ASESSIPPI -- My daughter has left her wheelchair behind and is lashed to a sit-ski sled flying down a ski run at the Asessippi Ski Area and Resort.
Me? I'm at the top of my old nemesis, which this resort affectionately calls the bunny hill.
But like a rabbit's fur turning colour with the changing seasons, my old nemesis has changed from last winter, when I pulled on ski boots for the first time and snapped them into bindings on my newly rented skis.
Turns out the bunny hill is now even easier to master your first carving turns and stops. Gone is the somewhat steeper slope at the top, which took awhile longer to master. Now it's a gradual slope all the way down, making it not only easier for a ski virgin to learn some moves, but also for those who hop on a snowboard for the first time.
It's not the only change made to this resort during the summer months.
While skis and poles were napping in people's basements or closets, the resort was hard at work making improvements in several areas.
The first change I saw was when I got to the bottom of the bunny hill. Gone is the handle tow rope on which you had to grab a handle to pull you to the top of the east side of the hill. Now, on the west side of the hill is a rubber conveyor belt called the Ollie Express, which you step on and stand all the way to the top. Skiers get off at the top and go left to the bunny hill. People with tubes for tubing get off a few metres early and head to the right to the top of the tubing runs.
You might wonder who the Ollie Express is named after. Ollie is the resort's new mascot, a very friendly-looking, two-legged porcupine young children already love.
There are four more tubing runs than last year, bringing the total to eight. Now that you can take the Ollie Express up, no longer do you have to sit in the tube, have an employee attach a device to its handle and then have you jerk your way to the top, where the device lets go of your tube only when the tube is suddenly dropped a bit. It wasn't the most comfortable way to ride up before having a ton of fun tubing down. Now it's a smooth ride up and down.
The former tow rope serves another purpose now. It was moved to the Robin's Run area, where snowboarders do all sorts of tricks. This way, it's a short ride up a tow rope for them rather than doing their tricks before having to board all the way down the hill to take the quad lift back up and start again. Quicker turnarounds equal more boarding down, which equals more fun.
The fun is all around at this resort, located near Russell and Inglis and just over a 31/2-hour drive northwest of Winnipeg. You can join the Winnipeg Free Press for a package one-day bus trip to the resort on an upcoming Saturday in the next few weeks. More on that elsewhere.
Think of Asessippi as an upside-down mountain. When you drive there, you pass rolling farm fields until you get to the resort and see a huge, bare mound that rises from the flat field around it. People going there for the first time can't help but say, "Is this it?" Then you drive a few seconds farther and suddenly see the panoramic view into the valley below, with the ski runs going down.
The resort's Roz Pulo says it's the perfect place for a new or lapsed skier or snowboarder to learn or brush up on skills, and I have to agree. All the resort's instructors are nationally trained and there are several lesson packages available.
Pulo said skiers and snowboarders have at their disposal three chair lifts, 25 runs and two terrain parks of levels of difficulty, ranging from the bunny hill up to black diamond.
Once you're done for the day, the resort offers a food court, including KFC Express and Pizza Hut Express counters, the Powder Keg Pub and places to purchase souvenirs or equipment. There's even a Sunday brunch special if you want something more than the food court.
It seems almost impossible to not have fun here. Whether I was on the bunny hill, going up the quad lift or munching on a personal pizza, it seems everybody was completely into the experience. In fact, they're so into it, a TV on the wall showing the recent home opener of the Winnipeg Jets seemed almost lonely.
For a second winter season, my daughter, who uses a wheelchair to get around, was able to sit in a special high-tech sled while a trained skier guided it down various ski runs. Since we were there earlier this year, the resort has two sit-ski sleds to meet the demand from children and adults with special needs.
It was easy for the skier to bring my daughter up the slope, because the quad lift would scoop up the sled onto the chair and bring it to the top of the runs. Though my ski skills aren't at a level where I could keep up to see how much fun she was having, a couple at the hotel next morning saw her and said, "There's the girl who was having so much fun yesterday." It was enough to melt my heart.
As for me, I can say that after first taking lessons last winter, my ski skills are slowly improving. Maybe not as fast as if I were still a teenager, but improving nonetheless.
Still, I had a bit of envy as I saw impossibly young children swoosh by me backwards down the slopes on snowboards. I'd almost forgotten how invulnerable I felt at that age. But I did have a lot of fun, and the Ollie Express made it come faster.
Who knows? Maybe it won't be much longer until I can graduate to the other slopes.