Dieter, the shuttle driver at the Edmonton airport picked up my suitcase with a big grin – “So you are going to Jasper to ski. You’ll love it – we’ve had lots of snow.” He said proudly.
I hastily explained to Dieter that I’m not really a skier – but I was going to learn again after 12 years of swearing off skiing. “Oh – it’s a great place to learn. The drive from Edmonton to Jasper weeds out all of the day tourism.” He said as he got in the shuttle. He then promptly announced to the shuttle patrons (mainly full of locals), “The weather forecast looks good and the roads are fine. We should be in Jasper by 8:30pm.”
I quickly did the math – 4 ½ hours. Dieter was right – this drive did weed out the day tourism. I settled into my comfortable shuttle seat and opened up my Kindle. Sure – it was a long drive, but getting to places off the beaten path is never short or easy. That’s why I like them – you have to work to get to them sometimes. But when you do decide to get more local and go to the less touristic destinations, I know the rewards are great. My reward on this trip to Jasper and Marmot Basin would be learning how to ski again in a relaxed environment. For someone like myself who has a fear of skiing and learning around big crowds – this would be perfect. I was ready to hit the slopes!
I felt like the abominable snowman. Since I normally don’t ski, I had to borrow most of my equipment from friends. I had on pants that were too big, a large non-ski expedition jacket, and mittens that were too small – I was a mishmash of a skier and certainly wasn’t making a fashion statement. In fact one of the people at the ski rental addressed me as ‘sir’ – yes – that pretty much describes how good I looked. But looks didn’t matter to me – all that mattered to me was to try to get comfortable with skiing again.
Marmot Basin was celebrating 50 years of skiing, and I was celebrating the fact that I was strapping on skis for the first time again in 12 years. I stopped skiing in 2002 after never really getting comfortable with the sport and feeling as if it was more stress than enjoyment. I hate the fact that I don’t know how to ski since I seem to be an athletic, coordinated, adventurous person in everything else. But my fear of plummeting down a hill in an uncontrolled manner seemed to overshadow any coordination and athleticism I had – so I finally just gave up and focused on other winter outdoor sports such as snow shoeing or snow mobiling.
I clamped down the bootstrap clips making the boot close tightly around my calf and was reminded once again of how uncomfortable this sport was to me. I wondered if that old adage about riding a bike and never forgetting would come into play as soon as I clipped into the skis? Would my implicit memory kick in from 12 years ago and remember how to turn at a beginner level and get on and off a ski lift without falling on my face?
Jocylne, a music major turned ski instructor, was assigned to me as my teacher for the morning. I wondered if she knew that under these fluffy ill-matched clothes there was actually a very nervous person. I explained my sad, frustrating skiing history and she gave me an understanding smile that told me she had dealt with over-achieving, scared adults before.
I clipped into the skis and my implicit memory kicked in – it remembered how awkward and uncoordinated I felt in skis. After a few coasts down the little decline next to the ski school my implicit memory did actually remember a bit about turning and snow plowing. Jocylne was satisfied with my ability and urged me to move up – up to the real ski school lift and hill. I looked at it off in the distance, let out a big sigh and said, “Let’s do it.”
I was at Marmot Basin on a weekday – the perfect time to learn (or re-learn) how to ski. There were absolutely no lines at the lifts at all and practically no one on the ski school hill. It was as if I had the whole hill to myself – and that made me very happy. We went down 3 times as Jocylne gave me pointers and I started to get the groove of the snowplow again. However her most frequent piece of advice was relax, smile, have fun. Clearly I must have looked as stressed as I felt – I don’t hide my feelings well.
Bolstered by Jocylne’s confidence in me, we left the ski school hill and went up a bit higher on greens. One of the great things about Marmot Basin for beginners is that any lift you get on has a green trail option to get down – which put my mid at ease a bit. The other green hills were also not crowded, but there were definitely more people to distract me and worry about. However, I felt pretty good as I slowly traversed my way down the mountain trying to remember to occasionally smile in between my intense concentration. My confidence was building which kicked in my overachiever gene as I started to ask Jocylne questions on how I could move from snowplow to parallel turns. Yes, I told you I was an over achiever.
She convinced me to go up the highest lift to get the best view and since there was a green she had complete confidence in my ability to traverse down. I was feeling good, really good. I could feel my confidence soaring with her instruction and the nice wide-open runs. She was right – the views were spectacular – you could see the little town of Jasper and Pyramid Lake where we were staying.
But then something happened. It washed over me like a huge tidal wave as I looked down the slope – ridiculous, irrational fear. We were on a green traverse that took us across the mountain at an angle in order to get over to the green hill. I tried to move across the traverse, but I had forgotten how to move my legs and turn; I was practically paralyzed. Vertigo kicked in for me and I couldn’t do a thing. Jocylne looked as if someone had pulled the rug out from underneath here as she was also trying to make sense of this sudden change in my ability. For some reason, traversing the mountain sideways completely shook me to my core and all I could imagine was tumbling down the mountain out of control.
Jocylne earned her instructor badge at that moment as she slowly coaxed me through the painful process of the traverse and to the green slope. Once we made it there, it still took me time to figure out how to even get down the green slope again, probably because I was still mentally beating myself up about my traverse freak out. But eventually after much advice from Jocylne to just relax, I got my beginner green slope mojo back and we made it to the bottom of the long run. Yet I must admit, there was very little smiling involved.
After a rest and lunch at the lodge, I gathered up my stuff and decided to go out on my own again for the afternoon. I wasn’t going to let the setback stop me. However I did decide to take advantage of the empty lower ski school slopes and really work on getting comfortable with turning and simply having fun – smiling. I never did go to the top again, but I did stay on the skis all day and work on my technique on my own. I never really perfected my parallel turns, but thanks to the non-crowded slopes and lots of practice, by the end of the day I had a real victory – I finally learned how to smile on my way down.
Disclosure: I was a guest of Tourism Jasper for this trip. However all of the opinions expressed here are my own. I had been wanting to see the Canadian Rockies in the winter for a long time and getting to the lesser known town of Jasper is the perfect destination for my style of travel.