One young woman learns to snowboard, another to ski, and they love how it bonds them to Washington's mountains.
Seeing Shannon Meshke blast down the slope, I marveled at the fact this was just her second time on a snowboard.
Shannon, a 16-year-old skateboard enthusiast from Puyallup, embraced the opportunity to jump into the snow last winter. “I love it. There’s so much around here to do; I want to get out and do more stuff like this.”
That’s exactly what a lot of folks want to hear. Several nonprofit wilderness advocacy groups, as well as outdoor industry associations, have launched initiatives to get more young people interested and involved in outdoor recreation.
Shannon focused on snowboarding as her snow sport of choice for a couple of reasons. First, as a skateboarder, she was already comfortable on a single board. Snowboarding also has more a youthful edge — many of her friends were riders.
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To get started, she enrolled in a half-day lesson at the Crystal Mountain Snow Sports School. Instructor Curtis Yanasak took a half-dozen would-be snowboarders, aged 16 to 40, under his wing and within just a few minutes had them standing and skating on their boards. Within the first half-hour, they were carefully maneuvering down a short hillside and soon were heading up the lifts for some careful descents on the beginner slopes.
“The basics of snowboarding can be learned quickly,” Yanasak said. “It doesn’t take long before you can safely and easily get down the hill. From that point, it’s a simple matter of practice — working on technique and building skills to get better and be able to tackle more challenging terrain.”
Shannon proved this point rather quickly. After her inaugural lesson, and some tentative free riding later that day, she joined my partner, Donna Meshke (Shannon’s aunt), and me for a full day of snow play. Shannon confidently opted to head straight for the upper runs at Crystal as soon as we arrived. Playing it a little safe, we skipped Rainier Express and instead headed up Forest Queen lift, so we could warm up on moderate blue runs. I underestimated the enthusiasm of a teenager.
After exiting the lift, I skied a few hundred yards down the slope to set up for pictures, only to find Shannon flying down the slope past me. I had to turn and tuck to catch her and then speed downslope to get far enough ahead to get a handful of pictures as she raced by in a blur.
Back at the base of Forest Queen, Shannon was all smiles. “This is great!” she gushed. “I definitely want to keep doing this!”
A few more fast runs on the moderate slopes and we headed for the summit. The Rainier Express lift brought out a bit of Shannon’s novice status as she nervously surveyed the steep slopes under the lift. But she was entranced by the views of Rainier from the ridge summit at the top of the lift, and her confidence returned as she started carving down the steep blue Little Shot run.
“Wow, that was fun, but tiring,” she said.
Another upper-mountain run followed lunch, but the long descent started to zap the neophyte boarder’s energy. We spent a few more hours on the mellow runs accessed by Forest Queen before calling it a day. Shannon, though tired, was happy and eager for a repeat.
Shannon said she has no desire to try skiing. Snowboarding, she said, just “fits” her better. That’s understandable, said Crystal Mountain instructor Yanasak.
Yanasak and his boss, Sean Bold — director of Crystal’s Snow Sports School — agree that learning to ski generally has a little longer learning curve than does learning to snowboard.
“Skiing requires a bit more effort and skills development to acquire that initial level of comfort and security,” Bold said. Still, with good instruction, new skiers can be out carving up the slopes their first day, too.
A new skier
Case in point: Seattle outdoor blogger (rockclimbergirl.com) and accomplished climbing enthusiast Sara Lingafelter took her first ski lesson last winter. “A lot of my friends and colleagues ski, but it’s just something I had never done,” Lingafelter said. “It always just terrified me. I’m a scaredy cat. In mountaineering, I have a fairly controlled safety system so I feel more secure. Skiing just seemed uncontrolled.”
But Lingafelter said she embraced alpine skiing, with the ultimate goal of being comfortable expanding into backcountry skiing so she can take her enjoyment of wilderness exploration into the winter months.
“I loved my first experience skiing,” she said. “I am eager to get back out for more lessons.”
The two young women chose different paths for their outdoor experiences, but their goal was the same: to experience and enjoy the varied outdoor opportunities of the Washington Cascades.
With that in mind, Shannon enjoyed her first backpacking experience this past summer, and plans to jump into snowshoeing this month.
Lingafelter said she, too, plans to take up snowshoeing so she can explore the backcountry this winter while developing her skiing skills.
“I want to start doing more seasonally appropriate activities while enjoying our Northwest environments. I love being out there, doing anything, as long as I can enjoy our wonderful mountains.”
Dan A. Nelson, a Puyallup-based freelance writer, regularly contributes outdoor-gear reviews to The Seattle Times.