Mount Washington: It’s never too late to learn how to ski

Tess van Straaten takes to the slopes

By Tess van Straaten

I grew up in an athletic and adventurous family, but skiing was something we never did. To be honest, I’m not a fan of cold weather — or snow. But my kids absolutely love it and they jumped at the chance to experience the winter wonderland at Vancouver Island’s Mount Washington Alpine Resort.

Having only skied once before in my life — a misguided attempt to let a friend try and teach me on one of Whistler’s more difficult runs when I was 16-years-old — I decided to ease into things with a cross country lesson. But instead of traditional cross country, we’re trying the relatively new sport of skate skiing.

“Skate skiing is similar to classic cross country and it’s an increasingly popular sport due to the amazing cardio,” explains Mount Washington marketing manager Sheila Rivers. “When you get the rhythm down, gliding becomes a fun challenge.”

Skate skiing uses shorter skis and can only be done on groomed trails but done right, you can go faster and feel like you’re almost skating across the snow. As a figure skater, I’m hopeful all my time in the rink will pay off. But our skilled instructor, Sheila Ord, quickly gives us a reality check.

“The hardest thing with skate skiing is that it’s very frustrating at first,” Ord cautions. “There’s definitely a very steep learning curve but once you get it, it’s great and it’s really good for people who want to be challenged.”

Deciding we’re up for the challenge, Ord runs us through the basics, from gliding down a small incline to getting up if we fall (rolling over on all fours isn’t pretty but it works). Next, we learn the key technique of stepping down on the ski and transferring our weight to propel ourselves forward.

“Pretend you’re crushing a bug,” Ord tells us. “It’s all about the transfer of weight as you stomp on the bug, flex your ankle, rise up like superman with your chest out, and them almost click your boots together before coming down on the other ski to crush another bug.”

It takes a lot of effort but by the end of the lesson, I feel like I’m starting to get it and Rivers is right — it’s a fantastic workout! I’m keen to keep practising but it’s time for our alpine lessons. The kids are signed up for snowboarding while I finally learn how to downhill ski from a professional.

My instructor, Al Wedel, is a Mount Washington legend. He’s been a ski instructor for 30 years, which he started doing after a 35-year career as a school teacher. Now in his 80’s, Wedel even has a run named after him — Wedel’s Way.

Within no time, Wedel has me snowplowing like a pro and skiing down the mountain. Unlike my first skiing experience all those years ago, it’s actually fun! And also unlike that unfortunate first time, I didn’t fall — not once. With the snow falling and the wind in my face as I confidently cruise down the mountain, it’s a totally exhilarating experience.

Mount Washington launched a free program for beginners in December called Discovery Days with more than 1,000 people taking part and they’re hoping to bring it back next season. Find out more at: www.MountWashington.ca

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