By Tabitha Gregory
I am learning to downhill ski in my sixth decade of life. Over the years, I’ve made a number of failed attempts to learn. Once on Japan’s icy slopes, thrice on Alyeska Resort’s torturously steep runs, and finally in the ungroomed backcountry of Thompson Pass, Alaska. Those experiences scared me out of my wits and left me wholly uninterested in the sport.
Then, last year upon moving to Spokane, I found myself surrounded by a half dozen beginner friendly ski areas. Along with that inducement, my husband was ready to dial back his ski ambitions, my stepson (also a recent transplant) was enthusiastic about skiing, and our four-year-old grandson was game. It looked like I had a troop.
I resolved to try downhill skiing again. I enumerated the mistakes I’d made in the past: I’d been in too big of a hurry, I’d let peer pressure push me onto slopes that were too difficult, and I hadn’t taken the time to acquire basic skills. This time, I’d learn properly.
Securing ski gear was my first item of business, so I headed to REI and came away from the store with a leased set up consisting of skis, poles, boots that seemed bearable, and a helmet. Next, my group decided to kick off the season on Mt. Spokane. The area offered an easy drive, inexpensive half-day Sunday passes, and a family-style reputation. Lastly, I signed up for a ski lesson. Nervous, I set out for what I hoped would be a successful initiation into downhill skiing.
I found my class—a half dozen “adults” of whom I was the oldest by decades. Our ski instructor showed us how to tell left ski from right, how to efficiently clip in, and how to hold our poles. He taught us to mount and dismount from the chair lift. He coached us gently down the bunny slope. Amazingly, I enjoyed it. I skied in control. I didn’t careen into other humans. I didn’t tumble from the lift. Afterward, when I met up with my family, I was pompous with success and ready for more.
We hit the beginner slopes at Mt. Spokane and 49 Degrees North another half dozen times. Each time, I took it easy, practiced my nascent skills, enjoyed quiet moments riding up the swaying lift, and delighted in family camaraderie.
Our group’s final day of the season was at 49. We yo-yoed the Chair 3 beginner slope several times. Then, as the day progressed, I grew ambitious. I wanted to go to the top.
I mounted Chair 1. At the summit, the sun shone across miles of rolling pine-covered peaks. The groomed on-ramp to the green-rated Silver Ridge flowed away and the trail disappeared into dense trees. I pushed off, nice and slow. I made a set of turns and it felt okay. The snow was corn and my edges dug in. I descended comfortably and then, midway, I accidentally ended up on an intermediate run. My heart raced, but, determined, I sideslipped my way down—not graceful, but in control.
At the bottom, I breathed a sigh of relief, took a moment, and then continued on. I cut a beautiful set of S’s through forested trails and managed a couple of parallel turns. At the lodge, I swooshed to a stop, giddy and breathless. As my enthusiastic band of family skiers high-fived me, I was already making plans for next year.
Tabitha Gregory relocated to Spokane from Valdez, Alaska, in 2018. She runs, backpacks, cross-country skis, and is now embracing the sport of downhill skiing.