Skiing like Mike: Returning to skiing as an adult beginner brings back the fun.

There are a lot of reasons not to ski. But Mike Cotfas’s excuse is one of the better ones I’ve heard. In grade 6, Mike went skiing with his school. Somehow, he went A/T (that’s A over T, as in ass over teakettle) and wound up lacerating his head—this was in the days before ski helmets. He had to go to the hospital for six stitches, the first three or four of which he felt as they were being done because the local freezing hadn’t quite taken.

“I think my dad’s hand had some crushed bones,” Mike laughs, now. “I was gripping pretty hard.”

Before Mike, I didn’t get it: why wouldn’t you ski? As someone who grew up skiing from age six, spent family vacations skiing in the Rockies and wound up a professional ski bum of sorts, as well as a volunteer ski patroller, I thought – no, firmly believed – that skiing was something everyone should do. And, well, I still do. So I convinced Mike to get back on skis. His first thought when I put the idea to him, says Mike, was, “How much do I want to get fresh stitches?”

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At 31, it’s been about 20 years since Mike’s incident. Yet he’d never tried skiing again, although he had snowboarded about three times in as many years. It’s not that he’s a cautious type. I’ve seen him rip around town on a fixie with that speed-eating grin you only get going too fast. But childhood trauma can linger, and adulthood’s priorities, obligations, competing entertainments and social engagements distract us and lure us into different patterns. We adults become rational with age, wasteful and yet frugal with our time, and self-conscious of our flaws and falls. Literally: we don’t like to fall. But skiing—and having adventures—requires you to sometimes fall. However, much of the pain of learning to ski, or returning to skiing as an adult can be avoided with a lesson or two to get the basics down. If you’re learning to dance salsa, do you just watch Lambada and then do it? I took Mike to Snow Valley Ski Club and set him up in a private lesson. Standing over six feet, he looked a bit like a giant next to most of the other students on the hill that sunny February afternoon. That might embarrass some people but Mike took it in stride. (We adults often forget that we look more foolish standing on the sidelines with our arms crossed than we do actually trying something new.)

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The next hour was filled with airplane gliding, sidestepping, snowplow stops and turns, but within the hour he had graduated from magic carpet to chairlift. And that same smile, that beaming, riding-a-fixie-fast grin, was back.

“It was maybe a half hour of being really bad at it, and then it was like, yeah, I can do this,” Mike says, reflecting on his experience in the lesson. “Your body kicks in and your muscles learn what to do.”

“Mark [the instructor] was really good at challenging me and saying, here’s the next step if you want to get there. Once you’re comfortable, try this.”

One of the things I love about skiing is that that same concept, “once you’re comfortable, try this” can potentially be an endless ladder into increasingly more challenging experiences. With the scars of the past behind him, Mike was evidently feeling the same rush of excitement.

“I’m disappointed the day is ending. I could be out here for a couple more hours. It’s given me an appetite to get back on the slope,” he says. “I forgot how fun this was!”

Even as the snow melts and it looks more and more like spring in town, there’s lots of time still to hit the slopes. While the streets and sidewalks are an icy mess, a decent mid-winter snowpack combined with snowmaking and good grooming means the slopes are in reasonably good shape. Edmonton’s local hills – Snow Valley, Edmonton Ski Club, Sunridge and Rabbit Hill (in Devon) generally stay open until after spring break. And the mountain resorts will be going until May or longer. Marmot Basin in Jasper still has a solid one-metre base and March is often one of the best snow months in the Rockies. The hill was reporting new snow to celebrate the leap year. Sunshine Village also had new snow to kick off the month, and it will draw out its high-elevation snowpack until May Long weekend.

So if you’ve been waiting for the right moment, stop putting it off. As Mike learned, there’s no time like the present to get back into some good, old fashioned fun on skis.

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