I do not participate in any sport with ambulances at the bottom of the hill. ~Erma Bombeck
This quote pretty much sums up why I avoided learning to ski until well into my 40s. Eventually I ran out of stupid things to do to my body, and I needed something to do in the winter, so it was time to learn to ski.
With the decision made, I still didn’t know what questions to ask in order to get ready. If you haven’t had any exposure to winter sports, the prospect of learning to downhill ski is intimidating; at least it was for me. Although I enjoy adrenaline sports, I’m afraid of heights, so the downhill part was creeping me out. Add snow, and that’s a lot of new for this girl raised the tropics.
Additionally, I had a vision of alpine skiing as being little more than a lift ride to the top of a stark snowy slope and sliding down (toward the waiting ambulance). Little did I know that ski trails meander through tree-lined clearings (yay, something to run into). Yes, I had doubts.
So what was the verdict; did I enjoy skiing? Absolutely! I’m officially bitten by the “ski bug” and can’t wait to get back on the slopes, hopefully sooner than later.
After fumbling my way through my first skiing experience, I learned a lot. Here are a number of things you should know that could make experience less daunting and more enjoyable. This article is based on my experience at the Brighton Snow Sports School just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. However, these tips should apply to anyone taking ski beginner ski lessons.
Choosing a ski school
If you want to learn to ski, I suggest taking at least three days of lessons from experienced instructors. Look for a school that is a member of the Professional Ski Instructors of America or similar professional organization. Next, decide if you want private or group lessons. Budget may determine this for you. I happen to prefer the group setting as long as the class sizes are capped to a reasonable number.
Brighton Snow Sports School is the only ski school I took lessons with, but I was very pleased with their instruction. They teach roughly 30,000 skiing and snowboarding lessons per year and most of their instructors have 10 or more years of experience. I saw firsthand that the staff embraces their mission statement to be “passionate about sharing the sport we love.” The fact that their instructor, Noal Crowther, could teach me how not to make a fool of myself on the chair lift, accounts for a lot. Additionally, they enjoy an outstanding reputation in the skiing community.
I suggest contacting several schools and asking questions about their classes until you find one that feels like a good fit for you. Ask how experienced the instructors are, do instructors return year after year, what professional organizations do they belong to, and does the resort offer plenty of runs for new skiers? A school should be proud to answer all of these questions without hesitation. During my lessons, I came to appreciate how vital an enthusiastic and experienced instructor is to learning a skill like skiing. Don’t skimp on this qualification.
What about gear?
Ski lessons frequently include gear rentals. Rental gear includes skis, boots, poles and a helmet. You’ll start out with a fitting followed by a lesson on how to put on the cumbersome boots and carry your skis without thumping other skiers in the head.
What to expect during lessons
“Being dressed properly, well hydrated and somewhat fit will help everyone’s first time experience.” Explained Brighton Snow Sports Director, Bill Novak, when I asked what students should know before taking ski lessons.
Arrive early on your first day and expect to feel overwhelmed. You’ll need to get vouchers for your lesson and gear rentals, plus a lift pass. Gear sizing takes extra time but you only need to do this on the first day. Hint; make a note of your sizes just in case they get lost.
Brighton offers group and private instruction from novice to expert, but I only took part in their beginner classes. I opted for a three-day package of group classes that is not only affordable, but also offered camaraderie.
On the first day, or perhaps the second, expect to be frustrated. For me it was the second. Stick with it, this is normal. By the end of the third day, I relaxed and had fun. Here is a brief overview of each day.
In the First Timer class, we learned how to put on skies, glide, stop, fall down correctly (very important), get back up (the next most important thing), get on and off a ski lift, and basic turns. Turns are generally taught in the next class, but there were only two of us, so we had extra time to add them in. For this lesson, we didn’t use poles.
The first day came easy to me because I’m athletic and have good balance. It wasn’t so easy for the other student in my class who’s experience was likely more typical.
We started on a shallow incline just to get the feel of the skies in a controlled setting. Then we moved over to the Explorer (aka learner) Lift. This area is full of new skiers, young, old, and with varying abilities.
The chair lift made me anxious. I envisioned taking a header off the lift, only to get clocked from behind by the next chair. My other fear was skiing off the chair directly into an unsuspecting child.
Fortunately, the operators of Brighton’s Explorer Lift are used to newbie skier antics and slow or stop the chairs as needed. No traumatic headlines. The Explorer Run is gentle, wide and studded with a few trees, a perfect place to learn to control speed and turn in a basic wedge.
On the second day, most students move to the Learn to Turn class. However, as I mentioned before, I had already done this, so I went on to Turning on Greens. This class builds on basic wedge turns, smoothing them out, and builds confidence on steeper terrain. This is when I started to struggle. We took the Majestic Lift to slightly steeper green runs. During turns, the steeper terrain aggravated my fear of heights, making it hard for me to concentrate on proper technique.
Students like me make experienced instructors shine. Anyone can teach a natural, it takes talent to coax skill out of someone like me. My instructor, Keith Stebbings, knew I needed to “feel” the proper form and build my confidence so he kept me focused on those two things. It wasn’t an easy day, but I went back up the Majestic Lift for a run by myself after lunch, which really hooked me on the sport. The crowds had thinned and I found myself alone on the trail with only the sound of the snow passing under my skis as I glided side to side (yes, I still fell on my butt a few times…) It was tranquil and private, giving me a chance to reflect on why I wanted to keep skiing.
What do the colors of ski runs mean?
Information sourced from Wikipedia. Visit their site for more information on ski trail markings.
It’s said that three is a charm…. When I first contacted Bill Novak about lessons, he told me that it usually took three days to feel comfortable skiing. My experience proved to be no exception. I returned to the Turning on Greens class for my third lesson to continue building confidence and technique. My instructor, Kelsey Metivier, was an experienced downhill ski racer and very patient. She gave me several well-timed pointers and guided our class onto some easy blue runs, which helped me a great deal.
After the class finished it was time for more practice. George Osmun and I headed back up the mountain where we skied on both green and blue runs. George kept reminding me to use what I learned and encouraged me, a lot. Before long, I felt at ease and was having a blast on terrain that would have had me pulling my skis off, and walking down, just two lessons before.
Yes, it is possible for a forty-something girl to learn how to ski, and I highly recommend trying it if you haven’t added it to your list of sports. I hope that my account will give you an idea of how to get started finding a school, and what to expect during your adventure. For a few tips on dealing with anxiousness, read my article Managing fear while learning adventure sports.
Salt Lake City and Utah Area Resources:
I’d like to thank Bill Novak and Brighton Snow Sports School for accepting the challenge of teaching me how to ski. I’d also like to thank my instructors, Noal Crowther, Keith Stebbings and Kelsey Metivier, who put up with my relentless questions and with my photographer accomplice, George Osmun, who snapped images during the last lesson. We can’t wait to return!
In full disclosure, Brighton provided my lessons at no charge, while all other expenses, including my Chartreuse ski pants, were paid for out of my own pocket. I was under no obligation to say nice things about Brighton or the Snow Sports School, they earned that. As always my opinions and questionable fashion sense are my own.