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Archive for Monday, February 22, 1999

S NOT TEACHING AT THE KANSAS UNIVERSITY CAMPUS IN OVERLAND PARK, HERB TUTTLE IS TEACHING ON THE SLOPES OF SNOW CREEK SKI AREA.

February 22, 1999

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Five teen-age friends from Leavenworth shifted from foot to foot, unfamiliar with the weight of the stiff boots they wore. With skis leaned up against their shoulders, they chatted and giggled, nervously.

Herb Tuttle, 42, strode up in front of the group, grinning.

"Have any of you skied before?" he asked.

  • Tuttle, who lives in Lawrence and teaches for the Kansas University engineering management program at the Regents Center in Overland Park, spends his weekend hours teaching skiing at Snow Creek Ski Area in Weston, Mo. While he once lamented that he'd never see a slope again, he now teaches his favorite sport to students a few days a week.

  • After a quick speech about safety, Tuttle led his class to the hill. Another woman joined the class as they headed to a slight slope to begin the lesson.

Tuttle showed them how to put on their skis. He asks about their activities, trying to gauge athletic ability.

With one ski on, Tuttle led the group as they skated around, getting used to the feel of having a 5-foot board strapped to a foot.

When it came time to put the other ski on, he showed them the most important skiing skill -- how to stop.

Many people don't believe Tuttle when he tells them about his second job.

"Where do you ski in Kansas?" they ask.

"No, you can't possibly be a ski instructor," they say.

He assures them that he does indeed teach downhill ski lessons only an hour and 15 minutes from Lawrence, though not in Kansas.

"When I moved here, I pretty much resigned myself to never skiing again," he said. "I sold all my equipment."

Then seven years ago he heard about Snow Creek from a friend.

"On one Sunday in February, I drove up here and there was a hill," he said.

He was dressed in cotton pants and a wind breaker, but he had to hit the slope.

"I grabbed my credit card, dressed the way I was, I went in and rented equipment and went skiing," he said.

Tuttle joined the ski school staff the next year.

After his students grasped the basics -- stopping, turning and getting up after a fall -- they were ready for the tow rope. With a bit of explanation and a lot of encouragement, all six made it to the top of the beginner slope, though some clung to the rope like a lifeline.

They queued up in a unsteady line at the top of the hill, looking down the steep, forbidding slope. Tuttle joined them with a smile and a reminder of all they learned down below.

Talking them down the run, one by one, he ran them through turns and stops, slowly leap-frogging their way down.

Tuttle has skied for years.

"I started out in high school ski club," he said, while growing up back East. He trained one evening a week from seventh to 12th grade. In college in upstate New York, he taught ski lessons to fulfill his physical education requirement.

"Our college owned its own hill," he said. "The university was on one side and the slope was on the other."

But teaching and skiing isn't as easy on him now as when he was younger. A few weekends of teaching at the beginning of the season, though, whips him into shape.

"It's always harder at the beginning of the season. ... By March, you're in tip-top shape," he said. "... This is physically demanding."

He doesn't make much money at this second job, "just enough to break even.

"We don't do it for the money," he said. "We do it for the thrill." Certified by Professional Ski Instructors of America, he has to keep on top of the latest in skiing.

He said he likes to ski each weekend -- but he also likes to see people learn. Because about 90 percent of the hourlong classes he teaches are beginning level, he gets to watch his pupils, which number from one to 10 each class, go from unsure of themselves to unwilling to stop to skiing.

"Within 55 minutes to an hour, you have these folks skiing," he said. "... An hour later, they don't want to go back inside."

One of his class members flopped over, skis in a snarl, her cheek pressed into the slushy snow.

She struggled to get up, tangled up in equipment. Tuttle walked up the hill to her rescue, his ski tips pointing out like a giant duck foot.

"I'm like 911," he said with a grin.

After their first, stuttered run down the bunny slope, Tuttle's class headed back up. They stood tall as the tow rope pulled them to the top, and lined up quickly, ready to try again. It was almost the end of their hour with Tuttle. They were in control.

Tuttle said skiing is his sport, his passion.

"If I do anything else, it's to stay in shape for skiing," he said.

His two sons head to the slope with him on the weekends, but not his wife, Jane.

"She doesn't want to be cold," he said.

On the other hand, Tuttle, who confessed he loves winter, said, "maybe I hate the heat."

"A snowfall isn't something to get upset about," Tuttle said.

Snow Creek's numerous snow machines helped keep the slopes skiable during recent unpredictable weather.

The hour-plus drive doesn't bother him, either.

"People in large cities commute longer than that," he said. "It's not a bad drive."

At the end of the hour, Tuttle's group skied down the slope behind him in a line, curving their way down slowly. They were all skiing, mostly in control. They could stop, use the tow rope and get up if they fell.

Tuttle turned them loose to play on the bunny run, admonishing them to wait to ride the chair lift until they feel they've mastered the smaller hill.

Not a bad hour's work.

"Sometimes, you've performed a miracle," Tuttle said.

-- Felicia Haynes' phone message number is 832-7173. Her e-mail address is fhaynes@ljworld.com.

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