Photography lesson

I took my first ski lesson at 50 and loved it

As someone who grew up on the relatively snow-free plains of Oklahoma, I’m a latecomer to the sport of skiing. It’s not that I never wanted to ski or hit the slopes like a fit and fast snow bunny, it’s just that I never had the opportunity to try skiing.

I never had the opportunity, that is to say until I was 50 years old. Even for me, 50 seemed like a considerably older age to learn how to put on skis and hit the slopes, but when I had the opportunity to try it out at Mount Washington Alpine Resort on Vancouver Island, in British Columbia, I eagerly signed up for the resort’s snow school and its discovery ski or snowboard package.

I was on a winter exploration trip to Vancouver Island with five other journalists, and as a guest of Visit BC, we all had a day to enjoy the snow on Mount Washington, a peak famous for having deeper snow than anywhere else in Britain. Columbia, and sometimes deeper than anywhere else in the world!

Mount Washington Alpine Resort on Vancouver Island is a popular ski resort in British Columbia (Photo credit: Heide Brandes)

Due to its impressive snowfall, Mount Washington becomes the second largest winter recreation destination in British Columbia. only Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort beats this destination in numbers.

I also thought it would be a good place to try skiing for the first time. Along with great snow-capped views of the surrounding mountains and Comox Valley, the resort has a few bars and restaurants where I could get away to if I decided I’d had enough.

So, while my traveling companions – all experienced skiers and snowboarders – were hurtling down the slopes with the swaggering confidence of those who grew up with snow sports, I ventured with a group of toddlers on the small slope of bunny for my first lesson.

Heide tries skiing for the first time at Mount Washington Alpine Resort.
Heide tries skiing for the first time at Mount Washington Alpine Resort (Photo credit: Heide Brandes)

hard but not harder

Luckily, Mount Washington Alpine Resort’s Discover Ski School provided all the necessary learn-to-ski equipment for my morning lesson, including skis, boots, poles, and a helmet.

My guide, a young guy who seemed more used to teaching 5 year olds, got me started with a quick lesson on how to strap on skis. Believe me, if you’ve never had to put on a pair of skis, you really need someone to show you around.

After strapping the skis to my ski boots, we stood in place and practiced foot placement.

“You’ve heard of pizza and fries, haven’t you?” He asked.

I nodded. I may be new to skiing, but I haven’t been living under a rock this whole time. In the most basic terms, you “fry” when you want to go, then twirl your toes for a “pizza wedge” when you want to slow down or stop.

For the first half hour or so we practiced this move on an incline that could barely be called a hill – without ski poles.

“I want you to feel comfortable with your feet and your balance while skiing and not rely too much on the poles,” my teacher explained.

Alright, that made sense. I wandered around in my fries position, sliding awkwardly for about 20 feet or so as I tried to get used to balancing on the skis. The hardest thing for me to learn was how to stop. The pizza worked to slow me down, but I just couldn’t put all my weight on the outside of my feet in this position to create a full stop.

After a few drops on my hip, I finally started to get the hang of it and we started using poles.

Once we got to the “big girl” poles, we practiced down the longest bunny slope. I practiced this gentle glide with my knees bent and pushed my hips side to side to change my directions. I still couldn’t stop as well as I wanted to, and honestly my calves were on fire from trying.

While expert and even intermediate skiers seem to float easily on the snow, I looked like one of many toddlers on the trail that day – struggling or just sitting on my butt when I couldn’t. not stop me.

After a break and lunch, we moved forward at faster speeds, learning to point my “toes” in the direction I wanted to go and “zig-zag” down the incline. At one point, I let my speed take over, relishing the thrill of speeding down the hill, and even managed to stop, albeit awkwardly.

I dragged to the escalator that takes you back to the top of the hill, slid to the start and tried again and again. On some races, I was perfectly successful. On most descents I still fell, struggled to brake using the pizza wedge or hit the snow. But it was fun.

The weather at Mount Washington was sunny and beautiful for Heide's first ski lesson.
Heide Brandes

fun in the sun

The weather at the top of Mount Washington was freezing, but the sun breaking through the gloomy gray clouds mid-morning made the day downright enjoyable as I learned to ski. I didn’t need big gloves or even a big jacket, and by the end of my lesson I was sweating hard.

And I was having fun on these little baby tracks. Yes, I’m sure my fellow travelers were zipping around like seals up steep inclines, testing their skills against the mountain, but I was fine where I was.

All my life I’ve been an adventurous type and I’m not afraid to try anything at least once. That being said, I find that I take less risk now that I’m a bit older. I worried about injuries, especially breaking my leg on skis.

It’s not a frivolous thing to worry about. According to the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA), 40.6 people die while skiing/snowboarding per year on average. According to the NSAA, serious injuries like paralysis and head trauma occur at the rate of about 44.6 per year.

With all outdoor sport and enjoyment, an inherent risk of injury exists. So, if you’re like me, here are some tips if you want to learn to ski at a later age.

Heide gives a little dance after surviving her first ski lesson
Heide gives a little dance after surviving her first ski lesson (Photo credit: Heide Brandes)

Tips for staying safe

  • Always wear a ski helmet. According to Dr. Jasper Shealy, professor emeritus at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York, who has studied ski-related injuries for more than 30 years, recent research proves that the use of a helmet reduces the incidence of from any head injury. at 50 percent.
  • Don’t take unnecessary risks. Alright, you’re a daredevil and eager to try skiing. That’s fine, but a ski helmet won’t protect you from serious injury or death if you engage in risky behavior just because you’re wearing a helmet.
  • Be honest about your ability. At this age, I no longer need to impress anyone, so it was easy for me to admit that I was an absolute beginner. Everyone has to start somewhere, and I’d rather learn to ski in a safe environment than come home with a broken leg or head injury because I was too embarrassed to admit I was a beginner. .
  • Stay on groomed trails. Even if you are a more advanced skier, you should stay on the designated trails without a guide. Designated trails are groomed to avoid obstacles you may not see off trail, such as tree stumps, loose ice or rocks.
  • Know the code of conduct on the slopes. The FIS (Fédération Internationale de Ski) has established 10 rules of ski and snowboard conduct which are legally binding, so if you break any of these rules you can be sued or held liable for your negligence.
  • Wear appropriate clothing. You don’t want to risk frostbite or hypothermia, so be sure to wear appropriate layers and clothing for cold weather. Absorbent base layers are best because they wick sweat away from your skin. Cotton diapers should be avoided as they retain moisture. There’s an old saying that “cotton kills on the trail”.
  • Take a lesson with a certified teacher and guide. Honestly, you could learn to ski on your own or with Uncle Bob, but it’s easier, safer, and better to take a ski lesson at a resort with a professional ski instructor.

For more skiing inspiration, as well as our favorite resorts and slopes around the world, check out all of our skiing content here.