Berkshire Beat: Dodging the trees


Even though we're just getting to know one another, let me tell you one of my darkest secrets: I don't ski.

I know, I know. That's sacrilegious as a Berkshire County resident. Let me clarify, what I really mean is, I don't downhill ski, leaving me out of the ski world that so many people I know enjoy. Every weekend amazing photos creep up on my Facebook and Instagram feeds of my friends hoisted up over perfect, white powder mountains, with blinding rays of sun and azure blue skies above. I see the exclamation points at the end of their status declarations, "the best ski day ever!" or "hitting the slopes!" All of this makes me feel left out. It's not that I don't want to learn. It's been a desire of mine for a while. Why wouldn't I want to buck the cabin fever, winter blues and be outside enjoying my friends and their favorite activity?

So, when my boyfriend, Mr. Wonderful (Mr. W), listened to one of my many, many remarks about things I wanted to do and took the initiative to book a lodge outside Okemo Mountain Resort in nearby Ludlow, Vt., I jumped for joy in my living room. He told me we were going to meet up with some of his friends from college (who all ski). I then suddenly remembered the one and only time I attempted to ski during a middle school ski trip. I had forged my mother's signature on a permission slip and without any lessons, I made it half way down the mountain before I slammed into a tree. I knocked myself out cold, for at least 10 minutes, and when I awoke I found I had a baseball-sized lump on my head. I still remember crying from embarrassment and carrying my skis down the mountain to the lodge. I'm positive there's a permanent face dent on the tree.

I suddenly wanted to back out, but how could I? Mr. W went out of his way to help plan this trip and already bought us weekend lift tickets. He was adamant he could teach me. I was afraid this could be the end of our relationship, not to mention the end to all my currently functioning limbs.

But I never like to admit defeat, or waste a gift. So, after graciously being loaned ski gear by my friend Lucie, I hiked my big girl snow pants up.

Once we arrived at the lodge, I was able to forget all about skiing. I was reminded that I was meeting 14 strangers. Luckily, this doesn't always seem to be an issue for me, but naturally, I could feel my nerves on edge.

His friends all smiled and introduced themselves and offered me a drink. I knew we were all going to get along just fine. If there wasn't the impending uncertainty of slamming into another tree the following morning, I might have relaxed. The next morning I was saved. It was pouring rain. Half of the house, including Mr. W, wouldn't accept the weather conditions and disappeared around 7 a.m. Our adventurers returned later with tales of scary skiing conditions. My stomach dropped. If these experienced skiers didn't like the conditions, I was sure to die the next day.

When we got up at 6 a.m. and set off for the mountain, I wasn't feeling my best.

"It's hot. I don't feel good. Am I ready?" I kept pestering Mr. W.

"You've got to relax," he said. "You're breathing heavy. You're worrying about things and you're not even there yet."

I wanted the day to be as smooth as possible, so I told Mr. W to go on a run with his friends before he started to teach me.

Then Mr. W came down the hill. He stopped in front of me and said, "Ready to go?" I wasn't. But it didn't matter. Now here's the thing: I'm athletic but only when my feet are planted on the ground. Take me off of my feet, I'm useless. But I also don't know when to stop trying something. So up the excavator belt to the top of the bunny hill I went.

"Pizza! Pizza!" he yelled, as I went down the hill. Pizza is when you bring the front of your skis in toward one another, so the back of your skis point out, forming a V, like a slice of pizza. This allows you to slow your speed. I wanted to slow my speed, to a halt. Somehow, I made it down the bunny hill, only crashing once into a padded pole.

"You did great, except for the crash," he chuckled. "Back up?"

Again, I wanted to say no, but I knew I would never get better if I didn't try. So back up we went, and back down I came, well sort of. I was at an almost stand-still speed.

I was so relieved when he said it was time to meet his friends for lunch. After he flashed a huge smile, he told me his friends were at the restaurant halfway up the mountain. I reluctantly agreed to take the lift up, eat with them and try and ski down.

I barely ate. My stomach was in knots. When the group got up to leave, Mr. W let me sit for a few more minutes.

"We've got to get down at some point," he smiled. Outside, I took a deep breath, adjusted the angle of my skis and off we went. I fell, several times. I moved down that mountain really, really slowly. I eventually began to feel a bit more comfortable on the skis.

After 20 long minutes, I finally made it to the bottom. I actually made it to the bottom, tree free!

Overall, I wasn't great. It's still not easy to do anything new as an adult. But the satisfaction of at least trying always outweighs the regret of not. I guess I can say at least I skied. And despite all of my frustration and fear, I actually enjoyed it.

If you're looking for some great, local places to get some ski/snowboarding lessons, here's what I recommend: Jiminy Peak in Hancock seems to be the weekend choice of my friends. I have been to Bousquet Ski Area in Pittsfield, but only for tubing. Buddies have told me Butternut in Great Barrington gives great lessons for beginners. My friend Steve swears by Catamount in Egermont. Otis Ridge in Otis promotes a ski camp and seems family friendly. If downhill isn't your thing, cross-country is fun and something I enjoy. I love Notchview in Windsor, Kennedy Park in Lenox and the beautiful Canterbury Farms in Becket. And if you want an out-of-town experience, try Okemo, I can really recommend the bunny hill!


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