When I told my best friend of over 20 years that I was planning a trip to Sunday River to learn to ski this winter, she actually laughed out loud. At age 31, I had also wondered whether it was “too late” for me to try the sport. I had tried snowboarding at one point, and ended up walking down the mountain in tears. The thought of getting back on the slopes scared me, but I was tired of feeling left out of what everyone else seemed to think of as winter’s greatest pleasure. The following weeks were filled with multiple comments from more friends warning me to “be careful” and “don’t break any bones!” If you’ve been contemplating whether to learn how to ski in your adult years, you might have encountered similar reactions or even had these thoughts in your own mind. I did too. Yet after completing my first weekend on skis, I can honestly say that the fear was disproportionate to the actual experience. I never would have expected my weekend to have gone as well as it did, and I attribute this to the well-planned lessons, beginner terrain, and skilled instructors that are available at Sunday River.
On a Friday evening, I headed North with my boyfriend, Justin, for Sunday River which is about a 3-hour drive for us. I was filled with excitement (and a little bit of fear). The drive flew by as we chatted and shared stories, and soon we were checking in to the Grand Summit Hotel. We had views of a chairlift from our slopeside accommodation and I stared out the window with anticipation for the next day. The hotel offers shuttles between all of the resort hotels and lodges, which is not only convenient but safe. After settling in, we jumped on a shuttle to the South Ridge Lodge and enjoyed dinner and drinks at the Foggy Goggle. Before heading to bed, Justin and I took a dip in the outdoor heated pool and hot tub. As I fell asleep that night, I reminded myself of my goals for the next day; Give skiing my best, and try not to get hurt. However, my secret goal was to make it off of the beginner “bunny” hill and onto a “real” trail.
In the morning, we found a grab-and-go breakfast option at the Camp Restaurant in the hotel, then boarded the shuttle again for South Ridge Lodge. Justin, who is an experienced skier, was kind enough to wait with me until my lesson started at 10AM before he started his day on the slopes. Soon, I said a nervous goodbye and found my group in the Discovery Center. The staff were very helpful and had all of our equipment ready based on our individual needs and sizes. While there were many participants in the adult program that morning, we were separated into small groups to have more specialized time with the instructors. My Instructor, Will, has been a coach at Sunday River for 16 years, and has over 40 years of experience on the slopes. It immediately eased my mind to know that I’d be learning from someone with this type of skill set.
My biggest relief of the morning came when Will described what the next 2+ hours would be like; the lessons were set up with incremental steps, which I was glad he shared with the group ahead of time. Once he had finished checking that our boots fit properly and our equipment was all set, we practiced clipping in and out of our skis indoors, as well as side-stepping with our skis on before any snow was involved. Will helped with every step of the way, including giving tips on how to carry our skis. For a total beginner, these tiny gestures made a huge difference to my comfort level.
I couldn’t wait to get on the snow, but I was a little concerned that I’d be overrun by small children on the bunny hill. This wasn’t the case; there were truly people of all ages learning that day! Before I knew it, we were on our way to the “magic carpet” lift, which is enclosed by a red tunnel. The lift brought us just slightly uphill where we started in a small area that was sloped on both sides. Here, we learned how to use our skis to climb uphill, and we were able to try going downhill for the first time knowing that the slope on the other side was there to stop us. This took so much of my anxiety away. These incremental steps made such a difference, and helped me progress faster than I had expected to.
After learning a few more basic techniques, we moved on to the banked turn terrain. This area was specially built to help with learning how to turn. Each turn has sloped banks that help push you in the correct direction, even if you haven’t quite figured out how to properly turn the skis yourself. As expected, there were a few falls here and there happening on the bunny hill, but all of the instructors were close by to help and teach techniques for getting back on your feet. I was impressed by how collaborative the teaching between the instructors was; Wherever we were on the hill, the friendly faces in red jackets were there to give words of encouragement and help if someone needed it.
When we all felt fairly comfortable with our turning capabilities, we moved up to the highest carpet lift and tried our new skills on the open bunny hill. I was so excited to feel like I was actually skiing for the very first time! Will continued to encourage everyone and would say things like, “Just think, your skiing career is only 60 minutes old and look how far you’ve come!” I loved his positive and jolly attitude at a time that could have otherwise felt overwhelming.
We did multiple runs in the learning area with feedback from Will before wrapping up the lesson. So many skills and techniques were shared in such a short amount of time, and for a scaredy-cat like myself, I was so pleased to feel comfortable enough to keep trying the bunny hill on my own after the lesson ended. I had been determined to give my best effort after years of being “left out” of the ski culture. This, combined with a wonderful instructor and thoughtfully planned learning area, gave me the foundation I needed to achieve not just my goal, but also my “secret goal.”
I met back up with Justin at 1PM and couldn’t wait to show him what I’d learned. After a quick lunch in the cafeteria, I felt brave enough to try the dreaded chairlift and a “real” trail. I chose the path suggested by Will for my first run; Ridge Run to Southway (both green trails). My first exit from the chairlift was a little rocky, but my attempt on the trail was awesome! The greens were very gradual, not too steep. I completed two runs before finishing for the day. I felt so proud to have achieved my secret goal and been able to ski alongside Justin, even if he was moving at my snail’s pace!
We celebrated the day with an apres-ski session held for the Learn-to-Ski program participants in the Discovery Center. Sunday River hosts this event periodically throughout the season, and it was fun to regroup and chat with everyone about their progress and thoughts on the day. I’m pleased to report that I was enthusiastic enough about my experience to add another day of skiing to our weekend! The resort offers add-ons to the beginner package which includes another lesson, beginner lift ticket and rentals for only $50. This deal can be used any time within a year of purchase.
Sunday morning was fairly warm with about an inch of snow falling overnight, creating spring-like skiing conditions. I couldn’t resist the lovely weather and awesome add-on deal, so I decided to try out my new skills again. I stayed conservative, practicing the same green route as the day before about 6 times before feeling confident enough to try a new one. It’s important to note that I had Justin with me for all of these runs; I wouldn’t have tried (and can’t recommend) going out alone with only a few hours of experience. Still, by the end of the day, I felt comfortable getting on and off the chairlift by myself and tried the green Broadway trail. To wrap up our session, I was able to ride the gondola lift (not covered on my beginner ticket) without skis to enjoy the mid-mountain Peak Lodge for lunch at the Mountain Room. It was a great way to get higher on the mountain without having to push the limits of my ability on the slopes! After lunch, I was easily able to take the gondola back down to the base area while Justin enjoyed a solid run to end his day. I highly recommend doing this if you’re a beginner and want to see a little bit more of the mountain!
I can’t believe that in just a matter of hours I was able to learn what I hope will be a lifelong hobby. Winter in New England lasts for a long time, and I couldn’t be more pleased to enjoy it with a new perspective. I finally see what all the buzz is about! If you’re contemplating whether or not to try skiing, I’m proof that it’s possible to learn from scratch as an adult, and have fun doing it! Thank you to Sunday River for an unforgettable weekend. I can’t wait to plan my next trip!
Suzanne Lee is a freelance photo stylist and content creator based in Newburyport, MA. Her focus is on commercial and editorial styling for food brands, but she also works on content for tourism and boutique hotels. When she isn’t working, Suzanne enjoys cooking, traveling, and being outdoors with her dog, Gypsy. You can view her work here: www.bostonpropstylist.com