I didn’t want to go. David was going to have to drag me to the mountains, kicking and screaming. Despite growing up in the Midwest, I had never skied before and had no desire to start now. My husband is a world class skier and was hoping I would be as well. He said that he wanted me to experience the exhilaration of gliding down a steep, snow covered mountain. Isn’t that sweet? How could I say no to that? It was quite simple actually. I just said, “No.”
My fear and apprehension, I felt, were well-placed. I had heard all the horror stories of expert skiers getting plowed down by crazy, out of control snow boarders, leaving them with broken ribs and collapsed lungs. I listened, eyes wide, as a friend told me that she cried like a baby at the top of her first blue ski run. I nodded in acknowledgment as girlfriend after girlfriend told me that they’d rather clean toilets than ski another slope.
What could possibly be fun and exhilarating about skiing? The survey said that ninety percent of my friends found skiing exhausting and defeating. But, David assured me there was something magical about it. Something that would leave me feeling accomplished and wanting more. I couldn’t quite buy into that, but out of my love for him (and because apparently while I was intoxicated one evening before we were married, I promised I would at least try skiing), I decided to quit kicking and screaming and actually give it a shot.
After days of fretting and assessing my cold weather wear, my bags were packed, and I was grudgingly on my way to Breckenridge, Colorado for a seven day ski adventure, a.k.a. my slow and painful death by humiliation. My life was in the hands of the mountain gods. Whether I would return in one piece would be left to them.
On the first day of high altitude, I woke early, put on my ski boots, and clunked my way down to the bottom of the mountain for ski school. David escorted me, which I initially thought was sweet, but then I realized that he was making sure I didn’t skip out on school like a rebellious teenager. Damn! He was onto me. How did he know that cutting class had more than just crossed my mind?
After covering the basics (how to put on my skis, how to hold the poles, how to at least look like I knew what I was doing), my ski school instructor moved on to the wedge, or as it also known, the snow plough. I smiled as I remembered my seventeen year old step-son’s advice that morning, “When you’re in trouble, PIZZA!” When you learn to ski when you’re four years old, like he did, they call the wedge the pizza because most four year olds like pizza and can visualize the triangular shape of a pizza slice. (If you happened to learn to ski when you were four, you are a lucky SOB. It’s only downhill after that. Pun intended.)
It was in the wedge that I found my comfort zone. This is how I controlled my speed. This is how I would stop on a dime. After a few easy slides down the bunny hill, everything was just the way I wanted it – my confidence was gaining momentum but my speed was not. Perfect. There was really nothing to it. I could make my wedge bigger. I could make my wedge smaller. I could stop. Piece of cake. What was everybody complaining about? All those naysayers got me all worked up for nothing.
Sensing my elevated confidence, my ski school instructor decided I was ready to ski the big stuff – a green. (For you ski virgins out there, a green is the easiest run. Runs are typically ranked from easiest to most difficult – green, blue, black, double black. If there’s something after double black, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.) In order to ski the green run, I had to ride the dreaded chairlift. As we made our way over to the lift, my instructor told me the rules for getting on.
I nodded my head nervously, my confidence melting like snow on a warm Spring day. “But what about getting off the chairlift?” I asked.
“Oh, we’ll cover that on the way up.” She replied nonchalantly.
Because I paid for ski school, I was allowed to go to the front of the chairlift line. I wanted to say, “No, really, it’s okay, I don’t mind waiting. I’ll wait all day if I have to.” My nervous stomach told me that this was one time cutting in line was not a good thing.
In less than five minutes, the chairlift hit the back of my knees, my butt hit the seat, and my stomach hit my throat. And with a slight jerk forward, we were off. High above the ground, amidst the snow covered trees, I glanced down as skiers deftly glided down the mountain. Each seemed to exude their own prowess over the mountain. My confidence dwindled.
About half-way up the mountain (I’d be informed later by husband that my green run was really more a hill than a mountain), I asked the instructor how I should get off the chairlift. “Stand up and lean forward,” she said. Sounded simple enough. Shouldn’t be a problem.
As we neared the end of the ride, my instructor lifted the security bar and said, “Get ready. We’re here.”
As the chair stopped, I stood up, bent my knees, and I felt my butt poke out. I forgot to lean forward, and within seconds I was on my back sliding down the exit ramp. I looked to my right just as a six year old skiier sprayed a bit of snow in my face. Ugh. I don’t know what hurt more, my back or my pride.
After a rebound that was less than graceful, I made my way over to the top of my green “hill.” It was lunch time and David stopped by to see how it was going. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I was dissed by a six year old getting off the chairlift. “Great! Couldn’t be better.” I assured him, lying through my teeth.
By the time I got to the top of the run, I had regained some confidence. I could do this. I could ski this run. All I had to do was talk myself into it. So I said stuff like this – I have three hours of instruction under my belt; I’m athletic; I work out; I’m in shape; this is all mental; I have to find that six year old and kick his little ass! I realized that David was waiting to see me ski my first run, which actually made me even more nervous.
He looked at me. I looked at him. He smiled. I winced. It was now or never. I gave myself a little push and downhill I went. I glanced right to see David skiing backward next to me. “You’re doing great!” He yelled.
“Shut up, you showoff!” I yelled back. And with that, the mountain gods (or instant karma) took control of my skis, and I careened down the hill.
Unable to gain control and remembering my step-son’s advice, I screamed, “PiZZZZZAAAAAAAAA! PiZZZZZAAAAAA!”
“Bigger wedge! Bigger wedge!” My instructor yelled.
I pushed my skis wider and dug into the snow until I felt the ground below me leveling out and my forward motion coming to a stop. My heart was racing. And just as I looked up the hill for David, I felt a smile on my face. I was exhilarated.
The next three days were filled with a few tears and more than a few falls. But I got up every time, ready to go again. I realized that in the big picture, it doesn’t matter if it’s a hill or a mountain. It doesn’t matter if I slide or if I fall. All that matters is my perception of the situation and how I’m going to handle it. So, here are the rules I followed while skiing: falling is allowed; crying is allowed; giving up is not.
I left Colorado with more than a few bruises and a desire to return to the mountain. As I stared out at the horizon from my window seat on the plane I got to thinking about skiing and about love. Neither one is easy. They’re both scary and can leave you a little worse for the wear. But, they can also leave you feeling exhilarated and as though you can accomplish anything. And when it’s just right, they both can leave you wanting more. I’m no longer a ski virgin, thank goodness. Now I can move on to the fearless, sexy stuff that really gets my heart racing.