Saturday, March 1, 2014

Park City Ski Blog

The View from the Top
Sitting in the Salt Lake City airport. Saturday morning the first of March 2014.  Returning home from four great days in Park City, Utah.  I skied for the first time in seven years with three female friends – all of us over fifty and some of us over sixty.  Here is a good reason to stay in shape and keep up your strength and flexibility as the years pass – you can put on your ski suit; strap skis to your feet; buckle your helmet; get on the chairlift and WOW – you are whisked up and away to a more than 9,000 foot elevation in the middle of winter.  A few minutes later, you glide off the chair.  In front of you is a view you can’t take your eyes off.  The sky is blue.  White fluffy clouds drift by.  The mountains roll away as far as you can see.  A frozen lake fills the valley.   The trees are decorated with snowflakes.  This must be paradise.  You’re on top of the mountain.

I grew up in eastern Canada and learned to ski when I was a young child.  The winters were long and cold and we needed something we could do outside.  Back then we had leather boots with laces and wooden skis with cable bindings.  When I was twelve, before sunblock was invented, one sunny March day I burned my face so badly my dad scolded me.  As a teenager, I remember skiing so hard on a very cold day that my feet got frostbite and had to be thawed very slowly in cold water. But on both those days and many other days, I couldn’t stop skiing.   I loved the speed of flying down the mountain.  I loved the cold wind in my face.  I loved the silent swoosh of my skis carving turns in the soft snow. 

In grade school and high school my family left town every Friday night during the winter, returning tired and happy on Sunday evening.  When we lived in Canada we skied the Gatineau Mountains in western Quebec.  We learned to brave minus 10 and even minus 20 before we knew what the wind chill factor was.  We wore woolen socks and woolen sweaters.  When we moved to Philadelphia in 1964, we skied icy hills in the northern Poconos, and on longer vacations, the steep White Mountains in Vermont and New Hampshire.  My first boyfriend was a skiing buddy.  My first Olympic hero was Jean-Claude Killy.

Over the years as life evolved and passed through its various stages, I had some gaps in my skiing career, sometimes for financial, and sometimes for logistical reasons.  But the gaps never lasted long.  I remember my first experience skiing in western powder in the early seventies after my folks moved to California.  I went skiing one February with my brother at Mammoth Mountain.  WOW again.  The mountain was huge.  The powder was a dream.  We skied so hard I went to bed at 9 pm, got up and did it again. 

On our last day there, I skied across the giant mountain to its western edge, hitting the last run of the farthest chair just as a storm came up.  The chair ride was long and slow.  It would be many years before they invented high-speed quads.  By the time I reached the summit, we were in a full white out.  Five of us held on to each other at the top of the mountain, linked ski pole to ski pole as we moved together slowly across the white expanse, unable to see in front of us.  When we finally reached a lower elevation and had some visibility, I skied down thankful to be safe.  I re-joined my brother, feeling pleased and relieved that the adventure was over, respectful of the high Sierras.  

We lived in Seattle when our kids were growing up.  We skied every winter from the time they were old enough to wear skis.  We took weeklong vacations to Whistler and Mammoth Mountain and to other resorts in Idaho and California.  Somehow we never went to Utah.  In between longer vacations, we skied in the local Cascades, at Mt Baker, Crystal Mountain, occasionally Stevens and nearby Snoqualmie Pass.

During junior high, our kids skied the Pass every Friday night, going from school by bus and returning home at midnight, tired and happy.  Skiing taught our young teenagers how to be friends with the opposite sex, without the pressure of a dance or a date.  They came home with stories of skiing through the back trails and learning how to jump off the moguls.  We gave them money to share hamburgers and fries with their buddies.  As a family we embraced skiing just as my family had forty years before.

As the years passed, our kids grew up and went off to college.   My husband and I fell out of the habit of skiing.  Sometimes we travelled in the winter; sometimes we went biking on fine sunny days in January and February; sometimes we worked too hard and enjoyed winter weekends doing nothing.  Seven years passed and I realized I hadn’t skied at all.  When my friend Karen invited me to Park City I thought to myself either I go skiing in this wonderful place or perhaps I’ll never ski again.  I didn’t like the idea of never skiing again.  I booked a flight, bought a ski helmet at REI and, with some trepidation, arrived at the Salt Lake City airport five days ago.

Aspens line the trail at Deer Valley
I wasn’t expecting to ski the first day.  I was worried I wouldn’t remember how; worried I wouldn’t even remember how to step into my bindings.  But the sky was brilliant and the slopes were beckoning.  We checked into our hotel and went straight to Park City town chair.  The snow was soft; the sun was shining; I clipped into my bindings and we hopped on the chair.  Before I knew it, we were weaving down the slopes; one after the other in a symmetrical line.  How delightful.  My son had told me it would be like riding a bicycle.  He was right.

One of my friends is an expert skier who lives in Park City.  She tutored us the next day on the Deer Valley chairs.  She gave us tips about how to carve perfect turns: keep your arms in front.  Imagine you are holding a beach ball.  Stay loose.  Count your turns like reps in the gym: one two three, turn; one two three, turn.  Keep your rhythm.  Keep your head up.  Look down the mountain.  Don’t look at the tips of your skis.  Your skis will do the right thing.  She showed us how.  She was right.  My skis did the right thing.

It is an incredible privilege to ski in your sixties.  It is amazing to be at the top of the mountain and take in the view across the snowy terrain.  Every hour I’ve spent biking on my trusty Pinarello; walking hills in Seattle and in Piracicaba; in the gym doing leg presses and leg lifts, spinning classes and squats, yoga and Pilates is worth it to have the strength and stamina to ski all day.  By dint of perseverance and regular exercise I think I am stronger now than I was seven years ago.  That is a good feeling.  I want to go back to Utah and ski again.  I don’t need to master the black diamonds any more.  I am happy to cruise the blue runs and marvel as the snow falls from the trees.  I loved the feeling of being outside all day in the winter cold.  And, with a little help from my friends, I remembered how to ski and I loved it again.  Thank you Karen, thank you Martha, thank you Bambi!   

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