It's that time of year again. The storm clouds are closing in on us. In neighborhoods throughout Seattle, you hear the mantra, "If it's raining in the city, it's snowing in the...

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It’s that time of year again. The storm clouds are closing in on us. In neighborhoods throughout Seattle, you hear the mantra, “If it’s raining in the city, it’s snowing in the mountains” as if this were a good thing. The stores are full of down-stuffed apparel with action-movie names: “Fire Ridge,” “Apache” and, my favorite, the “Ballistics Pants.” The ski season is upon us.

I can barely wait. Hmm — or can I? An avalanche of memories is upon me, and I remember all too well what the first week of skiing really is for rookies like me. It’s humiliate-the-grownups time.

Last year was my first ski season. To be precise, it was my first active ski season. You’re looking at the woman who lived in Austria for a year and didn’t make it to the Alps even once. That kind of avoidance takes skill, let me tell you. So I figured I could live an hour away from the “hill” here without succumbing to the urge to be dragged mechanically up a giant snow cone just to stumble and tumble my way back down. Oh, how wrong I was!

Introduction to disaster

Life in the outdoors capital of the United States is a bit like life with Clark Kent. Underneath that mild-mannered exterior, there’s a Superman (or Snow Demon) waiting inside. As the rain (and snow, apparently) fell ever more determinedly last winter, my outwardly run-of-the-mill friends started to display their superhero-like attributes — and attire. Only, instead of a cape and red underwear, their extracurricular costumes included boots that looked built for space travel and jackets that would double as heating insulation.

Resistance was futile. Like a polar bear in a snowstorm, I became lost in the excitement around me. With a little heady anticipation and a lot of borrowed padding, I ventured up to Snoqualmie Pass along with the rest of Puget Sound.

I had been advised to start with snowboarding because “there’s less to learn” (a relative comment if ever I heard one), and to take lessons.

In order to start the lesson, I had to negotiate the chairlift — a device named by the same bright sparks who christened the Jerusalem artichoke (not from Jerusalem; not an artichoke). The contraption taking us up the slopes was neither a chair, nor a lift. It was a park bench, suspended 30 feet in the air and swinging like a hammock in a hurricane.

My classmates were four 13-year-old boys whose parents had clearly paid good money to get them into the fresh air and away from their Xboxes for a morning. To call the next hour a humiliating experience would be like calling the election polarized. Understatement doesn’t come close.

Like an invading force, the teenage contingent, demonstrating the immense educational value of endless summers spent in skate parks, roared down the slopes and one by one executed the perfect double turn. It was as if I were watching four testosterone-fueled Nancy Kerrigans pirouetting their way to glory.

“Your go,” the ski instructor prompted. I was hoping to be excused on grounds of obvious incompetence, but no. I screeched past the assorted ice dancers and, becoming a human snowball, hurtled at an ever-increasing speed toward the pylon holding up the chairlift. “Stop!” yelled the instructor. Great advice, but he hadn’t yet taught us how. I slumped to the ground like last week’s snowman. The boys sniggered, then waltzed off to perfect their triple jumps.

Where’s Mimi?


Hitting the slopes

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It’s been a tough season for Washington skiers, snowboarders and ski-area operators, with snow late to arrive. Here’s a list of ski areas, but call first to confirm hours, or check their Web sites.

Mount Baker: Daily 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m.,

Stevens Pass: Daily 9 a.m.-10 p.m.,

Summit at Snoqualmie: Sunday 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Saturday 9 a.m.-10 p.m.,

Crystal Mountain: Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.; Friday-Sunday and holidays, 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Night skiing Friday-Sunday, 4-8 p.m.,

White Pass: Daily 8:45 a.m.-4 p.m. Night skiing until 10 p.m., through March 6,

Hurricane Ridge: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends and some holidays, or

Mission Ridge: Daily 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Night skiing 4-9 p.m.

Overhead, I heard another shriek of “stop!” and looked up to see a tiny pigtailed child sail past me on the chairlift. Alone. Her parents stood to my side, alternately gazing up at her as if she were an angel floating on high and then bickering about which of them, exactly, had neglected to pluck Mimi from the lift. I sighed and started my laborious way down the slope.

An hour later, I decided enough was enough. If one more 12-year-old raced past me backwards on one leg, my shaky self-esteem would be done for.

Growing up in a place flatter than a pancake, with no opportunity for adolescent snow training, is my birthright, not my fault. However, tragic lack of motor skills is certainly both. I retired to the lodge to nurse an eggnog and my wounded pride.

The restaurant was full, so I squeezed into a table with a friendly-looking family.

Cameron, seated next to me, was 5-1/2 and a veteran of the slopes. “Only your first time snowboarding?” he exclaimed as we exchanged niceties. “This is my third season and now I’m really quite good. Next Sunday Daddy’s taking me onto the half-pipe.” I resisted the urge to spit in his hot chocolate.

Cameron wasn’t finished.

“On Wednesdays, I swim,” he announced. “I’m even better at that than at snowboarding.” What did he do on Saturdays, I wondered. Take the Space Shuttle out for a spin? Knock in a quick nine holes with Tiger Woods and leave him weeping on the green?

Ski areas need reworking, in my humble opinion. Pre-pubescent ski naturals need a place of their own, where they don’t intimidate us pathetic grown-ups. A mini-slope somewhere, with pint-sized chutes and park benches with built-in babysitters so that if your parents do abandon you on the chairlift, someone else will at least help you off.

Or maybe it’s the adults like me who need somewhere to go and hide until we’ve progressed from “worse than useless” to “nearly a beginner.”

Quite honestly, I’m not sure. But snow-blindness has got to me again, and the traumas of last year have melted away like the snowpack in spring. I’ll see you on the slopes.

Sarah Franklin is a freelance writer who not too long ago moved from England to Seattle.