The Ski Lesson That Changed His Life

“I need your help. This is an absolute long shot, but I’m on a mission to be reconnected to a ski instructor who worked on the hill [Killington] back in 2006,” Andrew Gadah posted to the Killington Locals Facebook group in January.

The story Gadah, now 30, went on to tell would make any skier smile. If you have ever taught skiing, it will make you cry.

Gadah was, at the time, a 15-year-old from Newcastle on Tyne—a city in northern England known for its coal, its beer, and its soccer team.

“I’d never skied. We didn’t have much extra money. Me mum was a single mum who worked two jobs,” Gadah said in an interview. His father had not been in his life since he was 13. “We had a rocky relationship. I was part of the LGBTQ community, and he didn’t accept that, I guess,” Gadah says with a shrug.

His local high school, Hookergate Comprehensive, had planned to send 30 kids—nominated by their teachers— to the U.S. for a visit. It would be a week to ski in Killington and then a trip to New York.  Gadah was nominated. “I’d never traveled and had always wanted to go to the U.S.,” he says. His grandmother wanted him to go as well. She had just sold her house and footed the bill.

“I was a fat kid back then and didn’t fit in,” Gadah remembers. “I was about 5’6” and 240 lbs. and had dyed my hair bright red. I didn’t do any sports and was pretty much bullied in high school. To even take this trip was out of my comfort zone.”

When the class arrived at Killington, they were outfitted in ski gear and set loose in a group lesson. “I was a shy kid who could not ski to save my life. I had never had my feet inside a ski boot before. If you were ever an overweight or bigger teen you know that the struggle was real,” Gadah wrote in his Facebook post.

His first two days he flailed. “I watched the other kids being able to make it down and I just couldn’t do it,” he remembers. “I was frustrated and just wanted to give up.  My friends—and even some of my family—didn’t think I could succeed.”

The next day, he was taken out of the group. A woman in her 40s pulled him aside. “I don’t remember much about her. She wasn’t fat or thin, young or old, but I just remember that she was kind, like a mother.”

‘You’re going to ski with me,” she told him. “I was pretty sure I was just going to slide on my ass the whole way down for the rest of the time,” Gadah says laughing. It wasn’t until Gadah got off on the lift with her that he realized he was her only student.

“She literally held my hand from the top to the bottom and told me I could do it: she said ‘we’re going to get you to ski’” he recalls. “No one in my life had ever told me I could do a sport,” he says, tearing up. “At that point, I was pretty fed up. But she would stand right next to me and say ‘3 o’clock, 9’o’clock’ to get me to shift my weight on my pizza wedges. To this day, I can still hear her saying that.” 

Gadah, at 15, on his trip to New York after learning to ski at Killington. Courtesy photo.

Suddenly, something clicked. “At the end of the third day, I got to the bottom and realized that I wasn’t holding onto her anymore. I looked up the hill and she was screaming with joy with her poles in the air. It was just extraordinary, such an amazing feeling.”

“Later I found her at lunch in the cafeteria and just burst out crying, I was so thankful. She just looked at me and said, ‘I knew you could do it. You just need to believe in yourself.’”

That day changed Andrew Gadah’s life.

“When I got back home, I just had this new appreciation for nature. I’d go out in the forest, and I started running.”  Within a year he had dropped 70 pounds. He went on to North Umbria University and joined the ski club and started taking ski trips to the Alps.

“When I graduated, I got a visa to go to Canada and worked for two winters in Kelowna, British Columbia. I skied six days a week for six months of the year. “I kept hearing her voice in my head – and still do now when I ski—talking to me about how to move: ‘Feel the mountain. You’re part of that mountain and just feel that energy.”

 The influence went beyond skiing. “Because of that experience, I knew I wanted to do work in outdoor education,” says Gadah.

A few years ago, he took a job teaching seasonally at a summer camp in Maine. Recently, that became a full-time job so he is moving there. “I owe this ski instructor so much gratitude and use this story to motivate my teen students to show anything is possible. All these years, I’ve been thinking I need to find that instructor and thank her and tell her how much she helped me and what an impact that day had on me,” says Gadah.

 Which led him to post on the Killington Locals page. To date, he’s had more than 500 shares and hundreds of comments. “This is the exact reason why we instructors instruct. Whether it’s skiing or biking (me), we hope to make a positive impact on someone. This is why sports and recreation are SO important in our society,” wrote Jimena Florit.

“It should be a lesson for all that the smallest things that seem insignificant…can literally change someone’s life,” said Eric Perry.

But so far, no luck in finding the instructor.

Lisa Lynn

Editor of VT SKI + RIDE and Vermont Sports.