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A climbergirl on skis

Sara Lingafelter
Sara Lingafelter
5 min read

For those of you who know how I’ve always felt about skiing — terrified of the sport, and pretty sure that if I ever strapped skis to my feet I’d wind up perilously injured — this might come as a surprise. For those of you who previously didn’t know those feelings, it comes as a surprise in another way — “What? Are you kidding? What do you MEAN you’ve never skied?”

No, I’m not kidding.

Thanks to a very nice instructor at Crystal Mountain, and Candace who came with me with the important side effect that I then couldn’t chicken out, I tried skiing for the first time yesterday and neither died, nor perilously injured myself.

I chose Crystal over the other local mountains partly because I have friends who ski there regularly, and partly because when I compared the various resorts’ “beginner packages” I felt Crystal’s offered the best value. $180 gets you three days of lessons (one full day, two half days), rentals and lift tickets if you’re a new skier, through their 1-2-3 package.

The short version? I had a blast.

The long version? I definitely think those of you who encouraged me to try skiing to increase my comfort while mountaineering were right.

The whole story?

Candace and I got up to the mountain in the morning, just in time for me to register for my class, pick up my rentals, and report to the “First Timers” signpost. I had two other classmates for the morning, and a very friendly and warm instructor. We got a feel for our skis, learned the basics of duck walking uphill and pizza-ing downhill, then talked through the chairlift basics and before I could chicken out we headed awkwardly for the chairlift.

The lift turned out to be less scary than I thought it would be, and I managed to de-lift without biffing. Sweet. We spent several runs building confidence in our pizza stances, basic turns, and I learned quickly that falling is a part of learning to ski, but it’s not as bad as I thought. I went pretty quickly from not-sure-I’m-going-to-get-the-hang-of-this to smiling and beaming as I pizza’d down the slope in a series of easygoing turns. Holy crap… I was skiing.

I also enjoyed getting comfortable with how stopping works on skis. At first, I was completely uncomfortable with the lack of a sudden “brake” to stop myself, so resorted to wrecking to stop myself.

I wrecked. A lot. A LOT a lot. But what fun would it be to not push it at all? It was a refreshing change… wrecking, in most of the things I do in my free time, ranges from dangerous to deadly. I learned, quickly, that while there are dangerous and deadly wrecks in skiing, the average yard sale just isn’t that bad. I did have one good wreck that resulted in a slightly twisted left knee and a good lump on my right knee. It’s turning all sorts of pretty colors.

Anyway, after getting more comfortable and competent with stopping, I really started to have fun. When I got the hang of it all enough to stop thinking, and to just go with the flow, I had a blast.

The two hour morning lesson flew by, and after re-calorie-ing and hydrating at lunch, I met up with my instructor again for the three-hour afternoon lesson.

I wanted to build my confidence before taking on anything more serious, so we kept at the bunny slope… introducing “french fries” and tigher turns, and more speed… and more continuous skiing with better speed control rather than having to stop all the time. I tried a run or two with poles, but that had two drawbacks… one, I seriously couldn’t figure out what to do with them… I think my instructor was trying to teach me “plant turns” or something, but I just wound up turning the same way I had been all day and dragging a pole behind me in the snow. Two, I kind of liked the “Watch out, I’m an out of control newbie” appearance that comes with not carrying poles.

All afternoon, my instructor had suggested that perhaps I’d like to try something other than the bunny hill… I was nervous, but I did feel confident with what I’d learned, and we talked through what to expect on the other run she had in mind, so we set off for a different beginner run.

After getting off the lift and going slowly down a slope that was quite a bit more steep than I felt ready for, we worked our way down through an easier section to what I can only describe, in my beginner eye, as a precipice. Well, not really. I guess, in fairness, it was a beautiful long slope, which was probably only slightly steeper than the steepest sections I’d done that day… but much longer. To my climber brain, the exposure was scary, and the risks too high given my relative inexperience.

My instructor was wonderful… she worked through about ten different strategies for trying to go down, before I finally melted down entirely and it became clear… I was not going down. She suggested that ski patrol could come up and bring me down, or, we could pop our skis off and hike back up to the chairlift for a ride down. There was no way short of broken bones that I was going down in a sled.

As soon as my skis were off, and my boots loosened, and my toes turned uphill, I was a happy, happy camper. I was out in the mountains, on a lovely rainy day, I’d learned a ton of stuff, I’d not broken myself, and I’d finally tried skiing. The hike up was fantastic… familiar, comfortable, and happy. Once back at the base, I got in one last bunny hill run to remind myself how much I’d learned, and it was just great.

If you’re a fellow member of the “too scared to ski” club… find a good lesson, and get out there. I’m so glad I did, and I can’t wait to give it a try again. Candace and I chatted through how to transition from the bunny hill to that big scary hill the next time I go up, and I’ve got a plan. I’ve got a whole big toolkit of ways to cope with a big scary hill, and all but two of them involve keeping my skis on. I’m excited to give it another try now that I have some ideas of how to prepare.

How have you been enjoying the snow, this winter?

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Sara Lingafelter

Sara (Grace) Lingafelter takes steps forward and backward toward a right-sized life on a daily basis.