I have a secret… I hate skiing. Please don’t tell my kids. This aversion has nothing to do with a lack of skill on my part or fear of having limbs twisted off in some spectacular calamity instigated by snow and speed nor does it have anything to do the sport itself (I watch 10 minutes of Olympic downhill every 4 years just like every other god-fearing Canadian). Not at all. I blame the fact that I’ve spent my life living on the bald prairies (no hills) intermittently spaced with living in mild coastal areas (no snow). I just lack experience which is why, when my husband and I made the decision to raise our young in the heart of Canada’s hinterland, I was determined they would be given the experiences necessary to make the best of the long, long winter season.
Over the years, we’ve done our due diligence. We took the kids skiing at Table Mountain (Newsflash. Unless you have a very strong back, 2-year-olds are perhaps a bit too young for the sport). We overnighted at the amazing Wapiti Ski Hill and Board Resort and finally made the big trip to the Canadian Rockies for some down-the-mountain action… and we have the pictures to prove it! Smiling faces, rosy cheeks, kids in plump snow suits giving the thumbs up in front of a blinding white back drop… What those precious photographs don’t show are the persistent knee injuries I have incurred, nor do they do justice to the countless hours spent driving to far-away ski destinations with 3 wily kids in the back seat. All of this to say that I was thrilled when I heard that Saskatoon was planning on developing the Optimist Hill Winter Recreation Area!
After putting in a decent shift with colds, flus and minor sports commitments, a rare free Saturday appeared on our calendar this past weekend, and we decided to take advantage. “Who wants to go to Optimist Hill?” I asked and, for once, our family’s decision was unanimous. We suited up and made it to the hill for opening time at 10. I can’t speak as to whether this is the norm, but on this particular day there were no lines, and in less than 10 minutes we had filled out our paperwork and had our lift tickets and equipment rentals.
With a little crafty cajoling, I, the reluctant skier, convinced the whole crew that snow tubing would be the perfect activity for our inaugural visit to the hill, calculating that an activity not legally requiring a helmet must certainly be safer for a person of my geographical background. Still as we ascended the magic carpet, a familiar mix of excitement and dread made my stomach turn over. My kids, as usual, did not share in any feelings of hesitation so I graciously allowed them the privilege of doing the trial run. With shouts of ‘This is gonna be EPIC! I’ll beat you to the bottom! and Watch this MOM!’ all three of my precious offspring put their fate in God’s hands, hopped onto their tubes and by some miracle of physics slid to the bottom of the hill unscathed.
“Would it be lame to walk back down the hill?” I ask my husband.
Okay. You can do this. I coach myself. “So, I just sit in the thing?” I ask the teenage attendant.
“Like with my knees?”
“It doesn’t matter, Mam.”
Okay. 3 – 2 – 1. And then I’m doing it. I’m riding the snow tube. And it’s fun! It’s exhilarating! It’s… S&(%, I’m going backwards! and accelerating! Whoa! and… I’m back facing forward again! That’s better. Totally doable. Fast but doable. Whee! I think. I’m fine. I think! WHEEE! WHOOSH! The air is sailing by fast enough to make a sound in my ears. And… rapid stop! I have reached the stopping mats unharmed though I cannot see anything through the haze of snow and ice on my glasses. “Wasn’t it fun, Mom?”
“YEA!” and, with my beginner nerves worked out, I think it may even be true on the next run.
We make our way up and down the hill a dozen or so more times, and the kids start to lap me and my husband, making the trek to the magic carpet with much greater speed. I realize with some satisfaction that this activity is something they would be able to do with friends quite easily without much parental guidance. Always a win! Also a win is my own increasing relaxation and unexpected enjoyment of snow tubing. It is decidedly gentler than tobogganing and has the added bonus of the lift doing all the gruelling uphill work. The hours tick by, and we enjoy a brief lunch hour in the chalet with hot chocolate from the canteen and a packed picnic lunch. The kids are eager for more, and I find I share their sentiment.
As I relax into the day, I wonder if my feelings of enjoyment might someday extend to downhill skiing. On my final run as I face the impossibility of the slope in front of me with the sun bright in my eyes, I climb with purpose into my tube and I am transported to a time and place far away… It is 1992. Albertville, France. I make my way to the starting flags at Roc de Fer course. I am Kerrin Lee-Gartner and the only thing that stands between me and Olympic Gold is the slope, the snow and the milliseconds that will separate me from my competitors. The wind whips at my face. My hair streams out behind me as the wind silences the world to nothing but the whoosh of alpine air in my ears. I cross the finish line, glance at the clock, and the crowd goes wild…
Visit Optimist Hill:
Hours: Monday – Friday: 4 – 9pm Weekends & Holidays: 10am – 9pm
Where: Diefenbaker Park