Saturday, March 24, 2012
Working at a retail company, traditional holiday parties are challenging. This year my team requested a “snow day” instead during January. I had personal misgivings. But their enthusiasm was infectious. One expert snowboarder took it upon himself to make arrangements for the beginner to the experienced. When “snow day” arrived, I dropped my daughter off at the crack of dawn so I could make it for my 9 a.m. lesson. After one wrong turn (I am directionally challenged even with a GPS), I felt the stress rising as I knew I was cutting it close. I then narrowly missed getting a speeding ticket (the car in front was not so fortunate). Then in the time it took me to register what appeared to be a parking lot behind high white drifts, I passed it. I felt my stomach knot up – no cell signal and no turn off for miles. I finally could make a safe u-turn and after some time arrived at that same spot with a dark storm cloud hovering over my mood. I pulled on my newly purchased ski pants, Seahawks hat and braved the cold. The sunshine was hard to resist. I spotted some excited people waving. I looked a little closer and saw they were my team. I felt the beginnings of a smile pulling at my lips.
After a few minutes, I am fitted with boots, skis and poles. One other team member, an engineer who recently moved from India, was the only other beginner. Our group included two teenage boys. I felt compelled to tell the ski instructor not to expect much, since my last experience – many years before had ended badly. Our instructor pushed us but with an innate ability to know what to say. He shared unique motivating words to the engineer versus the youth or myself. The lesson was over much quicker and with more success than expected.
After a festive lunch, my engineer friend and I were left to make it down the mountain with our newly acquired skills. When we were riding up the ski lift, he candidly shared, “I am scared.” I thought, "So am I," as I recalled my only other skiing experience besides the morning. But I told him instead, “Don’t be. What is the worst that can happen? We fall when we get off and we have done that already.” Our first trip together, we had ended up in an unceremonious heap with each having the other’s poles. We both laughed at the memory.
I grew up in Colorado where skiing is the norm but it wasn't for my family. I was about 17 when a good friend and a good skier said we should ski and hang out together in Vail. My buddy gave me a few pointers and up we went. My first sign of trouble was getting on the ski lift. It took quite a number couple of tries resulting in empty seats heading up the mountain with groans from those behind us. I remember feeling the sting of humiliation and thinking to myself, "I am not going to repeat that torture." When I saw a sign, “get ready to jump”, I wasn’t taking any chances and I jumped. Too bad the end of the line was a bit further up. Again I felt the heat of gaining unwanted attention.
My friend good naturedly collected my skis and poles and helped me get into the correct position. I kept falling over and over. At one point, I thought was getting the hang of snowplowing. I could stay upright and move at a controllable speed. I felt great and turned to share with my friend who was trailing me. She shouted and pointed but I couldn’t understand. Comprehension came when I felt myself launch into the air and land between two trails. I then had to endure many skiers ask, “How did you get up there?” as they skied past. Little did they suspect I had come down. My descent continued slowly one fall at a time. At one point, I threatened , "I am taking off my skis and walking down." as I didn't think I could take any more embarrassment. My friend reminded me it would take much longer.
So I valiantly continued but there was no joy. When we could see the bottom of the mountain, I heard catcalls from the chair lift. I knew it wasn’t my skiing which was mainly an effort to stay upright. My friend skied up behind me barely able to speak from laughing. Apparently in all my falling, my jeans (a common choice then) had spilt. I made the unfortunate decision to wear red long underwear for extra warmth which were now on display. When we arrived in the lodge, I sat down and vowed not to ever get up -- feeling totally miserable after the experience. I did not attempt skiing again that day or any day since.
As we began our first solo trek down, I recalled vivid details from that day decades ago. I remembered how worrying about how other's perceived me stole my confidence. In the morning, I saw it play out again. As I watched the teenagers try to learn, they insisted on attempting to maintain some control over their appearance. This effort was not only futile but counterproductive. As an adult, I made it slowly down the hill, reveling in the fear of being just this side of out of control (okay mostly this side). I didn't care what I looked like or what anyone thought. This was part of my journey. I wiped out hard just as we were about to call it quits. I was supremely gratified to get on my feet again without assistance and continue. When I removed the ski boots, I felt I had exorcised my previous experience. Euphoria was mixed with the pain of blisters forming on my shins from too tight boots -- I earned both.
I reflected on the long drive back how fear has the capacity to paralyze. And I realized again how facing it down, even if it requires a healthy nudge from others, produces the most exhilarating growth. I am looking forward to skiing again and taking my family. They are all athletic and I am sure will find many reasons to laugh at my efforts. But I am okay with that. Thank you to my amazing team for an amazing day!