By Jamie Balke
Explore Big Sky Columnist
It finally happened! I worked up the courage to go downhill skiing in Montana.
This is my fifth winter living in Bozeman, and with an illogical fear of downhill skiing in the Rockies, I had avoided it like the plague. It was mostly due to a lack of experience, as well as my technique, which is limited to the pizza and French fry positions typically taught to children.
My long avoidance of alpine skiing west of the Mississippi led me to purchase both snowshoes and cross-country skis. For several years now, my brother John has tried to convince me to reconsider my fear and hit the slopes. Using a recent birthday as leverage, John took me skiing at Big Sky Resort as a gift.
I prepared by visualizing the many ways I would likely embarrass myself, including falling off chairlifts, and brainstorming funny things that I could say to ski patrollers towing my broken body off of the hill. Optimism has never been my strong suit.
Resigned to my impending doom, I jumped in John’s truck and we began the drive to Big Sky. Along the way, we saw three bald eagles feeding on a carcass alongside the road, a deer on an island in the middle of the Gallatin River, and a big horn sheep hanging out in the road. The day was off to a good start.
John explained upon our arrival that the Explorer chairlift would be a good place to start. As I surveyed the area, adults with fear clouding their eyes intermingled with small children taking ski lessons. I was among my people.
Right off the bat, I somehow missed getting on the same chair as my brother, and awkwardly made it on the one behind him. From this vantage, I was able to survey the fairly mellow looking hill, and was relieved to observe that I wouldn’t be alone in my heavy reliance on the pizza wedge. It was a beautiful snowy day, with fog moving dramatically around the mountain.
I made it off the chairlift without too much fuss, and began the descent. I was pleasantly surprised to hear the lift attendant shout that I shouldn’t worry because skiing is like riding a bike. It was kind of true. The limited skills I picked up on a few ski days in Wisconsin and North Carolina came back, and before long I was actually having fun.
After a couple runs with my fellow “Explorers,” John suggested we ski green runs on other areas of the mountain. It went pretty well, except that on a few of the steeper areas I found myself narrating pep talks aloud about how it would be okay, and I could just fall over if needed.
As the day went on, I discovered my fear of downhill skiing in Montana was mostly unwarranted, and had a fantastic time hanging out with my brother on a breathtakingly beautiful mountain. The next time something freaks me out, I won’t wait years to give it a go.
Balke hopes to “shred the gnar” on some green runs again soon.