Sean invited me to the mountains for the weekend (maybe I invited myself, but the details of how it went down are not important). The important part is – I WAS GOING SKIING!
It had been nearly two decades since the first and last time I stuffed my ten-year-old feet into awkward boots strapped to two thin blades of fiberglass.
It’s like riding a bike, right?
Apparently Sean is a pretty good snowboarder (I think he was a ski instructor in college but I have not confirmed this). It is no secret that I’m a novice, so before he could change his mind I quickly assured him that I’m a fast learner, semi-athletic, comfortable adventuring solo, and do not need a “baby sitter!”
In typical “Shannon” fashion this ski trip was everything but a bike ride.
I rented skis and borrowed the rest of my gear from friends. I definitely looked the part. My coat had U.S. Ski Team embroidered on the sleeve. I later learned that this would be very confusing to my fellow skiers. I carried my Camelbak because I wanted to stay hydrated for my training. I later learned that this was useless when the water froze.
In addition to a weekend of epic skiing, I also needed to get my runs in, so I laced up my Brooks Cascadias, put on some Yaktrax, and hit the snow-covered trails. I was forced to use tiny muscles and tendons in my feet that I didn’t even know existed. At least I was well warmed up for the mountain.
Time to hit the slopes.
The first run I managed to muscle my way down without a wipe out. Once we reached the bottom I drew in a deep breath and exhaled out, “There’s no way I can survive the whole day like this.” With lactic building in my quads from being in a constant squat for over 5 minutes, we boarded the ski lift for another run. Sean gave me a few pointers on how to ski with more grace. Then I was free! Free to go at my own pace. Free to listen to music. Free to watch the other skiers and try to copy. Free to find the perfect line. By the end of the day I was beginning to gain some control over my skis. As soon as I felt my confidence rise, I’d find myself frantically looking for my skis, face-first in the snow. The mountain had a wonderful way of reminding me that she’s always in control.
That night a storm rolled through. POWDER! Hundreds of skiers shoved and pushed their way onto the tram just to be the first to cut snow before anyone else. Snowboarders were tuning their boards. Skiers were switching to powder skis. The mountain had a consistent flow of snowfall all day, which meant no one could see further than 20 feet in front of them. A completely white out.
The tram brought us to the top of Chip’s run (a blue surrounded by blacks). I pushed my skis forward, my eyes trying to adjust to a world without color. Paralyzed by fear. Sean coached me down for part of the mountain until he could no longer contain his excitement. I knew I was holding him back. I gave him the “thumbs up” to go down the rest of the way without me. I followed the signs for Chip until they were complete covered with snow. I skied over to the lift operator.
Me: Can you point me to Chip’s run?
Liftie: Are you by yourself?
Liftie: Do you know how to ski black diamonds?
Liftie: Have you ever skied this mountain?
Liftie: I don’t want to rescue you. You need to take the lift down.
Feeling defeated, the lift operator stopped the lift, so I could get on. I watched mounds of skiers flock to the summit. Tears froze to my cheeks. I went to the lodge to drink some hot chocolate and reset. On my way I saw a sign “free mountain tour.” I skied over to the mountain host to get more information.
Me: What does this sign me?
Host: Free mountain tour.
Me: (duh) I mean, how does it work?
Host: Are you a good skier?
[I mostly ski greens but successfully skied down a few blues]
Host: How often do you ski?
[counting my trip to Colorado 20 years ago]
Me: This is my second trip, fifth time, but I’m picking it up fast.
Host: Okay, you will join Peggy and Wendy. Both ladies have been skiing over 20 years. And I grew up on this mountain. My dad bought me my first set of skis when I was 4-years old.
Fake it until you make it, right?
First mistake: failing to get off the ski lift.
Oh shoot! I’m still on this thing.
Skis in the air.
It could happen to anyone.
Second mistake: taking a wrong turn, heading towards a huge dip and not stopping.
Maybe I’ll get lucky.
Down. Up. Plop
Skis in the air.
That nearly knocked the wind out of me.
Third mistake: trying to keep up with Peggy and Wendy.
Carve to the left
Carve to the right.
Too fast. Plop.
Hurry! Catch my skis before they roll down the mountain.
Typically the mountain host would kick me out and make me complete ski school, but like I said, I was picking it up fast. We skied all over the mountain. They would go first and wait for me to catch up. Peggy was a retired teacher. Wendy a retired insurance saleswoman. We talked education. We talked sports. We talked life. Both Peggy and Wendy are energetic, strong, independent women. I was with my people. After eating lunch at the summit, Peggy and Wendy agreed the visibility was too rough to ski down Chip’s run.
I can’t wait to take on the mountains again in my new ski gear.