Two better than one?
It would have been any ordinary powder day at the Beav’, hundreds of skiers and riders bustling about the base of the mountain whistling the tune of pristine conditions under December skies.But on this day, in the absence of my Nitro Black Widow ride and my cool factor, I slung a pair of easy-carving shaped Solomon’s and a slight anxiety over my shoulder.It wasn’t the heckling from my skier friends, and most of them are skiers, that convinced me to cross over to the dark side (the rivalry is all for show). But as an avid knuckle-dragger, I just couldn’t my squash my curiosity of what it would feel like to set my legs free. It’s the addictive quality of sports and what living in the mountains does to one’s mind. After a period of time, if you haven’t tried snowboarding, you’re at least learning to telemark. And with shaped skis and a freestyle mentality, there’s not anything you can’t do on skis that you can do on a snowboard these days. So off I went to take a ski lesson, suited up in my baggy pants and mittens. I’ve been a snowboarder since the day I moved to Colorado nine years ago. Growing up in Ohio, I skied a few times as a kid. That was back in the day when the classic telemark geometrical skis towered over my head and the boots were as comfortable as two blocks of plaster molded to my feet. To my delight, today’s ski boots fit just as comfy as my technical Solomon snowboard boots and I couldn’t wait to try shaped skis. All those times I secretly made fun of skiers swaggering in stiff boots and swinging their skis atop one shoulder like a reckless robot, I was now one of them.I met my instructor, Jon Buchli, at the bottom of Centennial. Jon has been teaching private lessons at Beaver Creek Mountain for 10 years running. As soon as his cool blue eyes met mine and he flashed me a big smile, the anxiety began to wane, but not completely.
When he told me we would start out on the McCoy Bahn, otherwise known as the magic carpet ride, I was humbled from the get-go. He taught me how to step into my skis, explained how the fall lines formed the slope, how to side step placing more weight on my lower ski, front to back balance, making a parallel glide and easing into a turning and braking wedge – the basics.Once I got the pizza and French fries down I hopped on the carpet with the rest of the 3-year-olds and took my first run, all 30 feet of it. Thirty pizzas and French fries later, I was ready to ride Chair 1 and go down the bunny hill. Jon told me jokes all the way up and I felt like a little kid trying to fall asleep on Christmas Eve rather than an anxious adult responsible for seeing that the presents arrive under the tree. “What do you get when you cross an agnostic, a dyslexic and an insomniac?” Jon asked. “A guy who lays awake all night wondering if there’s a dog.”With Jon’s assistance I successfully skied off the chair, with way more ease than my first attempt on a snowboard. The next challenge, level two, to make it all the way down making easy wedge turns. The farther I stuck my butt out, the more humbled I became, thankful no one I knew would be hanging out on the bunny slope. If only I could lean forward enough.”Pretend as if you’re holding a hundred dollar bill between your shin and your ski boot,” he said. It worked. Level three, learn to steer the skis parallel and finish the turn parallel. Level four, learn how to control speed making a nice round turn, steering the skis and skidding, aka swooshing.Make your wedge, then place your weight on your left foot, bend your knees, drop your left shoulder, Jon said. My body should curve like a little “c” before I rise up quickly and do the same on the right side.
Two hours later, a solid level 4, Chair 6 beckoned me to the top. All the way up Jon went from telling jokes to pointing out skiers and critiquing them. “See him, he’s leaning way too far back. See her, she’s making very choppy turns. What do you call a snowboard instructor who breaks up with his girlfriend? Homeless,” John said.We rode Cinch Express to the top. On to level five, make the wedge smaller and learn how to shift weight from one ski to other and parallel earlier in the turn. “It takes twice as much brains to ski,” Jon told me, only half kidding.In skiing you have to balance not only the outside edge of your ski, but the inside edge of the opposite ski. On a snowboard, you’re only balancing one edge at a time. I was able to pick this up pretty quickly. Oddly enough, I think my snowboarding skills actually came in handy on this one.”Besides, in skiing you have to work the legs forward and backward as well as side to side,” Jon said.
We skied some easy blues as the powder continued to pile up. And then on to level six, increase confidence and try varied conditions and terrain on steeper blues using turns to control speed and introduce the pole plant.I liked how Jon didn’t assume that I knew something and even if I did. It never hurts to be reminded or encouraged that you’re doing something right. His analogies were genius, mostly having to do with cars and food, we had an understanding on the hill.For the last run of the day, I came down Assay in the powder, a big smile on my face, a solid level 6.The final question: Is two better than one? Zipping through on the flats is rather appealing, and it does seem like the logical way to get down a snowy vertical slope. I can’t wait for my next ski lesson but I can’t say I’ll crossover for good -there’s nothing like snowboarding through powder. Although I will help make skiing look cool from time to time.Staff Writer Laura A. Ball can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14641, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado