No matter what age, it's never too late to hit the slopes
As an immigrant, there’s a certain set of assumptions that I have about ‘being Canadian,’ and one of those is that all Canadians appear to have the ability to effortlessly skim down a snowy mountain. Me? Not so much. But I decided this was the year it was all going to change. I was going to hit those slopes and be a proper winter-sports-loving, après-earning Canuck.
But first, I had to learn how to ski.
Keep reading to find out what you need to know to go from terrified newbie to confident carver...
1. Take lessons
Nikki Bayley Obviously, as an adult, learning to hurtle down a mountain strapped to a pair of planks seems like a straight-up terrifying notion! I’m all too aware of how fragile our bodies are and how easy it is to get horribly, painfully broken. The only way to conquer that fear would be to learn in a supportive environment and that meant lessons. So I signed up with the Whistler Blackcomb’s North Face Women’s Ski Camp for a two-day crash (hopefully not) course in learning to ski.
I’ll confess I’m not usually big on group activities but I adored this. I was in a group of three absolute beginner skiers and we were gifted with a jewel of a teacher: part Mary Poppins, part-inspirational Robin Williams character in Dead Poets Society and all-round superstar, Lee-Ann Barczynski was the perfect coach for a trio of terrified newbies. Always reassuring and never critical, she built our confidence and encouraged us like a proud mom.
The group dynamic was perfect for learning too. Whenever one of was discouraged, the others immediately swung into cheerleader-mode—I’m so thankful to my fellow classmates, Sophia and Daniele for being incredible company on this adventure.
On the first morning of ski camp, you get split into different levels from absolute beginners to semi-pro, and go out in your groups together for the two days, meeting for après on the first day. I cannot recommend this enough! I spoke to women who’d done several camps together improving their skills each year—and as one of them beamed, ‘It’s like the best kind of girls’ getaway!’ Camps run from December till April and honestly, I’m already planning my next one.
2. Get the right gear
Nikki Bayley Sure, you want to look the part on the slopes, but it’s about so much more than putting on yo’ swag. You need clothes that will keep you warm and dry for a day out in probable sub-zero temperatures—this isn’t really just about looking cool, it’s also about staying alive. Fortunately, we have two homegrown hero brands who can save your life and make you look awesome at the same time! Step forward MEC and ARC’TERYX.
Go for a base layer which keeps you insulated and dry. I have a silvery-grey MEC T3 layer which apparently has a "voided grid construction: traps air for greater warmth and increased breathability," which all sounds very fancy, but basically I like it 'cause it makes me look like an astronaut and keeps me super-cozy.
Look for ski pants that have a little padding in them, which aren’t just great for keeping you warm, they’re also ideal for beginners who fall all the time. Also, look out for cool snowpants which have snowsport-safe features such as wearable tech including the RECCO rescue system reflectors which can help locate you in an accident.
Don’t go for a crazy-bulky jacket. Even though it’s cold out there, you’ll still be working up a sweat, so think layers. You want a decent waterproof jacket and you may also want a lighter mid-layer to go underneath; this Atom hoody is perfect. Zips, by the way, are king on the slopes: easy to undo and a quick way of cooling down when you hit boiling point practicing side-stepping up the learner ski hill.
Ski socks are a little different than regular ones; they need to go over the calf and it’s best to get ones that wick away moisture from your skin so you don’t get wet, cold feet. Think merino wool, not cotton. Make sure your socks don’t have toe seams on them so you don’t run the risk of getting blisters.
You’ll need waterproof gloves, a toque, and the most handy thing I used was a neck warmer from Parks Canada! Brilliant for pulling up over my nose when it was really cold and equally good for fashioning into a headscarf to combat my helmet-hair at lunch.
Non-ski-telated tip: Forget Tinder, go hang out at MEC on Broadway. I have never seen so many cute outdoorsy guys and women in one place.
3. Pizza and French fries
Nikki Bayley Day one of ski school as an adult is tough. You don’t know anything and everything feels very confusing. The boots feel cumbersome and complicated. It is almost impossible to walk in them (heel, toe) and as for stairs, forget it. To make matters worse, every bathroom in Whistler appears to be downstairs. Why?!
It’s difficult working out how to carry the skis, how to do anything at all, in fact.
You start with just one ski and progress to two, making the shape of a pizza wedge with your Bambi-like legs and discovering the power to glide to a halt. And then trying to straighten up and have your skis make French-fry shapes... but it’s OK. Even though there are tiny four-year-olds whizzing past as you slide around gracelessly, you will be amazed at the progress you make over the next 48 hours.
By the end of the first day, I could stop, I could almost turn and we went up a ski lift and down a section of one of the green runs. Admittedly I also snivelled with a sudden attack of "the fear" as I clung to a piece of fence that I’d smashed into, but baby steps...
By the end of day two, I felt like I could understand why people were so excited about the start of ski season each year—this was so much fun! Gradually discovering how to stay in control and that feeling of joy as you swish, swish through the powder, it was thrilling. And I’m convinced that I only got so far because I was with such a great teacher in a kick-ass group of women, totally focussing on getting the basics down.
Pro tip: Leave your ego and pride at the door. You will be falling a lot and looking like an idiot even more. But that’s OK. It’s all part of learning.
4. Après like a boss
Nikki Bayley I’ve always had the après part of skiing down. Sitting in a bar and chatting with friends over drinks and carby snacks? Yup. I own that. But this time, I finally earned my après, so I decided to be traditional and make it a fondue.
Araxi probably does the best in town with a gloriously buttery, nutty and pleasingly huge pot of melted Swiss Gruyère and Emmentaler spiked with white wine and kirsch, with a small mountain of house-baked bread, punchy pickled gherkins and sweet-sour baby onions to dip. The culinary equivalent of a hug after a tough day, there is nothing not to love about this dish.
As I inhaled a warm Islay Inverno toddy, its smoky scotch and spiced winter syrup deliciously warming me to my core, Araxi’s restaurant manager and assistant wine director, Jason Kawaguchi, poured a duo of wines to pair with this cheese feast. As a rule I’m all about the Sancerre, but this time it was a gloriously dry and fruity Gentil ‘Hugel’ from Alsace made with a blend of ‘noble’ grapes in a traditional style that won the day. Perfection.
5. Hot tub and spaaaaa
Facebook/VidaSpaAfter your first day on the slopes, you will ache in places that you didn’t know existed. So do what the pros do and hit the hot tub—hard.
For extra help in being able to walk the next day without crying and swearing, go the extra mile and book a massage too. I went with a super relaxing 60-minute Swedish massage at Vida spa. I’m ashamed to say that I wound up snoring on the table as I was so exhausted, but the next day this was so worth it. I was stiff, sure, but still able to move without significant pain and I’m pretty sure that’s thanks to the talented fingers of my therapist.
6. Make it easy on yourself - stay on the slopes
Nikki Bayley I’m on the record as being a roaring fan of the Fairmont brand and their Whistler outpost is no exception. But the bliss! The sheer bliss of staying right on the mountain with the least possible distance to hobble in those wretched ski boots, toting those skis was immeasurable. Best of all, for newbies like myself, they have a rental place which will kit you out with everything from boots and skis to clothing and helmets, and they’ll keep everything for you overnight, so you just have to trot downstairs and get it in the morning on your way to class. Amazing.