Warning: Do not attempt to teach a friend how to ski unless you are a professional instructor. When I worked as a ski instructor, so many students ended up taking lessons after their so-called friend/boyfriend/girlfriend/lover/husband/wife/aunt/you get the idea attempted to teach them how to ski. These students usually shared a tale that always ended tragically–and sometimes in a break-up or divorce. You might think I am a hypocrite for writing the above, then introducing you to Aimee Seavey who is going to blog about the day she re-learned to ski under my guidance after her 20-year hiatus from the sport. However, I am a trained professional. And despite having more than 10 years of ski instruction experience, I was still a hesitant to give her a refresher course since I’ve heard so many horror stories about friends teaching friends to ski. Keep reading and you’ll find out if we are still friends.
Introducing: Aimee Seavey!
I first learned to ski when I was eleven. Our town had a small mountain (Nashoba Valley Ski Area in Westford, MA) and my grandparents gave me and and my sisters lessons for Christmas one year. The lessons were once a week, and at night. My cousins had also been signed up, so while the kids skied, my mom and aunts would hang out and have dinner in the on-site Outlook restaurant. Everyone was happy with the arrangement, and while I do remember having fun on the mountain, I think I probably would have enjoyed the warmth of the fire in the restaurant more.
My mom remembers it pretty succinctly. “I can still see you sitting outside with your cup of hot cocoa and candy bar” she says. “That was all you cared about.” After my lesson, it seems I thought it was time for a treat.
My instructor was nice enough — a young guy I now think was probably in his early twenties, but to my middle school mind that seemed very grown up indeed. His name was Mike, and while I am sure he did his best, the only thing I remember about his lessons was how to make a snow plow wedge with my skis to turn and slow down. Of course, that didn’t help when I lost my balance after he lined us up in a vertical line halfway down the mountain, taking all of the poor kids below me down like dominoes. And I guess I was screaming too much when I found myself hurtling towards a parked coach bus at the base of the bunny slope to remember that trusty wedge trick, since I collided with the bus a few seconds later, grateful for the marshmallow padding of my snow pants.
I eventually got the hang of it and survived the winter, but when it was over I never looked back. My skiing days, along with the ugly large purple glasses I wore back then, were long behind me.
Then in 2011, I moved from Boston to New Hampshire to work for Yankee, and met Heather Atwell. You, of course, know Heather as the rightful author of this blog. She’s been skiing since she was a toddler (and had the cutest pair of baby ski boots in the world to prove it), and is our resident ski expert. Her love and enthusiasm for skiing is so infectious that I had no trouble agreeing to get back on skis sometime, so long as she would be there to keep me from killing myself (or anyone else).
It’s likely I agreed to this on a hot summer day, dreaming of cold air, but then a few weeks ago, in early February, I found myself with Heather at Mount Snow in West Dover, Vermont on a busy, sunny Sunday afternoon. It was time.
Just to keep things organized, this is Heather…and then me.
I might look the part, but that’s only because I am wearing the Heather Ski Collection from head to toe. This included goggles, hat, outer jacket, inner jacket, shirt, pants, socks, and gloves. The only things of my own were my underthings and a pair of leggings that I bought the night before at TJ Maxx for $6. Also, it goes without saying that the boots, skis, and poles were rentals.
As I posed next to the “Beginner Green” sign, I tried to look excited, but I was starting to feel a little nervous about what was coming next.
Heather, on the other hand, didn’t have to mask her excitement, even if it meant doing beginner things all day. She has moguls in her blood.
Stepping into my skis was remarkably easy. It’s funny how your mind remembers how to position your toe in first and press down with your heel to lock the boot in place, but moving forward was a little awkward. After watching my progress in halting bursts, Heather advised me to hold the poles by the tops (like a the way you grasp a car shifter) rather than the sides for better leverage. This made a big difference.
We made our way over to the Mount Snow equivalent of a bunny slope — a hill with a long, gentle finish that’s also perfect for adult skiers re-learning how to move with long, skinny boards strapped to their feet. As I tried to recall the things I’d learned back in the early 90’s, Heather tells me not to bother. The shape of skis had totally changed since then, and I should just concentrate on what I’ll learn today. Fair enough.
Three things you can teach someone that’s rusty on a very limited time frame seem to have a lot to do with shins, when to lean, and when to lower.
- Don’t rock back onto your heels in the boot. Keep your shin pressed against the front.
- When making a turn, don’t make a big snow plow wedge and pirouette into it (the way I wanted to). Learn to lean into the turn with the outer leg and your body will gradually follow.
- Lower your body a bit coming out of a turn, and rise going into one. Rising helps slow you down a little so you have more control during the turn.
After a few “runs” down the easy slope (where I did not fall down once!) we made our way over to the map to choose an easy route on the main mountain. I couldn’t believe how many options there were…
But first — it was time for a snack. The smell coming out of the nearby Waffle Cabin was the most delicious aromatic combination of batter, sugar, and cinnamon. Picnic tables nearby were crammed with skiers taking a break and enjoying a hot drink or crispy waffle, totally at home in the cold winter air. There was such a feeling of camaraderie among the skiers and snowboarders — an entire community of folks that love heading outdoors in the winter weather to make their way up and down a snowy mountain. I fond myself feeling envious of their secret club.
Waffles eaten, it was time for a ride on the fanciest chair lift I’d ever seen (which isn’t saying anything). The blue wind screen on the Bluebird Express chairs came down automatically, offering a trippy view of the slopes en route to the top. It was like being on the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour.
Once off the chairlift, it was the moment of truth.
There’s nowhere to go but down, and it’s a long way from here.
We spotted a sign for a green trail (the easiest trails) and headed for Long John.
I won’t tell you I made a graceful descent. I won’t tell you I didn’t fall, because I did…twice. Once in an awkward split that had me questioning the laws of bodily physics, and again after speeding over an icy patch while artificial snow rained down on me like a flash blizzard. I wildly lost control, but it still took a good five seconds to officially fall down. I bet those five seconds were mortifying, and I’m glad I was so terrified I don’t remember them.
But with every fall, Heather was right there to help me up and offer some advice. She’d wait for me to catch up if she got ahead, and had me ski in her tracks when the path was extra steep. It sure helps having a ski instructor for a friend to cheer you on — especially when kids half your size and one third your age are whizzing by you. On snowboards.
So the big verdict? Of course we’re still friends! I had a great day getting back in the saddle, or…you know, back on the skis. Thank you Heather and thank you Mount Snow!
But just one more thing…
While Heather clearly dominated on the slopes, what happened next was helpful in restoring a teensy bit of equilibrium to our friendship. Back at the car, Heather was taking off her ski boots (she owns her own, of course) and pulling on her everyday boots, but after putting on one she realized she couldn’t find the other one. After searching the car (and under it), we traced her steps back to the lodge where we had stayed the night before, a short drive away. She had changed into just one ski boot there in the parking lot (which is part of a longer story), and thought maybe the everyday boot would still be there, sitting on the snow next to where we had parked. When it wasn’t, she headed inside to ask if anyone had brought it to the lost and found, and emerged a moment later holding a large plastic bag with her boot inside.
Not only had she left the boot, but she’d also driven over it as we headed over to park closer to the ski entrance.
It’s the little things, my friends, the little things.