Beginner Nation

I’ve been a beginner skier three times in my life so far: once when I first learned to ski as a wee lass, second when I came back from a painful and debilitating knee surgery six years ago, and third just last month when I took up telemarking. There’s nothing quite like revisiting the experience of navigating the slopes at slower speeds with wobbly legs, feeling vulnerable as fast skiers swoop by. Everyone who learns to ski goes through it, so here on the blog we decided to showcase some of Alyeska’s beginner skiers to celebrate Learn To Ski and Snowboard Month. During the month of April, you can get a package of three lessons for $99, including a beginner group ski or snowboard lesson, rental gear and lower mountain lift ticket. Valid for skiers age 5 & up and riders age 8 & up. Call 754-2280 for details.

First we’ll hear from my friend Pete, who put up with waiting for me as I staggered down the mountain on my tele gear for the very first time. Take it away, Pete! ~Jill

I learned to ski in November of 2010, the same month that I turned 34. Growing up in northern Ohio, I didn’t know anything about mountains, let alone skiing. The closest thing I had to either of those was the short and steep sled ride down the railroad track hill across the street.

I didn’t learn to ski at Alyeska, but I was eager to get here to test my skills as soon as I could, so I planned a romantic weekend away with my wife, Jenna. In 2010, our anniversary coincided with opening weekend, so I booked the Ski and Stay package and pointed our Subaru south from Anchorage. The resort and everyone we encountered was great, as was the friendly patroller who skied up to check on me after I crashed spectacularly and borked my shoulder on Blueberry Hill.

Not one to give up easily, I came back after my shoulder healed, then again after my knee got to feeling better, then again after I got better waterproof clothing to keep from getting soaked while I lay in the snow after yet another yard sale. Eventually I learned how to stop without ordering pizza and how to turn without dislocating a hip swinging my rear around.

It took me a while to get comfortable on skis, but you can benefit from my painful lessons — here are my favorite trails for practicing new skills:

Blueberry Hill for learning to propel yourself with your poles once your momentum runs out or after you get up from a crash.

Perseverance and Christmas for a nice wide area to learn how to make turns while you’re still in the “pizza wedge” stage.

Chair 3 Road and Sitzmark Run for practicing staying on your feet while you haul ass toward a place to pee.

Lower Confidence for exactly that — showing that you can drop into something that looks nearly vertical from the top but isn’t that bad once you’re on it. If you can do Lower Confidence, then you can do any blue run on the mountain — they only get longer, not much steeper.

As your skills improve and you want to move higher on the mountain, I’ve found that from Chair 4 you can put together a challenging but conquerable run to mid-day beers at the Sitzmark by linking Runway -> Upper Von Imhof -> Sourdough -> Confidence -> Sitzmark Run. These trails are steep enough that good turns and controlled speed are necessary but not steep enough to be terrifying, so they’re a great transition to more challenging terrain.

When you’re finally ready to go top to bottom but not yet ready for the North Face, from Chair Six I recommend Silvertip -> Silvertip Face -> Runway -> Upper Von Imhof -> Lower Von Imhof -> Lower Race Trail. These are a nice mix of steep pitches, flats, and nice wide spaces to work on your carve turns.

Despite Alyeska’s reputation for being an expert’s mountain, there is more than enough beginner terrain to keep new skiers busy for a full day of skiing. Once you’re more confident in your skills, you don’t have to move directly to the steep and deep — with some planning, you can easily put together runs that will both challenge and encourage you, and eventually you’ll be addicted like I am.

When he’s not earning money on the side as a “before” model for diet plans, Pete is a professional Macintosh wrangler, semi-professional brewer, and amateur at pretty much everything else. He wishes he’d gotten exposed to mountain sports 30 years ago so that he wouldn’t have to suffer so much pain playing catch-up now. You can find him online by following him on Twitter: @pwann or his infrequently updated blog: Midnight Sunburned. You can find him at Alyeska shouting for his friends to wait for him while he rests before the next steep section.


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