me_at_mt_southingtonUnless you’ve been living underground, you’ve probably noticed this has been a particularly cold and snowy winter, especially in the Northeast. So when my kids had their winter break a week before anyone else – and temps were forecast to hit 60 degrees – it was time to hit the slopes! And the best news is that we didn’t have to travel far for some great outdoor fun.

An avid skier and former writer/reporter of ski conditions for a national radio program, I know that while wonderful miles of smooth glides are waiting on the big mountains north, there’s plenty of carving to be done on local ski slopes. In fact, many champion skiers and snowboarders hone their skills on nearby terrain.

We set out for Mount Southington, a local Connecticut ski area that’s easy to reach and right off I-84. I have many fond memories of skiing at Mount Southington while attending college, after work, and with my kids when they were very young. In fact, Mount Southington was one of the first areas my kids took ski lessons, which provided an excellent foundation of learning.

But that day, skiing was not on the agenda. The three of us decided instead to shred it up and try snowboarding for the first time!

Although I was pretty sure the kids would take to the board easily, I was not so sure about me. I’ve skied for more than 35 years but hadn’t been on the slopes that muh in the last couple of years. I mean, I don’t keep my balance too well anymore walking to the bathroom in the middle of the night. How would I stay upright on a slippery slab with my feet securely strapped on top?”

Because most of Connecticut seemed to  have their winter break scheduled the week after President’s Day, we found no crowds and spring-like conditions when we arrived. I signed us up for the Learn to Board package. My one do-over? Instead of opting for a full-day, full-mountain pass (what was I thinking?) I should have stuck to the package and access to the “bunny slope,” or beginner’s learning area. This turned out to offer enough challenge for all of us and had enough pitch so we could get up a controllable speed and work on our skills.

First, we got our rental equipment, which was in good condition. The pleasant surprise was that snowboard boots, unlike ski boots, were lighter and tighter. Control is in the ankles and they need to stay put. But no clunking through the doors and across to the slope, feeling like slabs of concrete were stuck to my feet. The boots were relatively easy to move around in.

Second, we met our instructor, Jim. Because there weren’t many people signed up that morning, we lucked out and had a group lesson with just the three of us. That made us all a bit more comfortable, especially me who wasn’t sure if I’d even be able to stand upright on my board.

Jim started off by getting us comfortable with the boards. Strapping in one foot we found a calm “vertical” where Jim could pull us and get us going. After going through all the basics, including learning that toes down/heels up turned us to the right, and toes up/heels down turned us to the left, we were ready to ride the “magic carpet” to the top of the beginner slope.

Getting on was easy. Getting off a bit tricky. The kids did great. But me, being more used to dismounting a lift on skis, couldn’t fight the urge to lean back and took a plunge the first time. But practice made sort of perfect and wobbly exits turned smoother by the end of the lesson.

face_plantWe were now ready to secure both boots in the straps. Jim, impressed by our sense of balance (and probably that I hadn’t by now thrown in the towel) showed us how to traverse the mountain. Both kids did wonderfully. I must admit, I got a few cheers from my comrades-in-motherhood who had stuck with the skis. But amazingly, I was making it down and making turns, although sometimes the board would kind of spin around on itself (Jim assured me this was pretty common.) I also made more than one impressive face plant that left both knees a deep shade of black-and-blue that evening.

I must admit, this die-hard skier sort of took a liking to the snowboard. It was a different experience that used the same principles of skiing but gave it a totally different dimension. But it also worked a lot of different muscles. By the end of the lesson, all of us were pretty worn out. It took a lot of work to stay balanced and my back leg especially – the one I used to push myself along on the flat surface – ached.

But again, the joy of a local ski mountain is that you feel like you’ve traveled far to a different world but you’re close enough to be home by dinner. That day we all decided to make it a short day – I know too well that tired, hard-worked muscles can lead to injury – so having had a great work-out, lots of fun, and a chance to shred it up we headed home.

We’re lucky in Connecticut. There are a number of local mountains that offer great terrain for skiing or boarding and New York, Massachusetts and Southern Vermont are a doable day trip. Local mountains also offer the advantage of less expensive tickets and, in the case of Mount Southington, easy parking right across the street. Instruction is usually top-notch and terrain is enjoyable but not overwhelming. Before winter lets up, check out a local ski area for a get away that’s convenient, affordable, and offers great family fun.