“Keep your hips forward,” he says. “You don’t need to get so low. You’re working too hard.”

His observations, while humbling, are dead-on. My quads are burning, and by bending my knees too much with every turn, I am wasting energy. That’s energy I’ll need when things go wrong and I have to recover my balance—a concept I have trouble grasping, as I so ably demonstrated the day before in front of the camp’s videographer, when I promptly crossed my ski tips and took a snow-splattering spill for the camera.

I crossed my ski tips and took a snow-splattering spill.

We relive such experiences at the end of each day, while tucked into a pinewood chair in the rustic Mazama Lodge, a three-level bunkhouse surrounded by a grove of fir trees above Government Camp. Here instructors use our ski footage to point out the favorable aspects of our form (like when we keep our chests pointed down the fall line of the mountain), before exposing less flattering moments (like when our pole-gripping hands drift above our elbows).

Little commentary was needed, though, when my highlight reel hit the big screen. My inadvertent hip-check to the snow put me in the running for the dubious honor of signing an old Karhu cross-country ski, an informal memorial to the camp’s most spectacular wipeouts. (Thankfully, I didn’t end up winning.)

Back on Palmer Glacier the next day, Portman demonstrates ideal form when he picks a line through a mound of late-afternoon slush bumps, and glides through them as if he is pirouetting down the mountain, the sight of which results in a cacophonous round of clanking ski poles as my fellow students raise their sticks in appreciation.

Before he skis off, Portman catches a glimpse of my brow still furrowed under my hat, and senses (rightly) that I might just be over-thinking this whole thing. At which point he offers up the best advice yet: “Are you smiling?” he asks. And as I point my skis down the fall line of another wide-open run, anticipating the satisfaction of completing turn after turn in my own, slightly less elegant pirouetting style, I answer, “Yes.”