Downhill Skiing Advice: Straight from an Amateur

Return of the “Pink Ladies:” tougher, way cooler, and dressed like cartoon characters.


Sigh.  Always a ski bunny and never a bum.

Trust me, I don’t flatter myself with that statement.  Although the bunny hill is one I can “Lindsey Vonn” (sort of) I can’t do it carrying a steaming cup of joe.  I’ve really seen that happen.  Nor can I “shred it” while carrying a bin of paper files (yup, seen that, too).  Talk about taking the office with you.

But there is something I do bring down a slope, and that thing is fear.  I don’t need speed.  Or bumps.  I certainly don’t need “air.”  But I do need the glorious outdoors and nothing matches the breathtaking beauty at 10,000 feet in a gentle snow, with a grand panoramic of white-blanketed peaks and pine trees.

So I ski.  Or at least try to.

We are in our fifth season as a skiing family.  My husband, already an experienced skier when we moved to Colorado, knows the runs of our local resort like the back of his gloved, pole-wielding hand.  All three of my kids can take the black diamonds with little fear.  As for me?  I can handle an intermediate blue run but a soundtrack of screams is on loop mode in my head.

Ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration.  But going into season five I still get very nervous wondering if I’ll get my ski legs back.  So nervous, in fact, I may need therapy for the near panic I feel when we ride the lift.  Fortunately, revisiting this feeling so many times has made it easier for me to identify why it is I want to ralph in my Voormi every ski season:

  1. I fear falling (failing?), or worse, making the epic  “yard sale.”  (This is the granddaddy of wipeouts, where one not only falls but does so with enough speed to lose both their poles and skis; this is a huge bragging right in the ski community.)
  2. I worry about losing my way and ending up in the-point-of-no-return, where I have to take a run I’m not familiar with and is above my level.

On most ski outings I do take a tumble and getting that fall out of the way is actually a relief.  As in, ok, I’ve survived, I can move on now.  As a friend of mine says, “If you don’t fall, you’re not trying,” and while that certainly makes sense, I don’t want to risk my neck and make for an epic story that ends in my getting a sled ride to urgent care.  That does look like a fun way to see the mountain, but it’s a privilege reserved for those who need at best an X-ray and at worst an ambulance.  I’ll hold back and take the occasional plop down on my butt getting off the ski lift or trip over my own skis or poles, on easier inclines.

So I’m working on the fear of falling, but it was only a few days ago that we did get lost.

I was with my daughter and one of my boys, who know the mountain much better than I do.  They wanted to take a run called Paradise (a fitting name at a resort called Purgatory), down Tinker’s Dam (whatever that means, your guess is as good as mine) to Pandemonium (not as bad as it sounds).  Ok.  We’ve done it before and it’s great skiing.  And I’m with my kids.  Life is good.

So we are skiing along, my daughter, as always, in the lead.  My son is behind me, following my trail and working on his control.  It’s a lot of fun and we are loving the beautiful powder day.  Then we turn, following the signs, until my daughter comes to a stop at the top of a hill and proclaims,

“This is not Tinker’s Dam.”

Oh, damn.

It most certainly was not.  This is a very steep, but short, run.  Yes, I am taken to exaggeration when it comes to the pitch of ski hills but I think my assessment that this is a double black diamond is not too far off.

Um, yeah.

My son takes the lead and skis this sucker.  Wow.  Then he waits patiently below, just chillin’, while I practice my side step down both levels of this terrifying slope, my daughter as my wing-man, cheering me on with advice.

“Try sliding a little, you’ll go faster.”

“Think about the things you love.  What do you you love, Mommy?”

Did I mention these kids are total rock stars?

My heart was pounding the whole time…not just from altitude and stress but also because I was full of pride that my kids were so patient with me.  And yes, we made it down and I can say I went down a double black diamond.  Which we confirmed after pulling out a map later that day.

I still break out in a cold sweat just thinking about it.  But I faced my fear head-on…no, actually it was sideways, doing the side-step.  I learned that even I could pull off a double-black when forced to.  I guess that’s a good skill to have in my back pocket.

But again, I don’t flatter myself.  I’m very much an in-my-head not-gonna-risk-anything skier.  And I don’t see that changing anytime soon.  I mean, for god’s sake I learned to ski at age 41 so I think I’m lucky to be out there at all.

A pre-Christmas “run” with my son. It was bitterly cold, snowy, and breathtakingly beautiful.

With that in mind, I have some slope-related advice for the budding non-Lindsey Vonn or non-Bode Miller who just wants to have fun:

$Splurge and take a lesson, maybe two.  Get together with a friend or family member who is at a similar level and ability and take a private lesson.  Don’t take a lesson with a random group of others.  You want an instructor who can tailor instruction to your needs.  Your instructor will appreciate this, too, as it’s tough for her to work with people of varying abilities in a finite amount of time.  Also, be sure to give your teacher a tip at the end of your lesson.  She deserves it!

ΘDon’t look where you don’t want to go.  Trust me, if you look at that fallen snowboarder, you will run into him.  Focus your efforts on carving your (safe) path down the mountain.  Don’t get me wrong, you do need to be aware of your surroundings but don’t hone in on that unassuming skier or snowboarder.   Note his presence and work your way around him.

Just do it.  Take your time skiing but don’t stop every 50 feet.  I am prone to stopping at the top of every hill I come to.  Part of it is I am waiting for my family or they are stopped and waiting for me (which is most of the time) and we “regroup.”  But frequent stops can induce the fear, and the noooo-you-go-first mentality.  If you know a run, just go.  Don’t break the momentum and instead keep those ski legs moving.

Make sure those boots fit.  Or better yet, get someone experienced to help you fit your boots.  When I bought my first pair, I didn’t even think to tell the clerk I had never worn ski boots before.  I approached the process like I was shopping for shoes.  So I ended up with a pair of boots that was a size and a half too big, which made making turns really difficult and is also a risk for breaking a ankle.  If you’re a newbie to the sport, be sure to communicate your rookie status to the clerk and have no idea how boots should fit.  Believe me…appropriately-sized, snug boots make a huge different in your ability to navigate a ski hill.

Don’t be afraid to have the lift slowed down for you.  Really.  I hear people do it almost every time we ski.  There’s a lift at our local resort that scoops up skiers at the bottom and spits them out at the top.  You need to be on your game to ride it; it’s a fast-moving lift.  But people request it at half-speed all the time.  The lift operator will be happy to oblige;  he don’t want an accident any more than you.

Accept the fall.  As my husband asks my kids, “What’s the difference between you and professional skiers?  They have fallen many more times than you have.”  How very true.  It’s not shameful to fall.  Just admit to yourself that you will take a tumble every now and then and it’s all part of the learning process.  And be sure to…

🙂 Laugh it off.  Of course, unless it’s a nasty, scary fall.  And that’s relative, I totally get that.  But for the minor mishaps, smile, brush yourself off, and say to your ski buddy, “Did you see that?!”  Then keep on moving.  (Sometimes those falls result in an ongoing joke, as in the time I fell face-down and scraped some of the reflective stuff off my goggles, in a shape that looks like a small tushy.  My kids have called these my “fairy butt goggles” ever since.)

?Ask for help, even if you have a map.  Is it just me, or are maps of ski resorts almost no help at all?  If I tried to follow one of these maps like it were scripture, I’m pretty sure I’d end up in the backcountry.  Fortunately, mountain patrol and fellow skiers are more than happy to help you out.  It’s a great community to be a part of.

!Know your limits.  So many people don’t.  I don’t necessarily have an eye for this unless someone is ripping down the hill in a spray of snow, but any instructor will tell you that many people ski out-of-control.  And this results in injury, likely injury to someone else.  Be safe.

And of course, have a mountain of fun!


My husband and I on that scoop-’em-‘up-spit-’em-out lift. It was a bluebird day to be out skiing.

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