What are these boards strapped to my feet, and why am I sliding down this hill? Part (and Day) 3

Day 3 – Monday, January 9

Today is the day I’m actually going to attempt to ski, which is both exciting and terrifying all at the same time.  A little background – I grew up in Michigan, never went downhill skiing.  I went cross country skiing once, and found it to be phenomenally boring (granted it was 2 hours of going in circles around a local golf course, so not much in the way of scenery).  I enjoyed water skiing, but most everyone tells me that’s not at all the same as downhill skiing.  My brother is an avid snowboarder (which is probably one of the reasons why he moved to Colorado in the first place), but we each got a different part of the Winter Sports gene – I grew up playing hockey, he played a few times but didn’t really like it.

Tracy did most of the research for the skiing part of this trip, and had booked a lesson package that included the lesson, equipment rental, and a 1 day lift pass at Beaver Creek. The lesson was scheduled to start at 9:30, they said it would be good to get there by 8:45 to get everything taken care of.

The town of Avon runs a free bus to Beaver Creek Village from several spots in town. One of the bus stops was right across the street from our hotel. So, after a quick bowl of cereal, and getting fully dressed in our new snow gear, we headed out to the bus stop at around 8:20.  We were on a bus within 10 minutes, and we arrived at the main entrance to Beaver Creek Ski Resort at right around 8:45.  From there, it was pretty easy to get to the spot where we would check in for the lessons – “Up 2 escalators, and then it’s the building directly in front of you”.

We go to check in and … they can’t find our reservation.  We had originally been booked for yesterday, but due to travel snafus, didn’t make it in time. We called, and they said “Oh, that’s no problem, come anytime within a 7 day period, and we’ll honor the reservation and price you already paid”.  So we were a little concerned.  But it all worked itself out, as it turns out, they kept the paperwork for online registrations in a different drawer, and our paperwork was ready and waiting.

They handed each of us a plastic card that was our lift ticket, a sticker for our lessons, and a voucher for the ski equipment rentals, plus (of course) a liability waiver saying that we wouldn’t sue if we got hurt or died.

We walked outside to find the rental place. There was a shop right next door advertising ski rentals. We walked in, and told the clerk that we wanted to rent skis, he asked which ones, and we responded “whichever ones these vouchers get us”.  The guy explained that the vouchers were only good at the main rental location, which was one escalator down … so we went down to try again.

This rental store was much busier, and it took a moment to find out where to go. Shortly thereafter, we were sitting on a bench while an employee helped fit us for boots.  The first pair I tried on were way too small, I couldn’t even get my feet all the way in.  The employee brought back a second pair, and these were better, but still felt tight in the toes.  The employee said that this was normal, and that since I’d be flexing forward at the ankles when I skied, that would push my foot back a little, and give me more room in the toes.  It sounded logical, and when I gave a test flex, I did feel my feet slide back a little.

Spoiler alert: That slight “too tight” feeling in the toes will come back later in the trip report.

Next, we moved to the line where they actually get the skis. We each were issued a pair of skis, and then they scanned all the barcodes and all that. After adjusting and scanning my skis, the employee helping us had to go help another employee with something, and Tracy was still waiting for her skis, but he told me to go on to the pole rack, where another employee helped me pick out poles.  I also bought a pair of suspenders, since my snow pants were just a little loose – probably not loose enough to fall down, but better safe than sorry. A few minutes later, Tracy was ready, and we went back up the escalator to the instructor meeting place.

Tracy had skied before but it had been several years.  When they were splitting people up based on experience, she was asked if she wanted to go with a more advanced group or stick with the beginners – she chose to stick with the beginners.  I think there were 1 or 2 other people in our group that made a similar decision.

Our instructor, Dan, showed up, and got to know everyone’s name. He had memorized the names of all 10 people in our group within one trip going down the line and giving our names and where we were from. Dan, it turns out, is a retired lawyer from Michigan, who now lived in Colorado in the winter, and spent his summers in Michigan.

While we were sitting, he began to give us a very very basic overview – “This is a ski. This is a pole. These brackets on the skis are called bindings, and they clip onto your boots”. He also recommended that if we have any sort of seam (bottom of pants, top of socks, etc) that we adjust so it’s above the level of the boots.  I made some slight adjustments, but apparently not enough.  In a few minutes, we walked over from the bench we were sitting on to a flat area, and as we were walking, I noticed the seam rubbing.  So I took another moment and fixed it again, drawing some good natured ribbing from Dan.

He had us start off by attaching one ski, and “ski-hopping” about 10 feet forward, and he taught us how to turn around. Then we tried with the other ski. Then both skis. Then about 20 feet forward and back. Then we moved a little bit up a gentle slope and started skiing “down the hill” (no more than 20 feet and it was about as sloped as a curb ramp from a sidewalk) and then turning with momentum.  Basic exercises, but they helped us learn how long our skis are, and some of the basics that we’d be using a little later.

Now it was time to head up the gondola, and start doing a little more.  As we were making our way over to the gondola, I became the first person in the class to fall … wiped out on level ground. Not sure exactly what happened.  One ski popped off. Dan said to just go ahead and take the other one off, because I’d have to take them off for the gondola anyways. As we got in line for the gondola, the staffers zapped us with an RFID scanner that read the lift tickets in our pocket, without needing to take them out. (Growing up, I had always seen classmates and friends with lift tickets hanging from their zipper, I feel like the RFID is a nice upgrade on that)

At the top of the gondola was a “beginners area” (Not really even a bunny slope) that featured a nice wide, gently sloping area (maybe 10%-12% grade?) which is used by all the lessons going on.  There are also 2 “Magic Carpets”, which is basically a conveyor belt that you ski onto and it’ll take you back to the top of the slope.

We spent a little bit of time near the “short” magic carpet, learning to do a “snowplow” stop, and short turns.  Then, we moved onto the “longer” carpet, and spent some time doing S-turns.  By this time, my left foot was bothering me a little, particularly in the arch. I asked Dan if he had any suggestions, and he said to unbuckle the middle buckle on my left boot.  Slight relief, but not really much.

Finally, after about an hour of this, we were ready to start going down an actual hill.  If we kept going just a little bit past the bottom of the long carpet, we would come to an actual hill, with a few different paths we could take.  We started out and made a wide sweep, into a flatter area, stopped for a moment to let everyone catch up, and then continued winding our way down the mountain.  At the bottom, Dan said that we were now ready to learn one of the most challenging techniques known to skiers – the chair lift.  There is a small lift that goes from the bottom of the “Buckaroo Bowl” back up to the area where we were, near the bottom of the long carpet.

Turns out the chair lift wasn’t that difficult.  We made another run, this time not stopping as much, and then repeated. I think we went down the hill and back up 4 or 5 times, and then it was time to break for lunch.  My thighs were burning.

We got to the bottom of the hill, took off our skis, left them in a rack, and I realized that I could barely walk. It was going to be very nice to sit down for a little bit.  I also realized that I was a bit dehydrated.  At the restaurant, I got chicken tenders and fries, plus a bottle of gatorade, and several cups of water. The gatorade was gone in about 30 seconds, and I think I probably drank 6 or 7 glasses of water.

After lunch, I was still feeling pretty beat. Tracy and I talked about it, and decided that we’d split off from the class and do our own thing. For me, my thing was “sit in the restaurant because I could barely move”. Tracy wanted to do 1 more run, so she went back out, and I stayed inside and waited.

20 minutes later, she came back, and agreed that she was done for the day.

We went back to the ski rental place, and turned in our equipment … boy was it nice to have real shoes on again!  We looked at our watch – 2:30 – and decided to stay in the village for a little while longer.  We sat down in some comfy chairs near an outdoor fireplace and watched kids skate around the ice rink a little bit.

One thing that’s apparently unique to Beaver Creek is that every day at 3pm, the staff put on chef jackets, and wander around the village and the base of the mountain and hand out free cookies.  We found someone with cookies, and each got one. They were still slightly warm from the oven, and tasted very good.

After our cookies, we got back on the bus and headed back towards our hotel.  At that point, we decided it would be a good time to hit the hot tub … We went to our room, peeled off all our layers, and got bathing suits. I looked at my feet … Both of my big toes had a bruise under the nail, most likely from boots that were too tight. (Side note – it’s now 1/27, and the bruises still haven’t gone away).  We spent about half an hour in the hot tub, then returned to our room, showered, and lounged around for a little bit (I don’t remember if we laid down, or just sat on the couch, turned on the fire, and watched TV).

I also called my brother, Daniel, to see if he and his wife Jennifer would like to meet up for dinner.  They live in Vail, and due to our travel schedule, and Daniel’s work schedule, this was the first chance we would have to see them. Turns out Jennifer was at work, teaching a dance class in Avon, and would be done around 7.  We made arrangements for her to pick us up, and we went to a Mexican restaurant that they liked.  It was good, although my fajitas were a bit under-seasoned, and they didn’t come with any lettuce.

After dinner, we went over to Daniel and Jennifer’s apartment for a little while and sat around talking. Daniel and Jennifer both work for Vail Resorts – Daniel is a snowmaker, and Jennifer works as a ticket office supervisor. They had a few coupons for reduced price lift tickets, and we took some, so we could go skiing again another day.

Daniel gave us a ride back to Avon, and we went to bed pretty much as soon as we got back.

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