I am having a bad day. I leave my home office frustrated, load up my barely-used ski gear and accept the inevitability of my bad day continuing on the mountain. I drive toward Little Cottonwood Canyon for my second lesson (ever, in my whole life) at Alta Ski Area, and something happens as I crest the foothills and the towering walls of the canyon come into view.
The snow-covered cliffs and pines form that classic Wasatch landscape in a color scheme of white, blue-purple and black. The still-suspended crystals of fresh snow and ice reflect the scant, cloud-diffused sunlight and dance in a fog around the peaks like a winter May pole. I have lived in Utah for twenty years, and I have to catch my breath at the sight of it. Then I breathe it in. The annoyances and mistakes that had worked me into a lather that morning shrink to appropriate significance when the Wasatch Mountains are shown for scale. (This is the third entry in the diary of a never-skier. Here are entries one and two.)
I understand all at once why, for some, skiing is tantamount to a religion and the mountains are their temple. This is serenity. I’m not ready to fully convert just yet (I’ve already abandoned one high-demand religion), but I’m curious to hear what the faithful have to say. Maybe, if I’m not up to going every sabbath, I could be the kind of member who shows up just on major holidays?
I might have been able to savor the majesty of the landscape more, if not for the fact that I was still actively driving up the canyon. For those looking for another way up the mountain, there is a new ski shuttle service in town. Cottonwood Connect Ski Shuttle takes skiers (and snowboarders) to the top of the Cottonwood Canyons to Alta, Brighton, Snowbird and Solitude resorts. The shuttle is pretty affordable and runs Thursday–Sunday all season with multiple pick-up points at hotels and park and ride lots and flexible pick-up times. All riders need to do is reserve their trip in advance. If the desired time slot isn’t available, there’s always UTA Ski Service as well.
Once I’m all checked in at Alta’s Ski School for my second lesson, the first thing my ski instructor Natalie does is take away my ski poles. I have lost my pole privileges. And it is freeing. Perhaps I had been relying on them too heavily during my first lesson, because I find just about everything I’ve learned so far—from traversing flat surfaces, uphill and sideways to turning—a bit less stressful without them. Natalie reiterates that she has taken my poles away so that I learn to use my legs for balance and control.
After a warm up, it’s time to ride my first lift. I confess I was and am more scared of the prospect of getting wiped out by a ski chair during a moment of distraction than I am of falling. So, we start small. The lift, as it turns out, does not zoom by, taking out the legs of skiers who couldn’t get into position in time or coldcock unsuspecting bystanders, as the threatening lifts in my imagination did. Rather, the Snowpine Lift ambles around in a friendly oval, rumbling gently as it scoops up skiers (who have plenty of time to skate from the line and into position). The best part is taking the ride to discuss classic ski films like Better Off Dead and share a mutual love of John Cusack with Natalie. The worst part is the bite of cold wind on the face while hovering up the hill. It’s a particularly cold day anyway, and with more cold days ahead in the forecast, I make a mental note for next time to shove handwarmers in my gloves and wherever else handwarmers can be shoved.
The rest of the lesson involves me serpentining down increasingly steeper inclines. We take turns playing follow-the-leader, so I can learn to control my turns and keep a constant speed while following Natalie, and so she can watch me and make notes about my form. Once again, as I’m sliding in and out of wide C-shaped turns, it occurs to me that skiing is fun. As well as thrilling and a little bit peaceful. There is a quality of weightlessness about it, like I’ve escaped the influence of a sliver of gravity. Maybe I’ll convert, after all.
Natalie cautions about a common beginner’s mistake: getting nervous as they pick up speed and leaning back to slow down. Apparently, taking weight off the tips of the skis will actually speed them up. I wouldn’t say I put this theory to the test right away, but there was some experimentation. By the end of my second lesson, I wanted more time and space to feel things out than the bunny hills could offer. They always say, leave them wanting more. Next lesson, I’ll likely get my wish. We’re moving up to the beginner-level runs, and I suspect I might get my poles back, too.
For other never-skiers like me, check out my prior diary entry for deals and discounts for beginners. 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? What are poles even for? Downhill ski fights? (Like I said, I’ve seen Better Off Dead.) Send your wise nuggets of ski knowledge to us @slmag on all the socials (Facebook|Instagram|Twitter) or email email@example.com. Stay-tuned for updates and further entries on saltlakemagazine.com.