I’ve always loved the mountains and wanted to learn to ski. I got a taste of it as a teenager when I joined some friends for a weekend trip. They showed me how to do the plow and let me go. I must have spent a total of three hours on skis but I never forgot the thrilling, liberating experience of flying down the slopes. The air is crisp and fresh. The sun is so close—you can nearly reach it with your pole. Snow powder sprays from under your skis higher than your head and you’ve got that divine feeling in your chest of being both grand and tiny in the face of the mountain.
Nearly 30 years later, I signed up for 3 days of group lessons at the Vail Ski School. Learning a new skill as an adult is hard. It’s even harder when the skill is so physically demanding. In Vail, the ski groups meet at 9:45 am and don’t come off the mountain until 3:30pm. A long day for someone who can barely last an hour at the gym. And as I would soon find out, skiing is no bike ride! Worst of all, I’d long outgrown the business of taking risks. If, as a teenager, I hadn’t thought twice about going down a slope I had no idea how to navigate, as an adult I was petrified just looking down. And fear is the number one obstacle to skiing.
But I made it. After three days of practice and pain in muscles I didn’t even know existed, I learned enough to ski down beginner (green) slopes and some intermediate (blue) slopes. And I even enjoyed myself!
Here are my tips on how to learn to ski as an adult and survive a 3-day ski school.
Day 1, Survivor Tip: Get a Great Instructor
The thing about ski school is that your experience depends entirely on the instructor. I’d attempted to learn skiing the year before but my instructor only managed to frighten me by taking me to blue slopes the day after I’d learned to stand on my skis. Given my fears and anxiety going into it this time, my first day on the mountain was crucial. As luck would have it, it was snowing pretty hard and the visibility was minimal. As I took the gondola to our meeting place, my legs were nearly shaking. But my instructor this time, Stephen Bossart, was fantastic. He made me feel comfortable and taken care of from the beginning, and I slowly began to relax. It wasn’t long before I was enjoying my lame attempts at turns down the green slopes. I managed not to fall the entire day and by the end of the afternoon I was feeling ecstatic. People talk about runner’s high, but the skier’s high is unparalleled.
Day 2, Survivor Tip: End the Day with a Massage
I woke up on Day 2 hurting like hell—from the tip of my fingers to the tip of my toes. I’d been working every muscle to keep from falling, clutching the damn poles like lifesavers. It was a cool sunny morning—perfect for skiing. Unfortunately, Stephen had the day off and I had a new instructor. But he, too, happened to be great and since there were only 3 of us in the group, it was like getting a private lesson. I was even more relaxed on my feet, taking greater risks. It was only a matter of time before I fell. The problem was, I had no idea how to get up. I kept trying to lift myself without any success. People started to stop and ask me if I was okay. I was more embarrassed than hurt so I kept waving them away but finally I had to admit defeat and allow a very nice girl to help me get up. I fell once again that day but I had an easier time getting up. Apparently, it was one more skill I had to master. By the end of the day I was beat. Getting a massage that evening was the best thing I could have done.
Day 3, Survivor Tip: Take Advil Before Hitting the Slopes
I began Day 3 that much more excited to take the lift up the mountain, feeling more confident than ever. But my legs were killing me and that made it hard to ski. I could no longer rely on my muscles to overcompensate my lack of skills. Taking a couple of Advil made a huge difference. But I had yet another instructor, which is my biggest complaint about Vail Ski School—lack of continuity. Being taught the same skills as the day before was a waste of time, especially when it was something I found easy. I could have been learning something new or mastering the moves I found difficult.
I had to leave early that day to catch my flight to New York and, even though I was enjoying myself, I didn’t regret having to call it a day and give my body a much-needed rest.
I’m already looking foreword to my next ski trip. But I’ll have to work out harder at the gym beforehand. I’d like to at least be able to carry my skis without exerting myself.
Do you have any other tips and suggestions?