The Secret To Breaking Decades-old Bad Habits: Attending A Master’s Clinic At Dodge Ridge.

Jon Mahanna, creator of the Master’s Clinics, has class members follow his every move down the slopes. Credit: Dodge Ridge
Jon Mahanna, creator of the Master’s Clinics, has class members follow his every move down the slopes.
Credit: Dodge Ridge

I hadn’t skied at Dodge Ridge, the closest ski area to the San Francisco Bay Area, in years. But as soon as I arrived at the base area a couple of Thursdays ago for one of its Master’s Clinics, a four-hour-long freeski instructional program designed for intermediate and advanced skiers over 50 years of age, the memories flooded back. It was the first place I had ever put skis to slopes back in the ’50s, unwittingly grabbing on to a rope tow and finding my 12-year-old self being flung into the nearest snowbank. In the ’60s, it was the area my friends and I headed to when classes were over for the day at San Jose State College, taking a hit of blackberry brandy from our bota bags each time we headed down the rudimentarily “groomed” slopes on our brakeless wooden skis with bear-trap bindings and with long leather straps bound around our leather boots.

Now a saner, much older me was back to do things right! My friends and I were going to get this ski season headed in the right direction: by letting a seniors-certified PSIA instructor spend a few hours with us, helping us to break bad habits we’d acquired over the years and showing us how to adapt our skiing styles to today’s more-efficient shaped skis.

We met up with our group of nine other fellow seniors, ranging in age from 58 to 79, at the base promptly at 10 AM and headed up the mountain to do a ski-off for our two instructors: Bryan Jarratt, 61, an Aussie who’s been with the resort for 15 years, and Jenny Matkin, 64, who has deep roots in the region and has been teaching for decades. As we all did our “exhibition” run down the hill, I could instantly tell when my fellow participants had learned to ski. Yep, those two guys standing tall and stately over their skis with their ankles seemingly tied together were from the Arlberg “reverse-shoulder” method days. And that guy making the quick turns probably learned during the “short skis” phase. Our instructors split us into two groups, those itching for some “black diamond, off-piste” skiing and we more-timid ones who still had some cobwebs to dust off our skis before going full-out.

After three-and-a-half hours of skiing with frequent instructional breaks, we learned at least four or five specific things from Jenny that we could take away and work on the rest of the season in order to ski with much more ease and efficiency and not be exhausted after a full day of skiing.

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Dodge Ridge’s Jon Mahanna saw the need to help senior skiers adapt to the new, shaped skis. “Let the skis do the work,” he says. Courtesy of Jon Mahanna

Jon Mahanna, 68, explains the strategy behind the Master’s Clinics best. He, along with Dodge Ridge’s current owners, Frank and Sally Helm, came up with the concept three years ago. Jon had been Dodge Ridge’s ski school director for 15 years in the ’80s and ’90s, and after serving in various capacities at ski areas in Colorado, New Mexico, and back in California, the “retired” Mahanna saw a need for older skiers, Level 5 and higher, to improve their skiing technique, especially with the advent of all the new equipment. Says Mahanna, “I saw that a lot of older skiers, especially those returning to the sport, needed to work on creating a balanced, ‘stacked’ stance so that there’s the least amount of resistance on their skeletal frame and muscle groups. This open, athletic stance gives them better lateral stability and is easier on their knees and backs. Balance is the key to everything.”

The instruction focuses on medium-radius turns on groomed slopes. “The modern equipment out there lets you stand there and go for the ride while you let the skis do the work,” avows Mahanna. “The idea is to have fun and to be able to ski all day, where your knees and muscles don’t give out on you.”

When we all met up at the lodge afterwards for lunch (which is included in the clinic package), the participants, to a person, were Master’s Clinic converts, and most were planning to sign up for more. One of them, Ralph Purdy, 75, happened to be the son of Dodge Ridge founder Earl Purdy, who opened the resort back in 1950. Said Purdy, “This is the first lesson I’ve had in many years. I thought that there’s gotta be something I’m missing. I saw this as a drill, and today I learned about unweighting and keeping my legs apart a little.” Another clinic attendee, Mark Sahines, 58, skied a lot in his 20s and 30s, then kids and work put skiing on a back burner. “I want to get to an advanced level, and my goal is to be skiing at 75 or 80. A lot of the guys older than me in today’s class ski a lot better than I do. Today I learned to do a hockey stop, something I could never do before.” My friends, Jim, 65, and Kathy, 70, Clarke, have a cabin near Dodge and are season ticket holders. They’ll definitely be back for more Master’s Clinics. Kathy called her teacher “one of the best” and appreciated Jenny’s focus on older skiers and the different techniques required with the new equipment. Jim shared that “every year I fret about being ‘ready’ to hit the slopes. Will my legs hold up? Will my funky right knee start giving me problems? Jenny, our wonderful instructor, brought my focus back to the skills and techniques needed to get the most out of my fancy, red shaped skis. By the end of our class, I was able to remember and use several of Jenny’s methods for getting the most out of my skis. In the end, there’s no reason I can’t learn this stuff if I keep a positive attitude, pay attention, and practice, practice, practice.”

To learn more about Dodge Ridge’s Master’s Clinic program or sign up for one of its Thursday or Sunday clinics, click here.  Tell them Rose Marie sent you! And if you love uncrowded slopes, sign up for a Thursday clinic.

[Editor Note:  SeniorsSkiing.com salutes Dodge Ridge and Jon Mahanna for creating a program focused on helping seniors optimize their technique and continuing to enjoy skiing.  If you, our readers, think this is a good idea, please forward a link with this story to your local ski area to show them how easy it is to support seniors skiing.  Or, if you’re in the Bay Area, enroll in Dodge Ridge’s Masters’s Clinic. We hope to see the idea of focused events for seniors—especially mid-week— growing in the ski resort industry.]

5 Comments

  1. Great article about a terrific program. We all started out with primitive equipment and clothing that could barely keep us warm. Thank you for keeping us in the sport with new equipment and instruction that can erase the years!

  2. I liked the article,an have been dealing with seniors for the last 20 years. I had so much fun and success that i got the FWSA_W interested in it and now we have a good program,(or close) It is hard for a old time ski instructor to show what is functional and not just what he can do; I have gone the full rout of racing, coaching and teaching. Us old guys have let go of the mocha and stick to function Its great and it just what the seniors need. I wish you all the luck in the world. Rusty Crook

  3. What a great idea! Are any other ski hills doing these kinds of clinics?

  4. Avatar Dave J, Sonora says:

    This program at Dodge has changed my life. Never have had a lesson, my skiing had been in fast decline for the previous 10 years. 4 years ago I had both my hips replaced, and then my thoughtful wife purchased the lesson series for me. Jon Mahanna’s instruction has guided me towards being a much better skier. All of his fellow instructors are also great. Just the other Thursday, Brian was telling the class that in skiing, you can always improve. He went on to say that at 61 he might not be as fast as he was in his 20’s, but he is a better skier than he has ever been. I could say the same, except I am only 59! Thank you Dodge Ridge, John, Brian, Jenny, and especially Jon Mahanna!
    PS: Nice photo of those 88s!

    • Avatar Michael Maginn says:

      Thanks for this. At SeniorsSkiing.com, we are trying to get other ski areas to develop programs like this. Keep going!

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