“Make a wedge with your skis and use your foot to tell your skis to turn,” said Ron, the Sunrise Ski Resort ski instructor.
Lined up in front of him, a dozen Rim Country Middle School students from the Outdoor Adventure Club (OAC) shifted uncomfortably in gear they had never worn before: ski boots and skis.
Scott Davidson, seventh-grade science teacher and sponsor of the club, organizes a ski trip to the White Mountain Apache Tribe ski resort near Greer two times at the beginning of each year. On each trip, he introduces a new crop of skiers to the sport.
“For some, this might be the only time they ever go skiing,” said Davidson, referring to some of the students who come from economically disadvantaged homes.
Davidson keeps the price extremely reasonable, $45 to ski, $55 to snowboard. That price includes rentals, lessons, a lift ticket and transportation.
Normally, Sunrise charges $43 for young skiers and $51 for adults, but for school districts, the resort charges a steeply discounted fee if the students come in the middle of the week.
Davidson usually picks a Thursday.
Two new skiers, Shyenne Fowler and Sarah Carter, both came from schools outside of Payson and said neither of their schools offered anything like the OAC.
“We’ve already gone caving this year,” said Shyenne, thanks to Davidson’s willingness to lavish out-of-class time on giving students unforgettable experiences.
The OAC kids, and any parents who wish to chaperone, meet in the Payson High School parking lot at the pre-dawn hour of 5:30 a.m. to get on a big yellow bus and drive three hours to the ski resort.
Since Davidson has done this trip for the past 13 years, he has a well-established routine.
Purchase doughnuts at the Payson Bashas’.
Make a pit stop at the Heber Circle K. Feed everyone.
Fill out rental paperwork as the sun rises.
Arrive. Drop off stuff in lodge, get rentals and out onto the hill — some for lessons, others to the lifts.
For the first-timers, though, nothing is routine.
None of the beginners in front of Ron carried poles because the instructor had told them to forget that part of their equipment until they got a handle on using the boots and skis.
“OK. Who’s first to try going down and making a turn?” asked the instructor. “Destinee, you’re at the top of the line. Go ahead and come towards me, point your skis downhill and let’s see what you can do.”
Although an eighth-grader, this was Destinee’s first time on skis.
She immediately spread her arms wide to balance, as if crossing a stream on a rope, then curved her hands in the direction she wanted to turn, leaned her whole torso into it — and completely forgot to put pressure on her foot.
She plowed almost straight down to the bottom of the gently sloped beginner hill, with only a slight list to the right.
“Hey everyone, what did she forget to do?” asked the instructor.
“Use her foot!” the new skiers yelled in unison.
Easy for them to say, but not so easy to do.
As the RCMS students started down the hill, they contorted their bodies in different ways, but mostly forgot to put pressure on their foot.
Francisco Apodada leaned back, refusing to believe leaning forward actually worked. He squatted down against his boots, almost sitting, and fell every time.
“Trust me, Francisco, if you lean forward it will go much better,” said the instructor.
By the end of the day, Francisco had gotten it, but it took a lot.
“I did pretty good for my first day,” he said, “I only fell about 20 times.”
Destinee got off the bunny hill, only to do a face plant on the Midway chair.
“I was trying to go down the steep hill and I did a face plant. Then my ski popped off,” she said of her grand adventure of the day.
Shyenne did a little better than the others. She coasted to the bottom of the hill in a big arc.
“Put more pressure on that foot! But otherwise, not so bad,” said Ron.
By the end of the day, Shyenne skied backward down the hill. Impressive, but that wasn’t actually her intention.
“I was going down the biggest hill of Midway backwards and I screamed the whole way,” she said of the highlight of her day.
Sarah, however, had the best beginner story of the day.
“This is embarrassing, but I wasn’t paying attention and I got knocked over by the chair lift at the bottom of Midway.”
All agreed they had a great day.
Music to Davidson’s ears.