They practically turn themselves now. Tip them on edge, point them where you want to go and then let gravity do the rest. Today’s downhill skis are vastly easier to turn compared to those a decade or two ago.
At least that’s what long time ski instructor Michael Day told me when we were downhill skiing recently at Snowy Range Ski Area. It was a lovely winter day with about 6 inches of fresh powder and more snow spitting from the overcast sky.
Back in the 1980s, Michael and I were both ski instructors at the ski area, then known as the Medicine Bow Ski Area. Now, so many years later, Michael is back at it, teaching both youngsters and older skiers how to enjoy getting from Point A, at the top of a slope, to Point B at the bottom.
I, on the other hand, migrated to Nordic skiing long ago and I only occasionally put on what I call my “fat boards.”
I admit getting up the hill via a chair lift and then skiing back down is a nice change of pace from the Nordic mode.
Back in the day, I loved downhill skiing — and teaching it. Alas, that was about four knee surgeries ago. After the last surgery two years ago, I was told the next stage will be knee replacement. Until then, I have no ACL ligament in one knee and, well, arthritis makes both knees ache from time to time.
Last week was my first return to Alpine skiing in about a year and only the second outing since my last knee surgery. I wrapped my bad knee in an elaborate brace, complete with metal stays, to keep it correctly aligned.
Initially I skied tentatively — like a wimp. I was not so much afraid of skiing but of falling. One good spill and my knee would go “pop” — or at least that’s what I feared.
In my youth, which means age 20-40, I flew down the hill. I skied the moguls and dashed into the trees on powder days. I’d get behind a better skier and try matching their technique and speed. I started skiing too late to be a high school racer but I still loved skiing slalom courses and rushing to the bottom as fast as possible.
My skis back then were big honking 190 centimeter slats that I muscled around every turn. Being not quite 5 feet tall — that’s about 150 cm. — the skis towered over me. We measured length by reaching up and bending our wrist — the ski tip would reach the wrist bend, if not a bit longer. No way would I be caught skiing on short skis. Back then I was into speed and the adrenalin it delivered.
My skis now are dinky by comparison and barely reach my forehead. When I bought them I asked the salesman if he was sure they were the right length. He assured me that newer skis are a good bit shorter than before. They also have a significant curve to their edge with the front and back ends being much wider than the middle.
This arch is why, when the skis are tipped on edge, they turn. This transformation from the nearly straight edge of old skis requires much less effort to turn than before.
“I enjoy skiing more,” Day said. “I ski better now than I ever did when I was younger. Everything is also just so much more graceful.”
Day, who is professor emeritus of adult and post-secondary education from the University of Wyoming, wants to show other “senior” skiers — especially former skiers — the joy of downhill skiing now that it is so much easier than before.
I admit that after a day on the slopes, I felt that tug. It’s the lure of whooshing down the hill with nary a care in the world. While my days of going at break neck speed down black diamond slopes are behind me, it could be time to return to downhill skiing with a somewhat modified quest. Maybe now I can use that ski technology along with gravity to just enjoy the sensation — akin to floating on a cloud or through puffy cotton candy.
The Snowy Range Ski Area, through the efforts of Day and Kim Sorenson, co-director of the Snowy Range Mountain Sports School, is offering a special package for senior skiers who might want to get back on skis amongst others of similar age and ability.
The package includes a lift ticket, ski rentals, helmet and a two-hour lesson. There is still time to get in the final of the three sessions on March 8. Cost for the full package is $110. Skiers age 70-plus always ski for free at Snowy Range so the price is reduced for them and for anyone who brings their own equipment. Contact Day at email@example.com or call 399-1328 to sign up at least two days in advance.
Amber Travsky earned master’s degrees in wildlife biology and exercise physiology from the University of Wyoming. She runs her own environmental consulting company, as well as a martial arts school. She authored “Mountain Biking Wyoming” and “Mountain Biking Jackson Hole,” both published by Falcon Books. She is the tour director and founder of the Tour de Wyoming bicycle tour, which crosses the state every July.