If you’ve ever tried your legs at skiing or snowboarding, then you can likely empathize with the shiver down your spine warning the rest of you that you’re hurdling down a mountain with ever-gaining speed, certain you’re going to fall at any second. It’s an odd sensation: cold and wind and gear and gravity drive you down the slope in a series of connected turns, each movement with the potential to steady your course or plunge you unbalanced and ungracefully into powder.
For my Valentine’s Day gift, Charming opted to give me a bucket list experience. Like running a half marathon, learning to snow ski was included on my list as something I was both afraid to do and feared I could not do. I’m a sprinter by choice, but I hate running distances. I’m a New Yorker by birth, but I hate the cold and the snow. Trust me; I reserve the word hate only for those elements worthy the sentiment.
As a little girl, my back yard encased my first negative outdoor experience, where nature contrived with my brother’s sled to drive him down the hill and right into me (or perhaps over me would be more accurate). Home video captures me at nearly three years old in a pink snow suit trying to recover, fumbling to remove my mittens to empty the snow from my sleeves. I was ready to go inside.
It isn’t unexpected that I would spend many a lake-effect winter curled up with a book or my journal in years to come. When I was a freshman in high school, a local organization rented Toggenburg Mountain for a Young Life Ski Night. Though I intended to stick around the lodge, my friends enticed me to join them on the bunny hill for a little lesson.
Thirty minutes later I was plummeting down a blue run with the sudden realization that they hadn’t taught me how to stop. Below me loomed a group of ski instructors with their special jackets, lounging about in the middle of the mountain. I was out of control. Speed was building. I couldn’t stop. Not until after I’d made contact and they scattered like bowling pins. I was, understandably, ready to go inside.
So on Saturday, when Charming enrolled me in a first timer’s ski lesson, I excluded the winter sports debacle that was my first attempt nearly two decades ago. My strategy this time was to actually have a strategy, unlike at age three or fourteen. First, I would prepare for the cold, a lesson learned from my brother’s sled. I did my research. I talked to my sister-in-law. I collected my layers. Base, middle, and outer. Both my gloves and my jacket could tighten at the wrist. No snow was going to permeate my outerwear Fort Knox.
Roundtop Mountain Resort in Southern Pennsylvania boasted a high of fifteen degrees that day, but I rarely felt more than a chill on the ski lift during our seven hour visit. I’d learned my first ski lesson, and I was determined to tackle the second. That was a part of the strategy, too. Before taking on any of the instructor’s challenges, I asked him to show me how to stop.
Two hours later I was ready to hit the slopes with Charming and some new friends. They were patient with my beginner tumbles. The first time I attempted to exit the faster of the chair lifts, I failed to get off fast enough and the chair knocked me off balance. I fumbled to snap my boots back into the rented skis and get out of the way. My third ski lesson was the importance of timing. After that, I concentrated in advance on the end of the chair lift, coordinating my movements with Charming’s to ensure a steady dismount.
Perhaps the most significant lesson came in the form of a ski jump I was unwittingly hurtling toward, off course in a wide “S” gone wrong. I wasn’t ready to attempt that yet, so I threw myself down full force, landing just shy of the jump, skis and limbs askew. That was the first fall that hurt. I should have been ready to go inside, but I had a strategy this time. I wasn’t going to quit if I got knocked down… or knocked someone else down inadvertently.
I was an innocent when I discovered the essential of layers. To foster the greatest potential of protection from the elements, I needed three layers of clothing. One without the others would not suffice. When we’re working toward career, relational, or personal goals, I give merit to the time invested toward establishing each layer.
I don’t want Charming to be a casualty to a failure of mine to learn from life’s ski lessons. Authentic layers take time, and in the end, they would be the best protection from the elements if we attempted a more advanced trail. Learning to stop is a fundamental of skiing. For my best chance at success, I had to start with the basics and build up. I won’t jump blindly into adventure with him without first learning the rules that govern the sport.
When I was young, I was unconcerned with the importance of timing or persistence. I was dauntless… but I was reckless. Then I was a quitter. Every coordinated movement in skiing is a product of mental time and space calculations. They say with skiing, if you’re not falling, you’re not trying. Many of our aspirations for a brighter future are overtaken by the bleak reality of falling short of our sights.
And sometimes it hurts. We get passed over for a promotion. We find out our spouse is cheating. We realize that our lives don’t look like what we thought they would. But if we fall and we quit because it hurt, then we’re not trying either. Persistence is a response to face fear and overcome past hurts. Some of us come by it more naturally, I think, than others, but I’m working on it.
I know that I hate the cold and the snow, but I chose to take on skiing as a personal challenge. I approached it with a strategy this time, carefully considering each step from clothing selections to executing a J-stop. The older I get, the more negative experiences I’ve had on winter slopes. They changed how I approached Saturday’s bucket list experience.
Despite the cold and the snow and the many falls, I laughed and smiled and giggled my way down the mountain with Charming close behind. I felt it then: the cold and wind and gear and gravity drove us down the slope in a series of connected turns, each movement with the potential to steady our course or plunge us unbalanced and ungracefully into powder.
Two are better than one; Charming picked me up at least a dozen times that day. There’s reward in the risk, but I believe the best path out of my own way right now is to apply little ski lessons to life.