Working His Magic

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An afternoon out on the slopes with Terry Barbour, Sugarbush's new Ski & Ride School director.

It was an incredible April day, full of the type of peel-away corn snow photographers dream about when they look to shoot spring skiing. I’m not talking a 65-degree day with push-piles of mush. This was true corn snow that had frozen overnight before thawing just enough in the afternoon to make stellar conditions. 
I had planned to take a run or two with the new Sugarbush Ski & Ride School director, Terry Barbour, before heading indoors to interview him. But it turned out that the skiing was just too good, so we combined chairlift interviews with spring turns as I took in pointers from Terry. I’d learn about him on the lift; he’d improve my skiing on the hill. It seemed like a more appropriate way to get to know a ski school director. 

Terry—or T-Bar, as he is most commonly known around the resort and the skiing industry—is usually sporting a smile. He is pleasant and agreeable, humble and soft-spoken. In fact, when he first applied for a job as a ski instructor, in 1978, the staff at Greek Peak in central New York wouldn’t hire him, citing that he was too quiet. 
But Terry was not deterred, and wound up teaching at Greek Peak for seventeen years. In 1987, he became a Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) Eastern Examiner, furthering his teaching credentials. Several years later, he and his wife, Tange, moved to Vermont, when she started working at IBM. Terry accepted a job at Stowe as the training supervisor for ski instructors and stayed there until 2001. The job left him time to join the PSIA National Demo Team, training instructors nationwide. It was a pretty big honor, even if he didn’t state it that way to me—there are usually only fifteen skiers on the Alpine Team, with tryouts every four years for four-year positions. You get judged on skiing, coaching skills, presentation skills, and coachability. From Stowe, Terry moved on to be the ski school director at Mad River Glen, where he stayed for fifteen years, until coming to Sugarbush. 

Halfway down our first run, I noticed the conditions change when we came across a more northern-facing slope with firmer snow. Naturally, I complained about it. Terry quickly reminded me that “there are only two kinds of skiing: good and good for you.” The good is what we had most of the afternoon. The good for you are those tough conditions you don’t like to ski—ice, rocks, breakable crust. Those conditions are meant to make you better.

Like most ski gurus, Terry has a multitude of metaphors for skiing. “Skiing is like a three-part dance with the mountain, gravity, and snow.” “Skiing is like riding a bike or a motorcycle: you don’t whip your rear wheel around to turn, you roll ever so slightly and lean into the turn.” “One should always use gravity to their advantage, not fight it.” “Focus on DIRT: duration, intensity, rhythm, and timing.” The list goes on.

Focusing on efficient movements is the backbone of Terry’s teaching, and he instills this theory in his staff. “Terry talks about skiing efficiently a lot,” says Meridith McFarland, the adult programs coordinator in the Ski & Ride School. “If you ski efficiently, you can ski forever. It allows your body to rest in motion. Just look at Terry. He skis with a flow, an effortless movement over any terrain or condition.” The more efficient your movement, the better the chance that you will be able to enjoy the sport your whole life—and that goes for both staff and guests.

This season will be Terry’s second as Ski & Ride School director at Sugarbush, yet skiing with him you would think he’s been here all his life. Of the hundred people we shared the mountain with that spring afternoon, he probably knew half of them. We couldn’t stop to buckle our boots or get on a lift without a fun-loving “Hey, T-Bar!” from a guest or a lift attendant. You could argue that he had a head start getting to know people around here from his time at Mad River Glen, but I have a feeling it goes deeper than this.
After a while, my feet started barking at me; too many bumps in too-old boots. I made a side comment about it halfway down Ripcord. Terry quickly corrected my stance, having me focus on standing on the arch of my foot rather than the front while working on moving diagonally forward in the cuffs of my boots. I skied back to Heaven’s Gate with noticeable improvement. 
Terry explained that one of the best parts of his job is being able to show people an experience they probably wouldn’t have if they were on their own. As they improve their abilities, the sport and the experience become that much more enjoyable. For those who haven’t skied in a while or are frustrated, he hopes he can reenergize their passion for the sport in a fun and adventurous way. And, he adds, “the ‘magic’ in modern-shaped skis can help with that.”

His time at Sugarbush is just beginning. With a year under his belt, Terry hopes to simplify the offerings at the Ski & Ride School to make options less confusing and more approachable. Look for him to continue many of the popular learn-to-ski programs while streamlining others. He believes that as long as he and his staff get people passionate about the sport, they’ll see long-term success.
His own passion for the sport certainly rubbed off on me that afternoon. Eventually, with a quiver full of new pointers, I had to head back to the office. It was only appropriate that Terry quickly found someone else he knew, and continued skiing to the end of the day. And so I left Barbour in his element: on the snow, after spending the afternoon working his magic—and helping me reenergize my skiing.

Terry, with Sugarbush passholders, sporting his usual smile

Terry demonstrating his technique