I suppose Dougie and I could have learned to ski at home. There is a dry ski slope fairly close by at Tallington Lakes and we did visit it, but only to buy some of our gear (check out the environmentally-friendly organic gorgeousness of my Picture jacket). Friends of ours, also learning to ski for the first time in Austria, tried the snow dome at Milton Keynes to get their first taste of the slopes. We decided, however, to hand ourselves over, body and soul, to the ski instructors at Winter Park, to experience the whole shebang from the very beginning.
We knew Winter Park would be a great training ground as a local school here in the UK has organised trips there. Two dads we know have accompanied the children: both of them are experienced, one a boarder and one a skier, and they praised the resort for its suitability for all levels of ability.
With over 3000 skiable areas, 143 trails, 6 terrain parks, 1 halfpipe, 26 lifts and an average snowfall of 323 inches, you can see why Winter Park is such a draw for skiers and riders. It’s only a 90 minute drive from Denver (slightly longer from the airport) so the resort is a local attraction for residents. Owned by the city of Denver since it opened in 1939, it’s now part-owned by Intrawest, the Canadian company which also runs Steamboat, Tremblant and Blue Mountain.
As a total newbie, the most exhausting part of the whole operation is getting kitted out. Winter Park made this as stress-free as possible, supplying us with skis, boots, poles and helmets and ensuring we were comfortable before we set off for our first lesson. But walking in the boots is an art, likewise carrying the skis: I needed a lie-down before I’d started.
From this point on, things were surprisingly smooth. The Ski & Ride School was, quite simply, superb. We were placed in a group of five for a full day’s lesson. None of us had skied before and we were all adults. In less than an hour after the initial tentative steps on the travelator, our instructor, JT, decided we were ready to tackle the proper slopes.
Winter Park has an excellent area of the mountain which is perfect for beginners. The Discovery Park is reached by a chair lift and there are a number of inter-linked easy green runs to explore, without having the worry of more accomplished skiers flying past you and causing you to wobble. There were no queues, this being mid-week and kids being at school, so we were able to spend huge amounts of time on the runs, perfecting turns and building up our confidence. It didn’t feel as if we were on beginner runs either: some were tree-lined, others had fantastic views over the Rockies. Within a day we had become proper skiers, albeit fairly slow, sensible ones.
Lunch was provided free for all full-day pupils, and my tip here is not to go overboard on the food. On the second day, Dougie ate so much chicken and fries, his ski to tumble ratio was disappointingly high. A soup and sandwich combo was far better at keeping you alert and on your feet.
A note for families here. If you are wondering about your children learning to ski at Winter Park, you couldn’t choose a better resort. All children at the ski school are tagged with a GPS tracking advice which the instructor can set so an alarm is activated if the child moves beyond a set distance away. Of course, we heard about some naughty tricks such as two brothers, in separate groups, swapping tags, and another inventive lad who attached his to a passing snowmobile. But this safety device will reassure parents that their little ones are in good hands. At the end of the day, you can access a website to see where the kids have skied so you can share the experience with them. Parents we spoke to at Winter Park were full of praise for the system and had complete confidence in the instructors, knowing their children were safe and having a fantastic time.
We were interested to discover that Winter Park is the primary location for the National Sports Center for the Disabled. The world’s largest therapeutic recreation agency, whose motto is “Empowering the human spirit through sport”, the NSCD does amazing work at Winter Park, teaching people with a whole spectrum of disabilities to ski/ride in the winter and try out activities such as rock climbing and mountain biking in the summer. We shared the slopes with some of these kids and young adults and it was inspiring to see what they were able to achieve.
After three days of lessons, with JT, Mike and Jerry, all three having many years of teaching experience, Dougie and I felt very assured in our novice skiing ability. I honestly didn’t believe that, at 51, I could learn this new sport but, with expert instruction and a lot of laughs, we were actually looking less like Neil Armstrong taking small steps in heavy boots and more like Franz Klammer swooshing down the mountain with some degree of style.
And just look what I managed to do on the final afternoon:
Recognise the jacket?
Stock photo (Ok, it’s a fair cop!) courtesy of Winter Park
This trip was organised for us by the resorts of Winter Park and Steamboat Springs. Accommodation, ski rental, lessons and lift passes were complimentary as were my flights and some meals. Dougie paid for his own flights.