At the start of my first lesson, my ski instructor Natalie informs me that the people she teaches never fall down during the first lesson. This is meant to be comforting, but in my heart I know I’ll be the one to end this streak, and I am right. (If you’re likewise joining us for the first time, consider checking out my prior entry in the Diary of a Never-Skier before reading on.)
Alta’s Ski School has already taught me plenty prior to my first official lesson. I learned my Honda Accord can safely make it up Little Cottonwood Canyon because I found out too late to make alternate plans that, at time of this writing, the UTA Ski Bus does not service Albion Day Lodge. Other lessons: Eat before skiing (observed after buying a burger at Albion Grill); there is no graceful way to walk in ski boots; how to rent and donn boots and skis. And, after all that, here I thought I was actually ready to ski.
Instead, I was ready to pop off one of said skis and slide down a gentle slope on one foot. I have nothing in my prior athletic experience to which to compare the sensation of sliding, and a million words have already been written to describe it with more poetry than I can muster. Yes, yes, I’ve heard of sensations of bird-like flight and one-ness with winter, but I felt more like a thin, rootless tree swaying precariously in the wind. Then, I graduated to sliding on both skis…and back to feeling like a rootless tree swaying precariously in the wind while also wearing clown shoes. (If you’re thinking this is when I must have fallen, breaking poor Natalie’s record, you would be wrong.)
While the experience of other skiers had led me to expect a “french fry/snowplow” lesson, Natalie deserves far more credit than that. We started with the correct skiers’ stance and the terms of properly navigating the slopes on skis while not sliding downhill—traversing without sliding when needed, which is apparently a lot—and using Alta’s Transfer Tow. Pro tip: Despite what some videos on the internet might suggest, the tow rope is not meant to be straddled like a hobby horse.
(And, no, I did not fall while first trying to use the Transfer Tow, thanks to Natalie’s careful instruction. However, my gleeful abandon on the Transfer Tow did inspire Natalie to say she was tempted to put me on the conveyor belt used in kids’ lessons, and I kind of wish she had. It looks fun!)
While it was not immediately french fry or pizza related, Natalie did have a little dance that she wanted to show me, which looked like twisting one leg at a time and rotating each foot to point the toes inward. I can best liken it to a contained, more controlled version of Elvis’s rubber-leg dance move. Or more accurately, The Twist.
But I had faith. I had faith in Natalie and the piecemeal skills she was trying to impart. While on that gentle hill, I longed for a little more speed, a little more incline to explore, but I suspected what I actually needed was patience. From years of training in martial arts, I understand that rushing things could mean developing bad habits that I would have to break later and learning the basic techniques would create the necessary muscle memory on which to build progressively more advanced skills, and I didn’t have to wait long. Natalie’s little “ski dance” became the foundation I needed to execute something called “turns.”
I will be the first to say it was intimidating to think of myself on the same slopes as people who have been skiing their entire lives (I saw literal infants solo on runs), but so much of that fear faded once I was actually there, and the first lesson was key in building that confidence. While I would call my first lesson with Natalie at Alta’s Ski School a rousing success, there are options out there for first-time skiers (that includes adults, too!). Many of Utah’s resorts also offer discounts for learners throughout the season on gear, lessons and lift tickets. For example:
Alta Ski Area offers a lift ticket for skiers to take the beginner lifts, Sunnyside and Albion, in the afternoons for just $69 (Remember: Alta is a ski-only resort).
Brighton also has a similar lift ticket option for its beginner lifts and is open to both skiers and snowboarders.
Eagle Point, the Beaver-based resort, has a Learn Together Program for children 5-7 with their parents.
Powder Mountain offers a deal for first-timers that includes rentals, lift passes, and a three-hour lesson for $189.
Snowbasin Resort has a Learn & Earn program that provides three lift tickets, three lessons, season-long rental equipment and a season pass after instruction for $799.
The Ski Utah 4th, 5th & 6th Grade Passport lets young skiers and riders try out 15 Utah ski resorts, offering three days at each destination for $55.
Ski Utah also offers Deals for Beginners.
And since January is Learn To Ski Month, there really isn’t a better time to try. I suspected in my last entry that skiing might be fun, and I was right about that, too.
OK, then. Right. Bak to the falling bit. So, I fell three times, and it wasn’t Natalie’s fault. I fell once traversing a hill horizontal to the fall line combined with angling my skis the wrong way, starting to slide backwards and deciding that falling was better than backsliding into an innocent skier exiting the Transfer Tow. The second time, I fell was while trying to serpentine. I committed my body to the execution of a turn but failed to shift my weight, catching the wrong edge of my skis and losing my balance. The third time, I was trying to duck walk on a totally flat surface, crossed the tails of my skis and tripped myself like my own school-yard bully.
I probably could have avoided falling down if I’d been worried about falling, but I’m not. I like falling. That’s how I knew, in my heart, that I was going to be the one who broke Natalie’s streak, even though I’m about two decades older than the average student. Those years of training in martial arts also broke me of the fear of falling. How to fall without injury was white-belt level stuff. Of course, falling in five-foot lacquer clown shoes is different in that 1) the snow cushions your fall more than a gym mat and 2) getting back up is much harder. The necessary mindset, however, I feel is the same. I’m not afraid of looking dumb, making mistakes, falling or asking stupid questions because that’s how I learn. As someone who has never skied before, what do I have to gain by pretending to know more than I do? Not a thing. But I could miss out on a lot of valuable information…like how to get back up after I fall.
(Which, for the record, is kind of a bitch in skis.)
In my semi-frantic attempt to not walk (nor slide) into my first skiing venture totally unprepared, I collected tips (both requested and unsolicited) from my pals and co-workers who ski and was turned onto some of the resources from Utah’s Office of Tourism:
I’m still taking advice, by the way. If you’re already a seasoned skier, I am open to any tips. What did you wish you had known your first few times out? Do you pizza or french fry to stop? Send your wise nuggets of ski knowledge to us @slmag on all the socials (Facebook|Instagram|Twitter) or email email@example.com. And, If you’re a never-skier like me, let me be your test case. Stay-tuned for updates and further entries on saltlakemagazine.com.