Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
THE VILLAGE OF BLUE MOUNTAIN, ONTARIO — Dave Bader accomplished in an hour what I had felt was impossible for the entirety of my life. With patience and encouragement, Bader not only taught me to ski, he kept me upright with his instructions and invigorated my experience so much I can now say I am hooked on a sport that had terrified me from childhood.
Years ago, I begged out of my middle school ski trip, thoughts of Vinko Bogataj racing through my head. Bogataj is the “agony of defeat” ski jumper made famous by ABC’s “Wide World of Sports,” whose opening montage each Saturday afternoon showed the Yugoslavian athlete careening head over heels, violently sliding off a platform after losing control on his skis. Never mind that Bogataj was a ski jumper, not a downhill specialist. He wore skis, meaning he was in the act of skiing, and that fact, combined with the bitterness of the cold, was enough to convince me I didn’t want any part of a sport where control seemed about as easy to hold on to as a snowflake against body heat.
So, for decades, I avoided skis, until last month when I figured I’d go for it, believing I had matured enough to avoid any reckless danger. Worst-case scenario? I’d fall a few times on a bunny hill and have a silly, self-deprecating travel article to share with you.
Instead, this story is about the thrill of victory. It begins in Blue Mountain, a commercialized but exceptionally well-managed resort two hours northwest of Toronto. On Georgian Bay, Blue Mountain and the surrounding area near Collingwood receives more snow than anywhere else in southern Ontario. That’s havoc if you’re a driver; a dream if you like to go downhill fast and often.
Despite the fact its top elevation is only 220 metres (720 feet), Blue Mountain is the third-most popular ski resort in Canada, following Whistler-Blackcomb in British Columbia and Mont Tremblant in Quebec. Each year, it receives more than 1 million visitors and sells roughly 750,000 lift tickets (the passes that allow you entry onto the slopes). On Sunday, the resort announced a $10-million expansion for the 2013-14 season that will see it add 64 acres of terrain and six trails.
It has several instructors, including Bader, who trains the Blue Mountain staff. Bader holds Level 4 certification, the highest ranking available from the Canadian Ski Instructors Alliance (CSIA) and says his greatest joy is at the earliest stages of instruction.
“That’s when you see the most progress, when someone goes from simply learning to walk on skis, which can seem really foreign and odd at first, to going down a hill and learning to turn. Seeing the progression is what gets me excited and what makes me love this job,” he told me after running me through the first stages of the beginner program during a minus-20 Celsius degree day in January.
Learning to Ski at Blue Mountain
Bader first outfitted me with rental gear from the resort. It included a helmet, snow pants and ski jacket, the skis and ski poles, and what I found to be the key to success: a pair of alpine ski boots that weighed about five pounds each and gifted so much support to my ankles it seemed impossible for me to fail at this sport.
Once outside, Bader taught me to walk on skis, going clockwise and counter-clockwise with one ski on and eventually doing so with both skis. The sensation was unnatural, like trying to steady yourself on a surfboard for the first time. It grew more comfortable the longer I wore the gear. We sidled up a small hill, and then I went down a short incline and snowploughed, making a wedge out of my skis so that the tips pointed at each other, a manoeuvre that slowed me to a stop.
Some ski instructors don’t favour spending time on the snowplough, or allowing beginners to hold ski poles. I found both useful because they gave me confidence. The first thing I wanted to know when I got on skis was how to stop. We went through the snowplough drill six times as Bader made sure I had that safety technique down pat.
A few minutes later, we were riding a magic carpet — the name of the moving, vertical walkway that carries skiers from the base of the mountain to the top of the bunny hill — and Bader and I were soon descending a slope, doing turns and going faster than I imagined I would after less than one hour on skis.
It was as invigorating a sporting experience as I’ve had in years. During my brief lesson, I felt like I had achieved more speed on skis than I ever did ice skating. The rush of wind brushing back against my hair and face, the adrenaline pulse of making it down the hill and feeling like I could get there even faster next time was enough to make me want to do this all day.
So often in life, success is built on the foundation of education. The quality of instruction you receive at the beginning of any endeavour can be what determines whether you will continue in the pursuit. A week after my ski lesson at Blue Mountain, I was given a snowboarding clinic at another Canadian resort. That experience did not go nearly as well. I fell often and was almost seriously hurt. Not surprisingly, the snowboard instructor did not have Bader’s patience, skill or enthusiasm.
During my lesson, Bader crouched to clear off my boots, because having snow between the sole and the base of the ski would limit my control. I wasn’t yet comfortable enough on skis to accomplish that chore myself. He made me repeat tasks, even though I felt eager to move on to the next challenge. His focus was on building up a foundation so I could enjoy the sport and be confident at it. In doing so, he did much more. He helped me overcome a fear and introduced me to an activity I know I will try again.
On a frigidly cold day, I learned to ski. Those are words I never expected to write.
More About Blue Mountain Resort’s Ski Program
Location: 108 Jozo Weider Blvd, Blue Mountains, ON (see map below)
Rates: The Newbie Program rates begin at a very affordable $79 per day, which includes equipment rentals and lift ticket. The rate drops to $59 if you take the instruction at night (4:30-10:30 pm).
Contact: To book lessons with the Snow School, telephone 877-445-0231 (toll-free).
Where to stay: The Westin Trillium House (1-866-837-4192) has several hotel deals, including reduced rates for CAA/AAA members. It’s an excellent hotel with several amenities. Another option is Mosaic Lodge, which features large condo units (one bedrooms range from 493-751 square feet) with fireplaces, kitchens and comfortable beds. Visit the Blue Mountain website or call 877-445-0231 to book a room. Single nights at the Westin and Mosaic start at roughly $120.
Where to dine: Recently opened Magnone’s Italian Kitchen features excellent flatbreads (prices range from $11.95-$17.95). At Tholos, be sure to try the Baklava Cheesecake. Visit Twist Martini & Wine Bar, which serves 55 inventive drinks ($11.95). The Green Dragon (Absinthe and Red Bull, among other ingredients) and Waboritatini (featuring Cabo Wabo tequila) are popular.
More Vacay.ca Coverage of Blue Mountain
- Blue Mountain’s new thrills are no walk in the park
- Discover Blue Mountain before winter ends
- Scenic Caves zip line is a true high
Win Blue Mountain Ridge Runner Coaster Tickets
Vacay.ca has one pair of passes to use on the Blue Mountain roller coaster. To be eligible to win, simply email us with a travel photo or story of your favourite snow experience, or tweet @VacayCanada using the #VacayWin on Twitter. Find out more details here.