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Vacation Sports: Skiing

There was a time, not so very long ago, when skiing as a vacation pastime was strictly the pursuit of the well-off: resorts were expensive, and few companies offered package ski tours – the sport simply didn’t seem to offer the kind of mass-market appeal that was needed to generate sufficient profit.

These days things have changed dramatically. Dozens of new ski resorts have started up all over the world, and skiing – especially within the USA – has become a viable, reasonably-priced vacation option for most families. The opening up of major resort hotels in areas like California, Vermont and Utah, as well as an expansion of activities in Colorado, the heartland of American skiing mean that a vacation spent hammering down the slopes is within reach of millions of Americans.

But what if you’ve never skied before? You may have heard that it’s only possible to be any good at skiing if you start when you’re a kid. That’s partially, but not wholly, true. Kids tend to learn skiing better than adults for three reasons: first, their brains are better set up to absorb new experiences; second, they are less likely to sustain bumps and bruises than adults and, when they do, recover more quickly; third, kids don’t get scared like adults do.

Basically, learning to ski as an adult is about overcoming nervousness. Although it’s possible to hurt yourself on skis just as it’s possible to hurt yourself in the course of any sport, you’re unlikely to do yourself any real damage as a beginner, providing you observe safety regulations and listen carefully to the advice of your instructor.

And what about instructors? One of the side-effects of the growth in popularity of the package skiing vacation is that, oddly, you have slightly less choice of instructor than you might have had a few years ago. This is because vacation companies keep costs down by bundling together your flights, rooms and instruction costs for the whole of your vacation. The company chooses the ski instructors, or, possibly, they are employed by the hotel or resort at which you’re staying. This is unlikely to pose any sort of problem with regard to safety or instructor competence – no hotel or travel company in its right mind would employ non-qualified, uninsured instructors. But it does mean that if you find a ski instructor with whom, for whatever reason, you don’t get along, you maybe kind of stuck with him or her for the duration of your vacation. As in all things, you get what you pay for – if you’re traveling independently on a greater budget than the average vacationer you’re going to have far more choice and flexibility.

So what’s it like to learn to ski? Well, at first it can be a little scary, even on very gentle slopes. That’s because skiing is counter-instinctive; if you do what your body tells you to do while you’re on skis, you’re going to make several soft landings in snow drifts on your first few days. The first time you’re strapped to pair of skis and start sliding down a gentle slope, your brain thinks you’re falling over and tries to make you do things to regain balance. These things typically include standing up straight, pushing your weight away from the direction of ‘fall’ and windmilling your arms around frantically. Of course, because you’re skiing rather than really falling, all this makes you do is crash over in a heap.

Ski instructors are regularly mocked for constantly telling their students to ‘bend your knees!’ – but this is really what you have to do. If you bend your knees and push your body weight a little forward, you will have far more control over your own destiny than if you try standing up straight and waving those arms about.

The first maneuver you learn will almost certainly be the ‘snowplough’. This is a simple way for beginners to make stops and turns. All you have to do is angle your ankles slightly outward. The tips of your skis will move towards each other (but don’t let them cross!) and the inside edge of each ski will bite into the snow. If you move each ankle equally you’ll grind to a graceful halt. If you move one to a sharper angle than another you’ll turn. Experts tend not to use these maneuvers much, but they’re a great way to build your confidence on skis.

As you get better your instructor will help you move on to more challenging slopes – as ski runs are called. You’ll find that your confidence builds quite quickly. One of the secrets of learning to ski is this: if you do take a tumble and pick up a couple of bruises, don’t let it knock your confidence. Being quietly confident, yet careful and mindful of correct technique, is the best way to ski safely and enjoyably – and to have that high-class skiing vacation you always dreamed of!

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