Skiing, riding, bonding |

Skiing, riding, bonding

Sarah L. Stewart
Dominique TaylorSnowboard instructor Helen Bradley, center, lines up with her students Melinda Borjon, left, and reporter Sarah Stewart, right, for their ride through powder during the recent Her Turn womens ski and snowboard clinic on Vail Mountain.

I glanced down and could barely see my legs through the powder spraying out from my snowboard, invisible somewhere deep beneath the snow. Before Id found words for the exhilaration of my first true powder day poof! I lost my balance and momentarily disappeared in a cloud of white.It was the first of many spills I took on a recent Friday all painless, thanks to 7 inches (and in some places, more) of powder and the equally forgiving dynamic of a womens-only day on the mountain.Vail Mountain hosts the three-day Her Turn ski and snowboard clinic twice a season. My assignment was to tag along for the first day of the clinic, chronicling the female bonding and hopefully picking up a few skills of my own.

I arrived at the Lionshead Marriott just after 8 a.m. and was immediately greeted with friendly smiles from Helen Bradley, the sweet British girl who would be my instructor for the day, and Ingie Franberg, general manager of the Vail Snowsports School.Is this by chance the snowboarding girl? Ingie asked. How could I tell?The snowboarding girl? You mean theres only one? Yes, of the 40 or so women registered for the clinic, only myself and one other woman, San Jose, Calif., resident Melinda Borjon, were sporting the single board. That meant lots of one-on-one attention from Helen good news for my first lesson and only my 10th day on the mountain, ever.Over breakfast, I began chatting with Jenny Ricca, owner of Heaven Massage & Spa in Lionshead and a four-time Her Turn participant. Shed already made friends with Janet Pellicciotti, who was visiting from Jacksonville, Fla. In fact, though most of the women had just met, already the room was buzzing with voices and laughter. I got the feeling Her Turn would produce fast friendships, and Ricca confirmed it.You meet women that you will ski with later on, she said. You dont feel like youre asking stupid questions. Its just such a positive, positive thing.

Before I even strapped into my bindings, I had already made progress. Id never ridden anything but green runs before, but Helen suggested we try a blue since the new snow was so deep. Alone, I wouldnt have considered it (yes, Im a wimp) but with Helen and Melindas encouragement, I agreed.So it was, on Simba, I first struck powder gold: snow past my knees, unlike anything Id ever experienced.Every few hundred feet or so, Helen would stop to watch us carve down the slope, then give pointers on how to improve our posture. When I could force my body to move as she instructed, I could tell I had more control over my board; when I couldnt, I usually ended up sitting chest-deep in snow, coughing the white fluff out of my throat.Melindas turns looked a lot less like a runaway train than mine, and she definitely spent less time floundering in the snow. But Helens endearing habit of saying Oh, bless you to my failures made me feel much less spastic than I certainly looked.

After the entire group reconvened for lunch, I took off with a handful of intermediate skiers to get a better idea how the day was going for the rest of the women.One of those skiers, 22-year valley resident Cindy Callicrate, was enjoying her first lesson, too.I love it, she said. Im not being pressured into doing something I dont want to do.Cindy and two other women were taking instruction from Rally Nikolova, a ski instructor for five years.Any skier/snowboarder animosity Id heard rumor of was completely absent from our little clan. These women seemed genuinely pleased to have a snowboarder along for the ride, even if that snowboarder was far slower than them and had to resort to plowing down the mountain on her heels just to keep up. Once, they even broke into applause when I caught up to the group.Applause for an ungraceful, controlled plummet down an intermediate slope: another reason why I love female company.The women were equally encouraging of the other group members, critiquing each others turns and working to perfect their own. I was witnessing the healthy Her Turn competition that Nikolova had told me about at the beginning of the day. They do more crazy stuff than when theyre with their husbands, she said.After two such runs, I ceased my embarrassment and retired to the on-mountain cafe where we had arranged a 2 oclock tea break with Helen and Melinda. With Helens guidance, we took our tea in true English fashion, with a little milk and sugar, and were generally glad no powder-hungry husband or boyfriend was hurrying our afternoon respite.

I rejoined Helen and Melinda on the slopes with the renewed confidence Id gotten from my skier buddies, who despite my dismal performance seemed surprised I was so new to the sport. After a few more runs, my legs were turning to jelly, and I couldnt make them do what Helen directed. It was time to return to the Marriott to close out the day with a little apres ski party.Ladies-only apres is no beer-guzzling affair. Wine, cheese, olives and an array of grilled vegetables greeted us, followed by a womens ski gear and fashion presentation. How often do you hear about skis designed to accommodate our baby-bearing hips? Not often enough, I say.Hair matted, bodies worn but faces glowing, the women resumed their morning conversations, this time comparing their days on the hill.It was absolutely phenomenal, Ricca said. I just cant wait till tomorrow.

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