Part of the Rogue Valley's fascinating diversity is that even as we break out our lawnmowers and spring jackets, the mountains around us still offer opportunities for snow sports.
"Springtime is a great time to learn to ski or snowboard," says Rick Saul, marketing director for Mount Ashland Ski Area and experienced ski instructor. "The days become longer and warmer with plenty of sunshine bathing the ski slopes." With a ski season extending into mid-April, and Mount Ashland so close at hand, there's still time to add skiing to your favorite list of outdoor activities. Further south, but well within day-trip range, Mount Shasta Ski Area also offers plenty of opportunities for a new skier. "We have an excellent facility for learning to ski," says Jason Young, marketing director of Mount Shasta Ski Area. "The terrain is very favorable for the way you want to learn."
Both Mount Ashland and Mount Shasta offer beginner packages designed for skiers of all ages to learn about the equipment, the lifts and techniques for the slopes.
The cost? "The 1 2 3 Learn to Ski or Snowboard program [at $149] includes three days of lifts, lessons and rental equipment," says Rick Saul of Mount Ashland Ski Area. "And graduates of the program receive free lower mountain lift tickets for the duration of the season." It's the recommended choice for Mount Ashland. "It takes several days to really gain the skills and confidence to become an independent skier or rider at Mount Ashland," explains Robert Wangen, the ski school director. Private lessons begin at $55 for one hour.
"One of my favorite programs is 1-2-3 Learn to Ski," says Jason Young of Mount Shasta Ski Area. "You do three days worth of skiing [including lift tickets and rentals] with two lessons per day." At $180, the lessons can be divided over different days during the season. They also offer a one-day "Guaranteed to Learn to Ski" program for $65.
There are a number of factors that will guarantee you a fun and safe day on the mountain, so where should you start?
There's no need for extended training before you begin, says Saul, but there are some things you can do to physically prepare. "On your first day, allow time to stretch, especially in the legs and back. Drink plenty of water so that you arrive in the higher elevation hydrated, which will help your body adjust to the change in climate. Sleep well the night before you travel to the mountain and eat a nutritious breakfast."
He also adds, "Dress in layers. Layering allows you to accommodate your body's constantly changing temperature." Probably the most important layer is the one next to your skin. Don't wear cotton, which loses its insulation value once it gets wet. Instead, Young recommends that polypropylene or wool under layers will keep you warm when you work up a sweat or take the occasional spill. Add a waterproof or windproof outer layer, and remember that while temperatures are cooler, the sunshine is bright on the snow so bring sunglasses and sunscreen. Updated weather conditions are available on the web or by phoning the hot line number.
Once you're prepared, it's best to arrive at the ski hill early, says Saul. "Since the rental equipment is on a first come, first serve basis, arriving at the ski area between 8:30 and 9:00 a.m. will ensure you receive equipment for the day." It also gives you the best options for planning your day. What will you need? Well, skis, boots, poles, a lift ticket and a lesson. Which is the most important?
The lesson, say both Saul and Young. "In all honesty, the area that catches people is that beginners overestimate their abilities," says Young. "They head out "¦ and we end up sending out the ski patrol because they're walking down the mountain." Lessons typically last from an hour to an hour and a half and easily cover skills that might take you days to learn on your own (see sidebar). "Mount Ashland is known as a challenging mountain and has a variety of programs to help get you started," says Saul. —¦The 1 2 3 Learn to Ski or Ride program is the recommended option by the ski and snowboard professionals at the ski area. Lessons," adds Young, "will give you a better sense of what happens on the hill."
At the end of the day, these are sports you can enjoy for a lifetime, reminds Saul. "It's invigorating just to be up in the fresh mountain air and being around people who have chosen an active outdoor lifestyle. And you'll gain an appreciation for the beautiful alpine environment that is right in our backyard."