Skiing from Scratch
Louise Borthwick, Edinburgh University
I’ve chosen a slightly misleading title here because I have actually skied before. I learned on downhill skis on the dry ski slope near my home in Edinburgh, Scotland. This slope was made of a mat which was sprayed with water and my parents used to say if you could ski there you could ski anywhere. Coming into JIRP I hadn’t skied for about 10 years but I thought it’s just like riding a bike right, it’ll all come back to me, it’ll be fine.
So when we headed out from Camp 17 for our first ski lesson on Lemon Creek Glacier I didn’t raise my hand as a novice skier and soon found myself a little out of my depth and I was beginning to think maybe I couldn’t ski quite as well as I imagined I could. This made me realize how long it had been since I had learned a new skill from scratch and how it felt to be so hopelessly bad at something despite trying my best. Over the next few days I chose groups better suited to my ability and focused on improving my basic technique in the hope it would make me more confident. It did help and I felt good going down the shallower slope on Lemon Creek with pizza turns.
The next step in our skiing progression was to move to the slope on the other side of Camp 17 on the Ptarmigan Glacier. This was significantly steeper and as we put our skis on at the top I could feel my heart rate increasing before we’d even moved. The plan was to side hill down, which means going across the slope and so reducing the gradient. When we’d gone as far as we could one way we made a kick turn (or switchback) which involved standing on one ski while rotating the other one 180 degrees (or as close as possible) then transferring the weight to that ski and bringing the first ski round so we were facing the opposite direction. We’d then head in that direction till we had to do another kick turn. It sounds simple but I was always very conscious of the steep slope dropping away on my downhill side and standing on one ski didn’t feel the most stable. It was unnerving to say the least and I was soon falling over, even when I was only trying to stand still. It was a frustrating experience and I felt like I wasn’t getting any better. Catherine suggested leaning into the slope and Ibai had us lifting up and down our uphill ski to emphasize we should have our weight on our downhill ski. With these tips I made it down, with a few more falls, we then used our skins to go back up.
After a few more days practice the morning came for the traverse to Camp 10, and with it a chance to put my newly learned skiing skills to test. I went with the option of walking down the steepest bit of slope on the side of the Lemon and felt things were going pretty well once I got on my skis. The snow was very hard because it was so early and cold, and it was full of sun cups so it was very bumpy, but I stayed upright. When we got to the steeper bottom part I had a series of fall down/get up moments and Kirsten took my backpack down to the blue ice (thanks Kirsten!). I was feeling pretty despondent but I’d been told Lemon Creek was one of the hardest bits of skiing of the day and that kept me going.
We covered a lot of different terrain on the traverse, it seemed mainly uphill, and on the next bit of descent on skis down into Death Valley Ibai suggested I keep my skins on to aid control. I did and it was great; harder work but I didn’t fall. Once we got down to the flat bottom of Death Valley I took my skins off and it was honestly the most amazing feeling to be able to glide again. I was kicking and gliding along and Kirsten and Mo had their music playing on speakers and it was a very surreal experience to be skiing across a glacier in the middle of nowhere signing along to music. Finally all the practice had come together and I felt the freedom of skiing for the first time.