Ok, it’s not entirely true. While I was in Vancouver, I was able to ski (tumble) down Grouse Mountain for about an hour and a half. But that doesn’t really count. We were there to have dinner and we decided to ski before dinner. My wife taught me as well as she could, but I managed to tumble more often than not.
For a holiday trip in 2013, my wife’s family took a trip to Vail, Colorado…and I got to tag along! This is an account of the first two days on the “fresh powder.”
We got to Vail a day early to “acclimate” to the elevation change. We had dinner at Bart and Yeti’s and went to bed. The next morning would prove to be the beginning of something special!
In the morning, I had to learn how to ski down one of the best mountains for skiing in the world. I didn’t really know what that meant until, of course, I was able to get to Vail Mountain, and take the Eagle Bahn Gondola up, up, and away.
I don’t know about you, but when I see or hear the word “Bahn”, I begin to think about speed. When I’m in a car…cool. When I’m strapped to short skis and it being the first time I was on “fresh powder” the nerves change from excitement, to concern.
Not concern for my life. Concern for my joints. Concern for my legs. Concern for my back side. If you know what I’m saying.
I couldn’t think about it too long because we were off to the races, down a catwalk. And not the kind of catwalk that I was thinking.
There was no fashion…that I was aware of. There was no walking. There were no cats. Only skis and downhills and skiers who were ready to get to the next lift. Which I didn’t really realize. I thought we were skiing!
We were just getting to “the next lift.”
Ok. I didn’t really know what that meant either. But, of course, I found out!
The next lift was the Game Creek Express Lift. That took us up to “the warmup” run down Lost Boy. My first slope, not counting the catwalk. Lost Boy was almost prophetic. I felt like I just might get lost in fresh powder going down this “warmup” slope. Thankfully, my wife and her family kept their eyes on me and helped instruct me on the nuances of … falling down on fresh powder!
Back up the lift to the next run that lead me to my next lift. We took the Mountaintop Express. And can I just say that the views from this mountaintop were quite the experience.
You see, I haven’t mentioned the fact that I really have never skied before, have I? Also, being 11,250 feet above sea level was a challenge to say the least. I sleep at about 680 feet. The oxygenation in my body is used to about that elevation above sea level, maybe 1,500 feet above sea level.
In Vail, I would walk up stairs and lose my breath at the place we were staying. So being on top of Vail Mountain was slightly difficult. But what a really interesting experience.
As I looked down the next “run” called Swingsville, I was able to stay up on my skis a little. As long as ALL of my leg muscles were firing, I was able to manhandle the mountain…until turns happened.
Turning to my left seemed to be ok. Turning to my right seemed to be a wreck. Every time.
Then the slope increased. And the bruises on my back side increased.
There was one time when I was skiing towards my wife and her dad and, let’s just say, I lost control. I didn’t fall backwards, but my skis stuck in the snow and I fell forward. They sure enjoyed that. I think the tears from them crying froze to their face, but I didn’t tell them…
And did I mention the weather was interesting too? 17 degrees for the high on my first day of skiing in REALLY THIN air and slopes that had “fresh powder.” Anyway…
For whatever reason, when we got to the end of Swingsville, we decided to do it again.
Yep. Same thing happened.
When we went to lunch, I could have eaten an elk. I would have used its antlers to pick the meat out of my teeth. I was voraciously hungry! After lunch, my body reminded me where I was. On the Mountain of Pain. After tightly tensing my muscles as I would fall down the mountains that morning, all of my leg muscles were on fire!
After lunch, my wife generously offered to slowly meander down the mountain back to where we were staying. Now the word “meander” is quite relative. We, or should I say, I didn’t fall on the way back down… Ok, I did fall. A few times. But I made it down the mountain in one piece.
We dropped off our skis, walked back to our room, and put on our swimsuit and jumped in the hot tub. And sat. And sat. And sat.
Sitting in that hot water was vital to my health. I guess. It was 20 degrees outside and the tub was about 105 degrees. I was ok with it!
Dinner was at Blue Moose Vail. The pizza there hit the spot. Among others, we had a Cowboy Pizza that was my favorite! And someone named Lindsay Vonn has ownership in this joint. People here know who she is and so does someone named Mr. Woods.
The first night after skiing, I had no problem sleeping. Waking up was a little more difficult.
On the second day, we had a skiing instructor with us all day. And may I say, this changed my skiing life!
He has been instructing for almost 30 years. He has written a book about skiing. And his offseason job is about correcting movement of the body. He was a cool dude. His name is Justin.
Justin rocked it out. He gave me basic instruction with technical aspects that addressed my shortcomings from the day before. He talked about an ant, spider and cockroach. I’ll tell you what that means face-to-face.
He also showed me the way to use the skis and poles to help me relax down the slopes as opposed to working as hard as I did the day before.
One of the things that really impacted me was when he taught me how to turn. It went against well over thirty years of movement. The key to skiing and turning, from the basics perspective that I was learning, is this:
1. Lean forward, not backwards
2. Stand up tall on the turns as you begin to turn your skis
3. The leg downhill should be almost straight after you turn
4. To skid-turn to a stop, your balance is key — lean forward to turn forward, lean backward to turn backward (that was fun)
5. Even with an instructor you will fall
6. When you are tired, you will fall more often
Counter-intuitive. That was what I learned from the instructor. I have spent years, when walking down a hill, leaning back. While skiing, I must lean forward and match the slope of the mountain to balance. When making turns, it is important to stand tall. That was crazy talk when I first tried it! But then as I used my downhill leg as it was straight and my uphill leg began to bend, I noticed a much more controlled and smooth turn. I wiped out a couple of times because I saw some sign or a tree or a pole or another skier. Justin asked me what I was looking at when I crashed. I told him. He said that I was leaning away from the object…which, on skis, leads you right to the object you are trying to avoid. Weird, but true! And after lunch and as the day went on, I fell a bit more often. Even as I listened to the instructor. My fatigue took over and my focus left at times. I had to really focus and give positive, reinforcing self-talk to continue to be effective getting down the mountain.
Come to find out, on a 9 point grading scale, I scored a 5! I was super stoked about that! After day two of skiing, I wasn’t as tired as the first day. Only my calves hurt a bit. So of course, we all headed to the hot tub to get some therapy! A wonderful day of learning and growing.
1. When you fall, get back up and try again. There is some magnificent views for us. There are some breath-taking experiences for us. There are some fascinating lessons for us.
2. The rush of the cold air and the snow on your goggles while you are gliding down fresh, untouched powder is quite the encouragement.
3. Make tracks. It helps folks behind you take the same path, but quicker! And, there’s nothing like 5 inches of fresh powder!!
4. Learn to turn safely. Or you might end up in the bushes. (Yes, I did find the bushes and three feet of unpacked snow)
That’s all from days one and two of my skiing adventure in Vail, Colorado. More to come after the day of rest is complete.
May you get back up and try again. May you be encouraged. May you make tracks! And may you turn safely when needed!