Learning to Ski

Learning to ride a bike, having your tonsils removed, learning to ski – some things are just better off doing when you’re a kid. There’s something about the unwavering nerve of kids that help them look into the face of fear, stick out their tongues, and move on with a new skill or a cool story from a week of ice cream and applesauce in their back pocket.

This epiphany came to me while struggling to put my left ski back on after falling down the side of a mountain and repressing what can only be labeled as rage towards my husband. To say I don’t deal with failure well is an understatement.

This isn’t a new concept to me. Many times I felt frustrated when things didn’t come naturally or easily as if somewhere along the way I decided I would either be good at everything on the first go around or I would avoid it at all costs. This is probably why I never applied to more than one university, partied in college, or dared to move to a big city.

“The second you feel uncomfortable, you bail out.”

That’s my ski instructor told me the first day of our family ski trip to Whistler Blackcomb in Canada. Okay, so he didn’t say that exactly. He really said, “Stop bailing on your right turns, Leah.” But potato poTAto.

For those of you who have never skied, turning is how you control your speed. You point your skis down to go fast, then left and right to carve beautiful S shapes down the slope to prevent yourself from hurling down the mountain at life-altering speeds. Sounds simple enough, right?

Well, add that concept to puffy pants, a double-layered coat, insulated mittens, a helmet strap that keeps whacking you in the chin, and the most uncomfortable, unmoveable, clunky pair of boots you’ve ever owned, and you’ll find yourself learning to ski.

Back to what my instructor said about my right turns. I feel like it’s natural for everyone to have a stronger side. That go-to side for physical things like kicking a ball, typing a text, and opening a door. In skiing, my strongest turn was a left turn because the right foot/leg is responsible for turning. To go right, I felt like I had to drag my left leg through the snow to get it pointed in the right direction. It just wasn’t natural.

So the first four days of skiing consisted of me turning left beautifully, then freaking out and falling down when I couldn’t get my left leg to go right. I swear my instructor secretly prayed I wouldn’t take more than a day lesson especially since he asked everyone’s plans for the rest of the week but avoided me. (Still teacher’s pet to this day)

Kevin kept coaching me on my right turns the remainder of our trip until I finally looked at him and said, “Please stop telling me the same thing. Clearly, I don’t understand what you mean.”

So he changed his approach. He would ski down the slope and ask me to follow his tracks. He’d make a wide left turn, which I mirrored beautifully, then he’d make a wide right turn encouraging me to embrace the chaos in the turn. And you know what? “Embrace the chaos” (actually he used more R-rated language, but we’re keeping this PG, folks) worked.

“Skiing is a series of ‘Oh sh*t’ moments until you reach the bottom of the slope,” he said.

And it worked. On my right turn, I started leaning into the uncomfortable feeling of losing control. I’d lean in, lean in, lean in, then turn my skis. Then it was time for a left turn. And by the fifth day, I knew how to ski.

I didn’t expect to have such an introspective experience on this trip, but I learned a lot.

I learned that pride can prevent you from doing some amazing stuff.

I learned that life (and skiing) is not a race – unless you’re in the Olympics, then I guess it kind of is a race.

I learned that there is no such thing as over communication when you’re trying something new.

I learned that no one cares what you look like or what you’re doing. They’re too busy focused on themselves (and you’ll probably never see them again.)

And most of all, I learned to ski!

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