Updated: Sep 23, 2020
Born and raised with Aspen Highlands in his backyard, Tim Stroh has been an avid skier his entire life and is entering his 13th season as a Snowsports Instructor at A-Basin(Arapahoe Basin or “the Legend”). Avant Ski contributor Tony Powe was lucky enough to take a lesson with Tim while visiting A-Basin over the July 4th holiday last year, and snagged this interview:
Tim first visited A-Basin in 1975, but his family history with the mountain runs deeper, with his parents spending time there in the 1950s. Since Stroh became an instructor at A-Basin in 2007, it has nearly tripled in size (expanding to 1,400 acres from 450) and doubled in staff to ~500 strong. Yet the spirit of the place remains the same, drawing locals and tourists alike. As one of the first resorts on I-70 coming from Denver, it’s an easy stop, with dedicated industry professionals (even ski patrols from other areas like Mad River Glen) coming here to bookend their seasons.
Q. When did you decide to make skiing a career?
A. I've been a ski fanatic my entire life, and a telemark skier since 1981. My first career though was in sound production and engineering. I founded Stepbridge Studios, a premier recording studio in the Southwest in the 80s. Even before I sold the business in 2006, I increasingly found myself headed to the slopes, buying ski passes for our staff and conducting meetings on the mountains. It was really a natural evolution to become an instructor, though it took a director who was aware of my skill level to ask me to formally join Snowsports.
Q. How much skiing and instructing you do in a typical season?
A. Last season, I skied 182 days. I try to take two days a week off from skiing. It’s important to pace myself, given the eight month season. Yet, more often than not, I ski on my days off. How many people can say they come to work on their off days?! I tend to teach about 250 to 300 students a year, both private and group lessons. It’s a mix of ability levels, ages and group/private lessons. To stay fresh, we cycle through the full range of ages and ability levels.
Q. Tell us more about your days off.
A. Like other ski instructors and employees here, I even come on my days off. It’s unusual to see that elsewhere. It’s not for a lack of access to good deals or other great terrain—I can ski for free at many other Colorado resorts but I still come here. Last year, I barely even used the Epic Pass at other mountains. The instructors here enjoy “clinicing” one another—constantly pushing to improve and try new things.
Q. What makes A-Basin special and keeps you here season after season?
A. The Palli! Where else can you reach such incredible, steep terrain with 15 minutes of arriving at the mountain? It’s also the scene and the friendly faces. A-Basin is small enough that it feels like a community. Year after year, you see familiar faces and get that feeling like coming back from summer break in high school. This is the locals’ ski area, it’s not a resort! On any given day, you will see the COO, along with other department heads, skiing around the mountain.
Q. Tell us about the unique culture at the Legend.
A. This place is nimble! This past October 11th, I received a call at 2:15PM to come in because they had just decided to open from 3:30 to 5:30PM. Unfortunately, that was a little too last minute even for me, but they had the mountain up and running, and beat Keystone to be the first to open in Colorado for the season. I was there Saturday morning for the first full day! And with a client ready to go. Last year, as soon as we announced our opening date, a client texted me from a business trip in Saudi Arabia to set up a lesson for Opening Day. That is unique.
Q. Share your thoughts on the recent Season Pass changes at A-Basin.
A. Management decided that the area and guests would be better served with smaller crowds—from parking, to rentals, to check in, to lunch lines. The A-Basin way is quality first. Early season results have been positive. There seem to be fewer lift lines and a calmer atmosphere in the lodges. We’ll see, though, as the season kicks into full gear. I would not be surprised to see skiers and riders headed to other destinations stopping here along the way. After all, it is one of the first stops on the I-70 corridor.
Q. Who typically takes lessons?
A. Skill is Old Norse for “to adjust” and this is something that can be done at all levels. There are lots of reasons people take lessons, from the never-evers to the intermediates looking to get to the next level. There are those who want to go out and try something new because they have hit a plateau, to people seeking a way to efficiently tour the whole mountain, even experts. For example, a recent guest wanted to hit West Turbo, Gauthier and Steep Gullies. Often I find, even when guests say they just want to tour, once we get going, they soon find something they want (or need) to work on.
Q. Share your best lesson insights.
A. Fear should not be a part of skiing or learning to ski. I am particularly sensitive to this for our younger guests. I never want anyone to think, “How did I get here? How am I going to get out of this spot?” Fear can create a horrible chain reaction in a skier—with long-lasting results. That said, I have had people get scared during lessons. It’s not just verbal, you can usually tell by their body language. I have gotten better at managing this. For example, when heading to a new area, it is important to communicate that there is Blue terrain accessible from the lift and that we will have a way to get down safely.
Risk management is also extremely important. We teach the safety code to everyone. For our youngest guests, this is about comparing the hill to real life. Would you run into the street without looking both ways? Long-time skiers, of course, know where to look for risks (e.g., coming off the top of a ridge) but for newer guests, this is less clear. New skiers have an internal focus so you need to make them aware of where to stop (i.e. off trail, by a landmark, etc.) In the more advanced terrain, this is about finding safe lines.
Q. When should people get started? Is it ever too late?
A. I tend to focus on the past experience and athletic ability of the newcomer. Do they have any prior skiing experience? Skating, hockey and even dancing tend to translate well. Not too long ago, I taught a 16-year-old Irish dancer who was on the slopes for the first time. She was on the lift 15 minutes into the lesson. Sheer athletic ability certainly helps.
Lessons here begin as young as three years old. We don’t have a proper daycare so the kids have to be potty-trained (and people regularly stretch the limits!). At this age, we mostly play games to get the kids to move their legs and feet to develop their muscles. We want them to have fun as they learn to slide!
Q. A lot of our readers are surprised to learn you do continuing education. How do you keep up with teaching trends?
A. Yes, I am always looking to improve and I attend PSIA events year-round. I recently returned to Alpine skiing, so I’m working on that too. I am also part of a task force working to create a curriculum around national standards. For example, “People Skills” are now part of our Fundamentals that ski instructors can employ more systematically. Yes, ski instructors have to be good skiers but also good teachers and communicators.
Q. Talk to us about your professional qualifications.
A. I have my National Certification Level 3 for telemarking and last year, upon returning to Alpine skiing, received my National Certification Level 2. I also recently became a Rocky Mountain Trainer (RMT) and Telemark examiner, so I am part of a small team that will deliver the exams for national certifications. I am also gearing up for the National Team Tryout, with the assessment scheduled for the end of the season.
Trails at A-Basin? Pali Main Street, the Alleys, Gauthier, 2nd Notch. Also, Land of Giants on the East Wall is great for kids with lots of shark fins and rocks to jump off of and ski around.
Type of lesson to teach? I love teaching all kinds of lessons! It is really cool to work with any skier who wants to improve.
Biggest guest pet peeve? Skiing out of control! I saw a collision yesterday at another mountain. A novice skier ran into a ski coach who was training his racers!
Meal on the Mountain? The charcuterie plate at Il Refugio.
Après Spot? The 6th Alley Bar & Grill at A-Basin. It is quite a sight when all the guests and employees mingle at the end of the day.
Skis? Blizzard Brahmas. I have the telemark and Alpine versions, Rossignol E88s and the Rossignol Souls, which are nice and fat, good for 6-8 days per season (30 inch storm cycle).
Ski Gear? Sunglasses. Eyewear can make or break your day.
Mountain tech/gadget? iPhone 11 does it all. I don't leave home without it.
Best car for getting around the Rockies? FJ Cruiser Toyota. Gets me to work when others can't make it!
Resorts (besides A-Basin)? I make it to about a dozen each season. It's a tough choice between Taos, Telluride, Crested Butte, Keystone, Vail, Copper, Beaver Creek, Sun Valley, Alta and Snowbird.
Aspirational places to ski? Maybe helicopter skiing, though I hear you don’t get much vertical that way. Also some friends of mine just came back from the Norwegian Fjords where you travel on a boat, skin up the mountain from the shore and ski down.
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