A skier gets back on the slopes after a two-decade break, and takes her first lesson.
It’s 1986, and I’m standing halfway down the big middle trail at the Camden Snow Bowl, on the coast of Maine. I’m twenty, and it’s my first time skiing. My boyfriend is coaching me down the hill—never the best idea, even on the best of days and in the best of relationships. It’s freezing cold, the snow is icy, and it’s pouring down rain. I’m wearing jeans.
While there are beginner trails around the edges of the mountain, the main way down to the bottom is over intermediate terrain. To me as a beginner on a rainy day, the intermediate Windjammer looks like a double black diamond. I make it down, but it isn’t graceful, it isn’t easy, and it certainly isn’t fun. I slide much of the way, fighting the mountain. I find the mountain’s fall line by falling down it. By the end, I’m soaking wet. As an introduction to the sport of skiing, it’s less than ideal. I ski two more days between then and 1992, and then I give it up.
Fast-forward to January 2015. I’ve been to Sugarbush numerous times over the past few years—but never during the winter. This time, I’ll be at the mountain while the Snowlogic guns are spraying snow, Super Bravo’s spinning, the pub’s hopping, and the grounds are filled with skiers. It’s time for me to get back on the slopes.
After fueling myself with a crepe at Skinny Pancake in the Farmhouse, I head upstairs to check in at the Ski & Ride School and rent equipment. First major difference from skiing in 1992: my skis look like baby versions of the ones I remember. The guy at the desk tells me not to panic—they may look really short, but they’ll help me turn more easily, and learn more quickly. Tamping down my worry, I throw on my goggles and a helmet (another change since the last time I skied) and head out to the blue flag outside the Farmhouse to meet my instructor and my group.
My group, it turns out, on this quiet weekday, is just me. I tell my instructor, long-time Sugarbusher M.A. Raymond, my history—no skiing in more than two decades, no lessons ever—and she takes me through the basics. This is the tip of the ski; this is the tail. These are the edges; this is the bottom. So far, so good.
We ride the Welcome Mat to the top and look down the soft slope of First Time. M.A. talks about how to turn. She wants me to cross the mountain with my skis as parallel as possible, using very little wedge as I bring my skis around. She wants me to keep my hips balanced above my skis. She talks about using turns to take speed away from the descent, and after she demonstrates I follow her down the mountain, turn after turn after turn, gaining confidence and losing fear. When we go up next, she talks about skiing back and forth across the line of the mountain, about working with the mountain, not against it. About gathering strength by feeling grounded to the snow and the frozen earth below the skis, while still trying to float lightly above.
I’m concentrating hard as I make my way down, and she has to remind me to breathe. But it feels fantastic when I relax and get it right.
And then I graduate to the Village Double lift, and we go up to Easy Rider. A colorful pack of Mini Bears—the four- to six-year-old ski students—tumble off a cart being hauled by a snowmobile in front of us, and suddenly I have another set of teachers. They’re light on their skis, their small bodies balanced naturally above their boots. They’re grounded to the snow but still floating above. And they’re not worried—so I’m not worried either, anymore. M.A. and I follow the Mini Bears down, and we’re all working with the mountain, turning gently across the line. Had I taken a lesson like this back in 1986, I’d have been skiing ever since. But it’s never too late to start. And this time, I can’t wait to get back up on the mountain again.