Despite a childhood in the Adirondacks, it took 17 years—and a winter trip to Utah—to get one writer to clip into a pair of skis.
I come from a big family of skiers. Aunts, uncles, mom, dad, stepdad, brothers—they've all been skiing for as long as I've known them. Whenever winter rolls around, there's nothing quite like the joyful look they get in their eyes as they head to the mountains the day after a hefty snowstorm. Yet, despite growing up surrounded by lovers of the sport, living in the Adirondacks, and even being enrolled in tiny-tot ski school, I never got into it myself. Between the freezing cold temps and varying levels of trails (which, to me, meant I'd be going down the mountain alone, and that didn't sound like a fun family activity), I decided back when I was a tween that I'd rather cozy up in the lodge with a cup of hot cocoa and a good book.
Opportunities came and went, all with people who tried to change my mind. In elementary school, my mom brought me on family trips to Killington and Stowe—dream destinations for East Coast skiers. And while I strapped in for a run or two on the green (aka beginner) trails, I always stayed inside once everyone convened for lunch. In middle and high school I was asked to join ski club, but I declined. College friends tried to convince me to come along with no success. Work opportunities even gave me the option to travel to dream destinations free of charge—still, I refused. Before I knew it, 17 years had gone by without me once touching a pair of ski boots.
Then, all of a sudden, I started thinking about giving the sport another try. After ditching my full-time job and secure paycheck to pursue a freelance writing career, I set an intention to say yes more often to things that scared me. Because as cheesy as it sounds, I kept discovering that the more often I did, the more often it ended up a) not being all that scary, and b) giving me experiences and thrilling memories that will last a lifetime.
So when my first winter as a freelance writer set in, and my friends and colleagues started coming home with amazing stories about what they experienced (not to mention the jaw-dropping Instagram photos), I decided that when the right opportunity presented itself, I would seize it. My only rules: I didn't want my first venture back into skiing to be with a bunch of pros—it's not exactly confidence-boosting to trudge over to the bunny trail while everyone else rushes to the black diamond—and I wanted to sign up for a professional lesson or two. After all, it had been 17 years. I didn't even remember how to put skis on anymore, much less use them to fly down a mountain.
I said no to a lot of invitations, telling myself each time that it wasn't quite the right fit, until I finally realized that I was still scared. Scared of not liking it again, scared of getting injured and, I hate to admit, scared of looking like a joke. Here I was, a 27-year-old woman who grew up in a family of skiers who regularly hit the slopes, and I was just learning how to properly put on a boot. Was I going to be the only full-grown adult taking a lesson, surrounded by tiny 4-year-olds? Would I constantly wipe out? Could I even make it down a beginner trail without crying?
Finally, I decided to make like Shonda Rhimes and just say yes. So when the opportunity to learn how to ski in Utah—the state claiming to have "the greatest snow on Earth"—came across my desk, I RSVP'd without much thought (aka zero time to chicken out).
There was just one problem: Skiing is an equipment-heavy sport and I had, um, zero of it. From base layers and snow pants to ski goggles and gloves, I needed to stock up. So I turned to Sweaty Betty for the clothing I needed—between their fitted snow pants and patterned base layers, it made dressing for the sport fun and sensible. And I looked less like an Oompa Loompa and more like a fashionable athlete in gear that performed well in winter conditions. I grabbed insulated gloves from REI, borrowed goggles from a friend, and decided to rent boots, a helmet, skis, and poles from each mountain I skied on. Now I was ready.
The first day, a friend and I signed up for a private, total-beginner lesson at Alta Ski Area—the mecca for skiers, as there are no snowboarders allowed and they get an average of 514 inches of snow annually. It was nice having my friend along for the ride, and realizing I wasn't the only one who didn't know the exact words for the different ends of the ski (tip and tail, BTW) made everything feel less intimidating. So we got fitted for our boots—which, side note, are very awkward to walk in, especially when they feel tight AF around your shins and calves—and met Henry, our guide for the day. He taught us everything all beginners need to know: how to properly clip into skis, speed up and slow down, make a proper turn, and use a rope tow without sliding down an incline or being taken out by another skier (an experience that, let me assure you, provided plenty of laughs the first go-round).
As the two-hour lesson went on, it dawned on me how great it was to be learning how to ski in Utah, specifically, as opposed to the less-beginner-friendly East Coast trails that I first experienced. First, there's a bit of a Goldilocks situation that happens with snow. Thanks to weather patterns and varying temperatures, snow can generally be icy and hard, super soft, or somewhere in the middle. If it's hard, then that makes it difficult (not impossible, just harder) to learn how to properly use the edges of your skis, which you use every time you make a turn. If it's super soft, then you can set your edge too easily and actually sink into the snow. But if you're somewhere in the middle, then you've got a firm base to work with that's not too hard, so you can set your edge in the snow without too much or too little effort. Guess which one Utah is? (Hint: Juuust right.)
Plus, the snow in Utah is fluffy (like what you always see gently falling in a romantic movie scene), which means I'm way less likely to break a wrist if and when I fall. I knew going into this that I would fall at some point—everyone does—but landing in the kind of snow you like to make snow angels in is better than hard-as-rock ice. Not to mention you're just more likely to fall in icy conditions since there's a higher chance of slipping out of a turn and biting it. My childhood memories of skiing all involve me eating more snow than skiing it. Spending more time upright with my skis underneath me was a nice change of pace from what I remembered.
But back to the lesson. Sure, it was amusing—and maybe even a little embarrassing—when I saw a 6-year-old fearlessly shoot down a bunny hill faster than I did, or an 8-year-old practice her pizza wedge (to slow down) or french fry (to speed up) not far from where I was doing the exact same thing. (Though, as an adult, we said "wedging" and "parallel" instead.) But I promised myself that I would make this experience a positive one, and with the help of Henry's and my sense of humor, I laughed off those moments and really focused on honing my own skills. And it worked! I ended the day feeling not only accomplished but excited to learn more. Plus, by the time we wrapped, not only had I not fallen on my face (seriously, not even once), but Henry told me that I had advanced faster than most do in a two-hour lesson, and I was ready to take on a green trail. So I walked into my après ski at the Alta Lodge with my head held high, ready for a celebratory hot toddy and a metaphorical dusting-off of my shoulders.
The next morning I woke up to a fresh layer of powder—Mother Nature had given us about 18 inches overnight—and drove less than 30 miles to nearby Brighton Resort. I signed up for another lesson, one that would take me on the beginner trails this time. And let's just say that I was reminded that you should never get too confident. Within the first five minutes, I started moving too fast, panicked and wiped out. But rather than getting discouraged, I checked my ego and reminded myself of the skills that I had picked up yesterday, putting them into action as I made my way down the mountain. It was definitely harder than the day before, and my confidence took a toll whenever it felt like everyone was flying by me. But my coach reminded me that it was cool to go at my own pace, and nobody became a pro in one day.
Going down that first trail made me realize another big difference between learning how to ski as a kid, and re-learning the sport 17 years later. Sure, when you're a kid you're more fearless, so in some regards, it's easier to pick up new skills and put them into action. But as someone who still grew up being very athletic, and as an adult who works out on a regular basis, I now had a new advantage: I understood my body better. When I moved into a turn, I knew that it would happen more naturally if I pointed my feet in the direction I wanted to go, and leaned in the opposite direction (so if I wanted to go left, I leaned into my right ski and vice versa). When I felt off-balance, I knew to tighten my core and lean forward, not back. And when I wanted to pick up the pace, I understood that staring down at my skis was a quick way to get, um, nowhere. All of these things are lessons that instructors often have to remind their students, but because I was older and more in tune with my body and how it moved, they were skills I already had—I just needed to apply them.
So I took a few more runs that day, even tackling part of a blue trail at one point. Each time I felt myself improving and my confidence growing. Best of all, though, my happiness was overflowing. I definitely wasn't perfect—and I sure as hell fell a few more times—but as the sun glistened across the powder-soft snow, I was proud of myself. Proud for pushing myself to try something new, proud for not giving up when things felt frustrating, and proud for engaging in a sport that tested skills and muscle groups that are often ignored in my everyday workouts at home. I may have given up on this sport for 17 years, but I have a feeling we're about to become close friends.