I’m perched on top of Whistler Blackcomb’s bunny hill with a sinking feeling in my stomach. It’s ridiculous that I’m nervous—I’ve managed to make my way down similar beginner hills at other resorts—but still, the risks feel all too real. What if I go over the edge? What if I go too fast and can’t stop, or I miss a turn and hit someone?
The mental tension is spilling over into my muscles, a feeling I know will only make it more difficult to descend gracefully, with the looseness that seems to come naturally to those who are lucky enough to have grown up skiing.
Clearly, I’m not one of those lucky ones. I’d made it to my 30s without ever having skied when I decided it was time to turn winter from my most hated season into something to look forward to.
But that decision was two years ago and, despite having spent one-on-one time with some excellent instructors at Silver Star Mountain Resort in Vernon, B.C., and even in Switzerland, I continue to regress to the snowplow whenever the going gets tough.
That’s why I’m here at Whistler. It’s the beginning of one of the weekend-long, women-only, all-levels Arc’teryx Women’s Ski and Snowboard Camps that run through the winter at Whistler Blackcomb. Participants in the camps meet each morning at 8:30 for a full day on the slopes, followed by a well-deserved group après-ski when the lifts close.
I’m on the bunny hill with a fellow timid, perpetual beginner and our instructor, Cecilia, who’s starting us off gradually to assess our skills (and problems) and let us warm up in a comfortable environment. Unlike some camp participants this weekend, my ultimate goal isn’t to rip down double-blacks in YouTube-worthy style. Instead, I simply want to turn skiing from work into fun, to learn to relax and enjoy the mountain by acquiring a skill set I trust.
On Day 1, we focus on skills over mileage, making our way down the easiest green on Blackcomb as we practice pole-planting and timing our turns. Every time Cecilia sees us getting comfortable, she ups the ante: I ski about 10 minutes without poles, for instance, to focus on my feet when carving; we break down the hockey stop on the bunny hill and then, for practice, are periodically told to speed down a straightaway—then stop on a dime.
On Day 2 we go all the way up the Whistler Village gondola and Cecilia continues to mete out mini-challenges: a short detour through trees, say, or testing our skills on bumps on the edge of groomed runs.
By the Sunday afternoon, I’m feeling accomplished, the butterflies in my stomach gone as I take one last goodbye run down the bunny hill, intending to descend as fast as I can, no breaks allowed. The little “steep” spot I’d been cautious on the previous morning barely registers as a blip.
The next week, I head back to Silver Star, site of my first-ever ski lesson. This time, the mountain feels more like home, and after some warm-up green runs, I’m ready to tackle the blues—not quickly, not gracefully, but at least somewhat competently. I take my last run of the day slowly—on purpose, not out of caution—to admire the view, the beauty reminding me of why I started skiing in the first place.
You can take your salt and slush, city winters. I’ll be in the mountains.
Top B.C. Resorts for Learners
Sun Peaks Resort, Kamloops
Photo courtesy of Sun Peaks Resort/Adam Stein
Canada’s second-largest resort offers green runs that are actually fun, not just an afterthought. Once you’re in your groove, make sure to head to Mount Morrissey to try The Sticks, green glades that surround you with trees while leaving plenty of room to move.
Silver Star Mountain Resort, Vernon
Photo courtesy of Silver Star Mountain Resort
Endless beginner-friendly slopes include an uncrowded hill and dedicated quad chairlift next to the skating pond that’s ideal for anyone bored with the bunny hill but not yet ready to head up the big chair.
Whistler Blackcomb, Whistler
Photo courtesy of Tourism Whistler/Mike Crane
The Arc’teryx Women’s Ski and Snowboard Camps (and other clinics and lessons for all skill levels) turn what could be a dauntingly large resort into comfortable terrain. Make early morning starts easy by letting the Four Seasons Ski Concierge manage your gear and hand it to you right at the chairlift.