By Karen D. Lorentz
Every once in a while something happens that leads to a new appreciation for what skiing means for people. One of those moments for me was the serendipitous of meeting with Okemo Ski Instructor Rolf Meyer at the Boston Ski and Snowboard Expo.
An avid skier now, that wasn’t the case when his father introduced him to the sport. “I was around 10 and preferred skating and pond hockey,” Meyer said, noting they had a small rink in the backyard.
Things were different when friend Charles Cenci got him to try skiing again at age 18. “I discovered three things: girls skied, there was beer at the bottom of the hill (drinking age was 18 then), and nobody was trying to hit me with a stick,” Meyer noted.
Skiing was mostly at Powder Ridge, Mohawk Mountain and Mount Tom until his father joined a ski club with a bunkhouse in Weston, Vt. That led to skiing at Bromley, Stratton, and Okemo.
“When I was about 20 I started racing — NASTAR, club races, Connecticut Ski Council races — mostly fun races,” Meyer noted.
Now he’s a road warrior, making the commute from Madison, Conn., where he’s a freelancer working in graphic arts—doing Photoshop retouching for high-end advertising agencies and packaging and fashion markets. When things are slow, he also helps out at a ski shop or occasionally works for Rossignol.
Q&A with Rolf Meyer
Mountain Times: Where were you born and raised and what did you do after high school?
Rolf Meyer: I was born and raised in Norwalk, Conn., and graduated from Brien McMahon High School in 1974. After a stint at a community college, I did my apprenticeship with the Graphic Communications International Union.
MT: How did you get into teaching skiing?
RM: After my son was born I didn’t get to ski that much. I saw teaching skiing as a way to get some turns in for free. So while I was working nights for a pre-press company, I started teaching part-time days at Mt. Southington (1990-91), then at Powder Ridge, and at Okemo since 1998-99. I also was a coach for the Guilford High School Ski Team in Connecticut (1998 – 2014).
MT: Why did you become a ski instructor?
RM: To ski for free and have fun. It was a great bonus that I found that I really love teaching and sharing the passion that I have for this sport with others.
MT: Are you involved in the PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America-American Association of Snowboard Instructors) process?
RM: I’m PSIA Alpine Level 3. The process is a never-ending journey. I have learned so much, met some great people, and had so much fun. I admit there’s some anxiety with the exams but it’s worth it.
MT: Any other influences on your teaching? Special experiences?
RM: There are two people who significantly contributed to my success as a ski instructor.
Bill Austin of Ludlow was my first supervisor at Mt. Southington, taught with me at Powder Ridge and Okemo, coached my son and daughter at Powder Ridge, and spoke from the heart when he read a letter he had written to my wife and me at my daughter’s memorial service at the top of Okemo in 2007. The second is Rich Weiss from Plymouth. Rich was my technical director at Okemo and was instrumental in my passing my Level 3 exam.
Both of these men set the example that I followed for professionalism, teaching, and contributed so much to my being the instructor I am today.
My most memorable lesson is a reminder of why I teach.
The day after Thanksgiving 2007, Rich Weiss asked me if I could teach a group of hot little skiers — Flossie DeWar, his son Erik, and Olivia Gerrard. I really wasn’t up for it. It was the first winter after my daughter’s death, and I had found myself just going through the motions of getting ready for the ski season. On the outside I probably looked the same, but on the inside I was wondering if I would make it through the season.
I told Rich I would do it if he couldn’t get anybody else. When I got to line up, I was given the class and told that Rich said I would do it. I said OK and we went out to ski, just the four of us. We had a great time — a great class of 10-year-olds.
The year before I had tried to convince Olivia to join the race team. She was ready for the next step. Erik and Flossie, who were on the race team, were asking her why she wasn’t on the team but it hadn’t started yet so they were in my class. She was good enough and sure wasn’t afraid of going fast, they told her. After the lesson, I talked with her parents, and she decided to give it a try.
As I went into the locker room I wasn’t wondering whether I would keep teaching or not, I knew I was doing what I should be.
The only thing I wondered about was how hard Rich looked for another instructor or was it his way of getting me back on the horse right away?
I never had Olivia in a lesson again but we skied as friends a few times. She went on to the Okemo team, OMS, Burke Mountain Academy, and now is doing a PG year at Vail.
MT: What’s the hardest part of being an instructor for you?
RM: Driving home on Sunday night and having to wait for the weekend so I can ski and teach at Okemo.
MT: What are the best parts? Rewards?
RM: When a student lights up and “gets it” whether it’s a beginner making their first turn, a NASTAR racer shaving some time off, or somebody getting a little better and having more fun. If I can help them reach their goal and have some fun also, it makes my day.
The free skiing and camaraderie of my peers are great also.
MT: What levels, ages do you teach? Any specialties?
RM: I teach all levels and ages (3 to 80s) with specialties of race and mogul lessons.
MT: What’s your goal or philosophy?
RM: Pretty simple — I want my students to have fun, learn and be safe. I really want them to enjoy the time we are together.
MT: What are the biggest changes or sport improvements you have seen?
RM: Improvements in technology in clothes, skis, boots, snowmaking, lifts and grooming are incredible. The boots are lighter, better fitting, warmer. The skis are lighter, stronger, easier to turn, and have better edge grip. The clothes are drier, warmer, more fashionable. We can stay out longer and have so much more fun.
What really has improved to make riding and sliding so much better over the years has to be the snowmaking, grooming, and lifts.
MT: Other sports, hobbies, spare time activities? A book or movie you’d recommend?
RM: I love the beach in the summer. I used to cycle a lot and might do more next summer.
I’d recommend “The Edge of Never,” a ski documentary and coming of age movie about Kye Petersen.
MT: Any words of wisdom, insights?
RM: Warren Miller once said, “Growing old is mandatory, growing up is optional.”
I guess that may be an option I’m trying to avoid.