Keystone run at Crested Butte where Eileen had her meltdown

Keystone run at Crested Butte where Eileen had her meltdown

By Eileen Ogintz

CRESTED BUTTE, CO (Day 3) — I’m having a moment.  Actually, according to my kids, a meltdown.

We’re at the top of the mountain in Crested Butte, CO, elevation over 12,000 feet, and I suddenly am too scared to move. To be fair, the wind is blowing hard and the conditions are a bit icy but it really wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle — or hadn’t handled many times.

“You need a strategy,” my daughter Reggie said.

“Just come down!” said my increasingly impatient husband.

But I was in tears — and freezing — and couldn’t force myself to turn.  I painstakingly sidestepped my way down until it got less steep and I felt a complete fool.

And I said — as I do at least once every ski trip — that I’m hanging up my skis forever.  It’s no fun to be the worst skier in the family and feel like you are holding everyone back.

“If you hesitate, you disintegrate,” long time ski instructor Ciss Berry told me the next morning.

Adult ski class like Eileen took at Crested Butte

Adult ski class like Eileen took at Crested Butte

Crested Butte Mountain Resort is famous for instructors like Berry — she’s been teaching for 19 years — and for its small class sizes. Other resorts offer smaller classes but there is an upcharge.  Here, the resort keeps the size to six or fewer and charges $125 for a half day group lesson.  “Even when it’s busy, we keep the groups small,” said Berry. “We want everyone to have a quality experience.”

There were just three in my group — Terry Toole, a grandfather who lives here half the year, and Leslie Wilson, a Veterinarian from Baton Rouge back skiing with her family for the first time in many years.

I figured a lesson was the only way I’d get back on the mountain, even though it was a beautiful sunny day with gorgeous mountain views in all directions.  “I wish people would just take a lesson the first day,” said Berry. “Their whole experience would be so much better…I’m here to make skiing easier for shouldn’t be work!

Some people are enjoying the sunshine at the base. “Just look around and you can see it’s a family mountain,” said Eric Kiesel, here from Durango because his older daughter is in a ski race this weekend.  A big plus: “It’s reasonably priced. Some other places are so expensive it’s impossible… and I like all the varied terrain—there is a lot of tough stuff but gentler stuff for the kids just learning.”

“Definitely we’re coming back next year as a family vacation,” added Chris Thorpe, also here for the ski race from Farmington, NM.  “It’s not overly developed, easy to navigate and very user friendly.”

Crested Butte is harder to get to, offers Terry Toole who has been bringing his family here since his grown kids were young.  “But so worth it… This is the last great ski town!”

It’s hard to be grumpy when everyone else is smiling and having such a good time.

So I square my shoulders and snap on my skis.

“You have to face your fear,” Berry tells me.  It helps that she starts us out on very gentle terrain and gives us some pointers on smoother turns.

Still, when we get to a much steeper run, she jokes: “There is just one way down!”

I’m nervous but follow her down the Keystone Run – scene of my meltdown the day before.  It’s classified as a double blue or upper intermediate run. It’s steep but I keep going. My turns are better.

“Breathe!” she tells me at the bottom. “You did it!”

I finally can smile.  Leslie Wilson, meanwhile, was looking to conquer some expert terrain.

“It feels good after 20 years,” she said. Maybe I’m not ready to hang up my skis after all.