So there I am, barreling along in my beat-up, road salt-covered Hyundai—downhill skis, poles and boots rattling somewhere in the backseat pile of snowshoes, cross-country skis, poles and boots, running cleats, various hats, mittens and insulated cups. And it occurs to me: I don’t need another winter hobby. My active outdoor calendar is filled up. I’m busy. Work’s crazy. It’s … cold.
But it’s also too late. I’m bound for a ski lesson at Crystal Mountain. Ron Shephard—Crystal’s ski guru (not his official title), the guy from Park City, Utah, who teaches the ski instructors how to teach—is waiting for me. I can’t turn around. Even though I’m scared as heck.
See, I’ve learned to ski. Four years ago. I loved it! I sailed down those green runs on my spiffy rental skis like nobody’s business. I went skiing at least a dozen times that winter. The next winter, I bought my own skis.
And then? I was terrified. I don’t know why. My new skis seemed faster, slicker, scarier than the rentals. Did I get the wrong size? Were they too light? Too, I don’t know … bendy? Whatever the reason, I only went three times that winter. The next winter, twice. Last winter, once—but I didn’t even like it.
I would have kicked the sport altogether were it not for one thing: when I didn’t downhill ski, I didn’t enjoy winter as much. That year I had skied those dozen-plus times, winter seemed like a blast, I was sorry to see it go. Sun on my cheeks, wind whistling, me in a fancy pink coat pretending to be a ski bunny—I couldn’t get enough of it.
So what happened? I don’t know exactly. A particularly bad spill doesn’t stick out in my mind (likely, because there were many bad spills). I simply got scared, stopped making progress and inevitably, stopped loving winter.
This year, I made a commitment to myself. I would take a lesson, several lessons if need be, and—if not learn to ski well—at least I would learn enough so I wasn’t standing at the top of the mountain, knock-kneed and nervous as a hen in a fox den.
So there I am, 20 minutes later, standing at the top of the mountain, knock-kneed and nervous as a hen in a fox den.
Ron Shepard is beside me, talking about what, I don’t know, because all that’s going through my mind is, Oh God, he’s going to make me ski. He’s going to make me ski down this mountain, and I don’t want to ski down this mountain, and I don’t remember how to ski, but I do remember Sonny Bono, and I do not want to ski down this mountain.
I should note here that Ron has a very soothing voice. He speaks very low, very calmly, very kindly. He asks me what other outdoor activities I like, and when I tell him golf and hiking, he breaks each element of the lesson down into terms of golf and hiking, so it seems as though skiing is as familiar and natural to me as they are. He’s like a therapist in ski goggles. Somehow he makes everything sound like it’s going to be OK, and somehow I believe him, and somehow I ski down the mountain.
Mountain, I guess, may be pushing it. I skied down the Emmy run—a long, slow, frequently flat green run particularly favored by four-year-olds tethered to their parents via a ski leash, senior citizens or, well … me. I flailed like a cartoon character on a banana a few times, but I made it down.
Ron made me go back up again. And again. And again. I showed him how I turn. He showed me how I can carve. We’d look back at the path I’d made, and he’d proudly point out the neat parallel lines curving across the snow’s surface.
So far, I felt like I was getting it. I was in the groove. I heard what he was saying, and I did what he told me to do. Until he taught me to slide sideways down the mountain. Somehow this is an important facet of skiing, to slow down the downhill momentum, to help narrow my turns from giant, gaping “C’s” to tight, narrow little “S’s.”
I don’t understand how a slide slows things. I can’t envision where it comes in. And furthermore, I can’t do it. Ron stands in front of me several times, pressing one ski perfectly flat atop the snow, and the other on its outside edge, sliding sideways down the mountain as gracefully as a leaf floats downstream.
When I try to mimic him, I don’t slide anywhere. I bend my knees this way and that, pressing my ankles inside my boots from one side to the other, shifting my weight left then right then left again, hunching, bending, pressing, and looking a lot like a bowlegged cowboy after some bad chili. Still, I don’t slide. We try and try again. Occasionally the stars align and I move a centimeter or two, but I get so excited when it happens that I lose all track of how I’ve managed to do it and can’t replicate it.
Like any good therapist, Ron assures me this is all perfectly normal. I’m progressing exactly as I should be, he says. I’m O.K., he’s O.K.
Skiing so far? That’s O.K. too.
But I figure, that’s definitely an improvement on scared.
Check back next week Monday for a report on Lesson 2.