Snow Trax: An Ode To Beginners - LasCruces.com Snow Trax: An Ode To Beginners - LasCruces.com
your skier sipping hot chocolate from a spoon.

By Daniel Gibson |
Top image: Doses of hot chocolate are a key to successful kiddo ski outings, as seen here on the deck of Rhoda’s Restaurant at Taos Ski Valley. Photo by Daniel Gibson.

The future of skiing rests on the wobbly legs of beginning skiers and snowboarders, and you must admit, it’s a tough go. Often out on old or inadequate gear, dressed in an odd assortment of clothing, they have to wait in long lines to get rental gear, then more lines to board pokey chairlifts. Then, like novice swimmers tossed in the deep end of pools, they crash coming off the chairs and have to figure out how to get to the bottom of the slopes alive. It’s amazing any of them come back for a second round, but they often do.

Equally impressive are the legions of parents who organize these outings and spend days, months, and even years tethered to the bottom of the ski areas while their friends dance through the powder above. So, here’s a tribute to beginners, and their long-suffering mentors.

MATURE SKI BEGINNERS

adult beginner skier
Adult beginning skier Samantha Terrell of Waco, Texas, negotiates that crazy stuff called snow at Ski Santa Fe on a recent day. Photo by Daniel Gibson.

Not all beginners are kids. On a recent outing to Ski Santa Fe, I found 42-year-old Samantha Terrell, from Waco, Texas, on the slopes during her very first day on those devilishly slippery planks called skis. She noted, “I’ve had three crashes, and am getting good at falling!” So, why take up a new sport in middle age? “I’m not getting any younger, and have been suffering from physical ailments and pain,” she explained. “So I said to myself, ‘If not now, when? Let’s go try this. Let’s do this!’”

Despite the long, long drive from home, she said, “It’s absolutely been worth it. Time and money allowing, we plan to do more.”

Her husband, Jason Terrell, was working on day two of skiing. His first time out was 25 years ago. “My wife and kids,” he wisely said, “are what motivated me to get out here again. We’ve been talking about it for years but I had a lot of problems with my knees, and they are finally feeling better, so we thought we’d give it a try. I’m loving it! I’m really enjoying being out here with them, on this beautiful day. I love the speed! My turns are coming along, and I expect we’ll be trying it again in the future.”

KIDS ON SKIS

a mother and your girl in their ski gear!Most new snowsports enthusiasts, though, are kids. Sumayya Abouelhassan of Albuquerque, 9 years old, skied a few times last season but really jumped into it this year. Her greatest challenge so far, she noted, came at Taos. “I accidentally went onto Powderhorn, and I had to go down it. That was my first blue run.” She’s working hard on her technique. “I’m not too good on my right foot yet; I can’t turn very well on that one,” she said. “But I’m good at stopping.”

The aspect she most enjoys is the ride up on the chair lifts. “I like the views!” Sumayya exclaimed. “And, I like cold weather, so that hasn’t bothered me. But I don’t think mom will be joining us. She says she doesn’t want to ski at all.”

Sumayya’s ski buddy is her stepsister Lucia “Lulu” Schiller-Mason. Approaching her ninth birthday, she’s actually not a beginner, as she’s been on skis for some five years already! “I guess I’m an intermediate; I ski the blues a lot. But next time I’m probably going to do some blacks. I tried one earlier this season, and I had this tumbling accident, and both my skies came off and then I was done for the day.”

TRAINING YOUNG RIPPERS

Overseeing their skiing introduction, as well as for two boys — a son and stepson under age five — has been Jakob Schiller of Albuquerque. He, like all parents in his boots, should be given a medal by the ski industry. Jakob noted that he’d only had a few runs off the top of the resorts this winter, when someone else could briefly watch over his charges.

He explained how he slid into this role. “I carried both of my kids on my back a couple of times when they were 2, and they both began skiing when they were 3,” Jakob explained. “But, that was a little bit obsessive. I love skiing so much and I wanted to share it with them. I figured if we started as early as possible I could raise some really ripping skiers. But I think I was a little bit too gung-ho. If you wait a little bit longer, and they are more physically developed, they pick it up faster.”

TIPS FOR GETTING KIDDOS ON SKIS

a father helping he daughter learn to ski
A selfless dad works with his daughter on the beginner slopes of Ski Santa Fe. Photo by Daniel Gibson.

Jakob has many other hard-won tips for parents and their children. “The most important thing is having an enormous amount of patience, from the moment you get up in the morning. As much as you want to get to the hill, and get them booted up and on slopes, you can’t rush them. I made that mistake a few times! They only have so much stamina and energy. You’ll ski a few laps and then they’ll want some hot chocolate. Then you’ll ski a few more laps and they’ll want lunch. And after a few more laps, when they are really young, they need a nap. So, you have to keep your expectations pretty low. The consoling thought is that you are outdoors with your kids, they’re getting some exercise, and you’re teaching them something they’ll enjoy for the rest of their lives.

“Weather is a huge factor,” Jakob continued, “so making sure they are dressed right is very important. A pair of bib overalls that are really waterproof are key, and a warm jacket. Hand warmers go in their gloves right away. I’ve always shelled out for good boots. REI carries boots, made by Dalbello, for even tiny feet. A cold, uncomfortable boot ends your day before you’ve even begun. I pass the boots down, but retire them after three seasons or so. On the drive up, I stack them up by the floor heaters so they are as warm as possible to put on. You can find new skis online, with bindings, for $125 a pair. They’re not great skis, but they are good enough.”

SKI PROGRAMS FOR KIDS

And what about putting kids in a group program? “My mom (journalist Kay Matthews) taught me how to ski, so I kind of took it upon myself to teach my kids, but it’s one of those situations where spending some extra money makes great sense,” Jakob said.

“We are really excited about the White Tornadoes program at Ski Santa Fe,” he continued. “They don’t begin enrollment until fall but I’ve already called to find out when it opens, as it fills up right away. Not only will it allow me to have five days of skiing next winter, but it places the kids in classes with their peers, and that provides tremendous motivation and role models, while being taught by professionals. It’s worth every penny!”

a mother and her young kids getting ready to go hit the slopes
A hero mom heads to the car at Taos Ski Valley this winter, with one little ripper and one in training. Photo by Daniel Gibson.

DAD TIME

Has it been worth all the effort? “I haven’t gotten a lot of vertical feet in these years,” Jakob noted, “but I’ve come to love just being on skis and outdoors and sharing that with them. And, in a few more years I’ll have a posse that can ski all over the mountain with me.”

Jakob added that skiers are a hard-charging bunch, and it is tough sometimes to forgo his own turns to wait in another line to board the beginner chair. The former editor at Outside magazine and a columnist for them today, as well as a staff member of Central New Mexico University’s   marketing department, added he’d been able to slip in some free skiing at Sandia Peak this season using his alpine touring gear and skills.

Sandia never opened this season, despite having a very good base, due to the fact they could not find enough qualified staff. “It turned into this great experience for skiers in Albuquerque. If you show up at six in the morning on a weekday, there’s a handful of cars there already, and on Saturdays there’s 30 to 40! It’s been like our own, private AT ski resort. It’s allowed me to breathe a bit as a skier.”

END OF SKI SEASON APPROACHING

Ski season 2021 – 22 is on its final leg. Most regional areas will be closing in late March or the first week of April. Some though, like Wolf Creek, will probably extend their season — at least on a weekend basis. For details, check ski area web sites. A handful of areas north of us — including Arapahoe Basin and Loveland in Colorado — go late, as do Alta and Snowbird in Utah, and sometimes Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The Pacific Northwest has had a HUGE winter, so look to Washington and British Columba areas for skiing into May and even the summer. As for this column, this issue wraps up my seasonal coverage of the regional scene. Happy trails!

CONDITIONS & EVENTS — AS OF MARCH 16, 2022

Ski Santa Fe sits on a nice 58-inch base, with 85 of 86 runs open. Just Sunset Bowl remains roped, and some of the Big Rock Chutes. This season it’s received 125 inches overall. It is expected to close on April 3. It’s operating on spring hours, from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. This Saturday enjoy live tunes from the danceable Controlled Burn, and a tap takeover by the tasty Ex Novo.

Taos Ski Valley has a 64-inch base at mid-mountain, with all but a handful of expert runs open, including all the hike-to terrain.

March 18 – 19, Taos will host the annual Ben Myers Ridge-a-Thon, a fundraising program for the Taos Community Foundation, now entering its 26th year. Test your mettle climbing and skiing or boarding the hike-to runs off the ridges; the person or team with the most runs wins some cool stuff. Or win prizes by raising the most money. Details on the TSV site. March 26 – 27, Taos will present the USSA Southern Series Championship. The events take place on Lower Stauffenberg with a giant slalom on Saturday and a slalom on Sunday. The event draws teams with athletes between the ages of 7 and 21 from Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. The series has three stops, with Taos having played host to the championships for a decade now. And, on April 7 – 10, TSV will host the World Pro Ski World Championship. This prestigious event is the country’s foremost professional alpine race tour where athletes race side-by-side in a single-elimination format. Professional skiers, World Cup athletes, and Olympians from around the world will be present.

a girl skiing down a slope
The snow still rests deep and fluffy at Wolf Creek, as this recent photo shows. Photo by Kevin Bruce, courtesy Wolf Creek.

Wolf Creek has a fantastic base of 106 inches, and has received an enviable 357 inches so far this winter! They have decided to extend daily operations through Sunday, April 17. Smokey Bear will visit on Thursday, March 17. Smokey will be speaking with guests about the forest service, the partnership between the forest service and Wolf Creek Ski Area, and of course wildfires. Smokey Bear will revisit the ski area March 22 and 24. April 2 will feature a College Day (discounted tickets for students with valid ID), and a Wolf Creek Challenge Series Super G Race. Wolf Creek’s closing day will feature a traditional Easter Egg Hunt hosted by the Easter Bunny. Skiers and boarders can celebrate closing day with lift tickets at Local Appreciation rates. Additional events will be added to the extended schedule and announced on WolfCreekSki.com.

Angel Fire Resort has a 20-inch base, having gotten 113 inches so far. Some 67 runs of 81 are open, plus its sledding hill, terrain parks and night skiing operation. It will close on March 20.

Red River is cruising along on a 30- to 36-inch base, with all runs open.

Pajarito rests on a 20-inch base, with about ¾ of its runs open — including a handful of expert slopes like Nuther Mother and Precious. It is open on a Friday-Sunday basis. Its major winter party, Skiesta, returns this Saturday, March 19. Wear is your costumes and come out for a day of community fun on the mountain. Bathtub Row Brewing will be serving beer and wine at noon on the Lodge deck (no outside beer allowed on either deck) and Eddy & the Nomads will play beginning at 2 p.m. Fun competitions include GS and slalom race courses on Daisy Mae, plus a Sloppy Slalom on the Beginners Hill.

 

a little boy sledding
A cardboard dragon with kid aboard in a previous staging of Sipapu’s annual Cardboard Derby, which returns on March 26. Photo courtesy Sipapu.

Sipapu has a 34-inch base and 38 runs open. After a year’s hiatus due to Covid, its Cardboard Derby returns on Saturday, March 26 at 10:30 am. A sled race on cardboard for individuals or teams, Sipapu invites racers to build their own vessels—using only cardboard, duct tape, string or twine and paint—and speed down the mountain vying for one of dozens of prizes. The event attracts hundreds of people. Past entries have ranged from cardboard airplanes to animated characters, racecars and even outhouses. Prizes are awarded in a wide range of categories, from most creative vessel to the party closest to the bull’s eye mark at the base of the run, and even slowest vessel. There are also prizes awarded for creativity, best construction and costumes. Prizes include items from Sipapu, REI, Baskin-Robbins and Spy Optics. The event is free to spectators; race entry runs $10. For more details, see the Sipapu web site.

Ski Apache is open, but not reporting conditions or terrain open.

Crested Butte has a solid 74-inch base, with 229 inches this season to date. Every run is open, including the iconic Peak run off the Butte itself. To mark the end of the season, CB will host a Pond Skim on April 2. Details online.

Monarch Mountain, with a 61-inch base and all runs open, is also extending its season, through April 17.

Telluride enjoys a 67-inch base, with 227 inches so far all season. Open runs include 136 out of 149, with just some of the hike-to terrain closed.

Purgatory has a 60-inch base and all runs open.

Arizona Snowbowl reports a 60-inch base, and 45 of 48 runs open, though none of its hike-to terrain.

 

Dan Gibson
Snowsports journalist Daniel Gibson, photographed
at Red River.

Daniel Gibson is the author of New Mexico’s only comprehensive ski guidebook, Skiing New Mexico: Snow Sports in the Land of Enchantment (UNM Press, 2017). His new book, Images of America: Skiing in New Mexico, was recently released from Arcadia Publishing with 183 historic photos. He is a member of the North American Snowsports Journalist Association and has written on the topic for newspapers coast to coast, web sites, and magazines including PowderSki, and Wintersport Business. His first day on wooden skis with wooden edges came at age 6 in 1960 on a snowy day at the former Santa Fe Ski Basin. He can be reached at [email protected] or via www.DanielBGibson.com.

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