words by Melody Forsyth
Let’s be honest. For most people, the sport of skiing is intimidating. I didn’t grow up in Utah. I grew up on the Virginia coast and the only people I knew that skied were people that had family in Utah and would visit them for Christmas. It wasn’t a sport that “regular” people did. When I thought of skiing, I thought of Olympic skiers that I watched on TV coming down amazing mountains, backcountry skiers skiing off big ridge lines, doing flips and flying in the air and racing competitively. That was my idea of skiing.
When I was in college, I had a boyfriend who grew up in Idaho next to a ski resort, so of course, he could ski. He convinced me that it was super easy to learn to ski and convinced me to give it a try at the nearby resort of Sundance. So I agreed to go, completely unaware of what was in store. He explained some basic principles like the snowplow and the pizza slice and it sounded simple enough. Before I knew it, I was on a ski lift. The view on the lift was amazing. Getting off the lift was something else. But I made it. I was ready to go down a hill. The first two times went ok. My knees were killing me and I probably had the widest pizza slice known to man. The third time I came down, however, my skis got caught on each other and I popped out of one. My boyfriend was yelling at me from below how to get out of the other ski. I had to take my gloves off to be able to release the boot from my ski. As I popped out of the other ski, I lost my balance and slid down the hill about 100 feet. I tried to slow down but couldn’t grip anything and ended up scraping my hands and yelling as I slid. I was done. Skiing wasn’t for me...
Many years later, I married a man from Utah and he loved to snowboard and ski. He would invite me to go with him, but I had absolutely no interest in going with him. Time went on and we had our daughter Ruby, who has Down syndrome. Our lives were changed and we found peace and healing in the outdoors as we got out as a family and learned to try new things and explore. I started hiking with her when she was a baby, and originally I thought that’s all we would do. We loved hiking and loved the feeling we had as a family as we got outdoors together. Then, we learned to snowshoe, play in the water and kayak. Ruby was loving all these new activities. I could see that she was thriving in learning new skills and she was showing us that she wanted to try new things and had little fear doing it. Then, I saw an amazing mom on Instagram on skis and towing her babies behind her and I immediately thought “Ruby would love that.” That meant I needed to learn to ski. I needed to figure out how to make these moments happen. The new thought popped into my head. “What if Ruby learned to ski? What if this was something that she could learn to do herself?”
I learned about Wasatch Adaptive Sports (WAS) located at Snowbird and their mission to help people with disabilities to get outdoors and I knew that this was what Ruby needed. I was so excited to have instructors that cared about people with disabilities and had the same passion for getting Ruby on some skis. I scheduled a lesson. When I arrived, I was extremely nervous. I wasn’t nervous about skiing, I was nervous about where to go. I had no idea what I was doing or what the process was when arriving at the ski resort. I was intimidated by all the people that looked like they knew where they were going. They had their equipment and moved around with purpose and direction. I felt very insecure. I met Ruby’s instructors near the WAS office and had immediate relief as they guided me through the process to find properly fitting gear from the Snowbird rental shop. Ruby and I were fitted for skis and boots and were instructed how to put on the gear. I was even more intimidated when we boarded the shuttle. I don’t know where to go when you have no idea how to ski. I don’t know what areas are designed for beginner skiers. Ruby and I followed the instructors up a small hill and found the spot for us to have lessons. The instructors were great. One worked with Ruby and one worked with me. Ruby seemed like a natural. Her balance was incredible and she was happy letting the instructors pull her around on her skis. I told the instructors that although Ruby is nonverbal, she has a lot of understanding with simple commands. The instructors spoke to her like they would with any typical five-year-old. I rejoiced inside to see her respond to their instructions.
As for my lesson, I think I was more focused on watching Ruby! My instructor was also amazing and giving me confidence with every new piece of instruction. She would have me practice a skill, then add to it the next time, and continued to do this until I felt comfortable doing most of the skills by myself, without verbal instruction. I had a blast and learned that I enjoyed what I was learning. I could see myself wanting to do this more and go skiing with my children. I could see that this is an activity that Ruby and I can definitely do together and I can’t wait to learn more and practice more with her and on my own.
If you have never skied or had a bad experience like me when you were younger and want to try again (which I totally recommend!), here are three tips to make it a more enjoyable experience.