Learning to Ski

Middlebury College Snow Bowl

Middlebury College Snow Bowl, courtesy of the Admissions Office

As winter approaches each year, I cringe. Will my family want to go skiing? It’s not that I can’t ski; it’s just that I don’t like to.  At best, I am a spring skier – when the temperatures hover just above freezing and the sun shines, then skiing is tolerable. Otherwise, I’d rather be reading.

But this year we are planning a winter ski trip. If this blog goes dormant sometime in the next month or so, it’s probably because my fingers are too frostbitten to type.

I’ve written before about important lessons I learned at Middlebury College. During my freshman year at Middlebury, in addition to learning about myself, I also learned to ski. In Vermont. In January. In two-degree weather. On a fifteen-inch base of ice and rock.

No wonder I hate to ski – it brings back bad memories.

When I was at Middlebury in the mid-1970s, there were few requirements to graduate. Students had to have a major (or two). The only other requirements to graduate were one English class that taught writing, a year’s worth of Physical Education, and passing a swim test.

I don’t know why the college was so big on physical fitness, while allowing students to graduate without any knowledge of science, mathematics, history, or economics. The college later did impose some course distribution requirements.  But while I was there, my broadening came from skiing, fencing, ice-skating, and golf – none of which had I ever done before matriculating at Middlebury. And I haven’t fenced or golfed since I left Middlebury.

Middlebury owns its own ski area – the Middlebury Snow Bowl. It’s a lovely drive from campus up a mountain road along a babbling creek to the Snow Bowl. Most students didn’t have cars in my day, so we congregated at a gas station downtown to hitch a ride to the slopes. My dad still shakes his head at the thought of his little daughter hitch-hiking in minus two degree weather with an unknown frat boy. (Well, I sort of knew him.)

I’m not naturally athletic, though I learned to waterski in high school. The only similarity between snow-skiing and waterskiing is if one uses the rope tow. Today’s skiers learn quickly to avoid the rope tow. Even rank beginners don’t use the rope tow.  It wrecks your $80 gloves on the first tug and pulls your arms out of their sockets before your feet start gliding.

Middlebury’s ski school used the graduated length method (GLM) of instruction when I was there. With GLM, beginners start with skis about three feet long. Once they demonstrate proficiency on the baby skis, they get longer-length skis (about five feet long). I’m just over five feet tall, so that’s as long as I would ever need.

Even on three-foot skis, I fell a lot. And I struggled to get up after I fell. Consequently, I didn’t graduate to the longer length skis until my last lesson. I think the instructors had to get us on the five-foot skis to pass us on the PE credit.

I did pass my ski course. But it was too late. I hated skiing. I didn’t ski again while I was at Middlebury.

In fact, I didn’t ski again until after I was married. I married a skier, who took me to the powder snow of the Rockies.

I admit it is easier skiing on packed powder than on ice. But it’s still cold, unless one waits until March. The deeper snow base can’t compensate for cold. Plus, skiing at 13,000 feet can bring on altitude sickness.

There are lots of reasons to complain about skiing. But in the spirit of family togetherness and harmony, I will soon be wending my way north to ski in British Columbia. Which is further north than Vermont.

Wish me luck.

Posted in Family, Philosophy and tagged , , , , , , .


  1. Theresa,

    Let’s see if I’ve got this right. Skiing requires mid-westerners to travel 700 miles at no small cost for travel and lodging. You will be cold, and you can break your leg. From your viewpoint on your butt, you can see younger skiers whizzing by in their more expensive and popular attire, trying not to act superior to you, which they clearly are.

    Sounds like fun. Where do I sign up? I need a little college credit!

    • Dane, you’ve pegged it perfectly. Except that I will be traveling over 1500 miles . . . first by plane, and then several hours more by car. But it will be fun . . . I keep telling myself. Theresa

  2. Snow- looks beautiful to me on Christmas Day.

    The days before, no thank you.
    The days after that- I’m looking to beachtime.

    If I drive when I come to KC, I’ll bring my golf clubs. I never played the whole time I lived in Kansas. We can ride the cart around 18 holes and maybe there will be Beer Dudes instead of Babes?


    Linda Joyce

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