The rivalry between skiers and snowboarders is a juicy aspect of life on the ski hill. It makes for great après banter that never gets old, because each side is passionately convinced that their discipline is better. I was happy slagging off my skier friends until FOMO reared its ugly head; - what if they were right? What if I was missing out on some exclusive mountain joy?
Determined to plunder these secret delights, I asked Sno’n’Ski expert George to hook me up with the ultimate learner ski package. Although I was in agony about missing a morning on Big White's gorgeous slopes I knew it was a sacrifice I had to make. I was going to the Dark Side.
The rental facilities at Big White are first class, but that does nothing to alleviate the inflexibility of ski boots. I stood up and immediately fell forward onto my poor rental tech’s head, but you’ll be fine as long as you remember that ski boots render your ankles null and void.
As for carrying your poles and skis - the rental guys gave me some tips but I ended up carrying my gear like a baby as I tottered through the snow.
The Meet Up
The experience of waiting at the designated ski school spot, meeting your instructor and sizing up your fellow lesson-takers is an exciting appetiser for the lesson ahead. There were eight in my group, so we were assigned two lovely middle-aged gents which was my first pleasant surprise; where was the token Aussie whippersnapper?
Craig is a BC local and Mark hails from the UK - they’ve both been besotted by the regular snowfall and varied terrain of Biggie for decades, and they immediately made me stop carrying my skis like a baby.
The quality of instructor can make or break your experience, and thanks to Big White I had two funny, experienced and patient instructors who were more than up to the task of handling our gaggle of first-time skiers.
For those nervous about strapping into slippery sticks, fear not; the lesson starts with the extreme basics. It’s ten minutes before you even strap into a ski, and I do mean ski singular. You get to skate one-legged around the flats of the learner slopes, which is a great way to get a feel for having the snow underneath you.
We talked through the finer points of getting snow out of your binding and clicking in, and then it was time to put both feet in those bad boys.
You may be familiar with the ‘pizza, French fries’ refrain of stereotypical ski instructors, and I’m here to tell you that it’s a valid learning tool. Mark and Craig talked us through the physics - the way that a pizza, or snow plough, will form a stopping vee, while the French fries are like a green light. We slowly shuffled sideways up a baby hill and practised snow ploughing downwards. I believe Mark’s exact words were: “Form your pizza, get down low, put your hands on your knees and SMILE”
The Bunny Hill
After transitioning successfully between pizza and French fries we made it safely to the bottom of the bunny hill, with an added treat on the way. A lynx padded out onto the ice skating rink, posed for a collection of photos, and slipped back into the fir trees. The huskies in their nearby kennels must have sensed the slinky visitor because they started howling like berserkers, which really set the spine-tingling scene. Meanwhile, the snow was falling incessantly, and a Clydesdale-drawn sleigh tinkled past... it was just another day in the winter wonderland of Big White.
The Magic Carpet
60% of us stacked it on the magic carpet, for the simple reason that it has the grip of freaking snow cat tire. We got overambitious with our run up, cruised onto the belt with our newly acquired French fries skills and next minute the unimpressed magic carpet attendant was boosting us up off our butts. This was a challenge I did not expect to contend with, but after the first hiccup we inched on more slowly and managed to stay upright.
The Pay Off
Getting the knack of skiing is definitely easier than learning to snowboard, and we were soon confident enough to start turning in our unglamorous but highly effective snow ploughs. Mark and Craig were able to dedicate personal attention to those who needed it, and we spent the rest of the lesson working on smoothly weaving our way down the slopes. It gave me newfound sympathy for skiers who usually infuriate me with their swerving lines.
I swapped back into my snowboard boots after the lesson and it was like slipping my feet into the loving caress of a cloud. I think one lesson is not a sufficient sample to decide whether I am partial to skiing, but I will definitely be going back for seconds so watch this space. Aside from the boot thing, the opportunity to experience the mountain as a learner is a unique joy that can help you fall in love with the slopes all over again.