If you’re a southerner like me, there are a lot of benefits to visiting a city like Calgary in the winter. Just seeing the snow is a novelty, plus you get to take advantage of cool winter only activities like snowshoeing, bobsledding, or just building a snowman. The biggest benefit though, is the fact that Calgary is located just outside of the Canadian Rockies and has access to some of the best skiing Canada has to offer. Unfortunately that’s completely useless if the closest you’ve ever come to skiing is trying to walk in the snow with size 14 shoes on. :-) This year I decided to finally bite the bullet and learn to ski in Calgary with WinSport at Canada Olympic Park.
When you’re in a town located about an hour from some fantastic ski destinations like Banff National Park, you have a lot of choices when you want to learn to ski. Calgary however, is home to the WinSport training facility which is dedicated to the instruction of winter sports to both Canadian Olympic and National team athletes as well as the general public. Plus it’s located about 10 minutes outside of downtown, so it’s super convenient if you want to learn to ski or brush up on your skills before hitting the slopes.
Since I knew absolutely nothing about skiing, I chose to sign up for their Ski in 3 course. Although there are quite a few different options available, I liked 2 key things about the Ski in 3 lessons. Firstly, I was signing up for 3 90-minute classes which meant that I wouldn’t be expected to learn everything in one shot. Secondly, I would get lots of repetition and time to practice after each class since equipment rental and lift passes are included in each class.
I arrived for my first class on Friday evening and I must admit, while insanely enthusiastic, I was also a bit terrified. Learning to ski when you’re 35 isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do in the world, and it’s twice as hard when even walking in the snow is a challenge. The check-in process, and getting my rentals was super fast and easy, and then I was off to find the little red schoolhouse to start my lesson. Really, you meet for your lesson at a tiny red schoolhouse :-)
Before our class began the instructor asked each of us to set a goal. For me it was obvious: I wanted to complete one run down the real ski hill by the end of the class. I had no idea if I could do it, but I figured you either shoot for the sky, or don’t bother trying. The first day’s lesson was focused on the basics like how to put a ski on, skating around in the snow, and stopping. We also learned something called the “Pizza” and “French Fry”, which to the uninitiated are different ways to place your skis to control your speed and turns. The instructor was super friendly and patient and since the class was kept really small we got lots of personal attention. Surprisingly, by the end of the first 90 minute lesson we were slowly plowing our way down a little bunny hill and I only fell once!
Feeling juiced up by my success of the first day; I was crazy excited when I showed up for my second lesson on Saturday morning, but still a bit nervous and hesitant. Even though the Canada Olympic Park was much busier due to the weekend, our class was divided up to keep it small and we still got lots of personal attention, which I loved. By the end of the second day, we were actually skiing from the top to bottom of their tallest learning hill and making turns back and forth. It was a little harder than I thought it would be to control speed and turning (those skiers on TV make it look soooo easy :) ), but even on the higher hill I only fell a couple of times and felt like I was really getting the hang of it.
On the third and last day of my lessons, I arrived juiced up and ready to go. I picked up my rentals, headed out and met with our instructor. We jumped right in and started with a warm up run from the top of the training hill. As we were riding the little magic carpet up the hill, I noticed something had changed. I felt just as enthusiastic as the previous days, but I noticed that my nervousness and apprehension had been replaced with anticipation and excitement. At that moment I realized that by the end of this I would actually know how to ski!
We spent the third day drilling on turns and control and repeating our runs over and over again so that everything became muscle memory. Interestingly, what had begun as an exercise where every motion was a conscious thought was rapidly becoming something we were all doing intuitively.
On my first run down the bunny hill my mind was a flurry of commands. The phrases bend your knees, stay low, pizza, pivot, french fry, don’t fall, were banging through my head in rapid fire. By the third day most of that had drifted away. Instead each run down the hill, was replaced with thoughts like WHEEEE and WOO HOO! Suddenly skiing had gone from something that was a complete mystery to me, to something I was actually doing and enjoying!
By the end of the 3rd class I was faced with my final obstacle, the hill! Even though I was feeling pretty confident, the idea of heading up to the top and skiing down was still terrifying. You see, while the skiing downhill was kinda scary, I also have an idiotic fear of chairlifts and gondolas. I’ve always hated them, and I don’t know why. I mustered up the courage though and got onto the chair lift and then the the worst thing in the world happened.
There I am, sitting halfway up the mountain with my skis hanging down over what felt like a vast chasm while white knuckling the lap bar. I was there for an eternity (ok it was really 5 minutes, but that’s an eternity to me! ). All I could thing about was the fact that the little wire could give way at any moment and I would fall to my death. Thankfully the chair started going again and I finally made my way to the top of the hill. Once I got there, I immediately regretted my decision. My stomach had become a boiling lump of lead while my legs were suddenly made of gelatin. If you’ve never been at the top of a ski hill, it’s pretty freaky! My mind immediately started looking for alternate routes down that didn’t involve racing down the hill on two slicked sticks.
Then I looked to my left and right and saw little kids all just hopping off the lift and heading right down the hill without a care in the world and figured if they could do it, anyone could. I mustered up my courage and started down the hill. All I can remember of the first 5 seconds was, OH MY GOD I’M GONNA DIE!!
Then, I fell. Hard.
It sucked. I tumbled once or twice then stopped. There I was on the middle of the hill, splayed out, with skis and poles scattered everywhere. I was convinced I must be hurt, but after a second I realized that the only thing aching was my ego. I felt defeated, like I had bitten off too much.
What was a dude from Florida even doing trying to learn to ski in the first place? Who was I kidding? I picked myself and my stuff up, and started walking down the hill while sulking more than a kid who just dropped the last cupcake. Then, as I reached a flatter spot I paused and looked around. Everyone else looked like they were having so much fun, why wasn’t I?? I decided I had come this far, I couldn’t just quit.
I put my skis back on, grabbed my poles, and tried one more time. As I started back up, I was filled with fear and trepidation. Nothing was making sense and I had no control. Then I paused, took a deep breath, and thought back to my instructors over the past 3-days. I started repeating their instructions in my head and next thing you know I was skiing down hill and I all I could think was WOOHOOO!!!
I came to a stop at the bottom of the hill, looked back up, and was filled with immense pride. I had won! Three days earlier I didn’t know how to put my boots on, much less walk in them. Now 72 hours later, I knew enough to make it all the way down the hill. Thanks to the awesome team at WinSport and their Ski in 3 I can now proudly say that I know how to ski. I won, and it feels great!!
If you’re interested in learning how to ski, or just want to brush up your skiing skills before heading out to the mountains check out all the different learning programs hosted by WinSport, check out their official website.
We’d be honored if you would subscribe to our newsletter or connect with us via social media on Facebook, twitter, +Kenin, tumblr, Pinterest, and YouTube!