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!