Stevens Pass middle lodge
As some of you know 3 plus years ago I took cross-country skiing lessons from the Mountaineers. The first year the snow was not so good, the second year there was no snow for cross-country routes, last year was pretty good, and this winter has been excellent. Bob has been skiing both alpine/downhill and cross-country for many years and this year he wanted me to take alpine lessons too so we could do both together. In January he signed me up for a “learn in 3” ski package at Stevens Pass. The package included all the rental gear, lift tickets, ski checking, equipment for practice days and a guarantee that I would be easy intermediate level by the end of the 3 lessons or they would give me more lessons at no extra charge until I was at that level. A great deal.
We chose the 10 am lesson time even though it meant leaving the house a little before 7 am to get there, get checked in, pick up the rental gear and be ready by 10 am. I was plenty nervous about the whole thing but feeling a lot more confident on skis in general since we have going out each week this year doing cross-country.
What are the differences? Cross-country bindings leave the heel of the foot free so one can kick and glide or skate along. The skis are narrower, longer and have fish scales on the bottoms so it is easier to walk up small hills, even fairly steep ones, by stomping down on the ski. The scales sort of grab the hillside and do not slip back. Cross-country skiing is basically a stride step or a skate. The trails are groomed for striding with grooves for the skis and the center is open for the skating step.
Being fitted for downhill ski boots . . .
Downhill boots come up higher on the leg, are rigid and both toe and heel are firmly attached to the ski. The tension on the binding can be adjusted for age, ability, and weight, so if one falls and twists the ski comes off. Little levers pop down and act as brakes if the ski comes off to prevent it from scooting down the mountainside. Downhill skis do not have fish scales, look like they are covered with Teflon, and are designed to be slippery on the snow. If there is a small hill to climb it has to be done by a herringbone step or side stepping up, both a lot of work. For the lesson and beginner area it is possible to ride on a magic carpet or go up even higher by using the chair lift.
Waiting in line to get on the carpet with plenty of small people. Little kids are pretty random and unpredictable in what they do and when they do it. My constant worry is running one of these tiny toads down. I'd rather fall myself than hurt someone's grandchild.
The skis get positioned at the foot of the carpet, it grabs the skis and way it goes sometimes stopping but starting up again . . .
Once off the carpet it is time to ski down . . .
Beginners start by using the magic carpet, a conveyor belt, which goes a short distance up and has a nice gentle slope down. There is a second longer carpet that goes up higher with a longer route down but also a gentle slope. After I had been on the carpet several times Bob took me up the beginner chair lift, called Daisy at Stevens Pass, and guided me down. Yes, I am falling now and then. Falling is to be expected and it is nice that there is plenty of snow this year to cushion the falls. Despite detailed instructions from the lift operator, the first trip down from the top of the Daisy chair lift included a fall getting off the lift, apparently fairly common for beginners, and two other falls on the way down. It seemed terrifyingly high on the mountainside and a long way down but it really isn’t that far down and I am hoping after several more runs I will get the balance, control and confidence necessary to feel safe, reduce the number of falls, and begin to relax and enjoy it. The intermediate chair is about twice as high up. Obviously not ready for that yet.
Three of us in the class this lesson and lots of deep, fluffy new powder snow!
For the third lesson I was the only ski student, the rest were snowboarders, so my lesson was a one on one--terrific for me. My instructor was a young woman about 20 years old who worked with me to get the turns and stops under control. I was much more relaxed with her than with some of the other instructors and it definitely helped that it was a one on one. She let me take the skis off to get up after a fall. Wonderful, so much easier for me than having someone try to pull me up by the arm or lift me up from behind! My only fall that day was when I started sliding backward after stopping on the upside of the hill. If I had just let the slide continue it would have stopped by itself but I panicked and leaned too far and did a face plant in the snow.
Note: did not graduate in three lessons. The fourth lesson came and went a week later. That week we had 6 inches of new powder snow and the class made first tracks. I fell 5 or 6 times during the fourth lesson. Not a good day. Falling is tiring as well as frustrating. That class had six students including two 13 year-old boys who were ready to pass and move up. The other students were 20-somethings, could be grandchildren for me, who looked ready to graduate also. The next two weeks I did not take lessons just practiced using the top magic carpet and the Daisy Chair. Last week I was able to take the chair up three times and only fell once, that included safely disembarking the chair which for some reason is hard for me to do without falling. Bob helped by holding my poles and telling me when to stand up. I was not nervous with him to guide me down and hence did better than in the class. There was lots of new snow and it was snowing with more accumulating all day long. The fall was the result of heading into deep soft snow and getting stuck. There were snow snakes (clumps of snow) on the bottom of my skis and we had to wax the skis. I think I need at least one more practice before taking another lesson but it has been raining this week so we have postponed a ski day in hopes of better weather by the end of the week.
The small building is the disembark place for the Daisy chair lift
Part way down Daisy
Grandma on skis coming down from Daisy
Finally down far enough to see the lodge at the bottom
Big deals for me—I am no longer afraid of the chair lift. For some reason the snow makes it easier to forget how high it is off the ground therefore vertigo doesn’t set in. I have made it down from the top of Daisy twice without falls! The turns and stops are starting to be under control. There is one place toward the bottom that I can just schuss down full speed and not lose control or fall. This year the hope was to be able to use the beginner chair and get myself down. I cannot go down all the way in one continuous chain of turns but can do it in sections so the goal is almost met. Bob says he will be satisfied this year if I can do just a little better—go further down before stopping and go some distance by myself without him shadowing me the entire way.
Snow hat on the clock tower
Because we plan to keep this up we will buy gear, skis, helmet, boots, goggles etc. when things go on sale toward the end of the season. If the snow stays good and the runs are open through April and maybe into May perhaps I will graduate this year after all. The classes and instructors have been great and I really have been taught pretty much everything I need to graduate, I just need more practice. Even though apprehensive to try downhill skiing it has turned out to be fun. I thought I was probably the oldest person to take beginning lessons but one of the instructors told me he had taught a man abut 10 years older. Advice from a grandma—don’t be afraid to try something new!