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.
On day two of ski lessons, my instructor took us up the Becker lift to ski down one of the resort’s few green runs. It dropped us off halfway up the mountain, and at that moment, 1,300 vertical feet stood between me and the bunny hill I’d been practicing on that morning.
To help matters, another girl in my group told me a story about how she’d broken her leg during a ski lesson the year before. What was I doing up here? I could glide down the 200 foot tall bunny hill with my skis pointed together in a pizza shape, but the steep and narrow path before me was overwhelming.
As I made my way down the run, snowboarders whizzed past. One clipped me from behind and I lost my balance, falling to the ground. Later I skied straight into a snowbank on the side of the path, unable to stop myself. The run alternated between hard, icy snow and sharp, narrow turns with steep drop offs. Eventually, the bunny hill appeared in front of me. I’d made it down without breaking my leg, crashing into someone else, or dying. Success?
When I met my boyfriend in the lodge for lunch, he asked how my lesson was going. I burst into tears.
Several months earlier, I’d decided I wanted to learn how to ski. I’d lived for three years in one of the country’s top ski destinations and many of my friends here adore the sport. Since coming to Utah, I’d learned how to rock climb, go on backpacking trips, and run half marathons. Each of these endeavors was challenging but enjoyable, and I assumed skiing would be no different.
After doing some research, I decided on a package for beginner skiers at Snowbasin resort. For around $450, I’d get three group lessons, my own rental equipment for the season, and a season pass to the resort once I finished my lessons. Considering a day pass to most resorts costs upwards of $100, it sounded like a pretty good deal.
My lessons progressed slowly, and while I was able to get myself down the bunny hill, mastering any sort of technique was not happening. My instructors tried their best, but in the end I simply needed way more practice time than three days allowed.
By the time I finished my three lessons, I still didn’t feel comfortable going down Becker again. I felt defeated.
But it was only January, and the ski season stretched out before me. My boyfriend had picked it up quickly and was already enjoying more difficult terrain. Meanwhile, I was getting sick of forcing myself to take laps on the tiny bunny hill. During the week, my skis sat at the door of our apartment, a constant reminder that I needed to keep practicing if I wanted to get better.
While voicing my frustration to a friend who regularly skis steep backcountry peaks, she told me about a deal at Alta ski resort. For just $30, I could ski all season on the beginner runs after 3pm. She invited me to join her the next day for a change of scenery.
We headed up the Sunnyside lift into Albion basin. From the top of the lift, only the mountains were visible. No parking lots, no lodges, just snow-covered, jagged peaks. There are several green runs from the top of the lift, so we chose one and started down.
Even though my technique hadn’t improved much since that first terrifying run down Becker, the whole experience felt completely different. The runs were wide and flat, with only small hill sections and no drop offs. I felt in control, and there was enough space to correct my mistakes without causing damage to myself or anyone else. Plus, it was beautiful up there.
I started going to Alta as much as I could. Yes, there were still days when I left after just one run because of hard snow conditions. Yes, I still fell over sometimes, and the steep parts were still a bit unnerving.
But overall, it didn’t feel as daunting. I became familiar with all the runs, and I even started to turn my skis parallel every once in awhile. Ever so slowly, my technique was beginning to improve.
One of the last days up on the mountain turned into an unexpected powder day. It had been snowing all day and it kept coming down, making each run better than the last. It was like my skis were gliding through butter, and everything felt how I imagined skiing was supposed to feel.
At one point, I started down an ungroomed hill, got bogged down in a foot of loose snow, and lost my ski. As I sat in the snow laughing and searching for my ski, I realized this was the most fun I’d had skiing all season. Maybe it could be fun. Maybe all those people who wake up at 5am for dawn patrol were on to something after all.
As the season wrapped up, I realized that if I hadn’t joined a program that gave me all-season access to lifts and gear, I probably wouldn’t have kept trying. After that second lesson, I’m sure I would have given up and headed inside. Yet walking past my skis every day, and knowing I could continue practicing without paying a dime, made me keep driving to the lifts, putting on my skis, and heading up the mountain.
I ended this ski season with mixed feelings, but mostly I’m grateful for the opportunity to have learned something new. Do I feel totally comfortable on skis after 15 days on the mountain? Not a bit. But I’ve gotten a taste for what it could be like if I keep at it, and maybe that’s enough.