If 2021 was the year of bouldering, 2022 was the year of cycling, then 2023 is the year of skiing! Happy to report that after 3 months of practice, I can now ski comfortably down blue runs and even make it down OK a couple of black runs in a ski resort!
My journey to learn skiing went back to my time in Minnesota in 2014, when I first took a half day lesson to learn. Growing up in a city in China where it doesn’t snow much in winter and no mountains nearby, I’ve never learned how to ski. When I was in undergraduate in Minnesota, I considered learning skiing, but I was too concerned with any risk of injury that can impact school and job search, did not have a car to travel to a resort, or know of friends who were interested in skiing. I did not take this lesson until my last winter in Minnesota, when I was already considering moving to Houston for a new career opportunity. I thought, ‘I might as well take advantage of the snow here, since who knows when I will ever live in a city with access to ski resort.’ For that day, I remember practicing ‘pizza’ and ‘french fry’ down the bunny hill the whole morning and afternoon. Then my friend asked if I was interested in trying a chair lift. I successfully made it out of the chair lift, but got chickened out as soon as I started downhill and resorted to boot down the hill to an exit where my friend could drive to pick me up.
The second time I learned skiing was at a resort in Michigan, four years after my first ski lesson lesson in Minnesota. I was getting my graduate degree at the time and over winter break, my friends and I spent a couple of days in a resort in Michigan. Similarly, I took a half day lesson and practiced on the bunny hill first. Luckily this time I was able to make it down in one piece on a green run the end of first day. The same winter, I skied with grad school friends at the annual winter party in a resort and even accidentally went down a blue run.
Even though I did not know whether I would ever live in a city with easy access to ski resort since that first lesson in 2014, life presented the opportunity when I moved to Seattle in 2019. Little did I know that I would fall so head over heels for living in Washington. I know I would enjoy the outdoor activities, but when I first moved here, I had no idea that I would love it THAT much. 2019 and 2020 were the years that I became serious with hiking and backpacking. I started trail running in 2021 and loved how efficient I could travel in the backcountry, compared to hiking. It was also the year that I started following local mountaineers on Instagram and learned about backcountry skiing. After seeing their backcountry skiing trips, I see skinning uphill and skiing down the perfect combination for my needs to explore the outdoors while traveling efficiently downhill. As a result, a seed for backcountry skiing was planted. Unfortunately, my ankle injury at the start of 2021-2022 winter put my skiing plan on hold for a year. Instead, I picked up cycling as rehab and have been keeping up with cycling since then.
Fast forward to 2022-2023 winter, I signed up for a weekly Wednesday night lessons for six weeks at Summit at Snoqualmie. Despite a rocky start on lesson 1 (those skills from MN and MI never stuck with me), I was able to ski down a blue run comfortably by lesson 6! The lessons and many practice runs in Summit at Snoqualmie eventually led me to try out backcountry skiing for the first time a couple of weekends ago at Source Lake in Alpental backcountry! Despite a couple of falls on the uphill (had trouble when it was steep and powdery), I was relatively comfortable going up, due to my endurance and stamina from running and cycling. Skiing downhill on backcountry powder was very challenging. I fell faceplanted almost at every turn and had trouble skiing the narrow exit track due to my limited ability to control my skis. Even with these challenges, I loved the experience and think this first trip would be a precious memory I look back fondly upon.
The following are a few reflections from this ski season:
- Stoke is important – even though skiing is better learned as a kid, I know a lot of people who get into this sports as an adult and succeed. As long as you are excited about it and know why you get into it in the first place, you will have motivation to keep practicing to get better.
- Having friends to ski with makes learning much easier! Bonus is friends with similar skill levels. Being in the class for 6 weeks and learning with a group activates the competitive energy in me. I usually practiced outside class before the weekly session so that I could keep up with the class. I was also able to pick up a few pointers from friends who are more skilled! One friend even graciously allowed me to borrow her backcountry setup to try out!
- Fortunate that I have the means and support to go skiing – Skiing in both resorts and in the backcountry is expensive! Lift tickets, skiing gears (resort and backcountry), avalanche class and avalanche equipment for backcountry, and gas/car to go to the destination are all things not everyone can afford. In addition, as you look at the faces on the slopes, they are not very diverse (cycling is similar). This is probably due to economic and social network reasons. I hope that I can take more friends to try out skiing in the future if they are just missing mentorship and support network.
- It is worth celebrating there was no injury, which was my biggest concern going into this season. With my climbing injury on the ankle and seeing horror stories of others breaking their ACLs/MCLs in skiing, I was nervous going into this season. My philosophy is that if the conditions are bad (icy trail, tired legs, low excitement, etc), I would just not go to the mountain. With low risk tolerance, I also did not ski too fast.
In the end, here are two blogs that I read frequently that dedicate a post on backcountry skiing. They provide both male and female perspectives. They also provide really good trip reports on backcountry skiing that give me lots of inspiration for future adventures!
As my first skiing season in Washington is coming to end, I am super proud to say that I finally made good on my goal to venture into backcountry skiing! I hope with more practice next season I can eventually ski down a volcano next spring in 2024, such as Mt St Helens and Mt Adams!