FAIRBANKS — Truth be told, my most vivid memory of downhill skiing when I was a young boy growing up near Stowe, Vt. was peeing my wool pants as I rode the T-bar up the mountain.
That was probably 40 years ago but it wasn’t what caused me to give up on downhill skiing.
Rather, it was the move from Vermont to western New York when I was
9-years-old that pretty much dashed any hope I had of becoming the next Billy Kid, who still ranks as the most famous downhiller to come out of Stowe.
Suffice to say, the ski slopes in western New York did not compare to what Stowe had to offer. The first time my brothers and I went skiing in New York, for example, we were introduced to something we had never seen before — an old rope tow that was used to pull skiers up a mound of ice disguised as snow.
We tore our mittens to shreds on the rope and never went back to that ski hill.
After that, I can count on one hand the number of times I went downhill skiing in New York. Not only was it a two-hour drive to get to a ski area that was even mildly acceptable, that was also about the time I got old enough to start working on the family dairy farm, which didn’t leave much time for skiing.
So it was with more than a little trepidation last week that I pulled into the parking lot at Moose Mountain Ski Resort in the Goldstream Valley with my wife, Kristan, and 12-year-old son, Logan, for a day of downhill skiing at The Moose, as local downhillers call it.
Going downhill skiing at Moose Mountain — or any of Fairbanks’ three downhill ski areas — has been on my winter list-of-things-to-do for the last few years and this year, with me, Kristan, and Logan off for spring break, I finally decided to go for it.
We picked a perfect day for it — beautiful, blue skies, bright sun, temperatures in the low 30s. You couldn’t have asked for a better day to break your leg.
Though it would be Logan’s first time downhill skiing, it wasn’t him I was worried about. He is an excellent cross-country skier and I figured if he can carve turns, take jumps and skid to a stop on his skinny skate skis like I see him doing all the time on the cross-country trails at Birch Hill Recreation Area, he should be OK on a fat pair of downhill boards.
Neither was I all that concerned about Kristan. She, too, is a competent Nordic skier and she had even gone downhill skiing and snowboarding a few years back.
It was me, not having been on a pair of downhill skis for at least 35 years and not being the world’s most competent Nordic skier, that I was worried about.
As we drove up to the face of the mountain, I couldn’t help but notice how steep the runs looked. I didn’t think there were any hills, much less mountains, in Fairbanks. But now, staring up at the steep, white chutes that had been carved out of the hillside to create Moose Mountain, I realized I was wrong.
Something inside my stomach started fluttering.
It only took us a few minutes to get outfitted with
rental skis, boots and poles. We arrived at 1:30 p.m. to take advantage of the post-
1 p.m. $5 lift ticket discount and we were waiting in line to get on a bus that would transport us to the top of the mountain — one of the unique features of Moose Mountain — by 2 p.m.
When we bumped into a friend, Rob Bettisworth, who was waiting in line to get on the bus, I told him how long it had been since I was on a pair of downhill skis, as well as the fact that it was Logan’s first time.
“You know the biggest problem you’re going to have?” Bettisworth said smiling at Logan. “You’re never going to want to go Nordic skiing again after this.”
I can’t deny the thought hadn’t crossed my mind, which is another reason we had put off taking Logan downhill skiing for as long as we did.
As one might suspect, our first run of the day was the scariest, but not for the reasons you might suspect. Even though we had a map with the easiest runs highlighted, we somehow ended up on one of, if not the, steepest runs at Moose Mountain, a black diamond route called Pipeline.
To make a long, terrifying run short, let’s just say there were a few butt-puckering moments for all three of us as we slowly picked our way down the hill, zig-zagging from one side all the way to the other. There were a couple times when I almost took my skis off and walked down it was so steep, but I resisted that temptation, in part because I quickly realized how much of a difference metal edges make on a set of skis.
After that — and a closer look at our map — things got better. We stuck to the easier green and blue runs like Solar Coaster, Sundance, Rabbit Run and Aspen.
Maybe it’s because I spend a lot of time on cross-country skis, but I was surprised at how quickly it call came back to me. By the end of the day, which amounted to a total of six runs, I was step turning my way down the mountain, feeling more confident each run. I only fell a couple of times but it was nothing spectacular.
Her enthusiasm dampened by the scary first run of the day and aching knees, Kristan quit after just three runs, but not before exhibiting enough skill to warrant a future to return to the slopes.
As for Logan, he took to it like a duck to water, especially after he hooked up with one of his buddies, Brennan, on our third run of the day. Once we headed down the mountain I didn’t usually see Logan again until I reached the bottom.
We hadn’t even left the parking lot before Logan was asking us if we could go downhill skiing again the next weekend.
Based on the amount of money we spent on three rental packages and three lift tickets — a total of $157 — downhill skiing won’t become an every-weekend affair in the Mowry household, though I wouldn’t mind trying it again before the snow melts.
That doesn’t mean I won’t be standing in line at the Fairbanks Ski Patrol’s annual downhill ski swap in November, either, or checking out Play-It-Again Sports looking to outfit the family with some cheap downhill ski gear for next winter.
While we may not necessarily have shredded The Moose, I’d like to think we scratched the surface.
Contact outdoors editor Tim Mowry at 459-7587.