For the first several years of my ski life I did the local hills in Minnesota near where I grew up, but never explored much beyond that.  I would make it out about 3-5 times a season, and was pretty happy with my level of skiing.  Yet the thought of riding down the side of a mountain out west scared the daylights out of me.

During my junior year in college I saw a sign for a ski club 5-day trip to Steamboat for a measly $450 and I jumped on it. During that trip I got my first taste of the mountains.  My first feel for big skiing over huge terrains and long runs. Oh, how sweet it was! My legs were totally burnt out after the first day, and on the morning of the second day I could hardly walk. I was hooked, but still wasn’t trying super challenging terrain. Lots of blue groomers.


Steamboat, December 1998


For way too long after that, I didn’t do much skiing.  I took a few trips to Lutsen and Spirit, but nothing of significance that was going to push my boundaries. Plus I was feeling a little bit ruined by Steamboat, the hills back home didn’t seem to have the same thrills (go figure). However, in late 2009 I found out about a co-worker’s plan to fly to the east coast for a ski trip with friends, and I asked if I could join in. Soon I found myself booking tickets and traveling to Killington, VT for three days of fun.


Killington, January 2010

My trip to Killington was where I really broke out from a blue groomer to a black diamond skier.  First of all, when I went to Steamboat I was still pretty freaked out at the expert runs, and the trees scared me even more.  I didn’t feel like I had matured enough to get daring.  But the group of guys I was skiing with at Killington were good, and I felt pushed to go bigger and be more bold. What I discovered was that pushing myself was where the fun was at.  The blue groomers were more of a relaxing scenic push, and the black diamonds to be where you put your skills to the test.  I remember looking back at a few runs and thinking to myself, “Wow, I just came down THAT?”

It’s hard to explain exactly what change took place, but I think it was a combination of friends, good snow, and new terrain.  I found it easier to push myself when I didn’t know what was around the next turn or where a lift would take me.


Copper Mountain, January 2011

The most recent trip I took was a three-day hop of Copper Mountain, Arapahoe Basin, and Breckenridge in early 2011.  Three very different resorts with a broad range of runs, and an opportunity to do something new every day.  I found myself getting even more aggressive with what I was willing to try, and suddenly I understood how Super G skiers are insane enough to go 70mph down a hill — it’s all about the progression of your skill and ability. And I flat out had fun doing new things like the single T-Bar at Copper, the East Wall at A-Basin, and coming down from Peak 8 through the Imperial Bowl at Breckenridge.  Awesome.

Now I want to go bigger every time. I am definitively a black diamond skier.

I have three suggestions for those of you who might want to know how to move to the next level with your skiing:

  • Ski with friends who are below and above you in skill level. It’s fun trying to keep up with the hard-core bombers, but just as satisfying sticking with a friend and watching them enjoy something new (and sometimes a well-needed break).
  • Get adventurous, but know your limits. I still can tell when I’ve pushed myself too far, and this is mostly when I get into steep icy spots, areas with rocks, or inside the tree lines on well-worn paths. But there’s nothing like the feeling of dropping into a huge steep bowl and letting it rip!
  • Try new resorts! Much of my recent enjoyment from skiing has been the variety of places that I’ve been able to hit. Resorts also rate their runs a little differently, and I’ve found that some double black diamonds don’t seem to bad compared to others I’ve been on. Going to a new place shoots up your excitement for what they have to offer, and what you might be able to master. Oh, and did I mention that Liftopia is a fantastic place to get your tickets and make this happen?

Would love to hear what helped you get to the next level. Please share your stories with us.


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Sub-Categories Beginners / Lifestyle / liftopia / North America / Ski / Ski & Snowboard / Snowboard / Travel

8 responses to “Blue Groomer to Black Diamond Skier: My Breakthrough”

  1. Kelllynch5 says:

    I skied with my family all my life. We spent winter weekends and school breaks skiing Sugarbush in VT. There are three turning points to my skiing that I want to share with you.

    My sophomore year of HS I was asked to babysit for a family friend during their ski vacation at Mon Treblont. In exchange for watching their kids at night, they signed me up for 5 day ski clinic. The instructor was great at explaining how to read terrain, how to tackle the bumps and showed us a bunch of stashes in the trees. After that week I was confident enough to try out for the HS ski team.

    Fast forward to my college years, I ended up taking a winter off and living and working at Alta for a season. Living mid mountain with a bunch of guys challenged me not to back away from challenges, Alta’s lack of marked terrain taught me how to look ahead and make quick decisions. The bottomless, Utah powder helped me to find joy in taking risks because falling never felt so good. Launching off of a cat track into an untouched bowl of powder, I discovered is one of the better feelings in life. The steep open faces taught me how to go fast, make big turns and challenge myself to go big.

    I moved to Bozeman, Montana the following fall. I was so impressed with the telemarkers at Alta that I made the commitment to teach myself how. Big Sky passes were only $250.00 the winter I moved to MT and I jumped at it. I rode the gondola to the top my first day. I spent every weekend in the big bowls challenging myself with no one else. By the end of that season I had mastered the telemark turn and conquered another mountain.

    Now over a decade later I am skiing with a new partner, my two year old daughter and learning to see the mountains through her eyes.

    Kelley Myer
    Livingston, MT

  2. Shespoke says:

    I didn’t start snowboarding until my late 20s and have only begun to board in earnest these past few years. Last season I put in over two dozen days on the hill and did my first double-black. Scary, but mostly in my head:

  3. djroblaw says:

    Once I learned to ski New England ice I was prepared for anything!

  4. Eric Wagnon says:

    To me, once you reach a certain proficiency level, it’s all about the snow conditions (i.e. “hero snow” vs “firm”). As you’re progressing, first trying steeper terrain under optimal snow conditions makes sense. You can develop some confidence that way. Keep that in mind when taking less experienced friends on terrain also. My wife has skied much less than I have, but I’ve taken her on double-blacks with six inches of fresh and she’s enjoyed them. Those same runs would be overly challenging for her and scare her to death with firm snow conditions.

  5. […] my previous post I wrote about my transition from a blue groomer to black diamond skier, and mentioned how much the […]

  6. Jonathan Keller says:

    I skied my first Black Diamond trail this weekend. It was my fifth day on skis, and the people I was with were convinced I could do it after watching me ski the blue runs at Spruce Peak (Stowe, VT). So we went back up and did Main Street, the Smuggler, and Main Street again, followed by Nosedive today. They were steeper and faster, but I did it. Didn’t get hurt, and loved every minute of it!

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