My first alpine ski adventure

Despite living in Wisconsin my entire life, I had never gone alpine (downhill) skiing until last weekend. Considering that I have lived around snow for nine months per year since birth and that I have never been more than an hour from any of the ski hills, I never took the opportunity to actually try it until last weekend. Kristen really encouraged it, since she had skied before. Man, what was I missing?

We had picked an ideal weekend for it: sunny, clear, and warm (well, just barely above freezing). Had we been snowshoeing, we would’ve had a blast. Had I tried cross-country, we would’ve been really warm halfway through. But downhill is tricky because you go then stop and take a lift to get back up the hill (at least that’s what most people do at the resorts). Now that I’ve had a chance to recover, here is my account of this great new adventure.

Kristen and I stayed over the night before at Devil’s Head Resort. The following morning, we both dressed appropriately for skiing (layers, no cotton; I wore SmartWool socks and baselayer underwear, which is just awesome stuff). The weather was absolutely fantastic: sunny and just above freezing. It was so nice that the ski slopes were loaded with people. We weren’t sure how long we would be out there, so we got passes for the entire day upon Kristen’s recommendation.

My day started with a two-hour “never ever” ski lesson. Kristen had skied since she was 12. But she wanted to take her abilities up a notch, so she signed up for an intermediate lesson. I didn’t know the first thing about skiing, so I signed up for the beginner lesson. I didn’t even have my boots on properly. After snapping into my rental skis and bumbling over to the bunny hill, one of the instructors showed me the proper way to buckle my boots (pants go over the boots). Once tight in the boots, I was ready to learn. Kristen and I wished each other luck (I think I needed it more) as we split off to our different lessons.

Our group of six “never evers” was broken into two smaller chunks of three. My group’s instructor, Katya, spent some time teaching us how to clip in and out of the boots, walking around, and trying to trudge uphill (skis are heavy, especially when you’re not used to them). The more we climbed, the larger the hill looked. And part of the bunny slope merged with the longer green slope – watching people ski out from way up there just seemed incredibly daunting for someone as new as me.

We then learned how to stand with our skis straight and how to do the glide wedge (also known as the “snowplow” or “snowplough”). The wedge is the cornerstone of turning, it seems, so it was really important for us to grasp it. Once we had grasped the concept of the wedge, we learned how to turn, first right, then left. Katya emphasized that we roll our foot and turn our knee while maintaining balance. Doesn’t sound so difficult, does it? So when I tried turning right, I did okay. Then there was the left turn; I turned, but not as controlled. Finally, there was the turn right then left. With her emphasis on balance, Katya made it look easy. When I tried, I leaned too far and fell over. My second attempt was slightly better, but still very sloppy. Katya finished up with teaching us how to ride the magic carpet (a conveyor that you step on instead of using a tow rope) and how to turn and stop. Again, my feeble attempt landed me on the ground, making me glad that she taught us how to get up while wearing skis. She finished the lesson by telling me to only practice from halfway up the bunny hill and working on stopping and turning.

For the next hour, that’s all I did, But instead of climbing the hill by the edge of my skis, I went up on the magic carpet. I worked on what Katya taught me. I traveled only halfway down the hill, but I stayed up for a complete stop. I went down again, and still managed to stay on my feet – all the way to the bottom. Then I started riding the longer magic carpet to the top of the bunny hill and continued practicing, this time focusing on control and stopping. By the time Kristen came to find me, I felt pretty comfortable, but I was still reluctant to pick up any speed.

Although part of me wanted to keep skiing, another part of me knew it was time to break for lunch. We had breakfast at 8:00 and had been out and going from 10:00 until 1:00. So at 1:00, we walked to the cafeteria and had lunch. It wasn’t a huge lunch, but it was enough to fuel us. We were back out by 1:30. Kristen insisted that she would get me on the green slopes, but I wanted to continue working on feeling more comfortable on the skis. I did so until about 3:00.

Kristen checked in on me and insisted that I finally take a ride on the chair lift. She instructed me to take my hands out of the pole loops, look back for the chair, and time jumping on just right. It seemed like a lot to get a lift, but it made sense when the thing was in constant motion. My first time on went without a hitch. As I looked up, I couldn’t help but notice how beautifully quiet the ride was. This lift does not go over the slopes, but is instead surrounded by trees. That makes it a little secluded. To the right I could see skiers flying down one of the resort’s black diamond trails. The grace and speed at which they flew down was inspiring. I looked down and realized that we were probably about 20 feet off the ground. I was somewhat humbled by this; if I fell off, it wouldn’t feel very good. But I stayed on. My first two-minute ride was nothing short of amazing.

Before we reached the top, Kristen instructed me to scoot forward on the chair and keep my ski tips up. She also said that I could either use my poles or the chair to push myself forward. I followed her directions, leapt off the chair while pushing off from it, and slid down off the landing. Although I fumbled, I didn’t fall; I slid down and regained my composure quickly.

We then rode up another chair lift to a quieter and less sloped run. At the top, we had a beautiful view of the area; it seemed like the highest point around. Kristen snapped a couple of pictures as I skied down the less aggressive of two slopes. At first a little uneasy, I realized that the run was not that steep; in fact, other than it being slightly longer, it seemed gentler than the bunny slope. I enjoyed it so much that we got on board the ski lift again and took the more aggressive run. Only the start of the slope was steeper, but then it leveled off and ran like the first slope. I was starting to get this whole skiing thing – and realizing the excitement of going down a hill.

We got to the bottom and Kristen asked if I wanted to go farther. We agreed to ski down a slope called the Cirque. It’s actually a fairly slow run: at one point, I had to v-step to get going again. But this leg joined the main part of the green slope. I tried to run it down slowly, feeling a little scared about the speed and tensing up halfway down. As I started to hit the last part of the leg, I told myself to relax and enjoy the ride. That was smart thinking, because I got to the bottom of the hill (yes, the one I had been on when I was just learning how to ski earlier that day) and felt really good about it.

Kristen and I jumped on the ski lift a few more times and ran down the bottom hill. She then decided that she would ski the blue slopes while I kept to the green ones. I wanted to ride the ridge one more time, but it was closed when I got up there. Oh well; instead, I kept running down the lower one. At first I tried the Cirque run again, but the area was corded off (it’s also the entrance to the ridge slopes). But the rest of the day, I would ski down the Devil’s Playground.

The only thing scary about the Devil’s Playground for me is the hairpin turn at the start of the route… and the quick turn about halfway down… and long straightaway near the end where everyone queues to get on the chairlift. But I survived the entire run and still managed to stop.

As I was waiting in line for the chairlift at one time, I saw a kid come flying down the hill on his snowboard, fail to stop, and run into a girl waiting in line only a few feet in front of me. That was a little scary, I thought. It really emphasized for me the need to learn to keep my skis under control, especially when flying down a hill.

The slopes closed down about 5:00 for grooming. The place really cleared out. I wanted to keep going down the green slope, but I would have to wait. So instead I skied down the bunny hill – a lot. I kept working on turning and stopping while we waited for the slopes to reopen at 6:00.

Kristen and I agreed to finish at 6:30. She returned to the blue slope while I skied down the green slope. I noticed the air getting colder as I went out; the sun had already gone down for the day, withdrawing its warmth with it. I managed to ski about four more times before my legs finally felt fatigued. As I turned and sped down the hill, my legs felt like lead and my knees started to ache. I suppose after being on skis for almost eight hours (yes, my first time ever no less), my legs would finally just have it. I didn’t attempt one last run, but instead waited for Kristen. She came down only a moment after I had called it a day…

… until the following Thursday night.

Enjoy the pics from this ever-so-awesome ski trip.

Kristen and Brian taking a breather

Kristen and Brian taking a breather


Kristen flying down a hill

Kristen flying down a hill


Brian takes his first long ride down

Brian takes his first long ride down

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