THE VILLAGE OF BLUE MOUNTAIN, ONTARIO -- Dave Bader accomplished in an hour what I had felt was impossible for the entirety of my life. With patience and encouragement, Bader not only taught me to ski, he kept me upright with his instructions and invigorated my experience so much I can now say I am hooked on a sport that had terrified me from childhood.
Years ago, I begged out of my middle school ski trip, thoughts of Vinko Bogataj racing through my head. Bogataj is the "agony of defeat" ski jumper made famous by ABC's Wide World of Sports, whose opening montage each Saturday afternoon showed the Yugoslavian athlete careening head over heels, violently sliding off a platform after losing control on his skis. Never mind that Bogataj was a ski jumper, not a downhill specialist. He wore skis, meaning he was in the act of skiing, and that fact, combined with the bitterness of the cold, was enough to convince me I didn't want any part of a sport where control seemed about as easy to hold on to as a snowflake against body heat.
So, for decades, I avoided skis, until last month when I figured I'd go for it, believing I had matured enough to avoid any reckless danger. Worst-case scenario? I'd fall a few times on a bunny hill and have a silly, self-deprecating travel article to share with you.
Instead, this story is about the thrill of victory. It begins in Blue Mountain, a commercialized but exceptionally well-managed resort two hours northwest of Toronto. On Georgian Bay, Blue Mountain and the surrounding area near Collingwood receives more snow than anywhere else in southern Ontario. That's havoc if you're a driver; a dream if you like to go downhill fast and often.
Despite the fact its top elevation is only 220 metres (720 feet), Blue Mountain is the third-most popular ski resort in Canada, following Whistler-Blackcomb in British Columbia and Mont Tremblant in Quebec. Each year, it receives more than 1-million visitors and sells roughly 750,000 lift tickets (the passes that allow you entry onto the slopes). On Sunday, the resort announced a $10-million expansion for the 2013-14 season that will see it add 64 acres of terrain and six trails.
It has several instructors, including Bader, who trains the Blue Mountain staff. Bader holds Level 4 certification, the highest ranking available from the Canadian Ski Instructors Alliance (CSIA) and says his greatest joy is at the earliest stages of instruction.
"That's when you see the most progress, when someone goes from simply learning to walk on skis, which can seem really foreign and odd at first, to going down a hill and learning to turn. Seeing the progression is what gets me excited and what makes me love this job," he told me after running me through the first stages of the beginner program during a minus-20 Celsius degree day in January.
Bader first outfitted me with rental gear from the resort. It included a helmet, snow pants and ski jacket, the skis and ski poles, and what I found to be the key to success: a pair of alpine ski boots that weighed about five pounds each and gifted so much support to my ankles it seemed impossible for me to fail at this sport.
Once outside, Bader taught me to walk on skis, going clockwise and counter-clockwise with one ski on and eventually doing so with both skis. The sensation was unnatural, like trying to steady yourself on a surfboard for the first time. It grew more comfortable the longer I wore the gear. We sidled up a small hill, and then I went down a short incline and snowploughed, making a wedge out of my skis so that the tips pointed at each other, a manoeuvre that slowed me to a stop.
Some ski instructors don't favour spending time on the snowplough, or allowing beginners to hold ski poles. I found both useful because they gave me confidence. The first thing I wanted to know when I got on skis was how to stop. We went through the snowplough drill six times as Bader made sure I had that safety technique down pat.
A few minutes later, we were riding a magic carpet -- the name of the moving, vertical walkway that carries skiers from the base of the mountain to the top of the bunny hill -- and Bader and I were soon descending a slope, doing turns and going faster than I imagined I would after less than one hour on skis.
To read the rest of the article and see a video of Adrian Brijbassi learning to ski, visit Vacay.ca.