Jean-Claude Killy and Ingemar Stenmark can rest easy: they don't have to make room for me yet in the world of professional ski racing. After one week of schussing the new and packed powder of Vermont's Smugglers Notch slopes, I'm not ready to challenge the stars.

But I'm on my way.

Proof that my first week ever on the double boards was a success is that I stepped off the return bus under my own power -- contrary to the pretrip forecasts of friends.

It didn't come easy. The first day up the beginners slope was a horror story, a psyche-humbling experience I'd like to forget.

Ninety minutes of lessons at the bottom of the hill on that initial day had wearied me of spending minutes sidestepping up a small hill only to spend seconds easing back down.

So I decided to put mv new snow plowing technique to a better test: an average-gradient (15-degree), 400-foot drop down the simplest beginners' slope there.

The first sign of trouble came on leaving the chairlift. I'd been told to expect to slide down a ramp, but the ice-covered 45-degree monstrosity that greeted me seemed like the side of a building. Needless to say, my exit consisted of a double-somerault, single twist in pike position move with a 2.7 degree of difficulty.

A lack of fresh snow on the welltraveled run had left the surface condition slicker than a greased con-man. An advanced skier in my traveling group, having observed both my chairlift exit and first fall while trying to turn, said to me, "I don't think you're ready for this hill.?

I replied, "Probably not, but there's only one way back down." And that way involved grooming a large section of the slope with my backside.

Falling down has one distinct advantage. The embarrassment factor forces you to improve your technique. After four more runs down that blasted slope, I could descend without incident.

Carve one notch.

The chairlift took slightly longer to master. Twice while riding up with a friend. I wiped us both out with my swerving exit. The second time, I saw that I had caused him to lose both his skis. I felt so badly that, before he could look my way, I quickly undid one of my own skis. That somehow made me feel better spiritually.

On the second day, following the morning lesson, I was induced to take the lift all the way up -- to the top of Morse Mountain, a 2,600-foot rise.

Coming off an even longer, steeper and icier ramp, I involuntarily leaned backward out of fear. There was a need to swerve sharply right or left at the bottom to avoid a sullen-looking wooden brricade, which kept one from continuing down the other, presumably ungroomed, side of the mountain.

In sliding down while laying on the backs of my skis, I discerned gasps of admiration from the crowd. They must have thought, "What a pro!" Those "wows" turned to blah "ahs" as I tumbled to the side and slid into that barrier out of control.

The name of the trail, "Garden Path," was a euphemism. It was certainly a path but, as far as I was concerned, the only things in that "garden" were cacti. The "advanced novice" trail took no prisoners; six falls on the way down convinced me of further need to improve my snowplow technique or find another.

It's tough being a novice at something that looks so beautifully easy and graceful, and having little kids whiz by, careful not to run over your prone form. But six hours a day practicing step-by-little step what comes natural later, helps.

It took me two more days to work up the nerve to tackle the Garden Path again. By that time, I had goten into parallel skiing, parallel stops (the most important thing), the stemchristy turn and other exotica.

The results: twice down the "Path" with but one fall -- and that because of carelessness.


Little things make one proud. My instructor, teaching another class, once yelled at me, "Slow down. You're going like a bat out of hell." Strangers riding up the lift were constantly amazed at my destination in relation to my experience. At times I should have pondered that.

To top it all off, our instructor told the class on the final day, "If you can ski the Garden Path under control, you can ski any intermediate and some expert slopes anywhere south of New York State."

I'll spend a lot of time finding out.