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Feb 2003 / games :: email this story to a friend

Ski the Valley
By Marijean Jaggers

I am not a skier; or, I guess I wasn't a skier, until very recently, but would like to consider myself one starting right now. Missouri generally isn't conducive to the skiing lifestyle, what with the warm and humid weather, not to mention the noticeable lack of uh, mountains. With Missouri's highest point checking in at 1,772 feet, (ski Taum Sauk mountain, anyone?) what we've got here, folks, are hills.

But skiing there is, and if you're a beginner, or just a little out of practice, yes, Virginia, there's a hill for you. Hidden Valley located in lovely Wildwood, Missouri, is the next best thing, close to home. There's a fair amount of ski-able terrain to get in a few practice runs before heading out of town for the real snow. A family of four can ski a full day with beginner lessons and rentals for under $300. Rates are lower during the week, and group rates are available. The Valley boasts chairlifts for the more experienced types, and rope tows for the beginners. The clientele was surprisingly very international — we counted at least three recognizable non-English languages — and found it impossible to believe that tourists would ever think to ski in our state. (Credit to the board of tourism for combating our "most dangerous city rating" with more diverse local opportunities!) Stranger still was finding almost entirely native Westerners skiing days later in Colorado, the spot where I would have expected everyone to be from somewhere else.

We hit the Valley as beginners to get snowboarding and ski lessons in preparation for a family trip to Colorado. It took two days to recover from the muscle aches from unused portions of our appendages, and the pain from the strain of using the rope tows. We were planning a visit to the Colorado Springs area and had chosen Loveland Pass, a sweet spot in the mountains at 11,990 feet, right on the Continental Divide, for our first "real" skiing. We had sufficiently recovered from our aches and in fact, did not suffer a single cramp or pain après-ski in Colorado, all due surely to our recent workout in the Valley.

It was a real advantage for us to be able to start out on our vacation ski excursion with a slight clue on how to begin — the basics we learned at Hidden Valley were just enough to get us started on the right foot out West. But, oh, the difference; the snow, the mountains, the surroundings, the skiers, the chair lifts, all made for a completely superior experience, one that I fear has ruined me for future hometown skiing. Certainly the rope tows and the manufactured snow have to be the most difficult-to-accept realities of skiing Missouri. Late in the day the fake snow turns to slush, then re-freezes into dangerous and painful ice. The ropes are heavy and wet and become too much work for the short, sweet swoosh down a green slope. By day's end I was cursing the ropes, worrying about my knees, ankles and shoulders and longing for home. It was certain relief that the drive home was a quick 30 minutes, and that I would be sleeping in my own bed that night.

Consider carrying a sandwich in your fanny pack and a granola bar in your pocket — the food at Hidden Valley is almost entirely chips, candy and cheeseburgers. My 12 year-old says the Francis Howell School District serves better food — and I believe it. You'll save some cash to boot — be sure to bring bottled water or invest in a camelback to wear and prevent dehydration. Kids are welcome, and lessons are offered for all ages and levels of experience. We made good use of our two-way radios, which are helpful in Missouri, but essential at larger resorts. The rental equipment is marginal. I don't think I knew that it was bad until I had much better at Loveland, but that is the nature of rental equipment; for anyone who has rented skates or gone bowling, you know what I mean.

I will return to the Valley — who can resist the chance to ski so close to home? Chances are I won't return until I'm gearing up for another mountain vacation. Unless, of course, we get a really irresistible batch of snow.

As I've said, I'm not a skier — but I now think that someday I might be one. My six year-old caught the bug right away, telling us she was going to "catch some serious air" and subsequently sticking it out in kids' ski camp for six hours of practice. Though fearful at first, I quickly caught the rush from the degree of power in learning to control my speed even while my heart raced me right down the mountain trail. To keep from completely biting it, I repeated my Hidden Valley mantra for good posture — "tray of drinks" my Hidden Valley instructor offered as a guide, and bent-kneed, loose-hipped with arms out front, I learned first to snowplow, then to turn and by day's end, felt pretty cool at the end of each run, still on my feet, still in one piece. Another, not-recommended mantra invaded when I was panicked and headed for the trees — "Sonny Bono, Sonny Bono." I must have sounded like a lunatic — or maybe that's how skiers sound. I don't know. I've only been impersonating one.

Marijean Jaggers is the Public Relations and Marketing Coordinator for Crown Optical, a freelance writer and the mother of two. You'll find her padding around St. Charles in her powder boots.

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