Plot a course for winter fun with a slide on the slopes

November 08, 1992|By Alfred Borcover | Alfred Borcover,Chicago Tribune

It's time for skiers to get serious. Makes no difference that autumn leaves, footballs and golf balls are still flying through the air, but nary a snowflake so far.

Nevertheless, winter athletes should gear up for their season to streak down mountainsides, leaving plumes of powder snow in their wake. Or work out to glide with ease over cross-country ski trails through the woods.

Winter images give many of us a chill. Thoughts of prolonged cold weather, naked trees and frigid winds can depress.

Winter sports enthusiasts, however, contend the only way to beat the winter blahs is to join the so-called winter fun. Skiing, whether it be downhill or cross-country or both, is the answer, they say. Well, maybe.

For skiers, or would-be skiers, here's a course of action outlined by an expert.

Besides making travel plans, checking out or buying equipment, start to picture yourself on the slopes, advises Billy Kidd, director of skiing at Steamboat Resort, northwest of Denver at Steamboat Springs.

Mr. Kidd is not your ordinary skier. If you can't picture Mr. Kidd, he was the ski commentator wearing the broad-brimmed hat on CBS-TV during the Winter Olympics in Albertville, France. His own ski credits include a silver medal during the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria. And in 1970 at Val Gardena, Italy, he became the first American man to win a World Championship in skiing.

When Mr. Kidd suggested that skiers picture themselves, the picture for many would be a person out of shape for the rigors of skiing.

"You want to be able to get your money's worth out of your lift ticket," Mr. Kidd said in a telephone interview, "so you ought to be in shape to reduce the possibility of injury. Now is a good time to start an exercise program."

As director of skiing at Steamboat, Mr. Kidd also runs a Performance Skiing Center geared to intermediate and advanced skiers who want to get better in a hurry. The center is not for everyone, he said, but skiing lessons are.

"Beginners should definitely take lessons from a ski school, not from a friend who knows how to ski," said Mr. Kidd. "The friend has good intentions, but if he or she isn't a professional instructor, it's really difficult to teach a beginner."

People who have never skied, or who want to resume the sport after a long hiatus, will find ski lessons easy, Mr. Kidd noted. Shorter, flexible fiberglass skis, molded boots that provide a lot of support and bindings that separate the ski from the boot during a fall made a big difference. So have snow grooming machines that make the surface texture of beginner and intermediate slopes about as smooth as a living room carpet.

Skiing is becoming such a great sport for families, he said. "I've got three children, two boys and a girl. When you've got different sexes and different ages like 15, 12 and 9, it's hard to find sports and activities that appeal to all of them," Mr. Kidd said. "But skiing is one thing that appeals to families, no matter what the ages." Family skiing vacations need not be expensive, he said. The problem, said Mr. Kidd, is that people envision themselves in slopeside condominiums with fireplaces at Vail and at dinner in fancy restaurants.

"I suggest that if you're on a budget, ski locally to start," he advised.

"If you've never skied before, don't buy your equipment. Just rent it. That way you can try the sport to see if you like it without having to put out the money. Basically all you need is a warm jacket and gloves and hat and maybe you have to buy some goggles."

Mr. Kidd urged beginners to look for packages at local ski areas that include equipment, lessons and lift tickets. "The reason ski areas do this is because they know that if you try skiing once, you're probably going to get hooked on it. So they can afford to give away inexpensive introductory prices."

Mr. Kidd contends and most agree that the Rockies offer the best skiing in the world. He does not, however,

shun the ski areas of Europe. So if Mr. Kidd were to take time off to ski in Europe this winter, where would he go?

"I'd probably go to Zermatt (Switzerland). I used to run a racing camp there. The scenery is unbelievable because of the Matterhorn. The ski area is so vast. It is what a ski area should be. No cars. For me the ski experience is more than sliding down the mountain. It's the adventure of traveling to a different country, with different languages, food, customs and people."

Mr. Kidd mentioned one other aspect of a ski vacation that has appeal: You don't have to ski.

"At Steamboat, you can take a sleigh ride to go to dinner on the mountainside, dogsled rides, hot air balloon rides, bobsled rides, hot springs, shopping, even ice-driving classes."

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