Posts Tagged With: skiing

How to learn to downhill ski…

Writing about the ski train the other day made me think back to the day I learned how to downhill ski. OK, let’s be honest…by most skiers standards, I didn’t really learn anything. Instead let’s call it the first day I made it down a hill with skis on. This was in the 1980’s and my then-boyfriend earned some mighty big karma points that day for his patience with me!
It was a double date. Both of us girls were new to skiing. In fact our friend’s date, Debbi, had never been on skis at all as I recall. I had a teeny advantage of having done some cross-country skiing as a kid.
The first part of the adventure was getting fitted for rental skis. Even slim as I was then, my chubby ankles – cankles – required that I get extensions on the boots. Embarrassing and frustrating to say the least, as boyfriend and rental dude fussed over my fat legs trying to squeeze them into the hard plastic torture device they called a ski boot. Finally I was outfitted and on my way.
Anchorage has a lovely little ski area called Hilltop with a single chair lift and two or three basic trails from the top of the lift back to the chalet at the bottom. The trails are short and easy, perfect for a beginner, but to us beginners it looked like we were going to the top of Mt. Everest. The boys had their first chore getting our butts onto the chair lift.
“But it’s moving!”
“Don’t SWING it!” (Girly screams)
As the lift chugged its way to the top, I was torn between the beauty of the view and the terror of having to exit the chair without getting bonked on the head as it made the turn and headed back down. Never mind the terror of having to get myself back down the hill… (Both boyfriends insisted that we could NOT just ride the chair back to the chalet!)
Luckily we picked a fairly quiet evening to do this. Fewer witnesses…
At the top of the hill, having successfully gotten both of us girls out of the chair lift and out of the way of other skiers, the real lesson started. Poor Debbi was the first to go. It went something like this:
“How do you make the skis go?”
“Just point them downhill…” (Exasperated sigh)
“Like this? AAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHhhhhhhhhh…….” (Long, LONG drawn out scream, followed by a distant thump and a little puff of snow as she crashed halfway down the hill.)
Then it was my turn. I didn’t know her well, but she seemed like a nice girl… How the hell am I going to get down this hill? I’m ashamed to say there may even have been some tears…
I was still standing there arguing and procrastinating when Debbi came up behind me.

She was grinning from ear to ear. “That was awesome!”
“But I was sure you were dead!”
It was what I needed to finally get me moving – proof that she not only survived but was eagerly doing it again, complete with screams and crashes and laughter and crazed exhilaration.
Needless to say, I also survived and enjoyed myself to boot. If you’ve never done it, I can’t recommend it enough. It’s like flying, complete with the spectacular aerial views and the soft shoosh of the skis on the snow.
I went many times after that, though never often enough to justify buying my own equipment. In other words, I enjoyed it enough to deal with the rental place each time! When my knee blew up, my downhill days were done, but our evening trips to Hilltop and our one big (expensive) trip to Alyeska are wonderful memories of younger days.

Categories: Living in Alaska, nostalgia | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Ski Train

Know any avid back country skiers or snow shoe enthusiasts?  We have an annual event here known simply as the Ski Train, sponsored by Nordic Skiing Assn of Anchorage every March.  It really is a train, chartered by the group for a day-long party in the back country of Southcentral Alaska.  The train includes a fair number of regular passenger cars, a food and beverage car, and best of all, a POLKA car complete with a live polka band and a dance floor that literally rocks! 

Folks board at 6am, checking their skis and other equipment at the ski car with the attendants there.  The train makes one stop at a second boarding depot and then heads on to the back country, which used to be Grandview, high in the mountains between Anchorage and Seward.  Now they go to Curry which is on the northern line towards Fairbanks. 

LOTS of skiers take part in this annual event

LOTS of skiers take part in this annual event

The trip out takes about four hours and is relatively quiet.  Folks are excited but still in morning mode.  Many have coolers with breakfast and other snacks and drinks to supplement purchases made in the food car.  Upon arrival, the skiers spill out of the cars and line up to collect their gear and hit the trails. 

The train pulls out on its return trip at 4pm and that’s when things get rowdy.  To date the polka car has never derailed itself and I’m not sure how that’s possible.  In years past the wine and beer flowed in impressive amounts and the dancing and singing could be heard several cars away.  I say the dancing could be heard…and I meant it.  These folks dance with athletic energy and the wooden floor boards vibrate with the rhythm like a rail-car sized drum.  The whole car sways from side to side in an alarming fashion, but pretty soon you find yourself jumping and stomping along to the primal beat of music you can’t even hear anymore! 

Many years ago I joined a group of friends for this experience.  I had a bum knee, so opted not to ski or snow shoe, instead bringing a paperback to read while I waited for the group to come back from skiing.  Friends would ski for awhile then come back in to warm up and get something to eat or drink before heading back out to try another trail.  Eventually most of them were back on the train, changing into dry clothes and preparing for the ride home.  Most …

Three of our ladies were yet unaccounted for and the clock was rolling down towards the all-aboard whistle.  Finally, just as we were beginning to gear up to go looking, they showed up, red faced, sweating and swearing in equal measure.  They had gotten down into a bowl of snow that was a little off from where everyone else was skiing.  They could just see the train, but kept punching through the crust so couldn’t make any real time climbing back out of the bowl.  Once they made it to the rim, they had to really hustle to make it back to the train. 

Yes, stragglers do get left behind!  There's shelter and a radio, but you will have to wait on the next train and it will cost you $$

Yes, stragglers do get left behind! There’s shelter and a radio, but you will have to wait on the next train and it will cost you $$

I can still hear C’s drawling voice as she stated “Y’all shouldn’ta let the girl from Tennessee tell you where the trail was!”

I still don’t ski.  Although my knee has been repaired, I don’t trust it much and I actually worry a little about my future winters at the cabin where skis and snow shoes will be my best bet for getting around. Anyway, these days the Ski Train sells out every year, so I don’t feel right about taking a seat when a real skier has likely been denied a ticket. 

The March 2013 train has long since sold out, but if you’re thinking this would be a fun thing to do one day, I recommend joining the Nordic Skiing Association and getting on their email list.  (Plus you can get discounted Ski Train tickets that way!)  Tickets back when I went were about $45.  These days they go for $140, but if you join you can get them for $110. 

Skiing, beer and live polka…who could ask for more?

Categories: Living in Alaska | Tags: , | 2 Comments

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