Local youth tackle slopes with ski club

Claire Koontz, 11, of Mount Jackson, skis down the slopes at Bryce Resort during the Shenandoah County Parks and Recreation's "Mini Olympics" for county ski club members. Rich Cooley/Daily

BASYE – Ten-year-old Kaylee Yew was eager to make her first run down Red Eye, a beginner-level ski slope at Bryce Resort.

Strapped into a pair of skis that still felt foreign under her feet, Yew scanned the snow-covered slope that stretched out before her on that cold evening in early January and took note of the steepness of the terrain. She froze.

“I was freaking out and I was sitting up there for at least a half an hour before somebody went down and told ski patrol,” Yew recalled during a banquet held for Shenandoah County JV Ski Club members last Wednesday evening. “Then somebody came up and tried to help me ski down but I fell every time, so they just called up a snowmobile.

“I came down on the snowmobile,” she added with a giggle.

Yew can laugh about the experience now. After all, it was over a month ago that she let fear prevent her from tackling the slopes during her first week on skis. Since then, Yew has nailed down the basics of the sport, even the challenging task of turning her skis inward – so that they make a shape resembling a slice of pizza – through large turns in order to control her speed, an action she said was the hardest for her to grasp.

Mulcohy O'Leary, 11, of Fort Valley, skis nears the finish line during the Shenandoah County Parks and Recreation's "Mini Olympics" at Bryce Resort in Basye. Rich Cooley/Daily

On Wednesday, Yew celebrated her accomplishments alongside about 40 other Shenandoah County children during the “Mini Olympics,” an event that traditionally concludes the Shenandoah County Parks and Recreation’s JV Ski Club season.

Boys and girls between the fourth- and eighth-grade age levels made a handful of trips down a 250-yard, 15-gate section of the Red Eye slope for about an hour on Wednesday evening, with their final ski club session of the season concluding as each child took two timed runs through the slalom course.

Afterward, the children and their parents were treated to a catered meal, and then medals were awarded for the top three fastest skiers in the beginner, intermediate and advanced skill level categories.

“I think what is fun about this,” said 11-year-old Tatum Silvious of Woodstock, “… [is] that it shows you how good you did, how good your instructors think you did, how good everybody else thinks you did. It just helps yourself do it. It’s like, ‘I did this and I’m happy for myself.’ It’s like you’re going into the baseball World Series. If I won that, I am amazed at how good I did.”

Completing the Mini Olympics is particularly rewarding for children like Yew, who progressed over the last month from being first-time skiers to having the ability to weave their way successfully in and out of gates on their way down the slope.

Kaylee Yew, 10, of Woodstock, skis down the slopes at Bryce Resort during the Shenandoah County Parks and Recreation's "Mini Olympics" at Bryce Resort in Basye. Rich Cooley/Daily

“I would say it was a little scary at first but then it turned out to be really fun and it was one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life,” Yew said of the ski club experience.

And Yew isn’t the only one who had to overcome the initial uncertainty that bombards young skiers during their first attempts. Silvious, who just completed her third year of ski club, recalled feeling “so little” at the top of the slope before her first ski run.

“If you fall, you’ve got to get back up. You’ve got to let it go. You’ve got to brush it off,” Silvious said. “I think it’s just really fun. It’s just fun to get out here and learn instead of having to put your face in some electronics all day.”

There are certainly others who have felt that same first-timer anxiety that Silvious and Yew experienced.

Doug Grayson, the director of marketing for Bryce Resort and a ski instructor with 20 years of experience, said almost all of the children that come through the SCPR’s ski club begin the program as first-time skiers.

Ski Club member Owen Rimel, 11, of Edinburg, finishes his time trail on the slopes at Bryce Resort in Basye. Rich Cooley/Daily

“Skiing is a very mental sport. It’s getting over the fear of sliding on two sticks down an icy hill, so it’s not surprising,” Grayson said. “But generally speaking we have great instructors that help not only physically prepare the skiers but mentally prepare the skiers and offer encouragement.”

There are exceptions to the first-time jitters.

For 13-year-old Maurertown resident Anthony Piselli, skiing just came naturally. He was 8 years old when he joined the ski club at the urging of a friend – five years later, he’s a two-year veteran of Bryce Resort’s ski team, which competes in races throughout the Shenandoah Valley.

“It came easy to me,” said Piselli, who noted that his fastest time down the Mini Olympics course at Bryce Resort was around 18.5 seconds. “The way it came to me was my instructor, he took us on the bunny hills. He would show us how to ski, how to stay out of the wedge and then he told us not to go up the lift. But of course, I’m a daredevil. I went up the lift. I went down the course.”

Shenandoah County Parks and Recreation’s JV Ski Club caters to children in fourth through eighth grades and operates out of the public school campuses in the northern, central and southern parts of the county. The county department offers a similar program for high school children as well, and both programs offer snowboarding options for those who prefer it.

“It ebbs and flows but we’ve seen it grow here, especially with central campus,” Grayson said of the ski club’s level of participation. “Really, what it boils down to is support from the parents, how much the parents are willing to support and promote the product that Shenandoah County Parks is throwing together.

“We think it’s a good program. It’s a program we’ve been doing for years and years now with Shenandoah County Parks and Rec. We like to encourage the local populace, all the local kids, to come out and ski and experience what’s right in their backyard here at Bryce.”

Count Piselli, Silvious and Yew as just a few of the children who are glad they took that first plunge through the frosty air and down the side of Bryce Mountain.

“You get your blood racing and it’s just such a rush just getting to go down the slope, getting to be able to do this,” Silvious said. “I feel bad for the people that can’t do this and their parents won’t let them do this. It’s so much fun.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com