By Nicole Blanchard

The Idaho Statesman

BOISE, Idaho — For most of my life, the closest my family came to skiing or snowboarding was sledding down a steep hill at a local park. Our family and most of our friends — military transplants from warmer climates — avoided the mountains.

A disastrous snowboarding attempt in the eighth grade seemed to solidify it: Winter sports were not for me.

So when I started as the Statesman’s outdoors reporter last month, I suspected I might need to become a skier or snowboarder.

How would I make it down a mountain intact? As it turns out, the solution was to avoid the mountain altogether.

There are plenty of ski school opportunities in Idaho, but I opted for the one closest to home: Gateway to Tamarack at Eagle Island State Park, a two-hour introduction to snowboarding and skiing for people ages 13 and older.

I figured the flat ground would be my best shot at avoiding great bodily injury.

According to Tamarack’s ski school director Wolfe Ashcraft, the program was designed to eliminate barriers that keep adults from picking up skiing.

Not only was it less intimidating to tackle Gateway Park’s small mounds of machine-made snow, but the class itself was free — and so were equipment rentals through Play It Again Sports in Boise.

Ashcraft and his fellow instructors started with the most basic of basics: putting boots on the correct feet.

We learned to snap our skis on and off. After two lessons, I still haven’t even touched the poles.

The baby-steps approach worked. Ashcraft had us start by sliding on a single ski, propelling ourselves with one foot like wobbly skateboarders. Then we paired both skis, crisscrossing flat land in shuffling steps and practicing the motions of turning.

It was nothing like the experiences I’d heard from others, who leapt out of the frying pan and into the fire of downhill routes.

I signed up for two lessons, at Tamarack’s initial recommendation. But the resort later assured us its instructors would have us up to speed in a single class.

When I returned for the second lesson, it was to all new faces.

That second week, my classmates graduated from single-ski shuffling to sliding down mounds of snow in just under two hours. We took turns working on our wedge stops while Ashcraft looked on, quick with a helpful pointer or word of encouragement.

By the end, Ashcraft told us we’d outgrown the flat terrain of Gateway Park. When the lesson was over, I took a few more runs down the hill, gleeful at my ability to whoosh down and snake to a stop unscathed.

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