Alison Berg: The day I learned to ski
I was 18 the first time I got into a pair of skis.
A neighbor in my dorm at Utah State University offered to take me up to a local mountain and teach me to ski.
Being from California, I had only seen snow a few times in my life, and I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. I did know two things: one, that skiing is expensive and, two, it’s hard to learn as an adult. So someone offering to teach me — and for free — felt like an offer I couldn’t pass up.
We headed to the mountain, got our gear and got onto the chairlift. It actually took me several tries to get off, but once I finally did, I expected that my friend would give me some pointers before just sending me down the slope.
“Follow my lead,” I remember him saying as he descended, leaving me at the top of the lift absolutely terrified.
I leaned forward and just flew out of control.
“Make your feet a pizza shape,” I can remember him yelling from yards below.
As I tried to squirm my feet into the stopping triangle, one ski slipped, hit my head and knocked me out.
The next thing I remember, ski patrol was telling me to take deep breaths and asking my friend to take me home.
I walked away with no serious injuries, but I vowed to never ski again. I’m not a very coordinated person, and I decided that skiing simply wasn’t for me.
Five years later, I accepted my current job at Steamboat Pilot & Today. I would be covering several beats, including the ski industry. That’s when the realization hit me — I needed to properly learn how to ski. After all, you probably shouldn’t live in Ski Town USA and not at least try skiing.
As I began covering the ski industry, a Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. employee asked if I’d yet to ski Steamboat. I mentioned I’d never skied before — in my mind, ending up with a head injury so bad I vowed to never go again didn’t count. So she very graciously offered me a lesson.
I am truly one of the most uncoordinated people to walk this Earth. I can’t ice skate to save my life, and well, we know what happened the first time I went skiing. I expected this lesson to be a day full of falls and frustration, but perhaps this time, I’d have a patient instructor who wouldn’t give up on me and would teach me enough to make me want to try again.
I expected a day of pain and frustration, but I ended up with one of the funnest days of my life.
I got a call the night before from my instructor telling me exactly what to bring, where to meet and just generally calming my nerves.
I met Dave Hartley, my instructor, in front of Gondola Joe’s, and he helped me strap on my boots and skis, two things I was completely clueless about beforehand.
“You look nervous, and you don’t need to be,” he said to me with an easing smile.
“I am,” I replied with much less of a smile.
We walked out to the base where he showed me the very basics, like how to stand up without falling and where to point your skis. I took it as a good sign that an hour in, I still hadn’t fallen.
“You don’t have to fall to learn to ski,” Dave told me. I knew this was true, but I honestly was shocked at my ability to stand up on skis without falling.
Besides the skiing itself, getting on and off the chairlift was my second-biggest fear of the day. Having your feet hanging off a moving chair and then being expected to get out of that chair on a pair of skis just didn’t look comforting to me. But Dave told me he wouldn’t let me fall, and I believed him.
My entire body shook with nervousness as I got out of the seat, but I got out and didn’t fall, a huge win in my book.
We eventually worked our way up to the Preview trail. Dave had me hold onto his pole while he pulled us down. Then the next time, I went on my own but with him close behind me. Eventually, I made it down on my own with really no help.
I made it down very slowly and tried not to be too embarrassed over the 4-year-old Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club kids zooming past me.
Once I got past grasping my poles and staring at my feet while bracing for my life, I realized just how amazing this experience is. Steamboat’s snow really is perfect, our sky is clear almost all the time and the views from the mountain are indescribably beautiful. I can see why people pay a lot of money to do this. It’s incredibly addictive, and it’s so good for your body and spirit.
After a few runs on Preview, we worked up to Christie Peak Express, which to me felt like more of a “real” trail. Each time, I was able to get down with fewer stops and guidance, and by the end, I felt like I was getting the hang of more advanced turns. A friend came to meet me after, and we skied until the lifts closed, though I probably would’ve kept going after.
I really didn’t even notice how tired and sore I was until hours after I got home. That’s the beauty of skiing — you’re having so much fun that you don’t even notice how worn out you are.
That was the first time life has felt good and normal in a very long time. My Steamboat experience has been quite different because of COVID-19, which forces me to spend most of my time alone. Things really haven’t felt normal for anyone since March 2020. But something about gliding down perfect powder under a beautiful bluebird sky and remembering that I live just 10 minutes from that and can go really whenever I want shifted my perspective.
Things are hard for everyone right now, but if there’s a place to be while things are hard, I am so glad Steamboat is that place for me.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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