I’m scared to death. My knees are locked together and try as I might, I cannot get my mind to convince my body that I am capable fo speeding down the side of a mountain on two thin pieces of fiberglass as I twist and turn in mounds of snow. My instructor, who spent three hours watching me move on skies as if I were born on them, has convinced me I am a natural and should tackle the mountain. I grew up in South Florida, and have never once tried skiing until this moment. I also have a serious fear of heights and those gondolas rise above the towering pines with nothing more than a little piece of metal preventing me from falling face into the snow. It’s stunningly beautiful from atop Vail Mountain. It’s a gorgeous sunny day, and although the temperature is in the teens, the sun and its reflection off the snow make it feel like it’s in the 50s. And here I am, unable to get my knees to unlock, scared to death.
But pride overcomes fear. I cannot be taken down this mountain. I am an athlete and not a quitter. Millions of people shoot down these mountains and love it. I’m going to do it. I am. In just a moment. And another. Until I finally loosen up, unlock my knees and wanting to scream like a banshee down the mountain, I go, wind the wind in my face and a racing heart. And before I know it, I’ve been it to the trail’s end. My instructor slides up beside me and congratulates me. “What do you want to do now?” he asked. “I’m going to go back up again!” I said. “That is not going to be my only attempt at skiing.”
So, back up I go, determined not to let fear stop me from enjoying myself. And with each run down the mountain, it gets easier and easier, and I find myself loving the thrill. The speed, the mental thought it takes to determine the best routes down a slope, the better skiers zooming by. Every time I get to the bottom, I am laughing and energized and eager to go back up. And that is how this Floridian who typically wiles away her vacation time on a sandy beach learned to discover the joy of snow skiing.
Exploring the Mountain
I had always wanted to learn to ski, so when the opportunity presented itself, I hopped a plane to Denver, enjoyed a leisurely couple of hours in a car climbing and winding around the mountain paths and arrived smack dab in the heart of Vail Village, where mounds of snow lined the streets and a mix of people in fur coats and ski clothes passed by store fronts. My home-away-from-home for the next few days would be RockResorts’ The Lodge at Vail. Upon checking into my room., I was greeted with the slope side view of Pepi’s Face, a popular last run from Vail Mountain. From my ultra-comfy king-sized bed, I could watch the skiers come down the mountain, learning that only the experienced should truly give that slope a go, but delighting in the theatrics of those not quite able to manage the steep, icy slope.
Although it was too late to take to the mountain, I quickly headed back outdoors to take in the fresh, crips air and enjoy the big sky views. I had never been to the Rockies and I was eager to discover the intimate ski village as snow crunched beneath my feet. Maneuvering narrow streets, the stores were an eclectic mix of both chic and bohemian clothing, furnishings and ski gear. The village bustled with a younger crowd of skiers carrying snowboards with longer hair sticking from below their wool caps and women in short skirts and rhinestones grabbing attention from men in cowboy hats and boots.
Heading over to Lionshead, the other village in Vail, my friend and I were privy to the Eagle Bahn gondola ride up the mountain, climbing into the darkness with twinkling lights of the village glowing smaller and smaller. Released at Eagle’s Nest near the top of the mountain, a “cab” — technically a tricked out snow cat — waited to deliver us to the Game Creek Lodge for dinner. Perched at the top of the mountain, it was enveloped by darkness and snow. Inside, it was exactly as I imagined, a lodge setting with game heads over roaring fireplaces and a menu of serious meat-loving dishes and hearty meals to keep me warm. As the restaurant and lodge of a private club, guests must be members and have the opportunity to stay in oversized cottages also found on the secluded mountaintop. I made a mental note to rally up a group of friends to rent one on a return trip the the coming years.
Learning to Fly
The sun shone brightly through my windows the next morning, as I hadn’t drawn the curtains in order to catch the breathtaking show of stars in the midnight-black sky after dinner the evening before. I hopped out of bed eager to meet Eric, my ski instructor. Eric has been teaching on Vail slopes for decades, a self-proclaimed ski buff that decided to make his passion into his career. Hitting the Vail Sports ki shop just behind the Lodge, I was outfitted in ski boots, skis and poles, before tacking slopes.
“Skiing” our way over to the beginner slope was rather difficult. Cross-country skiing without gravity to move me was just something my legs couldn’t get figure out. Arriving at the beginner’s slope, I discovered it was more a slant and that children ranging from knee- to waist-high occupied the area. “Great,” I thought, “I’m learning with kids as young as my own.” My ego took a blow. But after a few turns on the “hill,” I told Eric that I felt skiing was like rollerblading, which I had done for years. He smiled and said we were ready for the bunny slope. Amazing how big that looks when you’ve never skied.
Waiting to get on a people mover to a hill I would ski down, I took my first tumble. Eric laughed and said so many people just trip over while Ibn line because they drop their guard and forget they are on skis. Up the hill, I took my next fall, landing on my back with my skis still flat on the ground, and thereby still moving down the hill. I panicked wondering how I would stop myself for a few moments before I realized I was already on the ground and just needed to roll over. I got up laughing and Eric said my fears should be gone: I had fallen. Nothing left to lose. A few more runs and I complained that the line was longer than the ski down. Eric smiled again. “I think we should go up the mountain.” Resulting in the aforementioned knee-locking and ski joy that followed.
After a full day on the slopes, I got to take part in the much reveled aprés ski. At the numerous bars found at the bottom of the mountain, ski racks filled with patrons’ tossed off gear lined the streets and everyone warmed up and shared their days’ stories as the sun sets and live music entertained. I join the crowd at the Red Lion in Vail Village, claiming to anyone who would listen that I had survived my first ski day. By 8 p.m., I was exhausted and walked back to my room, where I collapsed into bed and fell into a deep sleep.
A Little R&R
After a brisk morning of skiing, I had saved myself a treat before the trip home: some time in the resort’s spa. The 7,500-square-foot spa features treatment rooms, hot tubs, sauna, steam room and the pampering services one would expect from a luxury spa and resort. I selected a 90-minute hot stone treatment to knead out my kinks.
After feeling fully relaxed, I strolled Vail Village for boutique shopping and too much spending before hopping on the free shuttle to Lionshead, where I did a little more shopping in an area with a skating rink and fire pits near its slope side resorts. Taking a moonlit stroll through the villages after dinner at the charming Arrabelle, I was upset I only booked a three-day trip. I was eager to return to the slopes… I have since skied in Aspen, Jackson Hole, Stowe, Smuggler’s Notch, Camelback and the French Alps! I’m officially a skier!
— Lissa Poirot