For newbie, learning to ski is downhill all the way

I enjoy activities that involve a substantial amount of friction – but please don’t read into that. What I mean is that I despise sports that entail slipping, sliding or any kind of uncontrolled movement.

For first-timer Julia Davis ’14, staying upright while descending the bunny slope was a struggle.

In fact, I seriously tried to avoid writing this article. Being acutely aware of my lack of coordination, I looked high and low for someone else to hit the slopes so I wouldn’t have to. However, the rest of the Record board eventually coerced me to attempt this regrettably low-friction sport. And so I boarded the bus to Jiminy Peak, ready to confront my clumsiness head-on.

My instructor was Tyler Cole ’12. He was friendly, enthusiastic and knew how to rock a neon-green ski jacket. He began with a universally basic tool of instruction: a food metaphor. Point your skis straight like french fries to speed up; turn them in like a slice of pizza to slow down. If one subscribes to the laws of physics, this is a foolproof strategy. In theory, at least.

“Ok, now it’s time to try this for real!” Cole said. He instructed us to un-dig our poles and let gravity do its thing. So I let go and, to my slight surprise, began to slide forward, down the hill, picking up speed. I was skiing! I was actually skiing!

And then, suddenly I wasn’t! It took a total of three seconds before I took a tumble. Flustered, I struggled to stand and skied forward again. But I kept picking up speed even though I was turning my skis toward each other in an attempt to slow down. I continued down the hill, sliding faster and faster. Come on, pizza! Work your magic! But alas, the power of the pizza failed me. Unable to slow down enough to safely avoid a kid that was in my path, I decided to pull the emergency brakes and wiped out.

After a few runs (and falls) on the bunny slope, Cole asked if we were ready to tackle something a little more adventurous: the novice hill. Heck. No. “Sure!” I replied, fingers crossed. So we hopped on the ski lift and began the journey to uncharted territory.

Chairlifts are totally the most underrated component of the skiing experience. They’re a great way to rest, take in the beauty of the resort and laugh at the (few) unfortunate souls who are klutzier than you. And rocking the chair magically transforms it into a mini carnival ride! One of the highlights of the day was the look on my friend’s face when I started rocking back and forth and leaning over the edge. “No! Ahhh! Stop!” she protested. But that’s what she gets for cracking up when I wiped out.

As I stood at the top of the novice slope, I was thrilled to be up high. I was not thrilled, however, that the slope was teeming with people, many of whom were under the age of 10. But Cole said to plow ahead and ignore obstacles in my path.

I asked whether parents were likely to sue if I ran into their children. His response? “Don’t worry. I’ve got you covered. I’ve got a guy for that.” And with that vote of confidence, I un-dug my ski poles and began the (painful) descent.

The worst part of skiing is falling. I would know: It happened to me 17 times. The fall itself doesn’t hurt, since the snow provides convenient cushioning.

But when you take a spill, you feel like a turtle on its back. No – worse. Like a quadriplegic turtle in a straitjacket thrashing around wildly to avoid being run over while all the other turtles are laughing at you. You have to account for this whole other dimension: the five-foot platforms attached to your feet definitely restrict mobility. Although Cole kindly attempted to help, I usually just ended up bringing him down with me. At one point, I actually dragged him a good 15 feet when I tried to stand up and couldn’t stop sliding backwards.

Steering presented another problem. At one point I veered off the snowy slope and onto the grass. After sliding about five feet, I bit the dirt. Unable to stand, I managed to roll off the land back into the snow. I’m pretty sure I scared a young boy, who stared at me wide-eyed as I awkwardly thrashed on the ground. Once I finally did pull myself up, his father smugly said, “You know, skis don’t work so well on dry land.” Gotta love skiers’ humor.

I decided to return to the bunny slope. And I made it the whole way down three times without taking a single spill! I finally experienced the rush of downhill skiing. It’s the same kind of adrenaline rush you get from skydiving, bungee jumping or riding roller coasters (all activities I love). However, skiing demands a certain amount of practice before it’s enjoyable. Skydiving requires no skill except the ability to fall (something I do quite well).

I asked Cole how he or any of the instructors could possibly tolerate klutzes like me who can’t stay on their feet. His reply was encouraging. “Even though I’ve been doing this for 15 years, I know it’s completely new for you guys,” he said. “I have absolutely no expectations. So I get really excited for you when you learn.”

Before I knew it, it was time to turn in our gear and head back to campus. As I sat on the bus and pondered the experience, I realized that I’m glad I did it.

Skiing is exhilarating and suprisingly freeing once you get the hang of it. Between the breathtaking view of the Berkshires, the adrenaline rush of a speedy descent and the culture of camaraderie on the slopes, I understand why people love it. I’ll probably even hit the slopes again sometime. But at the end of the day, I still prefer activities with a decent amount of friction.

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