Scott & I have been to Lake Tahoe a few times. The last time we went was last year (2007) in late spring, just toward the end of the ski season. We got lucky in that there was a major “dump” of snow on Tahoe that weekend. At any rate, I tried skiing for the first time and really enjoyed it. However, the size of the Big Easy hill at Heavenly was scary to me, especially with sore legs.

On that first ski trip, my calves were a mess when it was done. Ski boots are meant to grip your leg tightly, to help you control the skis and to protect you from hurting yourself. The problem is that I have small feet, short lower legs, and big calves. This is a disastrous combination for rental ski boots. The sizes small enough to fit your feet and ankles will crush your calves, especially because the boots will go up too far on your calf and really dig into the muscle group. It’s compounded by the fact that rental boots are almost all men’s boots, just in a variety of sizes. In relatively recent years, boot designers have figured out that women’s calves sit lower on the leg and tend to be larger than men’s calves, and they’ve differentiated women’s boots in design, but for cost effectiveness among other things, rental shops tend to just carry “unisex” (read: men’s) boots.

I didn’t know any of that when I went skiing the first time, but after that trip, my calves were bruised and I had lots of problems with my feet starting to feel numb, despite weather that had some people skiing in short sleeves! I found out later that the pain I was feeling was *not* typical and basically indicate a bad boot fit as opposed to some problem on my side. There are muscle aches that accompany skiing, but calf bruising isn’t one of them. I did some research on the internet, and I learned that kids’ ski boots, just like kids’ regular boots, have a shorter cuff. I wear kids’ boots all the time, so I figured kids’ ski boots might work for me. Scott & I figured out a day that we could go skiing (it ended up being over New Year’s). We drove up to Wilmot Mountain, which is the closest ski hill to our house.

I panicked. I totally panicked. I had a little anxiety attack. My heartbeat accelerated, and I couldn’t think straight. I have no idea why it hit me so hard, when I managed to get through my initial fear at Tahoe just fine, but it did. So, after two hours (insane, right?…I know…my husband is a saint) of coaxing, I steeled myself to go rent stuff and get on the bunny hill. We got into the rental process, and I tried on a kids’ boot. Heaven! It fit like a dream. I could tilt in the boot in the way that you do in order to turn, and it sat below my calf. So, on to the ski rental area, and the guy at the counter takes down my weight and height and boot size to look on the chart…

To wear that boot with a ski and have the binding set right for me, I’d have to have a 4.5 adjustment on the ski. They didn’t have kids’ skis that went to a 4.5. Their adult skis, on the other hand, couldn’t bind with a kids’ boot. So, it was back to the boot counter. Unfortunately, as soon as I got the adult boot on, I immediately recognized that pressure on my calf…like someone pressing their thumb right between the two muscles. After all the stress I’d put myself through already, I couldn’t bear doing the skiing in horridly uncomfortable boots. So, I gave up. I was near tears again, feeling like I was too much of a bodily freak to ski, but Scott, again, was a dear, and he re-assured me that the problem was the equipment, not me. He said we’d go to a good ski shop and get me fitted in boots properly, that some people just can’t do rental equipment.

To make a really long story of the hunt for the right ski equipment and boot fit short, we ended up at Vertical Drop in St. Charles, IL, in the capable hands of Rick the bootfitter. Rick had been recommended to me on the SkiDivas message boards. After a long (45 minutes or more) bootfitting session, wherein Rick was a dear about listening to all my concerns, I had purchased ski boots (size 22.5), skis, bindings, and ski socks. Total cost was around $380 including tax, for a package deal that included the initial adjustment and ski waxing. The boots I got were actually supposed to be part of a $400 (before tax) package but Rick cut us a deal when we mentioned price as a concern. Anyways, Rick put heel wedges in each boot as well as picking out a boot with a good calf width and shorter-than-normal cuff. The overall effect was a boot I could dance in, practically. It was between that boot and a kids’ boot. I went with the adult boot because it had better insulation than the kids boot. Rick pointed out, too, that a kids’ boot won’t last as long. They’re just not made for durability because kids grow out of them pretty fast.

On the 12th, we drove up to Alpine Valley today to try out my new equipment. I had a blast. I only got as far as the wee little first timer hill (that wasn’t even really a hill), but my DH did some runs on their longer slopes. Alpine’s beginner area uses magic carpets to get you up the slope. Magic carpets are a relatively new thing for ski hills. They’re basically moving sidewalks, with a little slope on either end to help you get up onto the belt. You just stand and ride it up the hill like an escalator. At the top, there’s a really gentle slope that you ski down and then level out to start your attempt at the bunny hill. Prior to magic carpets, the beginner hills used tow ropes (sometimes with J-hooks or T-bars), or you just had to walk up them. Tow ropes are okay, but they’re hard on your arms, and most people fall at least once or twice on them, because they kind of jerk your upper body, and if you don’t keep stiff, you’ll just topple over.

For those who don’t know, that week before our Alpine Valley trip had been unseasonably warm. All the snow near our house had melted. Fortunately, the Friday night before had been cold enough to let the ski hills make snow. Nonetheless, the area was slushy and icy where tons of beginners had packed the snow in. I took a private lesson, and we started out on a slightly long beginner hill, but I had trouble with it because it was so icy that I accelerated too fast on it. So, my PI moved us over to the really small hill, with cutout animals and everything. 🙂 We worked on turns, because my PI thought that if I could get to where I could turn confidently, I’ll always be able to slow down or stop on hills, and that will help my confidence in getting me up one of the bigger slopes. It turns out I have a very dominant leg, so it’s easy for me to curve in one direction but not the other. I’m also horribly out of shape, so I was worn out by the end of my private lesson. Scott and I went to the lodge for chili and water and to rest. I made a vague attempt at getting out for another ski session afterward, but I was just zapped, so I watched Scott go down the big hill a few times instead. I also shot some video of him going down, but I want to try to edit it so that there’s a circle around him the whole time before I post it. As is, he’s just one moving dot among many. After that, we went to the lodge’s bar for a foofy hot cocoa drink. I had a Valley View Banana Split, which was banana liqueur, hot cocoa, and frangelico, topped with whipped cream and a cherry. Once we’d warmed up and sobered up, we drove home.

We’re probably going to head back to Alpine this weekend. We’ve had a decent amount of snow this week, so the conditions should be much fluffier. I love my new skis. They’re very bendy, and my instructor said they’ll cut really well once I get used to them. The only possible problem is that my bindings might be set too tight…for a beginner, you almost always want the binding to come loose from your boot really easily, because beginners fall down alot. A ski binding basically determines when to release based on the torque exerted on the binding. An expert will have theirs set really high, so that they have to exert alot of torque to have it release. That’s because an expert is jumping, landing, turning, etc. in ways that exert torque naturally. Also, an expert isn’t falling down so much. A beginner, on the other hand, isn’t going to exert torque on the ski very much at all except when falling, so the torque should be set relatively low. The setting is also, of course, based on your height, boot length, and weight, because those all factor into the torque. Long story short, I may need to get my bindings tweaked. My skis were not releasing when I fell at first, although they did later. Without them releasing, it’s easy for me to get into a position where I can’t get up on my own…and if they *really* don’t release, I could break my leg. So, yeah, that would be a bad thing. But, I’m going to try them out again this weekend and see if the problem persists. If it does, there’s a ski shop right there where they could probably tweak them for me.

I was sore for 3-4 days afterward last time, but it was the kind of soreness you get from a new or unique exercise, not a bad kind of soreness. Thankfully, my next stop was Amelia Island in FL for a work summit, so I got to spend most of the next few days sitting with my legs up…as well as spending some time in the hot tub! I’m not so lucky for this weekend, but I also have a better handle on what I can and can’t do. I think I’m going to skip the lesson this time, as trying to do a bunch of runs back to back for an hour (or more) is really tough on me. Instead, I’ll do a couple of runs, rest at the bottom of the hill, go again, etc…I think that will work better to keep me from getting so worn out.