I was seventeen years old when I experienced snow and skiing for the very first time. With a great deal of anxiety and trepidation, I joined my church youth group for a trip to Whakapapa in the August school holidays. Nobody in my family skied. I didn’t have any of the right gear and had to borrow a lurid yellow ski suit from a colleague of my father’s. To make matters worse my boyfriend had been skiing pretty much since he could walk. It didn’t add up to a very confident beginning.
Unfortunately there was not much snow on the ground when our bus pulled up at the base of the mountain. This meant that the nice flat learner’s slopes were not an option. Instead I found myself standing on a field that to me resembled the terrifying gradient of the Matterhorn. My boyfriend gave me a bit of a shove and I was off. It was horrible. Both my skis flew off, my poles disengaged themselves from my hands and went flying, and I ended up in a crumpled heap. As I lay there, humiliated, a child of about six confidently whizzed past me…on one ski! With that my foray into skiing was officially over.
Since we’ve been in Virginia we’ve been lucky to experience quite a bit of snowfall and Olive, particularly, has embraced the white powdery stuff. She has spent hours outside – sledding, building snowmen, rolling down the hill…even riding her bike in the snow. It was becoming plainly obvious that now was the time to give her a try on skis and with the help of our neighbours we were able to find a magical place to do it.
They told us about The Homestead, a resort in the middle of the Allegheny Mountains which has been standing for nearly two hundred and fifty years.
This grand old hotel and spa is located in the town of Hot Springs, and has a golf course and an alpine ski resort, the oldest ski resort in Virginia. I figured if I had to face my skiing demons, this seemed like the right place to do it!
Snow was falling lightly as we arrived late on Saturday afternoon. Tea was being served in the great hall as skiers and snowboarders of all ages and descriptions returned to the hotel after a busy day on the slopes. I have to admit to feeling that sense of dread again at the sight of all that ski parephanalia, but the beauty of my surroundings completely won me over.
After a quick unpack we donned our swimsuits and made a dash for the heated outdoor pool. Steam was rising off the water as we splashed around and basked in the hot pools adjacent to the swimming pool. Very cool to be swimming outside whilst snow is falling all around you.
The rumbling of our bellies drew us inside to dinner. We avoided the fancy dining room and opted for a pop up buffet that had been set up to take pressure off the supposedly busy dining room. Someone had obviously miscalculated the need for the pop up buffet, as we were the only diners in a very huge room complete with a pianist for entertainment! The waiting staff were wonderful – we were treated like royalty – and we ended up having a great chat with one of the waiters about the state of cricket in New Zealand. He was from Jamaica and a passionate cricketer. He also produced a birthday dessert for me, complete with candle – it was very sweet.
Before retiring for the night we arranged a ski lesson for the girls and I for the following morning. I actually wasn’t planning to do any real skiing – more like just standing around and encouraging the girls when needed. But when we reached the ski lodge on Sunday morning our Kiwi-ness conspired against me. It turns out the manager of the lodge spent many years teaching skiing in Vail with a fellow instructor who was from New Zealand, and when he heard that I was planning to just butt in on the girl’s lesson, he would have none of it. Carter was summoned to take care of me for an hour or so. I’d joked with Richard in the shuttle bus on the way over that perhaps the ski instructor might be some hunky young German Hans type. In reality Carter turned out to be anything but. He was not much younger than my father; very kind, patient and funny; and prone to calling out “where is your smile Christina?” – in short he was exactly what I needed.
It was fabulous! Yes I fell over and there were quite a few scary moments but mostly it was so much fun. I felt especially chuffed when Carter said to me about half way through our lesson, “you are not being challenged enough. We need to go higher.” Richard admitted to being quite shocked when he saw us heading for the chair lift. And I don’t know if he was just saying this to humour me but Carter insisted that he rarely took first timers up that far. By the end of my lesson I was skiing upright and even managing a few turns. All in all it was the complete opposite of my first skiing experience -phew! Olive and Edie had a great time too and Richard got the chance to get a few runs in on the steeper slopes.
After the euphoria of my skiing success it was time for more swimming and a spot of ice skating, then I took a walk into the little village of Hot Springs which was very picturesque.
Dinner that night was in another old, historic building. We headed to Warm Springs where we had a great meal at the Waterwheel Restaurant. As it was Superbowl Sunday, we once again had a restaurant to ourselves and were again treated to very attentive service.
Back at the Homestead we all fell into bed and after a quick look at the Superbowl Halftime show – go Beyonce! – we all fell fast asleep. No chance of a birthday sleep in for me – the girls were so excited that they woke up very early on Monday and jumped into bed with me – not a bad way to be woken up I must admit.
After opening my gifts and enjoying coffee and pastries in bed it was time to pack up and head for home as Richard had a plane to catch. We left very reluctantly – it had been a fabulous couple of days. Thanks to my wonderful family for ensuring that I had a great birthday celebration 🙂 And special thanks to our neighbours for giving us such a great tip.
Lots more Homestead photos if you click on my Flickr link and a short video clip of the girls in action on their skis.
Hope the return to school is going well for everyone – special shout out to my niece and nephews Molly, Matthew and Tom – all starting new schools this year. Missing you all and sending lots of love xxx