It wasn’t Olympic fever. It was simply another item to check off my bucket list that had me peering down a snow-covered slope thinking, “Why am I doing this?”
In mere seconds, I went from stationary to speeding down the snowcoaster — faster than I have ever traveled without the aid of a machine. Downhill skiing isn’t for the faint of heart.
I had dreamed of learning how to alpine ski for years. Instead of staying inside, cooped up all winter, I wanted to embrace the season’s bounty. Because this is Wisconsin — more than 1,000 miles away from the skiing splendor of the Rockies — my options were limited and travel was needed.
Fortunately, my friend lives in the Upper Peninsula, a few miles from Marquette Mountain. This would be my chance. I knew sliding down a treacherous slope would be suicide without instruction, so I signed up for lessons and hoped the old dog could learn new tricks.
I started my day on the mountain’s bunny hill with my instructor, Ben. His laid-back attitude and surfer persona gave me reassurance that my lessons would be beneficial.
We spent the first 10 minutes learning the basics of skiing: putting your boots in the bindings, proper form and staying in “the wedge” — keeping your skis in an arrow shape to control your speed.
We went up the towrope and down the hill. Each time, I watched Ben flawlessly present a technique. I would awkwardly mimic.
The session came to an end after an hour. My legs burned from bending, and my back throbbed from the tugging of the towrope. But the pain was relieved when he praised me for being a good student. I was ready to conquer a real hill.
At least I thought I was.
My friend and I took the chair lift to the top of the mountain — another first for me. My nerves grew as we ascended. I kept telling myself that the easy hill will be right around the corner, and it will be a nice, gentle ride.
We reached the summit and searched for a green circle (an easy hill). I looked down and saw the so-called easy hill, which starts out with a steep slide into a 90-degree turn. If I would miss the turn, I’d be in the trees.
I mustered the courage and awkwardly slid down. I stayed in the wedge, but it was still too fast. I bailed out only after a few seconds, creating a small avalanche of snow and ice crystals. I got up and tried again. But my nerves took over and every time I gained speed, I threw myself onto the snow. After a few more runs and lots of bailouts later, I thought my skiing career was iced.
I returned home determined this was not the end. A closer, easier hill was only an hour southwest. Sunburst Ski Area in Kewaskum would be my ticket.
When I reached Sunburst, I was pleasantly surprised. The main hill was small, but the bunny and practice hills were much larger than Marquette. And the rental equipment appeared brand new.
As for my instructor, I would be partnered with Gary, whose father also was a ski instructor.
Gary immediately taught me how to get out of the wedge and ski parallel. I began seeing an improvement. After a few exercises in turning and keeping my skis close together, I mastered the bunny hill and the easy hill. My next hill would be a blue square (intermediate).
It was daunting, but Gary’s encouragement helped push me down the hill. Only a few bailouts and spills, but I managed to make it down several times without fear or broken bones. Eventually, I made it down the hill without falling. My ski hobby was becoming enjoyable.
I now have the confidence to continue my alpine adventures and have warmed up to winter.
As for Pyeongchang, South Korea in 2018, I think I’ll watch it from the chalet.
Jordan Tilkens: (920) 686-2136, email@example.com, or on Twitter @HTRJTilkens