My very first day on skis at Sunday River|http://www.sundayriver.com/ was actually not that bad. Considering that many people have been trying for so very long to get me to learn how to ski, and that this was such a momentous occasion for me, I am giving it its due weight. Read on for all of the details… The day started when we woke up at around 4 a.m. Corey arrived at around 4:45, and we were on the road by 5:00. The drive up to Sunday River took just a little over three hours. When we arrived, Corey and Becky got their skis and lift tickets in order, and I signed up for the beginner’s class. I had to wait around a few hours because my class didn’t start until 10. In the meantime, Becky and Corey hit the slopes.
At 10 a.m. my class started. We learned the most basic of basics… how to open up your boots, how to put on your boots, how to buckle your boots. Then we all tried on our boots and went to get our skis. We learned how to get in and out of the ski bindings. So far so good.
Next, we headed up to the bunny slope with our skis and poles in hand. Our instructor had us walk around in the snow with just our boots and our poles, no skis. Then he had us put on one ski and try pushing around a bit. Finally, he had us put on both skis and push back and forth a bit. It was really all about getting comfortable with being on the skis and on the slope. No trouble so far.
Then came the first experience with actual skiing. We sidestepped up the hill, because the paddle lift was broken. (This turned out to be a Bad Thing for the rest of the lesson, as it was quite tiring to climb back up every time we went down.) Anyway, we all lined up, and one at a time we tried doing a turn down the hill. This is theoretically accomplished by leaning forward, shifting weight from one foot to another. Many of the basic concepts were difficult for me to get at first. I certainly did a lot of falling down, and I wasn’t comfortable with leaning over. It felt like I was standing on my tip toes and that I was going to fall right over. Some times I did fall right over, and quite frequently I did a turn, but then kept turning until I was facing backwards, and started sliding backwards down the hill… usually ending in a fall of some sort.
Our instructor didn’t teach us a specific method for stopping ourselves. He just said that the end of our turn should be enough to stop us… and in many cases it was. But, he didn’t teach us the ‘snowplow’ technique… which I later learned was quite useful. (More on that later…) The instructor’s method seemed to work okay for some people, but for me it was just kind of futile.
The instructor’s plans for the lesson were originally to have us move over to the paddle lift, go up the hill, do a bunch of turns coming down, and then go back up on the paddle lift. Much quicker and less stressful than hobbling back up the hill every time. And he would have some time to work with us individually. Well, the paddle lift was broken for the entire duration of our lesson… so he never got to do that. I came to the end of the lessons very worn out, and discouraged because I just didn’t seem to be ‘getting it’. And very hungry and dehydrated.
I finally met Becky and Corey for lunch. My body felt like it was entering a state of shock, and all I could think of was sitting down and getting some fluids into me. I gupled down at least half of the Nalgene bottle of water, and then some. I wolfed down the PB&J sandwich and a bunch of cookies, and after debriefing Becky and Corey on my lesson experience, I started to feel better.
Becky and I went back to the bunny slope, where the paddle lift had just been fixed. The first few times I tried to grab the paddle, I fell flat on my face. I eventually managed to grab on, after some help from the lift attendant and from Becky. I went to the top, where Becky taught me The Missing Link: “The Snowplow”! Why oh WHY didn’t our instructor teach this technique? Who knows? Becky and Corey agreed that I should probably have learned it sooner. The Snowplow is a simple technique to slow you down as you are skiing down the mountain. You point your skis in toward each other, bend your knees, and push out a bit to get traction. The wider your stance, the slower you get. And the other great thing is that you can go from this position into a turn simply by shifting one of your feet. With the Snowplow technique well in hand, my experience started to improve.
There was one other thing that helped to improve things. One of my skis kept popping off, even if I had seemingly locked my boot in securely, and even if I hadn’t just fallen down. So Becky and I trudged down to the ski shop, where they did a bit of tweaking to my skis. Once back on the slopes, we took the paddle lift up a few more times, and my ski stopped popping off… much better! I did fall down a few times, and I actually got so frustrated that I threatened to quit right then and there. But just after I had decided that I wanted to get off of the hill as quickly as possible, something clicked… and I actually made a few decent turns without falling down. We went back up again, and I did even better. I think the key was for me to stop worrying about remembering all of the things the instructor had taught me, stop being legalistic and rigid in following a specific form, and just try to do what felt right to me. Once I loosened up and tried to ‘just ski’… things were good.
At that point, it was getting close to 4 p.m., and I felt pretty confident, so I sent Becky and Corey off to get in some more time on the big hills before the lifts closed. I did one more run down on my own. Not bad… not bad at all. It had been such a long and tiring day that I just didn’t feel I could take any more, even though I had made a breakthrough of sorts. That was okay, so I just headed back to drop off my equipment, and later met up with Becky and Corey. We had a pleasant ride home, and now we’re relaxing at the end of a long day.
The experience was good. I think that I probably learned more important things from Becky than I did from my ski instructor, though I did appreciate the basic instruction on getting comfortable in the skis, and the basic theory. I would certainly like to try it again, though we probably won’t be able to afford to go back to Sunday River (or any of those other large New England resorts) any time soon. There are a number of smaller, cheaper ski areas around, so maybe we’ll be able to make another ski trip this season. I think that the next time I ski, I’ll be able to start actually enjoying myself, and I will know what adjustments to make and what other things to try.
Strangely enough, there aren’t any photographs of me on skis, but I did take a few other photos|http://gallery.prwdot.org/sunday_river_20050207 during the day. There are also some short movies you can check out:
Peter skiiing|http://prwdot.org/mov/peter_skiing.avi – 6.3 megabyte AVI file. Peter starts out as a small blip in the center of the frame, and eventually nearly runs over Corey, who is holding the camera.
Corey boarding|http://prwdot.org/mov/corey_boarding.avi – 3.3 megabyte AVI file. Corey snowboards down the slope and wipes out in front of Peter. Becky follows right behind…