Boot Camp for VAMPS
photography: Dev Khalsa
A skier stands at the top of the Diamondback loop frozen in fear. She stares down at the inch-wide skate skis beneath her feet, then glances anxiously at the corduroy ski tracks—which, in her mind, seem to pitch straight down like an icicle hanging from a roof.
She doesn’t want to, but she knows she has to give it a shot. After all, one of Sun Valley’s greatest cheerleaders is waiting below, urging her on. “C’mon! I know you can do it,” yells Muffy Ritz from the bottom of the hill. “I wouldn’t have brought you around this if I didn’t think you could do it.”
Tough, but inspirational.
That’s Muffy Ritz and her VAMPS—otherwise known as Vomen and Muffy’s Programs. Since Ritz launched the program eight years ago, she has put hundreds of Valley women—some, perhaps, more accustomed to wearing professional or cocktail party attire—into spandex, turning them into avid skiers, even racers. One of the most successful cross-country ski programs for women in the nation, it has expanded from four women at its inception to eighty women today—and there would be even more, if Ritz didn’t put a cap on it each year.
Ritz does everything full tilt, from pedaling in the 3,042-mile bicycle Race Across America to competing in a grueling Eco-Challenge race across Morocco. Two years after she began nordic skiing, she was ranked the fourth-best female collegiate skier in the nation. A year later, she was named to the national team. She’s won the American Birkebeiner race a couple of times, and continues to best other women her age in Masters World Cup races around the world.
The VAMPS program begins with seven weeks of dry-land training—hill bounding, pushups, sit-ups, foot races, and more—before the first snowflake falls. Come winter, the women (who range in age from 30 to 77), are divided into three groups based on skill level. Their coaches include former World Cup skiers and even aspiring Olympians such as Brooke Baughman, Joan Scheingraber, Cindi Hillemeyer, Jen Douglas, and Lili Simpson.
Ritz’s competitive streak is equaled only by her quest for fun, and that’s part of what makes VAMPS so successful. Yes, she has a checklist of 17 skills designed to make skate skiing a breeze; but she makes learning those skills seem like a big party. She greets her charges with an oft-repeated refrain: “Guess what we’re going to do this week!” On one day, she and her fellow coaches—most of them former Olympic or national ski team members themselves—send their students on a ski scavenger hunt. Another time, they dress up in lacy bras and fishnet stockings for “Dress Like a Vamp Day.”
“I don’t think this program would work if it were just about ski lessons,” Ritz says. “Anyone can teach skiing. It works because it’s also very social—and women are great social animals.”