Philli, March 2011

Last week I had the unique opportunity to participate in the Diva Ski Week in Aspen Snowmass. Contrary to what it sounds, it’s not a week of ladies having “diva” moments on the slopes but in fact a woman’s only ski camp which combines on-hill instruction by the Aspen Team Diva and off-hill life coaching based around the Birkman Method. The aim of the Diva Ski Week is to get to the bottom of what allows each participant to perform at her best, whether she is facing a hike up Highland's Bowl for the first time or taking on a new challenge at work….

Prior to departing the UK I received an email requesting me to fill a 30 minute survey and was assured that it was a survey of my opinions and there are no right or wrong answers… I have always been rather skeptical of life coaching and have always grouped it in the same bracket as wishy-washy self help books. Surely by answering a question one way, it means you’re totally normal and on the road to success but answering it another way, well that will almost certainly mean you need immediate help otherwise you’re doomed for a life of misery and loneliness… However at least maybe Aspen will be a nice place to find out that out! So, after completing the survey and having no idea how questions such as “What would I prefer to be a) a forester b) an accountant c) an office clerk d) an engineer would l help me ski better, I pressed “send”…

On arrival in Aspen, the camp started with a welcome reception at the Limelight Lodge, where we were staying for the first part of our trip. Over some pizza and wine, a great new addition to the Limelight Lodge lounge by the way, we met our ski instructors for the week Nico & Kelly as well as the Team Diva director Georgie Bremmer, who started up the Diva Ski Camp in 2009. As a group we discussed our aims and objectives of the week and what we hoped to achieve from the camp. These varied from overcoming apprehensions about skiing in powder, bumps, and trees to generally regaining diminished skiing confidence as a result of ski accidents in the past. We were told the next few days were going to be all about being taken out of our “comfort” zone and into our “stretch” zone and learning how to manage when in these situations. We all headed to bed that evening wondering how the next few days were going to change our lives... The Diva Ski Week includes 4 days of group ski tuition from one of the Divas, who are also members of the Aspen Snowmass Ski & Snowboard School. On the first day we headed up the Silver Queen Gondola which is located in the centre of Aspen town, to tackle the famous powder bumps of Ajax Mountain – one of Aspen’s four mountains. There was no easy or relaxed start for us, Nico launched us straight into what seemed to be the largest bumps I have ever seen – I was certainly in my “stretch” zone and wasn’t really enjoying it!

Kelly & Nico, Team Diva, give the team some instruction

Photo@ Jeremy Swanson

By lunchtime we were pretty worn out, a combination of being “stretched”, altitude and jet lag had certainly had its affect. However, in walks Christy Mahon, and motivation to achieve goes straight back up! In May 2010, Christy was the first woman to climb and ski all of Colorado's 54 peaks over 14,000 feet. As far as she can tell, she is only one of seven to claim this achievement – one of which is her husband Ted Mahon. Christy, 34, skied her first 14er in 2000 and continued to set off on expeditions with her husband over the next few years, but it wasn't her aim to climb and ski them all. However, by 2004 it dawned of Christy that “this could be a cool project of my own.” And so she set her goal and completed her final peak, Capitol Peak, in May 2010. Christy feels very honored to be the first woman to ski the all the 49ers and she hopes it will inspire other women to undertake the challenge. It also reminded her to keep setting goals high — and going for them. To read more about Christy’s achievement click here So, all powered up and ready for our next challenge, we headed back to the bumps and onto our life coaching session…

Alongside the 4 days of ski tuition the Diva Ski Camp includes 2 life coaching sessions and some one on one sessions too. We were fortunate to have Connie Charles, the CEO of Strategic Solutions International Inc, who runs the life coaching element of the course fly into Aspen especially to meet with our group and go through our personal reports as well as Kathryn Mayer. Over the course of the discussions with Connie & Kathryn, we learnt that all the questions answered in our pre-departure survey formed a very accurate picture of ourselves. How? I’m still not too sure but the Birkman Method was certainly more than just self help!

Photo: Jeremy Swanson

As Connie went on to explain, the Birkman Method is an assessment tool which aims to provide accurate data on an individual’s strengths, motivators, areas of interest and reactions under stress. The process aims to guide you through four steps:

1. Self-Awareness: Who am I and what is my personal potential?

2. Self-Management: How do I adapt my behaviors to a wide spectrum of changing circumstances?

3. Relationship Management: What do I need to do differently in order to be more effective with other people?

4. Action: Lead, sell, teach, coach ... whatever your aspiration, success is just around the corner when your actions are based on a solid foundation of self-awareness, self-management and the ability to manage relationships.

The Birkman Method measures four-dimensions of an individual: interests, usual behavior/style, needs, and stress behavior. • Interests: What you like to do – how you are energized • Usual behavior: How you do what you like to do - it is productive, socialized behavior which is easy to observe. It is seen by others as: flexible, adaptable, appropriate and natural • Needs: What factors, when met, contribute to your success – although rarely seen by others the Needs element of the method is the most important as they identify our preferred environment, clarify motivational needs and highlight inner strengths. • Stress behavior: How your behavior could change should your needs not be met.

Example of a the report from the Birkman Method"]

The answers which I gave in the survey were correlated and formed scores for my interests, usual behavior & needs, these were then plotted on a grid, placed in one of four coloured quadrants, which gave a visual and narrative picture of my dominant characteristics and a personal report was compiled on my four different aspects and my athletic and therefore skiing performance. Firstly, it described what I like about sports, second my strengths whilst pursuing sport, third what motivates me to be successful in my sport and fourth, how I could react if my performance is below expectation – the aim then is to use this information to help achieve my best personal performance in my sport, in this case skiing.

The Diva ski instructors were part of this whole analysis. They then took this newly learnt information and applied it to the instruction over the next 3 days. The results were interesting, for one part I was increasingly self analytical which can be anything but motivating but for the most part I utilised what I had learnt and put it to the test. So when we were faced with being in a situation which triggered our “stress behavior” , which for me was being bombarded with too much information on new skiing technique rather than a single point to concentrate on, when also being faced with a whole field of giant bumps; it was then learning to recognize these “stress” symptoms and adapt the environment/ technique to allow for success!

Enjoying some skiing in my "comfort" zone!

Photo: Jeremy Swanson

Over the course of the remaining three days skiing on Aspen Highlands, Snowmass and Ajax my self-awareness on and off the slopes was heightened and I found the whole experience very enlightening. I learnt the environment and manner in which I am best taught, that what I sometimes perceive as totally irrational behavior, is in fact just how I am and that I can just accept that; but more importantly how I should try to manage my external environment to avoid this behavior from occurring in the first place! So, by the end of the week I was cruising down, and more importantly enjoying, the bump runs on Ajax and with the added bonus of a certain degree of more style than previous attempts thanks to Nico!

In addition to the instruction, the Diva Ski Week made me realize how much of one’s skiing ability actually lies in your head, rather than in your physical capabilities- so once you’ve got that sorted you can be the best skier you want to be… Or at least that’s now what I think! For more information on the Diva Ski Camp visit: