Sunday, March 23, 2014

I Ski, Therefore I Am...Part I

When I first accepted the job in Colorado, two questions always came up by people talking to me. The first was, “How close is it to Denver?” The second question was, “Are you going to learn to ski?”


It wasn’t hard to answer the first question, but the second answer was more of an assumption. I really did want to learn to ski, but considering that I didn’t live near the mountains - and had never skied - I just replied with, “I hope to!”


One of my missions of the past year-and-a-half was to gather as much ski equipment that I could, so that if the opportunity came along, I could be ready to go. I knew that much of the ski gear could be rented, but I didn’t even own snowpants - a definite requirement.


Fun Fact #1: Skiing requires a lot of equipment!


Little did I realize how much I would need to buy. Even without skis, boots, poles, and helmet, I would have to purchase under clothing (like UnderArmour), middle clothing (sweatshirt-level), snowpants, coat, hat (or ski mask), quality mittens, thick socks (not just the kind you find at Target), and non-ski boots. These items are important when scaling a fourteener (and I wore exactly none of it when I actually did scale a fourteener last year - an idiotic move on my part) or going snowshoeing - not just skiing. But it still took me a while (and a little bit of change) to acquire all these things.


Luckily, in Colorado there are many chances to get these items at sale prices, thanks to the fact that clothiers and equipment companies always want people to buy the newest seasonal gear. That means that in the spring and summer, stores are putting all the “old” gear on sale to have more room for the new stuff. I purchased my snowpants, coat, and ski goggles back in April.


In August, there is a magical time called Sniagrab (read it backwards and it’ll make sense), where Sports Authority has a giant tent outside many of their stores with everything that is “so last year.” This includes all the ski and snowboarding equipment you could ever want at pretty ridiculous prices. I took advantage of this great sale to get a whole bunch of stuff, including ski boots, a helmet, ski poles, snowshoes, and two pair of mittens - all for the original price of the boots! Once I came out of there, I knew there was no going back.


There were other various items purchased at other times - ski socks in September, under clothing as Christmas presents, ski mask purchased with bonus dollars from Sports Authority - and all of a sudden I had everything! Now I just had to find a time to get into the mountains.


Fun Fact #2: I’m a busy person!


Weekends are usually the best time for the urban city folk around Denver to retreat into the mountains and hit the slopes. This also means that traffic on I-70 is insanely busy almost every weekend from Thanksgiving through Easter.


I did manage to get to the Idaho Springs area for some snowshoeing with some friends (and broke in some of the equipment I’d gotten, with great success) and saw this traffic for myself. A normal trip to Idaho Springs takes about 45 minutes for me - however, this time it took two hours, thanks to the fact that everyone was on that stretch of highway!


While many people can leave the urban areas on weekends because they don’t work, I have a job where I have many things going on during the weekends - especially on Sundays. While my cousins are often in the mountains and tell me I’m welcome to come any time, I often cannot make it up there due to something or other going on.


I was actually supposed to get up to the mountains in the first full weekend of February, but the nasty weather and my non-four-wheel-drive car prevented me from getting up there. The first time my schedule actually lined up for a mountain trip to ski was my Spring Break - which coincided with my cousins’ kids’ Spring Break.


My awesome cousins (J and M, we’ll call them) had my skis already up with them, and there was really no turning back after that. I was going to ski!


Fun Fact #3: Ski boots are awkward!


I had worn much of the “non-ski specific” equipment back in January when I’d gone snowshoeing. But this was the first time for the ski mask, helmet, goggles, and shoes. Most of it wasn’t too difficult - I felt like I was robbing a bank putting the ski mask on - but the shoes were quite awkward.


When I’d bought the boots at Sniagrab, one of the Sports Authority workers - who clearly knew his stuff - had helped me find the pair of boots I needed. He told me that I’d be shins-forward, heels-back most of the time, so he helped me find boots that allowed for this, but were still tight on my feet. Still, that was back in August. So when I put the boots on again...they were tight! Plus, ski boots aren’t easy to walk in when you don’t have the skis on. It’s heel-toe, heel-toe to the extreme! Apparently snowboard boots are much easier in which to walk, but not ski boots. Luckily everyone looks stupid in ski boots - not just me as the newbie.


The process of getting all the ski equipment on is a great adventure as well. There were six of us trying to get our ski gear on at the same time, and nothing was in the same spot. We were toppling over each other, but eventually we were all ready.


Fun Fact #4: Day passes are expensive!


Since it’s near the end of the ski season, there was no reason for me to purchase a year pass. My cousin let me use one of her Buddy Passes, which brought the price of a day pass to $84. It helped, but still...yeowch!


We purchased the pass near a mid-level chairlift, which wasn’t as busy as it was at the base of the peak. We were skiing in Breckenridge, where there are five main Peaks (titled 6,7,8,9, and 10), and the easiest is Peak 9. We got dropped off at the base of the peak with all our equipment, and just like that, M was putting down my skis and telling me to snap in!


There are no straps on skis - instead, your ski boots snap into place. As soon as I snapped in my skis, I started to slide away! That was an unfamiliar feeling, and I started to panic. But I used my poles and planted myself down.


Fun Fact #5: The first step is learn how to stop.


It isn’t that hard to go when you’re on skis - just point yourself down the hill and allow yourself to slide. The hard part is knowing how to stop. That is why my cousins taught me how to “snowplow” (or “pizza”) with my skis. Without crossing the skis, you point the tips inward and bend your knees in. That prevents you from gaining momentum.


I also was immediately taught how to stand on the skis. This was exactly the same stance that the Sports Authority guy taught me, but my cousin gave a better analogy: Imagine you have $100 bills in between your shins and ski boot. You want to keep the hundred dollars there all the way down the hill by pressing your shins up against the boot. By doing this, your heels are pressed back against the boot, allowing your toes to be free and not crunched up against the boots. While your knees are bent, it’s best to keep your upper torso straight-ish. It didn’t take me terribly long to learn this.


The thing that took me longer was how to get down a hill! From where I had strapped on the skis, it was an incline down about ¼ of a mile to the chair lift. Since we were there early, I wasn’t skiing into anyone. However, the more I went down the hill, the faster I got. (I think there’s a physics lesson I could quote here…)


Fun Fact #6: The J-curve


My cousin J took some time to help me learn the other way to stop, which is called a J-curve. You pretty much put all your weight on the inside of one of your skis, causing you to curve around. If you do it well enough, you’re facing the upslope of the hill when you’re done. While it didn’t take me incredibly long to learn the snowplow, the J-curve took me a lot longer. I didn’t accomplish that on the way to the chair lift.


I am thankful that my cousins are very athletic, because when I did fall (and didn’t know the proper way to get up) they just grabbed me by both arms and hoisted me up. I felt like a complete dolt, but I was still thankful they were there. This didn’t happen all the time - eventually I learned the proper way to get up when on skis - but it happened enough.


This post is taking a lot longer than I thought, so I am going to break this up into two parts.

Next on “I Ski, Therefor I Am:” Will she fall off the chair lift? Will she create an avalanche? Will an angry moose charge her as she tries to make it back home??? Stay tuned!

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