Angel Fire Ski Experience, February 16, 2013

I just returned home with my wife and my mother from a three day ski experience at Angel Fire, New Mexico. I normally write my thoughts about programming on my blog here, but today, I want to write about my experience skiing, mostly for my own future reference.

I am an avid rock climber, so skiing was a change of pace for me. If I'm not mistaken, this is actually only my fourth skiing trip ever, so I don't have the frame of reference of a ski fiend. The primary purpose of writing this is to record what I learned on this trip.

The ski resort at Angel Fire has a variety of different ski trails available for skiers of all abilities, from absolute beginner trails, to double-diamond expert trails. They also have great ski instructors available who teach lessons to skiers at all abilities.

I think it had been at least a half-dozen years since my last ski experience. Previously, I had learned skiing by speaking with anyone I met on the lift who would give me tips and pointers about ski technique. However, on this particular trip, the resort was not busy at all (We skiied Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday) and most of the time, I rode the lift on my own! I finally decided to put down some money for some ski lessons. My wife had never skied before at all, so she needed lessons, too. The resort offers a two hour group lesson for $55 and a second lesson for $30, for a total of $85 for four hours of instruction. The nice thing about this is that since we visited the resort when they weren't busy, no one else showed up for the group lessons, and since we each signed up for different lessons our group lessons turned into private lessons.

I was thrilled with the quality of the instruction that I received. "Edward" was my instructor for my first lesson, which began in the morning of my second day of skiing. I told Edward at the beginning of my lesson that I felt comfortable skiing most of the "blue" trails, but I felt like I was working harder than I needed to. Edward quickly pointed out that I had been skiing the beginner's "wedge" style, having forgotten the more appropriate "parallel" style. Once I got back into the habit of skiing parallel, things got a lot easier. The basic idea of parallel skiing is that instead of "snowploughing" by holding the skis in a wedge position, you control your speed by sliding down the slope at at angle, using the turning motion to control speed as you go back and forth. The basic way of turning is to shift bodyweight onto the outside ski to turn in the snow while avoiding dragging with the inside ski. You can also plant the pole in the inside of the turn to pivot. Edward also explained to me that when going over hills, it helps to shift your body-weight up and down so that your knees don't have to absorb all the momentum.

At the end of the second day, I discovered that I had a nasty black toenail on my right toe. The toe was very sore with blood pooling under more than half the nail. I read on the internet that the standard first aid for this problem is to use a hot piece of metal, such as a paper clip, to bore a hole in the nail to let the blood out. This is entirely painless because there are no nerves in the nail. However, by the time that I was able to do this, the blood had already clotted. At my wife's urging, I consulted with the ski patrol at the first aid station. The ski patrol was very courteous and helpful, explaining that I did all the right things, but she said that the toenail is damaged to the point that it is going to fall off regardless of what I do. She said that there was no need to be concerned that continuing to ski would do any harm.

I informed the man at the equipment rental shop that I was having a problem with my toe. He rented to me a different style of ski boot that has four clamps instead of just one like the ones they usually rent. He says that most customers like the style with only one clamp, but I quickly found that the boot with four clamps was a much better fit and didn't cause me any more toe pain.

"Big Mike" was my instructor for my second lesson, which ran for the final two hours of my third and final day of skiing. I felt that Edward had definitely helped me take my skiing up a level (or two or three levels!), and I realized a big improvement from Mike's instruction, as well. The primary message that I took away from Mike's instruction is that it is of paramount importance to shift one's weight downhill while skiing on steep slopes. He says that leaning uphill is a natural reaction to the fear of falling, but it is a bad skiing habit. He said not to lean all the way onto the downhill ski, but to lean on it at a level of about 2 out of 10. He also pointed out that by turning one's hips downhill and slightly leaning the side of the skis downhill, it is also possible to "slip" downhill in such a way as to control speed on steep slopes. At first, I found it difficult to keep all these things in mind at once, but Mike had a visualization that I found extremely helpful. He said to imagine a laser beam shining out of my belly button; I'm supposed to sweep back and forth across the bottom of the slope with the laser beam without pointing it at the trees along the side of the slope. It sounds odd, but I quickly found that turning my hips in such a motion to do this helped make the movements Mike described happen very naturally. Finally, we talked and practiced skiing on moguls (bumps). I explained to him that I didn't feel comfortable skiing on moguls and that when I did ski on them, I felt like my legs quickly tired. Mike taught me a solution to this problem: use the moguls to make turns! When you reach the top of a bump, the front and back of the skis and hanging in air and so there is no resistance to making turns at this point. At the end of the lesson, I watched Mike ski a trail called "Glory Hole" (black). Even though the trail is steep and bumpy, Mike skied the trail with complete control, barely passing a walking pace. I followed him down to the bottom and then skied the trail one more time on my own before the park closed for the day.

I will also add that my wife was very satisfied with her beginner ski lessons. She now has a measure of confidence on a pair of skis, as well.

We stayed the first night of our trip at a Super 8 Hotel in Taos, about 90 minutes from Angel Fire. After that, we were able to get a room at the lodge at Angel Fire Resort. The room at Angel Fire was $109 plus tax, substantially more than the $51 we paid at Super 8, but it was a great deal for the quality and convenience it afforded. I can imagine some other place charging $200 or more for similar accomodations.

Here is a list of the trails that I skied on this trip: