Lituya on skis

“Remember the pizza!” I yelled to Lituya. “Do the pizza if you need to slow down!” She slid down the road another few feet, then spread her legs out until the string between her ski tips caught–pulling her skis into a nice snowplow position. She drifted into the berm and stood there, screeching for me to lift her back into the middle of the road.

“Pizza” is a snowplow, and “French Fries” the parallel position. I picked up the terminology from my friend–our local volunteer ski instructor. He was a little farther up the road, slowly towing a group of four year olds across a flatter spot with a loop of rope off the back of the truck.

kid ski on a snowy road

“Turn before you hit your sister!” I yelled to Katmai. “Pizza” and “French Fries” is the entire extent of my personal ski-instruction knowledge, so I wasn’t sure quite how to tell him to turn. But he figured it out in any case. A little later in the afternoon I was completely surprised to see him carving big S turns all the way down the road by our house–a skill he must have just plucked from the air. Then he turned into the berm, shot over the lip of it, and landed upside down with dangling skis. I ran over to pick him up, before running down the road to catch another little skier.

In some things I’m an expert. Packrafting in the ocean. Multi-month wilderness expeditions.

So when I lead local kids on hikes, I feel more than qualified, brimming with general and local knowledge, passing on a passion I’ve had for decades. At kid ski day, I am passing on passionate ignorance. I lift kids into the truck, click clunky little boots into bindings, pass out poles, lift up fallen children, and cheer on the small crowd of preschoolers as they zip down a snowy road.

It’s amazing to see them learn.

skiing up high – photo Valisa Higman

We live in a steep and mountainous place that is usually snowy for around half the year. I’ve always snowshoed it. I’ve tromped around through the bushes and forests, built snowmen and forts with the kids. But more and more, I’m coming to believe that learning to ski is the best way to enjoy the winter.

On my porch, I have a set of borrowed telemark boots at least two sizes too big. I have borrowed skis, borrowed poles, borrowed skins… Unfortunately, I can’t borrow the skills to go with them.

I cross country skiied as a kid. But this is a world of up and down. So I usually head off for one of the handful of cut swaths that are our only ski runs in this low snow year (the alders never got laid down), and get in over my head. Sometimes I find myself staring down the gullet of something far too steep, side slipping my way down with careful kick turns. Other times, I zip down a trail pounded hard by the snowmachines, skiing into the bushes as my only way to slow down. Or I find myself plowing ahead in soggy melted snow, utterly incapable of turning the skis. And there are times when none of this happens. When even I feel a little bit graceful.

Katmai on skis

skis on a hilltop, skier off checking out the wolverine tracks

All the times are fun. High in the mountains with friends, or in my backyard alone. With two little kids, I spend so much time helping them learn and discover new things, that I’d forgotten what it was like to be a beginner myself. To be at the stage where you’re running up against the limits of your skills at every turn. And where you can see yourself improving exponentially at every one of them.