It’s the afternoon of my first day on alpine skis and my boyfriend Charlie, who is also a long-time ski instructor, announces on a lift ride that I am firmly classified as a Level 6 student.
This probably means nothing to plenty of skiers but I’m a competitive person so I ask, “What’s a Level 6?” He explains the skills required to meet Levels 1-5 and, since I had just been on a Blue run doing a parallel turn with a decent pole plant, this makes me a 6. I ask him how many levels there are.
That’s all? A moving image pops into my head … My dark hair bounces around my shoulders and powder fluffs up around my knees as I flash down the Perfect Trees on a socked-in Monarch Pass winter day. I had been on the magic carpet just a few hours before and so, perched on the steep slope of a learning curve I say, “How long will it take me to get to Level 9?”
My mind-movie fantasy screeches to a stop as we prepare to get off the lift. My pole tip bounces awkwardly off the ramp and I hear Charlie add, Maybe never.
After more than two decades of resort riding and backcountry splitting, I am back on the bunny slopes. The very next week when I show my still-in-the-plastic Rossi Sassy 7s to Lizzie, my bff knuckle-dragger-parter-in-crime, she squawks Why the hell I are you learning to ski?
Riding since the early-90s, she and I have suffered together the frozen bums, the twelfth pair of ripped gloves, and the mornings of Oh, I can’t turn my head! after spacing out on a cruiser and catching the almighty front edge. We’ve heard it all — Human groomer. Falling leaf. Post-hole digger — and learned a long time ago to laugh it off. Why go back to the Greens? she implores me.
I rediscovered my reason last summer when I bought a full-suspension mountain bike. I live less than a mile from a few of the best new trails in central Colorado but for months I failed to ride it more than 5 consecutive minutes. On and off, push the bike. On and off. Push the bike. On and off …
Long story short, I took lessons and suddenly, popping over a 3-inch log felt like a 3-foot-high boulder. I could not wait to wake up in the mornings and ride another trail. That feeling of personal achievement; I know it sounds cheeky but it’s like falling in love. My take-away: Learning is fun!
Doesn’t the wax fall through the hole in the middle? My friend Tim Kennedy and I are both learning to ski after years of snowboarding and splitting.
And there are more reasons, too. Any splitter who has done a long tour in a drainage with varying short gains and losses in elevation will tell you, It’s hard! You’re forced to either skate in deep snow (Post-hole digger!) or free-heel on a really wide set of skis that only have sidecut on the inside edge.
“You do this in a pair of beefed-up basketball shoes and it’s terrifying, especially when you don’t know how to ski,” my friend Tim Kennedy says. Tim took up skiing last year after three decades of riding, when the snow conditions at the resort weren’t very, well, good.
“I’m at the age where I’m not going to be going into the terrain park,” he says. “You top out resort riding and it gets a little boring on those hard-packed days. Powder days, for sure I’m gonna hop on my snowboard but the new alpine touring gear — that’s the main reason I was interested in getting into skiing.”
Just like Tim, I bought an AT setup. I won’t be bashing the bumps and when the backcountry terrain is not suited to splitting, I will be skiing.
As a copy writer for Wilderness Exchange Unlimited for nearly 10 years, I have read and written about tech improvements in alpine touring gear that steadily delivered boots with more uphill efficiency and staggering ankle flex, yet more stiffness for control and power on the downhill. Kits got lighter for more enjoyment on the skin up while at the same time, they became more durable and opened the door to resort laps. Then, DIN-standard releasable bindings made it safer.
Back in the early ’90s, AT gear was heavy and clunky and every backcountry skier I knew was a tele skier. With my new gear, I can ski in the backcountry and not have to make a tele turn.
Tele turns require more finesse and commitment than an alpine turn, according to my boyfriend, who is a Level III PSIA instructor in Nordic and alpine. “You can never take away the beauty and personal satisfaction of making a tele turn,” Charlie tells me. “But whereas it used to be a necessity for us to access the backcountry, now it’s more of an esoteric art.”
Yes, AT gear can be expensive but there’s nothing like taking up a new sport to feed my inner gear slut. So okay, it might take me years to become an advanced skier and maybe never is in the cards but trying to get there is already a lot of fun.