Have you ever dreaded something so much that you contemplate pretending to sprain your ankle to get out of it? I won’t say that’s how scared I was of learning how to ski, but I wasn’t far off on the morning of December 30, 2019. Elizabeth and Pam did a great job of trying to cheer me up as we ate breakfast at the Golden Peak Lodge, but I think this picture summarizes my feeling.
My instructor (along with about 7 or 8 other people in the Adult Beginner Lesson) was a friendly, albeit quiet, man named Vance. The first thing he told us to do was take our right hand, put it on our left shoulder, and pat ourselves on the back for taking a lesson. I won’t lie, that calmed me down a little bit. Next, we learned how to step into our skis and walk sideways in them. The whole time, I was reminded of my previous attempt to ski back in elementary school, which ended in what some might call an unmitigated disaster.
Vance told us that next up in our skiing crash course was conquering the “magic carpet” – essentially a moving walking, only inclined and designed for you to ski onto. It proved to be fairly simple to navigate our skis onto, and all of a sudden I was all the way at the top of hill (the beginner’s hill that 4-year-olds were learning how to glide down). Vance taught us how to go down the hill, slowing ourselves by using the “wedge” (Elizabeth’s family refers to it as the “pizza”) tactic. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel immense satisfaction climbing the magic carpet for the second time. I was doing this. I was skiing.
Back at the top of the beginner’s hill, Vance began to teach all six of us (wait, weren’t there more before?) how to turn. Moving at approximately three mph, my turns weren’t the cleanest, but I could envision how they should be done. Honestly, this didn’t seem like the hardest thing ever. Maybe I could ski with Elizabeth on the actual mountain tomorrow!
Without my realizing it, we had been out there so long that it was time for lunch. Everyone agreed that it was good to get out of the cold, and I once again was surprised to discover that my neckwarmer was caked in ice from where I had been breathing on it. At least I wasn’t feeling the cold personally. Vance took us back to Golden Peak Lodge for lunch. Interacting with my fellow classmates was interesting. Most were actually native Spanish speakers (something that is pretty common in Vail). One individual was a snowboarder trying out skiing so he could ski with his buddies, and another was a wife from Atlanta who was hoping to be able to join her husband and young kids. All of them had an air of being well-off, which, I mean, it’s Vail. Everyone there kind of is.
After lunch, our group moved over to a larger beginner’s hill. We spent the afternoon learning how to turn, which I discovered was pretty tough! I particularly struggled with remembering to lean forward, and picking up the outside ski when turning. I experienced my first fall on skis that afternoon, and then many more. Each one tested me a little bit – getting back up is not only difficult physically, but I was becoming more and more unsure of my ability to actually go up the mountain and ski 2,000 feet down. I mean, if you can’t go down a few dozen feet on a beginner’s hill…
The wife from Atlanta fell early in the afternoon, and she must have been going through the same internal battle as me. She did not win the internal battle, instead chucking her pole down the hill, unstrapping the skis, and walking away. After sharing bemused looks with the 4 (!) other people left in our group, I started to realize that sticking these moments out is what makes the difference in one’s ability to actually ski. Not that it wasn’t tempting to follow her example, especially when four-year-olds went flying by in their beginner lessons. I knew that Elizabeth was really excited to ski with me the next day, and that my lessons were not what one would call “cheap”, and that persuaded me to stick it out. By the end of the lesson, I still was not sure if I was able to turn consistently enough to go up the entire mountain, but the next day would be my last chance.
After I met back up with Elizabeth and Pam at Buzz’s (and finally getting out of my ski boots, which were not great for my knees), we headed to a restaurant for drinks. (Note: Elizabeth and I are pretty sure we went to Pepi’s, but not positive). The restaurant was packed, but we were able to stick our elbows out and get a table. My poor, frayed post-skiing nerves felt a lot better after a few beers and a charcuterie (!). On top of that, the restaurant had a “shot ski” – a ski with cupholders that a group of people can take a shot from at once. I was spared from having to do that (no more tequila with Elizabeth’s cousins), but it was still amusing.
Elizabeth’s family was *really* interested in my ski education when we hot tubbed after Pepi’s. Pretty much every member of her extended family offered to take me up the mountain the next day and make a skier out of me. I think Elizabeth could see how much that was stressing me out, and she did a good job of planning so that it would just be us two heading up the gondola the next day.
Dinner that night was at La Nonna Italian Restorante, a place that somehow was even more hoity-toity than it sounded. Not that the bruschetta wasn’t good, but, I mean, bruschetta. It could be worse – Elizabeth’s cousin Michael ordered truffles with his pasta. Like, a big honking pile of truffles. I had carbonara, and it slapped. As I have mentioned, Elizabeth’s family turns just about anything into a giant production, and dinner here was no exception. By the time people were digging into their gelato, I was falling asleep at the table – and far from the only one about to do so, either. Once again, I was relieved to collapse onto the lumpy couch by the time we got back to the condo. I needed my rest, because the next day it was time to conquer the mountain.