- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 8, 2006

A steep slope doesn’t scare Cara Erasmus. The 21-year-old from Pretoria, South Africa, hadn’t even seen snow before her December ski trip at Liberty Mountain Resort in Carroll Valley, Pa., but she says she loved her first time on skis.

She and her father, Barney Erasmus, and siblings, David, 18, and Janika, 15, took a beginner’s class to learn the basics of the sport. Unfortunately, they didn’t expect to need their sunglasses in the winter and ended up squinting from the glare off the snow.

“At the beginning, turning was hard, but it’s fine now,” Miss Erasmus says. “I didn’t feel scared looking downhill.”

Learning to ski and snowboard takes coordination. Skiing is primarily a balance sport, says Gary Nett, skiing instructor at Liberty Mountain Resort. Athletes should balance themselves over their skis, distributing their weight equally on each ski. Once a person develops a proper stance, other techniques can be learned easily.

Learn-to-ski and snowboard packages are available at the resort. Weekend and peak rates are $74 per person, which includes a lift ticket, rental equipment and a lesson.

Beginning classes start by making sure students have correctly put on ski equipment. For instance, socks should go up to the person’s knees. Otherwise, they can become painfully bunched in the boots.

The classes also cover a range of drills, such as climbing sideways up the mountain on skis, skiing in a circle wearing one ski and hopping in the ski boots.

“If you go skiing once and do a lesson, you realize there is more to do in the winter than watch TV,” Mr. Nett says. “You don’t have to be bored.”

After students can ski short distances, instructors accompany classes up the “magic carpet,” a moving belt that carries skiers. Students work on descending half the mountain. Then, the teacher escorts them up the chairlift, where they ski down the entire beginner slope.

“You’ll see a lot of fear factor coming down the hill,” Mr. Nett says. “People think it’s very high, but it’s not that high. It’s a very moderate slope. We teach a lot of beginners.”

Poles should be held away from the body, where skiers can see them out of the corner of each eye, he says. If the poles are held in front of the body, it would be too easy to fall on them.

Children, who can start to take lessons at age 3, learn without poles, so they can master turning to control their speed, he says. Many times, children are instructed to ski in a wedge, compared to a slice of pizza, to decrease momentum. Moving with parallel skis, compared to french fries, would cause increased speed.

The scariest part of skiing is taking the chairlift, says Shane Ward, 8, of Pasadena, Md. He recently enjoyed his second time on skis at Liberty Mountain Resort.

“I like going down the mountain a lot,” Shane says. “You can ski fast.”

Learning to ski at an early age usually takes the apprehension out of the sport, says Jill Wilkinson, director of the Kids Mountain Camp at Whitetail Mountain Resort near Mercersburg, Pa. The organization offers ski and snowboard half-day and full-day camps for ages 4 through 12 from $60 to $99.

“We don’t have any child come to us worried about falling down,” Ms. Wilkinson says. “They are not worried about breaking their legs, not being able to go to work and make the mortgage payments.”

In addition to skiing, many children also love to learn to snowboard, she says. Since snowboarding is typically more difficult than skiing, classes start at age 7. Snowboarding involves many refined ankle movements with the toes and heels.

Once students grasp basic skills, however, it is usually easier to progress with snowboarding than with skiing, she says.

“A lot of snowboarders either skateboard or surf,” Ms. Wilkinson says. “It seems to be a bit cooler than skiing. I’m not sure why, probably because of all the extreme sports on TV.”

Skiers and snowboarders should always keep their eyes looking on a level plane, says Bryan Fielding, ski and snowboard school director at Snowshoe Mountain Resort in Snowshoe, W.Va.

Adult classes, morning or afternoon, cost $30 or $35. Children up to age 13 can take classes, either half-day or all day, costing $60 or $90.

“Where you look is where you’re going,” Mr. Fielding says. “If you’re looking down, you’re going down.”

For safety purposes, the skier that is downhill always has the right of way, says Jay Crawford, skiing instructor and staff trainer at Snowshoe Mountain Resort.

Other precautions include looking uphill before merging into a pack of skiers and never obstructing a trail. Skiers should always stay in the bounds of the ski resort, never venturing to unmarked areas.

Bindings on the skis and leashes on the snowboards are meant to prevent equipment flying into someone on the slope, if the skier or snowboarder falls. Further, when children ages 3 to 11 ride the chairlift, an adult should accompany them, he says.

“We’re just trying to keep everybody safe at safe speeds,” Mr. Crawford says. “Ski patrol works with us to promote turning, controlling speed and skiing safely to make sure everyone has a good learning experience.”

Taking lessons is the best safety tip, says Rick Boxler, director of the ski and snowboard school at Seven Springs Mountain Resort near Champion, Pa.

Junior ski and snowboard school for children ages 7 to 17 costs $65, with an additional $20 for a lift ticket. Adult group lessons cost $24.

The same skills that students learn in basic lessons are refined in ski or snowboard school to make the person an expert skier, he says. For instance, students want to avoid other skiers and obstacles on the trail. Skiers should travel at an appropriate speed in case they hit ice. Newer, shaped skis with wider tips and tails usually are easier to navigate ice.

Without proper instruction, people often head down the mountain full speed ahead with both skis together.

“People see the downhill skiers on TV and want to imitate them,” Mr. Boxler says. “Those downhill skiers who are going 90 miles per hour have been doing it all their lives and are very skilled. That is not recommended.”

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