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Winter / Winter Sports

I Only Cried Twice: A Beginner’s Account of Learning to Ski

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While East Coasters are still digging out from Nemo, ski resorts across the country are anticipating prime conditions this President’s Day weekend. But the reality is, only 5 to 10 percent of Americans even know how to ski. Make this winter the one to break out the ski poles and sign up for a lesson–even if it means a few bumps and bruises along the way. Follow along as ski novice Lilit Marcus taps into her inner snow bunny and learns to conquer the slopes.

The reasons I gave for not knowing how to ski are pretty common ones: I grew up in a warm part of the country, I’m not super athletic, and skiing always seemed like an expensive sport. Regardless, I decided to give it a try. I took my first ski lesson at Salt Lake City’s Alta Lodge with an instructor named Art. Out on a bunny hill next to experienced toddlers who whizzed past us, our new boots awkward on our feet, we learned how to walk sideways up a hill and how to from falling. It didn’t work most of the time. I have the greenish-purple leg bruises to show for it.

By the end of the first day, I felt defeated. Though we were all ostensibly novice skiers, a few members of the group had done it once or twice in the past and others were more naturally skilled athletes. I was definitely at the bottom of the pack. But I soon discovered one of the best parts about skiing: the vaunted après-ski. Alta, a lodge with a retro charm (it’s not unusual to see generations of a family return every winter for dozens of years) has the Sitzmark Room nestled upstairs, and it nails all the components of a good après ski: wood décor, a burning fire, and strong cocktails made with cinnamon and whiskey. By day two, I was ready to start all over again – which was good, as it seemed like none of day one’s lessons had stuck with me.

One of the things about learning to ski – or learning how to do any sport – is that it requires a certain amount of muscle memory. You can’t build technique on air and dust. While my fellow reporters were ready for a more advanced lesson the next day, I went back to the bunny trail and started all over again. At the Canyons, I spent an entire hour learning how to stop. The previous day, I’d been afraid of any movement on my skis at all, not being able to embrace the feeling of just gliding and letting go. But once I got really, really good at stopping – and, at the same turn, really got good at strengthening my calf muscles – everything began to change. I went down the hill alone, with my instructor skiing backward in front of me in case I needed to change course or was about to fall. I went in fits and starts, panicking and slowing down every time I started to pick up too much speed. The 5-year-olds in their one-piece snowsuits kept flying past me, but I made it to the bottom without falling, crashing, or having a panic attack. By the end of the lesson, I went down the small slope in a single motion. As far as I was concerned, I was the Picabo Street of the bunny hill.