After my first 3 days ever of downhill skiing, I’m still not sure which is more terrifying: riding the ski lift, or barrelling down the hill! I love speed on my bicycle, but I prefer to ski slowly! And while a friend recently told me that she has “irrational” fears about ski lifts, I can now say for certain that they are completely rational!
Two years ago, I did an introductory group ski lesson at Glen Eden in Milton, Ontario, along with my husband and kids. While Alasdair had skied many times before, it was the first time on downhill skis for the kids and I (when I was younger, my family cross-country skied). Our lesson took place on the “bunny hill”, and when the lesson was done, we went home. We never made it back to ski that year.
Last year, my son’s grade 7 class went skiing in Québec as part of a 4-day trip. He enjoyed the skiing so much that he wanted to go back to the same place, so we booked accommodations in a condo at the base of the ski hill, and in December, we headed out!
Stoneham Mountain Resort in Stoneham-et-Tewkesbury, Québec, is about 25 minutes north of Québec City. After paying for our lift tickets, and renting (and getting fitted for) skis, poles, boots and helmets, we headed for the “terrain d’apprentissage” (learning area, otherwise known as the bunny hill).
Once we were all sure that we remembered how to turn and stop, we headed for a chair lift – cue the terror! Before getting in the line-up (which wasn’t long), we confirmed with a Stoneham employee who was scanning lift ticket bar codes that a green run was open (for non-skiers, hills are classified by colour, from green (easy) to blue (harder) to black diamond (still harder) to double black diamond etc.). The same lift led to green runs and blue runs, and obviously as newbies, Ailish and I wanted to start on a green run. The 4 of us got on the same lift, and despite having watched youtube videos on how to get on and off a chair lift, I experienced an epic fail: at the moment when our skis touched the mound where you’re supposed to ski off the lift, Ailish’s skis and mine were crossed, and I completely missed my chance to get off. She took a tumble, and I just sat there as the chair lift kept moving! I had visions of going down the hill on my own in the chair lift. I said to Alasdair something along the lines of “Make sure someone knows I’m on here!” After reversing the chair lift slightly so the “trip wire” could be reset, the lift advanced again, the Stoneham employee unclipped my skis and I walked off the lift. How embarrassing!
And then, to add to the fun, we discovered that the green run was closed! So for our very first hill, we had to do a blue run. While I managed not too badly without too many falls, I went as slowly as possible! Ailish had some significant trouble, and it took a very very long time for us to get down that first hill. After that we stuck to green hills for the rest of the day.
We signed Ailish up for a 1 1/2 hour private lesson the next morning, after which *I* was the weak link!
I wasn’t sure how my legs were going to do with all the skiing, seeing as the muscles used for swimming, biking and running aren’t exactly the same as those used for skiing, and I just ran a 10-miler PB 2 days before our first day of skiing! In the evening of each day my legs got pretty tired, shaking at times (likely a combination of fear on the steeper bits of the hills – in particular when they were icy! – and fatigue!). I spent a lot of time thinking “turn left lift left” and “turn right lift right” as I skied down the hills.
That first chair lift fail wasn’t our only one! Over the course of the 3 days, we had multiple chair lift adventures (for pride’s sake I won’t name any names):
- One of us dropped a pole off the chair lift about 90% of the way up the hill (we had to wait for a while at the bottom for someone in a snowmobile to go up the hill and find the pole).
- Someone’s ski fell off as he or she was getting on the chair lift, so the lift was stopped and the Stoneham employee had to put the ski back on.
- Another one of us fell getting off the lift (but it didn’t need to be shut down!).
- One of us accidentally got ahead of the others in line, didn’t realize it, but when the chair lift reached said person, panic ensued, the person tried to get away from the lift and got hit by it.
- We were asked by a ski instructor if a tiny little skier could come on the lift with us (when Ailish was at her lesson and it was just the 3 of us) – we said “oui!” and we waited in line. When the lift arrived, little Antoine (as we later learned) was so small that Alasdair had to yank him by the arm up onto the lift or he would have hit the ground!
I swear we weren’t problem guests! Each time something happened though, I thought we’d seen it all!
I really liked that some of the runs went through narrower paths through the woods (though when they were busier and icy they were a little too harrowing for my liking). I was amazed by the skiing abilities of some of the littlest kids! We skied in the morning, afternoon, and evening. We lucked out with the weather with temperatures around -10 to -15 degrees Celsius, and fresh snow while we were there. One evening when we were skiing after dark our goggles kept freezing on the outside from the moisture in the air – I had to stop several times to breathe on them and wipe them off so that I could see.
Over the 3 days we skiied on green runs (#2 Les Pionniers, #6 La Randonnée, and #19 La Laurentienne) and blue runs (#8 Le Petit-Champlain and #7 La Gonnet), and all of us wished we’d had more days to ski. Ailish and I were definitely getting more confident, and I look forward to being able to ski again! (For the record, we had also mastered the 2 different kinds of chair lifts by the end of day #3!)
A few notes about Stoneham:
- Don’t worry if you don’t speak French – the employees speak English, and signs are in both languages.
- The rental process was very organized and efficient.
- The bunny hill is actually free – you don’t have to pay anything to practice on it.
- In my opinion, a better system is needed so that skiers know at the bottom of the hill whether specific runs will be open when they get to the top of the hill. Several times we got off the chair lift only to find that the hill we wanted to ski on was closed.
- Our 2-bedroom fully furnished condo was literally a 2-min walk from the base of the ski hills. We actually walked to the hill, and skied back (it was downhill)! We brought all our own food, and cooked in the fully outfitted kitchen.
- There are restaurants at Stoneham, and a grocery store a very short drive away.
We had a fantastic 3 days skiing at Stoneham and practising our French. I highly recommend going there, despite the very long drive from south-western Ontario!