Taking up skiing just requires bargain-hunting and patience

My girlfriend says she can't take another winter of watching me sit around on Saturdays munching on Cheetos and watching nonstop M*A*S*H reruns. It's time to get active, she says — we're going skiing.

Skiing? I always thought the sport was just an excuse for rich people to hang out in fake resort cities and buy lots of expensive ski fashion. That might not be my scene, but the thought of listening to "Suicide Is Painless" over and over doesn't sound too enticing, come to think of it. So skiing might not be a bad thing. And, after doing some research, I found out that learning to ski doesn't have to be expensive. 

If there's one thing I learned in the half-hour I spent trying to ski last season, it's that every inch of your body needs to be shielded if you don't want to end up with a soggy ass. But don't buy into marketing hype: You can get perfectly good waterproof threads at a local thrift store or at your favorite discount retailer. I recommend TJ Maxx (tjmaxx.com), but remember — it's a "close-out" chain, so it can be hit or miss. However, they're pretty consistent with major markdowns on name-brand ski gloves, masks, goggles, jackets, thermal undershirts, socks, helmets and the like.

Now it's time to hit the slopes! Don't want to pay for a lift ticket? Since your first few attempts will consist of falling on your ass and rolling around like a beached baby whale, you could just try sliding down any decent-sized sledding hill on a snowy day. If you're a cross-country skier, the Cleveland Metroparks (clemetparks.com) have myriad trails to suit you, but beware: Downhill skiing is not recommended on their sledding hills. Snowboarding is OK, though; some of their hills are even lit at night.

However, this would require having your own equipment. If you feel confident enough to invest in a pair of skis at this point, buy an inexpensive used beginner set at a local ski shop or at Play it Again Sports, with six locations in Greater Cleveland (playitagainsports.com).

If you're not confident in your ability to figure out this skiing thing on your own or don't want to buy skis, your best bet is to check out a local ski resort. The most affordable is Alpine Valley, a family-run place in Chesterland (10620 Mayfield Rd., 440.285.2211, alpinevalleyohio.com). It's a pretty puny "mountain," but great for just starting out. You can get a lift ticket, ski rental and a lesson for $32 (it's even cheaper without the lesson or the rental). You can also get a season pass for less than $200. Other local (though slightly more expensive) options: Boston Mills (7100 Riverview Rd., Peninsula, bmbw.com) and Brandywine (1146 W. Highland Rd., Sagamore Hills, bmbw.com). Take note: Boston Mills is holding a "learn to ski" event on February 7, where you get a lift ticket, rental and a lesson for $45. At regular price, all those things would add up to $87. But since Boston Mills and Brandywine are owned by the same company, one ticket gets you into both resorts. This might matter once you're able to fit in more than one run in a two-hour period. (It can take a while when your body is dragging behind the skis.)  

After taking a few lessons and mastering the bunny hill, it's time to join a ski club. There are 25 ski clubs in Northeast Ohio that are part of the Cleveland Metro Ski Council. There's something for everyone. The Inner City Ski Club meets in Shaker Heights and works to get more minorities and those who live in the inner city to take up skiing (innercityskiclub.org). Fagowees is a large ski club that throws great parties, and meets in Cleveland's Old Brooklyn neighborhood (fagowees.org). Some are more focused on family-friendly activities or fancy ski vacations. Find a full list of Metro Ski Council clubs at skicleveland.com.

Now that you're gaining skills, maybe you've decided it's time to invest in some high-performance skis. Check out a local ski shop like Geiger's, which has locations in Lakewood and Chagrin Falls (shopgeigers.com). If snowboarding is your thing, you might try a shop that's better known for selling skateboards; their prices can sometimes be lower. Try Ohio Surf and Skate in Willoughby (36495 Vine St., 440.975.1933, ohskate.com). Skiers may even be interested in the deals they have on goggles, ski wax, and trendy snowboarder-style pants and jackets.

All your hard work has finally paid off. It's time to go on an exotic ski trip. Check out skicleveland.com for deals on group trips, which can cut the price quite a bit.  This year, the council is organizing trips to Aspen in February and Taos in March. And, who knows, maybe you'll meet hot Nordic types in the hot tub. It'll be exactly like in Snow Patrol, trust me.




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