Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Getting "Over" It

Let's briefly review my status as a skier after one day of lessons:
  • I was just beginning to sense that there were exceptions to Bad Lesson #1: Always Lean Forward. I was kinda-sorta-maybe learning that to exert any kind of real control, I needed to do something that, in my mind, felt like leaning backward.
  • I was deeply lost in the weeds with Bad Lesson #2: You're Basically Wedging As Long As Your Skis Aren't Parallel; If It Isn't Working, Press Down Harder. I didn't even know this was a Bad Lesson at this point. I just flat out didn't understand why "pizza" wasn't working.
  • I was equally lost in Bad Lesson #3: Here's How You Turn; You Don't Need to Understand WHY It Works. Apply pressure, and remember that it's backwards from how you think it ought to be, because it is.
So, skiing at this point was a wholly unnatural activity that took 100% of my concentration and still only worked some of the time. The weather was starkly different from the day before; where yesterday the sun was shining, today was chilly and clouded over. And now I was standing under the level "2" flag, meeting a new instructor for a new day.

As she was trying to learn everyone's names, more students continued to arrive, until we had double the maximum 5 per group. So she was on the phone, arranging for another instructor to come and take half of us. "Alright," she asks everyone, "who's feeling like a more aggressive 2?" Me! I want to learn this thing, dammit! The group split, conveniently, exactly in half, with five people wanting to be more cautious with the day's lessons, and me and four others vowing to really push ourselves. This was going to be perfect, I thought.

Little did I know that in that single moment, that decision to go with the one half of the group, I'd just wasted the next four hours of my life. It just hadn't actually happened yet.

My class of five consisted of me, a cocksure 19 year old kid who didn't want to listen to anyone (much less his ski instructor), an older gentleman who said he had been skiing one time before (and only later admitted that the one time had been over 20 years ago), and a couple from Argentina who spoke scarcely any English (and thus did not understand what the word "aggressive" meant, nor that they should have been in the "never ever skied before" group 1).

The instructor wanted to get a sense of what we all knew before taking us up on the mountain. So first stop, that "kids' hill," that impossible slalom course of 100+ unpredictable first- and second-graders. I volunteered to be the first to attempt to go down it. And down I went, full speed, completely out of control. At the bottom, I desperately tried to pull off the hockey stop I'd accidentally learned to do the day before. But my mind was a swirl of "lean forward no lean back the right foot is the wrong foot but justapplymorepressureandfortheloveofGodstopstopstopstopstop!" I crashed quite spectacularly, injuring no children, but quite seriously bruising my dignity.

My performance was the best of the class.

The instructor knew she couldn't take us up on the mountain. And she certainly couldn't stay there on the kids' hill. So it was back to that gentle driveway slope from day one, the place where you couldn't pick up any speed if you tried. The place where you couldn't truly learn a thing.

Well... to be fair, almost couldn't learn a thing. Because the first thing the instructor did when she got us back to the basic hill was she took all our ski poles away. Go down the hill without them, she challenged us. Just use your weight to steer, and really focus on making that work. Which was actually, briefly, helpful. The idea of really focusing on your legs was helpful, anyway. The words she used to describe the technique were a nonsensical disaster.

Imagine you're carrying a tray of drinks, she said. And when you're turning, keep pressure on your downhill leg (that makes sense), and then toss your drinks over the hill (huh?). No wait, seriously. Huh? This was Bad Lesson #4, though in terms of how completely nonsensical and confusing an instruction it was, I probably ought to rank it #1. We'll plumb the depths of this insanity in a moment, but for the moment, just hang on to the metaphor in the back of your mind. Because right now, remember that I'm still on this bunny hill, this tiny slope where I don't really have to understand anything or do it right to stay upright and look like I know what I'm doing.

We stayed on this hill for the next hour-and-a-half, not using our poles. Down the hill, practicing S curves. Up the magic carpet. Repeat. I didn't fall once in the entire time. I would occasionally try to approach the instructor with a question, some attempt to learn "what do I do next?" But the rest of my group had her thoroughly occupied. She was wrangling the unruly 19-year-old, teaching the "I skied once two decades ago" man as if from scratch, and trying to pantomime everything for the Argentinians, who didn't even do her the courtesy of watching her half the time she was talking to them.

So I guess I'll just keep doing this thing I can do. S curves down, up the carpet, S curves down, up the carpet. At one point, as I was riding up, a different ski instructor with a class of his own smiles at me and says, "I've been watching you. You've totally got this." It was meant to be encouraging, but I actually found it completely disheartening. What the hell am I doing here? Not learning anything.

And neither was the rest of the class. They weren't even getting the turns right. So the instructor had everyone try another drill. When you're in a turn, take your uphill foot and actually stamp it up and down a couple times to really make sure you've got your weight off of it. It didn't seem to help anyone else much. And for me, it was worse than that -- it would later prove to be Bad Lesson #5.

Finally, it was time to break for lunch. I was too discouraged to have much of an appetite. We agreed to all meet back up at the Kids' Hill/Obstacle Course in an hour. I met my husband and my friend for lunch, and they could tell I was feeling down. I loosely talked about me maybe just blowing off the rest of the class, but I couldn't quite pull the trigger on it. I absent-mindedly nibbled at a Nutri-Grain bar for 20 minutes before deciding I wasn't going to wait for the damn instructor. I was going to go to that hill and just start trying by myself.

That lunch meetup spot had a perfect view of the kids' hill, so I was painfully aware of being watched by my husband and friend as I tried on my own to conquer this embarrassingly simple task. Oh so cautiously, I made it down a few times, then waited in a massive line of children to ride back to the top. I wasn't falling, but I wasn't really in control either. And at a ratio of 10 seconds down to 10 minutes back up, I wasn't really getting any effective practice.

Eventually, my class showed up... though the 19-year-old had done what I had not. He'd decided he'd wasted enough of his time. And then there were four. Which might have been cause for hope. Except that as bad as I felt I was, the other three continued to be worse. Once again, it was clear we were endangering every kid in the practice area.

At this point, I just-short-of-begged our instructor to just take us up the mountain. Later, she promised, but first, we were going back to the bunny hill. Again. I just about lost it. Instead, I texted my husband that I was going to blow off the rest of the class after all.

But then, four hours into this not-quite-actually-skiing purgatory, the Argentinians vanished as well. Just took off without saying anything to anybody. So now I had something bordering on a private lesson -- just the teacher, me, and the one guy who at least actually had been skiing before (even if it had been 20 years ago). So our instructor agreed to take us up the Preview slope. I quickly recanted my decision to quit in another text message: I was going to tough out the lesson a little while longer.

I still had no real control over my speed. Instead of trying to correct my flawed wedge, the instructor encouraged me to slow down with wide S curves. There were three problems with that. First, the sun had continued to hide all day, and we were on the last part of the last ski run, the place where literally every path in the entire resort eventually emptied out. It was a sheet of ice. Second, Bad Lesson #4, the terrible "tray of drinks" analogy. Third, Bad Lesson #5, the tap your foot for no reason advice.

On the bunny slope, with no real speed and all the time in the world to think, I couldn't really get into any trouble. Up on an actual run (however short), it didn't take much to get into a bad situation. And every time I tried to react instinctively, my instinct was wrong.

So here I am, turning-turning-turning. "Tap your uphill leg!" shouts the instructor. (Bad Lesson #5.) Okay, I'm trying to ski on one leg.... and wipeout!

New attempt. Turning-turning-turning, coming back a little fast.... "Throw your drinks over the mountain!" shouts the instructor. (Bad Lesson #4.) Okay, like this, wait no, like that... and wipeout!

"Over the mountain!" barks my instructor as I'm getting up, as overtly frustrated as she's been all day. "You're not listening." I snap back, matching her tone. "I did exactly what you said!" I insist.

But before an argument can really develop, suddenly I understand her totally screwed up analogy. In her head, when she's serving a tray of drinks and then dumps them "over the mountain," she's imagining pouring them out all over the ground. Downhill. I, like any normal person who has ever climbed a hill in their lives, am imagining that "over the mountain" means... duh, getting over the damn mountain. Uphill. I explain that her image is backwards and causing me nothing but confusion, and mentally scratch a huge line through Bad Lesson #4.

Suddenly, things start to go a bit better. I still can't really slow down any way other than taking these giant S curves sure to surprise anyone behind me, but it is kinda-sorta working out. "Try to tighten up your curves a little," suggests the instructor. "Just like you're skating. Just push off."

Well, son of a bitch!

Perhaps this should have been obvious from the beginning of day one. But remember that my day 1 instructor led with all this pressure/monkey-grip nonsense that instantly made skiing highly technical and even more highly unnatural. It's like someone tried to describe an orange to me by saying it's shaped like a ball and has a thin rind, and it's a citrus fruit and you can eat it, and it's sectioned inside, and juicy and sweet and a little bit acidic... and forgot to mention that the damn thing was actually the color orange. Again, probably should have been obvious... but way to bury the damn lead!

Suddenly, I can mentally scratch off Bad Lesson #3 as well. I don't need to devote my every thought to the concept that "this whole thing works backwards," because it's the same freaking thing as skating. Push this way, go that way. Probably I should be embarrassed that it's taken seven hours to reach this point, but I'm too damn happy that it just finally feels natural.

We reached the bottom of the hill and I was ready to go again, to actually try to put my fledgling comprehension to use. But nope. 3:00. Class over. And after a long, tiring day of, you know, real skiing, my husband and friends were ready to call it a day and head back to the condo.

But alright, I've decided. I'm not going to spend one more minute in one of these worse-than-useless ski lessons. Everyone -- my husband, my friends, their kids -- seemed excited at the notion that tomorrow, our third and final day of skiing, could actually be a day where we just all ski together.

Maybe this whole fiasco could finish up strong.

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