Learning to ski 27 years after fourth grade
Camden — More than 400 fourth-graders in Knox County learn to ski each year for free at the Camden Snow Bowl.
Being in my mid-30s now, I'm far removed from my 9-year-old fourth-grade self, and not having grown up in this area, I never had the opportunity to learn to ski as a child.
In fact, I've never skied.
At least not until Jan. 19, when I took a ski lesson with Ski and Ride School instructor Dave Ridley.
After two consecutive days of the mountain receiving a couple inches of snow each morning, Ridley and Ski and Ride School Director Jeff Dec tell me the conditions are perfect.
The Snow Bowl has more than 40 ski instructors, and Dec estimates that two thirds of the staff from last year have returned again this season.
"Because we have a lot of seasonal work in the area, we have a lot of return instructors," Dec said. "We have a lot of boat people or people affiliated with that scene." Dec said there also are several high school and college students who help out as well.
For the 26th year, fourth-graders in Knox County are invited in January and February to the Snow Bowl for three learn-to-ski or -snowboard visits, Ridley said. A skier from age 3, Ridley, of Camden, has been showing fourth-graders how to ski since he retired from teaching at Camden Hills Regional High School eight years ago. He is one of about 10 instructors who work with the fourth-graders.
"The goal is to introduce kids to a winter activity. They might catch on and become lifelong skiers and snowboarders. If not, at least they had fun," he said.
The 4th Grade Learn to Ski Program is offered completely free of charge, except for transportation costs, to students, families and school districts, due to support from the Ragged Mountain Ski and Snowboard Club and private donations. Maine Coast Orthodontics in Rockport and Waterfront Restaurant in Camden are big supporters of the program, Dec said.
Ridley, having just finished instructing two separate groups of fourth-graders, agrees to spend some time showing me the ropes.
First, we hit the rental shop to get my gear: boots, helmet and skis. Ridley tells me the poles are not going to be needed. I won't lie, this bit of information makes me a tad nervous. "Grace" is not exactly in my vocabulary.
I manage to get the boots on and walk outside, which feels like a small feat in itself, as I imagine this is what Neil Armstrong must have felt like walking on the moon. Ridley, noticing me struggle, shows me how to step from heel to toe in the boots to make walking a little easier.
From there, I learn how to put on a single ski and do a few scooter-style moves near the lodge to get comfortable with the ski. Then we repeat the same motion, but wearing both skis.
Next, he shows me how to snowplow, putting the skis in a "V" shape, so I can learn to slow down and stop. We scoot farther across the snow-covered lawn, practicing my new wedge technique, as we make our way to the carpet lift. As I come to the slightest bit of unevenness in the lawn, I go down on my bottom. Ridley assists me to get back up, which isn't the easiest thing to do with the skis on.
Honestly, the hardest part of the lesson is learning to get on the carpet lift. The carpet lift is similar to those moving walkways in the airport — except you are attempting to get on it with long, narrow pieces of plastic stuck to your feet.
"When it [the lift] catches your skis, grab your knees," Ridley says, noting it will help prevent me from falling down.
Success! I'm on the lift!
The first few trips down the Slipway Trail, which is the Snow Bowl's beginner trail, Ridley skis backward and I face him and hold his hands, practicing the snowplow over and over again.
Then I attempt to do the same maneuver all on my own, without holding his hands. I do pretty well until I get to the middle of the trail and cannot come to a complete stop. Imagining myself careening into the parking lot, I fall.
Next, it's back off my bottom and back up the carpet lift.
Then Ridley shows me how to turn, first by turning my right ski inward to turn to the left.
However, my attempts to turn right are not so successful. Each time I start down the trail, I manage to turn to the left with no problem, but when I try turning to the right, I end up skiing all the way to the bottom of the trail instead of across it. I am pretty happy with myself that I don't end up falling, and Ridley is right, the poles are not needed!
After about an hour and a half, and since my right foot is asleep inside my boot, we retreat to the lodge for some hot cocoa.
The Learn to Ski program at the Camden Snow Bowl is not just for children. They offer daily lessons for those 7 years old and up in small group settings and also offer private lessons.
While I'm not feeling like I'm quite ready to take to the top of Ragged Mountain just yet, you may see me back out there learning how to turn right.
Courier Publications Editor Kim Lincoln can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.