Saturday, March 7, 2015

Learning to Ski

This season is my first time skiing as far as I can remember. I say, “as far as I can remember” because I did go skiing once when I was a kid but I might have gotten a concussion because I hit my head and now I don’t remember anything from that day… anyway.

I've started off with backcountry skiing, meaning that I have to “skin up” any terrain I want to ski back down. This is great for getting in a work-out, but not so great for learning to ski downhill. Essentially, I end up skiing uphill for an hour then downhill for 15 minutes. You see the problem? In the six times I've gone backcountry skiing, I've gotten to ski down maybe 12,000 feet total.

Despite the lack of downhill practice, I’m glad I have started learning to ski on a backcountry setup. It has helped me get my cold weather systems dialed and toughened me up quite a bit. With that experience, I was much more appreciative when I finally was able to go to a resort this past Wednesday. In one day, I exceeded all of my prior downhill experience, getting in a total of 14,400 feet.

Skiing at the resort was very different from skiing backcountry, but both experiences taught me a lot. Here are a few of the more humorous lessons I learned from each style…

3 Lessons from the Backcountry

1. Caffeine is your best friend. Until it isn't. Caffeine is a beautiful drug that will help you wake up and get stoked in the dark, pre-dawn hours. But too much will make your heart palpate, your whole body sweat with a sickly smell, and if you are really unlucky, it will make you poop your pants. Not that I have any experience with that or anything. I’m just saying. It can happen.

2. Cold will numb the pain. Have no fear when hurtling down the mountain at unnatural speeds. You may totally wreck and yard-sale your body and skis across the slope, but you won’t feel a single bit of pain. Until you warm back up that is.

3. You will learn to look forward to the screaming-barfies. What are the screaming-barfies, you ask? I’ll tell you. When your hands and feet go entirely numb and your body says “Oh crap I’m about to get frostbite,” it suddenly pumps your limbs full of blood and adrenaline to aggressively warm them back up. Warming up might sound nice and indeed it is good, but the sensation is akin to shoving your hands in a bin of white hot sewing needles, and you feel the need to scream and barf at the same time. Hence the name screaming-barfies. I usually cry and laugh hysterically when this happens, because it’s horrible but at least I’m about to feel my fingers again.

Three Lessons from the Resort

1. Humility. Nothing will make you feel more humble than being out-skied by a toddler. In fact, every toddler you see will ski better than you. Those short, brain-heavy snot machines can barely walk, but they can ski like freaking ninjas.

2. More Humility. When other skiers on the gondola see your rad backcountry gear, they will immediately assume you are a hard core bad ass awesome skier. Don’t worry about this. They will discover the truth as soon as they see you wedge your way down the slope…

3. Don’t get upset by the skiers who get too close to you. Either they are as bad as you and can’t control themselves or they are way better than you but you are just too unpredictable to effectively avoid. Only rarely is it because they are a jerk. And that’s usually when they’re a 12 year old boy on a snowboard and trying to show off for you, at least until they realize you are old. 

All joking aside, I feel like I am finally getting a handle on this whole skiing thing. By the end of my day at the resort, I was charging the churned-up, partially iced-over blue hills with a manic grin on my face. Sure, I still had one or two epic looking wrecks on the way down. But while most of the other resort skiers had abandoned the slopes for hot cocoa in the lodge, I was gaining mad new skills and having a blast. Before I close out today's post, I have one last lesson to share. 

Number One Lesson for Skiing Anywhere

1. Be Avalanche Aware. Everywhere. Every time. When we ski in the backcountry, it is more obvious that we need to be aware of the dangers of avalanches. We always take our beacons, shovels, & probes, and we always check the snow conditions - before and during the trip. While you do not really need a full backcountry setup to ski safely in a resort, you should still be aware of the danger. Avalanches can happen, even at a resort and certainly in the nearby out of bounds areas. 

While we were at the resort on Wednesday, a young snowboarder went out of bounds and triggered an avalanche which took his life. It is a heartbreaking example of why everyone who recreates on snowy slopes needs to be educated regarding the avalanches and why even at/near a resort, you need to be avalanche aware. 

Those of us in the Ogden area can take advantage of the Avalanche Awareness Course offered by Weber State University. I highly recommend it. 

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