The important point to remember about skiing is that until the basic skills are mastered, the sport is not meant to be enjoyed. This frustrating lesson is driven home each time the beginner sprawls across a ski slope in various embarrassing postures. The hard, cold, and wet facts of first-ski came to me a year ago, along with the failures and the final triumph, the successful negotiation of a kiddie hill by a full-grown adult.
Do go to a ski school for your first lesson. Theoretically you will have a better chance to learn correctly and a better chance to stand in the future without the aid of a crutch. Believing that you are in the protective custody of an experienced instructor will encourage you to try things you might otherwise believe foolhardy. In my case, I decided on the currently popular Graduated Length Method (GLM) in group lessons. The advantage of the GLM is it teaches parallel skiing (the expert’s technique) from the first, so that the student develops (in theory) a sense of balance, rhythm, and coordination. Previously first-skiers mastered the “snowplow” technique, a style of skiing characterized by pointing the ski tips inward, before attempting to parallel ski, in which the ski tips are parallel to each other. GLM beginners start with very short skis and without ski poles, progressing through a series of lessons. The learning process comes in three stages: three-foot, four-foot, and five-foot skis. The proper ski length, post-lesson is selected by measuring a ski upright; generally the length, post-lesson, is selected by level is the proper length. Poles are used toward the end of the lessons.
In most cases the cost of the ski lesson, about $6, includes a lift ticket, and since the ticket can cost $10 to $12 a day, lessons are a bargain. The process of being issued boots, skis, and bindings is administered assembly-line style, but pay special attention to the instructions on how to operate boot bindings. Bindings are the mechanisms which couple boots to skis; they are designed to release you from the skis in a fall, just short of a broken leg.
The order, from the skin out, of the skier’s wardrobe is long underwear, sweat pants (preferably rubber or water-repellent material), heavy blue jeans, and a pair of wool sweaters, topped with an all-weather or down-jacket. “Warm-up” pants can be purchased for $20 to $30, but really the only item worth investing in at the beginning is a pair of down gloves or mittens for $10 to $20. It goes without saying that, in such an outfit, not only will you ski like a beginner, you will also look like one, but there’s nothing worse than the fool who spends $200 on ski clothes and can’t even ski.
In the GLM program, anyone who has had no prior experience on skis begins with GLM 1. Although everyone in the class will deny prior experience, 75 per cent of them are lying, and their deceit will add to the beginner’s embarrassment. For the first half-hour of lessons everyone is more or less equal, learning to walk, hop, get up off the ground, and stop in skis, and finally to slide about fifteen yards down the ski-school slope.
The first test comes with the traverse, the basis of parallel-skiing, which is simply skiing from one side of the slope to the other side, then “hop-turning” from that side to the next, and “hop-turning” again. The key move is transferring weight to the downhill foot as you “hop-turn.” At this point I began to fall behind my classmates by confusing “hop-turn” with nose dive. Some of my classmates who were falling in the same direction wisely left class, but I attempted to ski down the slope. While all skied down, I fell. At the bottom of the hill, first lesson over, I skied across the flat ski-lodge area to lunch like a professional. I was temporarily defeated but not totally disheartened, and returned for the afternoon class. There I was held back in GLM 1 while the rest went to GLM 1½ or GLM 2.
Again, by the end of the second hour, none of us had mastered traversing. Finally each of us took turns holding the opposite end of a long wooden pole held by the instructor as we skied down the school slope with him, learning what skiing was supposed to feel like. Before long everyone caught on enough to take the lifts again. Making it all the way down without a spill. I thanked my instructor profusely and went back up the lift twice more to confirm my success. I was exuberant.
A small addendum: later, back at the ski house, all I was interested in was a heating pad and a tube of Ben-Gay. The next morning I found a skiing magazine which asked “Are you fit to ski?” on its cover. Curious about the answer, I flipped to the article. It read something like “A good day of skiing is like doing 200-300 sit-ups, 100 push-ups, 150 deep knee bends…” The recommended exercise program for anyone considering skiing as a hobby read much the same. Skiing had proven more physically demanding than anticipated, but I hadn’t experienced such exhilaration since childhood. I vowed to try again this season—if I can get into shape.