Thursday, March 24, 2016

All's Well That Ends Well

My final day skiing at Steamboat Springs. It's the coldest day yet. It's actually snowing. Again, let's review my current abilities/liabilities:
  • I still hear the voice of my day one instructor insisting on Bad Lesson #1: Always Lean Forward, even though I'm personally feeling like that's not really always true. But he must know what he's talking about, right? So I must still be doing something wrong.
  • Bad Lesson #2: 30 Degrees of a Circle? Sure, We'll Call That a Wedge. Who wants to eat too big a slice of "pizza?"
  • Bad Lesson #3: Left Means Right, Right Means Left. Alright, this I've got this now. Oranges are orange, and skiing is like skating. Duh.
  • Bad Lesson #5: Just to Make Sure Your Weight Is Off Your Uphill Foot During a Turn, Tap Your Ski. I'm actually not even consciously thinking about this bad advice. It's just that my day two ski instructor was so insistent on it for a while that I'm occasionally doing it without even thinking about it.
So there's now nine of us in all who are planning to ski together, four of them little kids. The kids have also all learned to ski for the first time on this trip, by the way. But kids being pliable both physically and mentally, they've all got it. I myself still feel like a big rig on a snowy mountain pass: I'd feel more safe with a series of runaway truck ramps around. So I suggest, what if we all split up first? We'll meet up after lunch and then ski as a group -- giving me an hour-and-a-half to try to tighten things up a bit. The motion carries, so my husband and I are off on our own to tackle my first true, full-length ski run. I'll lead, and he'll follow me.

What happens next is not a total disaster, but it's not pretty either. I'm curving all over the slope where I can, not looking great but at least staying upright. Mostly. Until, that is, whenever we get to a narrowing of the trail. Then I'm careening down it, getting a bit panicked, reacting badly, and wiping out.

This happens a couple of times. I complain about how my left leg just seems to be shot today. I feel like I can slow down with my right, but my left is useless. My husband agrees, I should try to focus more on my left leg. I don't realize it at the time, but he's holding back some advice and just trying to be purely supportive.

We continue along the trail, getting about halfway down the mountain. I wipe out a couple more times, complaining now that I'm just so tired, that this is already about 20 times longer than I've ever been skiing in one go. Again, nothing but encouragement from my husband. He's already been skiing with some of the kids on day one, and he tells me, "you're faster than they are." Not that I'm trying to be. (But indeed, when we later checked the app we downloaded for this occasion, we found that I'd topped out at 20.2 mph on this run. Right before one of my crashes, I'd imagine.)

I happen to notice that as he's standing there, waiting for me to get back up and get my skis back on, he's actually leaning back. Way back. Hmmm, I think.
  • Bad Lesson #1: Always Lean Forward.
We start down the trail again. Now when I'm trying to slow down, I don't feel hesitant about it -- I lean back a bit. And I now have considerably more control. I'm even able to stop a few times to rest without falling over first. But I still suffer another crash or two. Something's just not right, and now I'm willing to just say it straight out. "I'm not getting this!"

My husband decides to risk the nightmare scenario and actually say something that's not blind Everyone's a Unique and Special Snowflake praise. "Every time you've fallen, it's because you lifted your left foot. Why are you doing that?"

"I'm doing that?"

"Yeah. You catch the front of your ski on the ground and trip over it."

For a few seconds, I can't imagine why in the hell would I be doing that. Then suddenly, I remember.
  • Bad Lesson #5: Just to Make Sure Your Weight Is Off Your Uphill Foot During a Turn, Tap Your Ski.
I get back up, and now the foremost thought in my mind is to keep both my feet planted, no matter what. We get the rest of the way down the mountain, with I believe only one more wipeout.

The entire run has taken more than an hour, so it's actually time to meet the whole gang for lunch. But as it turns out, the extra cold conditions combined with days of exhausting activity have taken the last of what the kids had to give. They've all decided to call it a day after lunch. There will be no group ski run. Which is a slight disappointment to me, but more of a profound relief, because I really don't want to end up apologizing to a close friend for accidentally mowing down their little kid.

So it's time for a second run, just the two of us. We're going to go the same way we went before. Just remember, keep the legs planted, keep the legs planted, keepthelegsplanted. I lead, he follows.

We stop a bit more frequently this time (once on account of a ski student who is having as much trouble as I am and is actually stopped right in the middle of a narrow path; I feel his pain). I stay upright for longer stretches. I avoid tapping my skis for no damn reason whatsoever. But still, every now and then, I just get a bit too fast to be comfortable, and then topple over in a heap.

On my maybe third or fourth fall, maybe two-thirds of the way down the mountain, I exclaim in exasperation, "I just can't slow down!"

"Well, you're not snowplowing."

"I'm trying to."

"If your feet aren't outside your hips, you're not snowplowing."




  • Bad Lesson #2: Sure, We'll Call That a Wedge.
The rest of the run is what I'm going to call a Half Chumbawamba. I get back up again, but I do not get knocked down.

In the grip of a sudden rush of adrenaline, I really want to try again... though it did seem to be getting colder, and another whole hour on the slopes didn't seem like a good idea. We decided to catch a chair lift that only went up about half as far as the runs we'd done so far. It would let us try a different trail. And maybe, if I was up to it, there was this short little blue spur we could take -- just so I could say I had done something other than a green.

This last run was slow. Probably painfully slow and boring for my husband. But I was just thrilled at being able to actually slow down now whenever I wanted, and was really making use of this new skill. I recall just one fall on this entire final run... when we suddenly realized we were about to miss the opportunity to take that little blue-rated spur. We were on the top of a steep slope, the green run above, the blue "detour" below. Getting down that slope proved more than I could handle; I fell twice just trying to do that. But once we'd made it to the bottom, it was smooth (if slow) sailing the rest of the way.

Part of me wished that wasn't the last day of skiing. I'd only just gotten the hang of it. But I definitely couldn't have handled any more. It turns out that when you're doing it right, your legs actually do ache the way everyone tells you they will.

We headed down the stairs to the locker where we'd stored our stuff. My husband casually tossed out still one more revelation: "Pro tip for the stairs. Move all the way to the front." That was spot on too, as my suddenly relieved shins could attest.

As friends arrived back at the condo that night, I repeatedly told the story of how all this time, it seemed that my real problem with skiing was that I needed a better teacher. My husband deflected, saying he had no idea how he could have got me started with the basics. But I really couldn't stop gushing at the way that with just a few razor sharp insights, he'd undone two days of bad habits and cut through a fog of frustration. (And I'm happy to gush again here and now.)

So, the road was rough. (And kudos to you, if you've read through all this.) But all's well that ends well. And it was maybe even better this way, for the reminder that I'm very lucky.

(Don't be jealous of my amazing technique. And notice my husband at the right, leaning back.)

(Addendum: As this saga has been unfolding, in anticipation of this final post, my husband said to me yesterday, "Just so you know, you can snow plow with your feet inside your hips. But that's advanced." I smiled back, "Well, I'm not advanced. You can teach me that next season.")

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