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I was once gifted a hideous, yellow ski suit when I was a teenager. Fortunately, I never had to ski in it. But here I was 15 years later, packing for a trip to the French Alps — my first official ski trip — and I found myself Googling "What to wear skiing for the first time." However, for the record, I still probably would not have worn that hideous outfit.
After I cobbled together a few running-related items, a Columbia jacket from my college days, and bought wind pants at my local Big 5, I eventually made it to Valmorel, an intimate ski town buzzing with little kids in adorable, puffy snowsuits, cold-weather dogs, and saggy-pantsed teenagers carting around snowboards.
(above: hello, ski boots.)
Of course, most of the people in my group of fellow journalists were real skiers — from Canada, no less, where most people are hatched from snow eggs. This New Yorker-turned Angeleno is one of a small handful of skiing n00bs.
The bunny slope instructor's name at Club Med Valmorel is Sebastien (pictured — yowza), and he is as attractive as his name alludes, so I'm already feeling like I’ve won something. When one of us asks him what to do with our poles, he tells us to just leave them sitting on the side, since we won't need them; he says skiing is all in the legs, anyway. I can tell, since my shins are already fatigued from wearing snowboots for 15 minutes.
We walk over to the "snow garden," which is not even an actual slope. It's a barely graded area made for people no more than 4 feet tall. Within moments I have a near-death experience simply putting on my skis. OK, not near-death, but I could have fallen in front of the big group of 5-year-olds with whom I share my skiing skill level.
After we wobbily clamp our skis on, and Sebastien demonstrates how to duck walk, then how to stop by inverting, it's time for the real thing. He points down to the bottom of the ski garden, and says, "Michelle! Go for it!"
Me?! The black girl from Queens who has worn skis now, for a lifetime total of 20 minutes? I guess Lindsey Vonn had to learn somewhere, right?
Down at the bottom stood one of my colleagues, glamorously waiting for the rest of us to make our way to what could be considered the bottom. After shakily winding down the path for a few feet, I actually ski. But when it comes time to stop, I suddenly become a Goofy cartoon, nearly avoiding some expert Kindergartener gliding by, and almost collide into my far more elegant colleague, who we later realized has actually skied before.
But after a few trips "down" the tiny garden, I felt like I got the hang of this. Skiing seemed to be a little like downhill ice skating. Hmm, where are the 2018 Olympics being held? South Korea? Maybe I should go for it. I'd have four years to get on the circuit, compete a little, become a 33-year-old late bloomer story, win a medal (gold would be a little crazy, but bronze could be doable), and get my face on a Wheaties box.
My fellow newbie skiers, with Sebastien at the head of the pack, headed over to the gondola to take us to the top of the mountain. As we ascended thousands of feet, I saw ski and snowboard tracks on every available inch of mountain. Not just on the marked trails, but between trees, and on faces of the mountain that seemed to be purely vertical. I could already sense my Olympic dreams careening like an avalanche.
When we got to the ski station, I duck walked my way over to a pole lift, where someone had warned that she had once fell off of one. I was pretty confident, however, that I have pretty good balance, and I had yet to fall, even at the baby garden. When it was my turn, I whipped that pole between my legs and flew up even higher. When I got to the top, I fairly gracefully landed at the launch point for the course, which I noticed had those blue and red slalom flags.
"Go left around the blue ones, and right around the red ones," Sebastien said, as though he was telling me to do something simpler like write a symphony or cure cancer.
I made the first few turns, but as I started to gain speed, my body began freaking out. I suddenly couldn’t remember how to slow down, or stop, or how to keep control. So I just dove down into a snow bank to my right to stop myself, instead of flying off the left side of the course as I had feared. Then I was stuck trying to figure out the most important part about falling — getting back up. I almost hoped someone was filming me trying to stand back up with skis on, because it would be YouTube gold. I was laughing so hard at myself that Sebastien, who has the patience of a zen monk, thought I was crying. He helped me stand up, and I finished the course with the speed of a turtle that was missing an arm. On top of that, I was so warm, my hair had stuck to my face like Little Richard had sweat out his Jheri Curl.
After a few more runs, I fell a couple more times, but it didn’t really hurt, as I anticipated. In fact, laying in the snow was sort of enjoyable, since I was boiling through all of my clothes, and (bonus) I had figured out how to get back up without Sebastien pulling me up like a loose sack of skin with no feet. By the end of the ski lesson, Sebastien said I was ready for a slightly more difficult slalom slope. It was faster, and snowboarders were zipping down as though this were the X-Games.
I cautiously inched down, zipping left and right, apologizing to anyone who passed me for possibly being in their way. But I made it down to the bottom without falling. I earned the cocktail waiting for me in the lodge down below.
MICHELLE GARCIA is the managing editor of Advocate.com. She definitely wants to ski again. Follow her on Twitter @MzMichGarcia.