A Learn-to-Ski Rookie Mistake to Avoid

When I was a little girl my father always told me, “If you are going to do something, do it right.”  I wished I had listened to him instead of making a classic rookie learn-to-ski mistake.  I got the wrong equipment for my ability level.  A ski swap seemed like a good idea at the time, but was a place I really had no business going.

My husband and I moved to Park City last fall and were very excited about learning to ski.  So we picked up some gently used skis, helmets, poles, gloves and a really nice jacket for my son (which I have since claimed as my own) at the National Ability Center ski swap.  We love donating to a great cause but when you think about it for a minute; I really didn’t have the slightest chance of finding the right skis.  As expected, I didn’t. I found this out when I tried them out on the Wide West run (the bunny hill) and took off like a rocket!

After a few practice runs, I decided to try a green run so I hopped on the Carpenter Express with my friends and headed for “Success.” I must have been a sight crossing back and forth across the run.  My friends were probably thinking, “Doesn’t she know she is supposed to go down the hill?”  But every time I pointed my tips down the hill, I flew. I muddled my way down with some coaching from my friends but spent most of the day back on the Wide West run because I just didn’t feel confident.

When I got home that night, I “googled” my skis and bindings.  I read the words, “slalom, racing, expert, and carving” and knew I was in trouble.  None of those words even remotely applied to me.  So the next day, I decided to get some help from the experts at the Deer Valley rental shop.  A smiling green jacketed technician set up me up with some skis, Rossignol Avenger 74s that actually fit my height, weight and ability.  They were shorter and much lighter with auto-turn technology– I saw words like “stable and forgiving” and I knew I was in the right place.  My technician also gave me some tips on some runs to take.  He said, “Take Ontario! It is wide and very beautiful – nice beginner run.”  He took the time to show me exactly how to get there and off I went.

Guess what?  I had a wonderful experience with controlled turns and I was actually skiing down the hill, not back and forth across the run (making life much easier for the skiers behind me also.)  The right equipment made all the difference in the world.

Do you know what I am doing next?  I am avoiding the second most common beginning skier mistake – not taking lessons.  I decided to take my father’s advice after all and enrolled in a couple sessions of lessons.  I haven’t met the smiling instructor in a green jacket who is going to take this rookie and turn her into a skier in three hours, but I am looking forward to doing so.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Birthday Ski Day

I have a long-held birthday tradition of skiing the day away. Last year, I spent it with my new, wonderful friends who were my partners in crime at the Women’s Weekend ski clinic at Deer Valley.

This year, it fell on a Monday, and I was determined to play hooky from work and go ski. I put out a note on Facebook and a few text messages, and found some willing friends. Then, a voice piped up from the next room: “Mommy, I’ll go skiing with you, today!” I quickly recanted my nascent plans with friends to capitalize on some quality mommy-son time. Oh, I was so glad I did.

I was thrilled to see how quickly he sprung into action, assembling his gear, hunting high and low for Swedish Fish (priorities!) and buckling his own boots! [Seth Boots]

He insisted on being slope-ready before getting in the car. So, yes, dear reader, he rode to the mountain wearing his helmet and goggles. He was delighted by the tram-ride from the parking lot, and excited to introduce me to everyone he encountered. “This is Mommy!” he said, proudly. “It’s her birthday!”

Then, he launched into Cruise Director mode (wonder where he gets that from?), instructing me on the itinerary for the day. “Mama, we are gonna do Excess (oh, how I don’t ever want him to outgrow that particular nickname for Success run!) and then we are gonna ski to Candyland and then two runs on Wide West, one with the Race Course and then we can stop for lunch.”

Aye, aye captain. He delighted in leading me down the hill, creating hide-and-seek games that centered on hiding behind the “Slow” signs that Ski Patrol posts on the green runs. We talked lots about pizza and French fry turns—so much so that we ate pizza and fries for lunch in Snow Park Restaurant. Then he led the surrounding tables in serenading me with Happy Birthday. And then, it was back to the hill.

This time, he insisted we ski Last Chance—and he crushed it. He made up Jedi Force Field games to play all the way down (he’s a diehard Star Wars fan) and then, after we did the first part of Rosebud,  tried to convince me he could ski the bottom of Little Kate. Now, dear reader, there is nothing cooler than seeing your kid eyeball a ski run, contemplate it for a moment and look over his shoulder at you to say, “Let’s do it!” But Nervous Mommy won that battle. I know he could have skied it, but I worried about the fact that people would not expect a four year old making slow, deliberate turns as they whizzed down the run. “Next time!” I assured him. Of course, as we finished Rosebud, he spied some bigger kids taking a shortcut, and followed suit, arms raised, letting out a WHOOOOOOOOOO as he bombed down the hill. He then cut over to Wide West, did a few more CandyLand turns and discovered, at the bottom of the SunKid Conveyor Lift, a couch made of snow. He could not resist that, either.

When the day was done, he played at the bottom of Wide West, running around in his ski boots, using my poles to “hike” and “shovel,” and generally soaking up (in equal parts) sunshine and attention. As we arrived at the Tram stop turnaround under Snow Park, we were greeted by his favorite ski teacher, Greg, who had spent a well-earned day off skiing with a friend. Seth insisted they ride the tram with us (their car was parked in a walkable spot, but they couldn’t refuse)…and he boasted to them about all the runs he took me on. When I mentioned the Little Kate debate, Greg nodded, grinned and said, “Bari Nan, he’s ready.” Ok, but am I?

Wide West

When it comes to skiing as a family, managing expectations is key. We don’t, for instance, expect to ski first-to-last chairs. Big Guy can handle it, but little guy is good for about three runs, max. 

We also don’t expect to do what most people would consider skiing. Family ski days cater to the little one. Big Guy offers tips, a pole-tow, or just encouraging words. Dad and Mom offer pointers, encouragement, lifts up from falls, and also try to keep the little guy safe from other beginners.

 A note to other families: It’s great that you want to videotape your kids. We do it, too. But it’s a good idea to either recruit someone to man the camera while you manage the skiing kid, or enlist another adult from your party to do so. 

Little Guy got knocked down by a child, perhaps 5 years old, who was skiing down the “Candyland” section of Wide West, completely focused on his ski tips, and rather out-of-control, so he did not see that there was another child on the course.

Even that is a teaching moment, showing both kids that skiing is as much about coping with the unexpected as it is about sport performance. More on that in another post.

But I definitely encourage families with young beginners to do some laps on Candyland—the course is set up to coax beginners into making turns, and it’s on a mellow-enough grade that they have to work hard to go super-fast. Most importantly, it gives the kids (and their parents) a taste of success, so they have something to build on with each additional run.