Learning to Ski (When We Can Barely Walk)

Neither Terri or I are known for our grace—she actually fell up a flight of stairs in a New York subway, and I am still, five years later, recovering from a fractured ankle caused during what we refer to only as “the chocolate martini incident.” And don’t even ask me how I managed to dislocate my knee slipping on my own front porch.

So when we were asked if we wanted to travel to Tucker County, WV, to spend a day on the slopes, of course we said yes. Just because we’re not coordinated on dirt doesn’t mean that we can’t handle plummeting down a hill on two sticks and a bunch of snow, right? What could possibly go wrong?

We arrived in the Canaan Valley full of snow-bunny spirit, and after several rounds of cocktails, had deluded ourselves into thinking that when we hit the slopes the next morning, Picabo Street would be asking us for advice. Terri was confident, as she had skied one time before; I was a little more hesitant, seeing as how I’d made it to age 50 without ever donning a ski, despite living in western Pennsylvania.

The next morning, we drove to Timberline Four Seasons Resort, one of three skiing areas in the Canaan Valley. The weather was perfect, and our instructor, Don, seemed extremely pleased to see us. We knew it wouldn’t last.

Don: Hello, ladies. This is going to be fun!

Terri: Oh, it’s going to be hilarious. At least for you.

I was still quiet at this point, having been semi-traumatized at The Ski Barn by the fact that you have to list your weight on the form when you rent skis. You know what I don’t need to see first thing in the morning? THAT.

Anyway, Don taught us how to start (important) and stop (even more important), and soon we were ready to hop onto the ski lift and head up the bunny hill. Terri grabbed Don to ride up with her, which gave me the perfect vantage point behind them to watch as they gracefully exited the lift, and Terri continued to latch on to Don despite his best efforts to shake her, until both of them toppled over in the most amazing slow-motion skiing accident ever. I mean it. EVER.

I couldn’t stop laughing, which was unfortunate, as I still had to get off the lift and ski down the small ramp at the top of the hill. Where they were still entangled.

Fortunately for those flailing on the ground, I demonstrated my usual grace, and instead of dismounting appropriately, my skis hit the snow and I immediately flew backwards into the air, landing spread-eagled UNDER the lift, which continued to travel on its merry way as I watched my dignity disappear along with my seat. This could only have been more embarrassing if someone else were trying to get off the lift behind me…or if Terri had been able to get her camera out of her parka in time to record the events for posterity.

We finally made it to the edge of the slope, which BTW, is far less bunny-like and more rabid rabbit-like from this vantage point.

Vanessa: This is the smallest hill they have?

Terri: I know, right? Maybe we can get back on the lift and go down.

Vanessa: We couldn’t even get off the lift; now you want to try getting on it in the opposite direction?

At this point, (it might have been days—fear makes you lose track of time), Don gently encouraged us to get moving.

Terri: We should go.

Vanessa: Go ahead.

Terri: No, Don said you should go.

Vanessa: He meant you.

Terri: Why would he mean me?

Vanessa: Because he’s afraid that you’ll grab onto him again. Notice that he’s not coming anywhere near us.

Terri: If we die, he’s not going to miss us, is he?

Vanessa: Not a chance.

We continued to stare down the slope, trying to build up courage.

Terri: You know that there’s a bar at the bottom of the hill, right?

Hearing the magic words, I pushed myself off the cusp and started down. And I skied! Really, honestly, skied! And it was amazing! And I felt all athletic and everything, and the disastrous dismount was forgotten! Scarily, for a few panicked seconds, so were the instructions on how to stop, but it came back to me before I hit the ski shed at the bottom of the hill, thus preserving Don’s reputation and my ability to harm myself another day.

Terri arrived soon after, all in one piece, and Don, while still staying an arm’s length away, congratulated us on surviving our ski lesson. We even went up one more time just to prove that we could do it, and managed to make it down alive. While I don’t believe that we are ready for the Olympic team trials yet (okay, ever), we were both pretty proud of ourselves and I’m sure that the next trip we’ll be ready to take on the White Lightning run. Have the video cameras ready.

If You Go

One of the coolest things about visiting West Virginia’s high country is that the people who live and work there really seem to want you to have a good time. They love the outdoors, and they want you to enjoy yourself, too.

Timberline Four Seasons Resort

The resort boasts 41 diverse trails, including two terrain parks, and the highest average vertical south of Vermont (we weren’t quite ready for that). Last year, the resort had 200 inches of snow, so you should have no problem getting out on the slopes. Oh, and they have awesome instructors! (Do you forgive us yet, Don?) www.timberlineresort.com, 1-800-SNOWING

The Ski Barn

Need to rent skis? These folks know their stuff, and they are very kind (other than the weight question) to beginners. www.skibarn.net, 304-866-4444

Canaan Valley Resort:

Recently renovated with 160 new lodge rooms and suites, the resort includes the Hickory Lodge dining room and Season’s Café for when you build up an appetite. And for some serious fun, check out their super-fast snow tubing track—we howled the whole way down. www.canaanresort.com, 304-866-4801

Blackwater Falls State Park

One of the most gorgeous places on earth, even when the falls are iced over. The park also has the longest sled run on the East Coast, featuring a quarter-mile of fresh-groomed mountain snow. And you don’t have to walk back up the hill thanks to a Wonder Carpet conveyor system. The park also offers more than 10 miles of cross-country skiing trails. www.blackwaterfalls.com, 304-259-5216

White Grass Cross Country Tour Center

Check out 37 miles of trails, including a steep, 1,200 vertical rise. And their restaurant serves homemade soups and sandwiches to die for.  www.whitegrass.com>, 304-866-4114

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