Do One Thing: Alpine Skiing – Year 2

Landscape photo of a snow-covered mountain with directional ski trail signs in the foreground

Do One Thing is an occasional series based on the well-known idea: “do one thing everyday that scares you”. These posts will explore fear and the subsequent outcome of trying something new.

As some of you may remember, last winter I decided to try downhill skiing. I ended the season last March with mixed feelings, and as the temperatures began to drop this past autumn, I had some decisions to make:

Should I spring for a season pass somewhere? Should I rent my gear again or buy it? What was my plan for how to improve? How much skiing would I actually be doing, anyway?

To Pass or Not to Pass?

Ski passes are expensive. They’re even more expensive when you don’t buy them in May when they’re super discounted. By the time I started thinking about the ski season, buying a season pass was a pricey proposition. Considering I didn’t even know how much I’d be skiing this year, I decided to forego a pass and try to keeping practicing at Alta with their Ski at 3 promotion.

For $39, I could ski the Sunnyside lift after 3pm for the whole season. Since I was still getting comfortable on the green runs there anyway, this seemed like an inexpensive alternative to a season pass. It was also an easy way to make sure I could essentially ski for free throughout the winter, making the barrier to keep practicing fairly low.

The Gear Situation

Since I was still feeling lukewarm on skiing, I decided to rent my gear again. Rental packages run around $200 for the season, so I knew I’d get my money’s worth if I got on the slopes a handful of times. Plus, I knew that having the skis in my apartment would be a good motivator.

This season, I learned that using rental skis and poles are just fine for a beginner, but also that not all rental boots are created equal. Last season, our Snowbasin Learn and Earn rental gear was all brand new, so I didn’t have too many issues with the boots. Unfortunately, my rental boots this season weren’t so great, and even after exchanging them once, they just weren’t comfortable.

At the end of December, I ended up trying on ski boots in an REI hours before leaving on a trip to Jackson, Wyoming. I needed something that wouldn’t leave my feet in agony, and with REI’s forgiving return policy, I figured it was worth giving something new a shot. Luckily, they’ve worked out well so far and are a million times better than the rentals.

Pair of ski boots in a box
A necessary emergency purchase: comfortable ski boots

From Terrifying to Making Turns

After figuring out where to ski and what gear to use, the only thing left to do was ski, right? Well… the season started out a bit rough, to say the least. In December, I was still struggling down easy runs and having trouble making parallel turns.

When I ended up on a steep intermediate run at Snow King in Wyoming, I alternated between crying and falling down until I reached the bottom of the hill. This wasn’t going well.

I began to hate skiing.

View of the Jackson Hole valley from Snow King ski resort
The view from Snow King over the Jackson Hole valley.

After the blue run fiasco at Snow King, I didn’t ski for almost two months. This was partly due to travel and sickness, but I also just really didn’t want to get back out on the mountain. It was hard. It was scary. I couldn’t do it. I just wanted to be done.

Yet, something in me was determined to not have my final skiing memory be the one where I ugly cried down the mountain. I had to try again.

On President’s Day in February, I made my way back up Little Cottonwood Canyon to Alta. The conditions were good, and I’d decided that it was time for another lesson. I’d been assigned to the “Intro to Blues” course, and upon meeting the other women in the group, it turned out many of us had had similar experiences recently (ie: crying down the blue runs while our partners flew past us down the mountain). According to Mike, our instructor, this situation was not uncommon.

Mike was patient, and he took us down a few green runs first so we could practice the skills he was teaching us. Then before I knew it, we were heading to the top of the mountain on the Supreme lift. I was nervous, but Mike reassured me we’d be taking it slowly.

Skiers ski down a mountain and under a chairlift
Skiing down an intermediate run under the Supreme lift at Alta

And I did it! We made our way down, taking it slowly, making lots of turns. I only fell once and I won’t lie, I felt pretty awesome that day.

By the time we arrived back at the base, my quads were burning and my fingers were numb, and the lifts were shutting down for the day. As I limped back to my car, the smile on my face was huge. I knew I’d overcome a huge obstacle.

Landscape photo of a snow-covered mountain with directional ski trail signs in the foreground
Alta Ski Resort, looking up at Supreme lift and Sugarloaf Pass

Building My Skills

A few weeks later, I met up with some friends to ski a new mountain: Solitude. It took some time to get used to the new terrain, but I was encouraged (by a very patient friend!) to try some blue runs and by the end of the day I was skiing down runs I’d fallen on earlier.

I felt like I’d turned a page in my skiing abilities. I wasn’t really all that much better, but my brain was now telling me that I could get down that mountain if I focused and tried my best. And even when it was hard or scary, it was starting to be fun, too.

Skier comes down a snowy mountain
Making it look good… or rather, with marginal form but feeling good while doing it!

I went up to Alta recently in the hopes of getting in a few last good runs, but warmer temperatures meant spring conditions were in full effect. The slopes were hard and slippery, and even getting down the green runs felt too sketchy for my beginner skills. After just one run, I decided to pack it up and head home.

While driving down the canyon, I realized I was excited for next year’s season. I felt thankful to live in a place where I have easy access to the slopes and where there are so many days with great snow conditions. I met a lot of people on lifts this season who only get to go skiing one week a year, and this always makes me feel grateful that I have the opportunity to keep trying, weekend after weekend.

I don’t think I actually improved my physical skiing skills all that much this winter, but what changed is what goes on in my head. Instead of panicking when I reach a difficult section of the mountain, I take a deep breath and use what I know to get through it. Also, considering how slowly I tend to ski, I’ve learned that falling down isn’t even really a big deal.

And most importantly, I’ve learned to lean in and enjoy the delicate balancing act of gliding through the newly fallen powder, with the jagged peaks of the Wasatch mountains surrounding me as I go. 

Who knows? Next year I might even buy myself a season pass.

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