writes a weekly travel column for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. A native of Iowa, Clark is a University of Colorado, Boulder, graduate who focuses on adventure travel. He’s a veteran whitewater kayaker and skier who has lived in Norway, Sweden, Brazil and Bolivia. He worked for newspapers in Washington State and California for 25 years, including the San Diego Union-Tribune, before returning to the Midwest. He manages to head back West several times a year when he’s not off in other corners of the globe. Or poking around Wisconsin.