Ski instructor Kathy New can truly empathize with the nervous beginners she teaches at the Cataloochee Ski Area in Maggie Valley each winter.
More than 30 years ago, New took her first turns on the very same slopes as her students.
After years of watching skiing on television and hearing stories from her father and uncle of legendary ski trips to Colorado, New finally got the chance to try the sport out as a freshman at Western Carolina University.
New tagged along with some friends from the ski club, feeling a mix of excitement and nervousness as they neared the ski resort.
Soon after hitting the slopes, though, New realized she was a natural.
“I was one of those instant learners,” said New. “I wanted to keep going back.”
New progressed so quickly that just a couple of winters later, she began instructing at Cataloochee. She has given lessons to everyone from 4-year-olds to women in their 70s ever since.
Over the years, New has seen the Cataloochee resort evolve and grow, upgrading from the simple T-bars she’d once used to chairlifts.
New has also experienced some vast improvements in equipment since the 1970s. Skis back then were longer, narrower and heavier, and boots were even more uncomfortable.
“The equipment was not as learner-friendly as it is now,” said New.
According to New, it was only about a decade ago that “real women’s equipment” became available.
“Boots specifically designed for women, not just men’s boots with pink graphics,” New said.
At the same time, ski resorts across the country began offering women’s clinics. Cataloochee was no exception, beginning its own Women on Wednesdays program about 11 years ago.
The clinics have been successful because women tend to learn faster in groups, according to New. Women who learn together are usually supportive, encouraging and nurturing.
New has noticed that the women she teaches are more interested in mastering specific techniques, unlike her male students who’d rather race down to the bottom, she said.
For New, the best way to learn a sport well is to teach it.
“Because you have to learn the mechanics of how it works,” said New. “You have to be able to put it into words.”