Amidst the first round of exams this month, I decided to go back to a time when I didn’t have to worry, a time where I could learn without the repercussions and fear associated with a bad grade, and especially a time where I wouldn’t feel guilty stepping out of the study zone. This past Winter Break, at one point, met all those qualifications, so that’s where I’m headed.
Two months already into the new year, and my muscles still ache from all the activity of my skiing trip in Seattle which occurred in late December of 2016.
I quickly realized just how intense skiing can be, and that it is no walk in the park, especially since even walking is difficult with the skis on.
If you were like me and never went skiing before, you probably thought that executing this kind of turn — in the above picture — would be as simple as changing a light bulb.
Fact: It’s not. It’s nowhere near simple.
Even standing on the skis, as said before, proved to be a difficult challenge, since the skis are vertical flat extensions worn on each foot designed to glide you through the snow smoothly. What do you do if you don’t want to move when wearing skis?
You prevent your skis from moving by placing them in a wedge-shaped pizza cut position, where vector forces cancel out in opposite directions (and a whole bunch of physics concepts I’m trying to get away from for the moment) and the friction keeps your skis when you want them in the thick snow. But sometimes, the rain can make the snow melt and turn it into ice. Flat ice with a friction coefficient of near zero.
Excited as I was, I convinced my dad to let me take a three-day course at the Snoqualmie Resort to give me a basic idea of how to get around on the skis. Spoiler Alert: I didn’t stay for all three days. The first day went pretty well, since we learned how to stand on the skis after putting them on, a process which took almost an hour (those boots were so thick I was afraid if I fell over, I’d break my tibia, or shin bone). Once the skis were attached, my instructor guided us onto the Magic Carpet, the simplest ski slope that was almost flat. The bunny slope got its name because of the platform that takes you back up the slope — you don’t have to take your skis off or waddle up like a penguin every time.
First off, we learned how to do the wedge-shaped pizza cut I mentioned earlier. It wasn’t too bad and my skis managed to stay put. Then we learned how to control ourselves while going down the slope — not so easy to maneuver. Even though this was more exciting, having an instructor spot me, me not having “studied” for this moment, and the all-too familiar fear of looking like a fool after screwing up loomed over me like an instructor during an exam. But I was determined to travel down the slope with excitement rather than fear. The first time, of course, didn’t go as planned, and I almost ended up knocking over a 10-year old learning how to snowboard, but managed to stop myself with the pizza cut just in time. The session ended after I practiced going down a few more times, feeling more in control and calmer with each step. I left feeling satisfied with a great first day and determined to make the next day better than the first.
Unfortunately, my childlike optimism was challenged with the course of reality, and I don’t feel the need to say out loud that it was different than what I envisioned it would be.
The second day of the lesson we had a different instructor, one who was much more enthusiastic and ready to teach a group of students like it was his lifelong goal. His excitement was contagious, and I brought the previous day’s determination with me along. I noticed that as I was going down, the snow was a lot flatter and more slippery than it had been the day before, due to the rain that had hit the local area that morning. The Magic Carpet was undoubtedly harder than it had been the day before, but I still managed to keep somewhat in control as I glided down.
After I came back up the bunny slope, my instructor told me and another student that we were ready to do the unthinkable: go up the ski lifts and down the green circle, supposedly the easiest ski slope with not too many sharp turns and hills. But looking back, the green circle might as well have been a red circle with the word “stop” in the middle, because I did not feel the least bit ready to come down one of those slopes, at least not yet. Getting on the ski lifts, according to my cousins, was itself quite a task.
I warily asked my instructor if I was ready for the lift. This is almost exactly how it turned out.
Me: Excuse me, but are you sure I’m ready for the lift? (I try to do the pizza cut to keep from going forward, but slip back and forth each time)
Instructor: Hey man, I wouldn’t be taking you up the lift if I didn’t think you were ready. It’s so easy! You’ll be fine, bro. Hey, where did you go?
Me: I’m over here. (near the line for the lift, pushed up against the pole, having been unable to keep myself from slipping)
Instructor: Hey man, the line’s over here!
Me: Coming. (As I attempt to turn around, my left ski comes off and I trip and fall into the cold pile of flat snow)
(My instructor helps me up and helps me get in line. The other student, age 39, shakes his head back and forth, completely dumbfounded by the whole scenario).
In what world did the instructor even begin to think I was ready for the lift? This was the equivalent of learning to drive for the first time and crashing into a tree while backing out of the driveway, and my driving instructor then telling me I was ready for the Garden State Parkway.
Still, I was curious to see what it’s like being on the lifts and coming down one of those slopes, so I didn’t try to forcefully impose onto him my inability to handle even flat ground, so I just did my best to stay put in line.
When it was our turn to get on the lift, I crouched down as instructed and managed to sit down on the chair with the right orientation. However, my right ski was positioned incorrectly and as the lift began its ascent, it came off, and my instructor yelled from behind that he got it and would return it to me once we got to the top.
If getting on the lift was the easy part, all the difficulty was compensated for by getting off. Because I only had one ski on my left foot, as I attempted to get off and slide down the small bank onto the top of the hill, my left ski went more forward than my right foot wanted to and I ended up skiing on only one foot, and falling into the pile of snow yet again. When my instructor finally came with the missing ski, I put it on and as I looked down the slope to the base, my whole body convulsed with fear and all of a sudden, I wished I was back in the safety of the library studying for neurobiology.
This is how the green circle slope looks.
This was similar to the view I got from the top. While beautiful, at that time beauty was not at the top of my mind. This view seemed more appropriate, for me, to that of the double black diamond, the slope specifically designed for experts only.
Even worse, my instructor told me and the other 39-year old student to do three turns back and forth as we were going down! We hadn’t even covered turns the previous day and here I was, on top of the world, which is quite terrifying for those who haven’t been there yet, frightened at the thought of going straight down at uncontrollably high speeds with no idea of how to stop.
After the other student completed his three turns, without incident, I was up next. But of course, the stopping problem came back and I almost went over a rather steep edge far on the left side of the slope, which was thankfully guarded by thin red rope, that I almost completely knocked over. The pizza cut seemed to make me go faster instead of slowing me down, and my instructor helped me back onto the track, and told me to try only one turn, seeing as how inexperienced I was. I looked around for the other student, who was nowhere to be found. He was probably long gone at that point, off to another slope that was more of his level, the hardest being the double black diamond. He was probably also wondering how I was ever going to get good at this.
I tried going down another time, but I couldn’t bring myself to look forward, which you’re actually supposed to do instead of looking down at the skis. But with the base of the hill waiting to swallow me up whole at speeds higher than I could even drive at, looking forward just made me more terrified, and I tried the pizza cut, and managed to turn 180 degrees around facing the upside of the hill, then, instead of stopping due to the wet snow, I turned back around to the downside, then back to the upside, then back down like a corkscrew, until I finally accepted my fate and allowed myself to fall over, with the skis coming off. I was thankful the skis could come off so easily. When my instructor again tried to help me up, I knocked him down and we were both tumbling as fellow skiers, elementary schoolers and graduates, glided past us, having the time of their lives, noticing the fiasco. One more time, I tried the pizza cut, which of course failed me yet again and off I was down the hill almost knocking over fellow skiers. At that point, I decided falling was the best, and easiest, course of action I could take. Embarrassed, I finally took my skis off and just walked down the hill, so relieved and thankful for being back in control of my feet. I was so glad when I got back to the base, and turned around and gulped at the sight of the slope. My instructor apologized for taking me up the lift too soon, and offered me a free lesson next time I came (which probably won’t be any time soon). Even though the slope didn’t turn out as well as I’d have hoped, even as a beginner, I still felt an odd thrill and excitement upon having experienced it, and survived. I went back to the beautifully flat Magic Carpet and practiced my turns with more confidence and determination, still falling a few times, but nowhere near scared as I was up on the slope. So, in a way, it all may have worked out for the best.
However, I decided that I needed a break and wanted to explore other parts of Seattle, and didn’t go back to the ski pass after that, but someday I do hope to ski again, this time with more control and awareness of my abilities and limitations.
Now back in the safety of Rutgers on a nice flat, solid surface, I look back and wonder how things might have turned out had my instructor insisted I go on the double black diamond!